Pentagon officials firmly opposed a proposal by Vice President Dick Cheney last summer for airstrikes against Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) bases by insisting that the administration would have to make clear decisions about how far the US would go in escalating the conflict with Iran, according to a former George W Bush administration official. J. Scott Carpenter, who was then deputy assistant secretary of state in the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, recalled that senior Defence Department (DoD) officials and the Joint Chiefs used the escalation issue as the main argument against the Cheney proposal.

McClatchy newspapers reported last August that Cheney had proposal several weeks earlier “launching airstrikes at suspected training camps in Iran”, citing two officials involved in Iran policy. According to Carpenter, who is now at the Washington Institute on Near East Policy, a strongly pro-Israel think tank, Pentagon officials argued that no decision should be made about the limited airstrike on Iran without a thorough discussion of the sequence of events that would follow an Iranian retaliation for such an attack.

Carpenter suggested that DoD officials were shifting the debate on a limited strike from the Iraq-based rationale, which they were not contesting, to the much bigger issue of the threat of escalation to full-scale war with Iran. The Joint Chiefs were fully supportive of the position taken by Secretary of Defence Robert Gates on the Cheney proposal, according to Carpenter. “It’s clear that the military leadership was being very conservative on this issue,” he said. At least some DoD and military officials suggested that Iran had more and better options for hitting back at the United States than the United States had for hitting Iran, according to one former Bush administration insider.

Former Bush speechwriter and senior policy adviser Michael Gerson cited two possibilities: “Engaging in hot pursuit against weapon supply lines over the Iranian border or striking explosives factories and staging areas within Iran.” But the Pentagon and the military leadership were opposing such options, he reported, because of the fear that Iran has “escalation dominance” in its conflict with the US. That meant, according to Gerson that, “in a broadened conflict, the Iranians could complicate our lives in Iraq and the region more than we complicate theirs.”

Cheney had used Gen. David Petraeus’ takeover as the top commander of US forces in Iraq in early February 2007 to do an end run about the Washington national security bureaucracy to establish the propaganda line that Iran was manufacturing EFPs and shipping them to the Mahdi Army militiamen. Petraeus was also a supporter of Cheney’s proposal for striking IRGC targets in Iran. The promotion of Petraeus to become CENTCOM chief later this year gives Cheney a possible option to ignore the position of his opponents in Washington once more in the final months of the administration. — IPS