• 30 March 2012
  • Posted By David Elliott
  • US-Iran War

Military Leaders Warn Against War with Iran

As politicians have made increasingly belligerent statements about war with Iran, top current and retired military officials have come forward to warn that the consequence of war would be devastating and that it should only be considered as the very last option.  In fact, eight senior retired military and intelligence officials even published a letter urging the President to say no to a war of choice against Iran in a full page Washington Post ad that was sponsored by NIAC.  Below is a compilation of statements by senior military leaders warning about the tremendous costs and very limited benefits of attacking Iran:

General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

“It’s not prudent at this point to decide to attack Iran… I think it would be premature to exclusively decide that the time for a military option was upon us … A strike at this time would be destabilizing and wouldn’t achieve their long-term objectives.”[1]


Leon Panetta, Secretary of Defense

“[If Iran were to be attacked] the United States would obviously be blamed and we could possibly be the target of retaliation from Iran, striking our ships, striking our military bases, and there are economic consequences to that attack….which could impact a very fragile economy in Europe and a fragile economy here in the United States.”

“The consequence could be that we would have an escalation that would take place that would not only involve many lives, but I think it could consume the Middle East in a confrontation and a conflict that we would regret.”[2]


General Michael Hayden, CIA Director (2006-2009)

“When we talked about this in the government, the consensus was that [attacking Iran] would guarantee that which we are trying to prevent — an Iran that will spare nothing to build a nuclear weapon and that would build it in secret.”[3]


Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (2007 – 2011)

“No strike, however effective, will be in and of itself decisive.” [4]

“We haven’t had a contact with Iran since 1979.  Even in the darkest days of the Cold War, we had links to the Soviet Union.  We are not talking to Iran so we don’t understand each other.  If something happens it’s virtually assured that we won’t get it right – that there will be miscalculations – which would be extremely dangerous in that part of the world.” [5]


Robert Gates, Secretary of Defense (2006 – 2011)

“If you think the war in Iraq was hard, an attack on Iran would, in my opinion, be a catastrophe.”[6]

“Conner’s axiom — never fight unless you have to — looms over policy discussions today regarding rogue nations like Iran … Another war in the Middle East is the last thing we need. In fact, I believe it would be disastrous on a number of levels.” [7] 

“In my opinion, any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should ‘have his head examined,’ as General MacArthur so delicately put it.” [8]


General David Petraeus, Director of the CIA, former CENTCOM Commander and commander of U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan

“It’s possible [a strike] could be used to play to nationalist tendencies. There is certainly a history, in other countries, of fairly autocratic regimes almost creating incidents that inflame nationalist sentiment. So that could be among the many different, second, third, or even fourth order effects [of a strike on Iran].” [9]


Admiral William Fallon, CENTCOM Commander (2007 – 2008)

“No one that I’m aware of thinks that there’s any real positive outcome of a military strike or some kind of conflict.”[10]

“The Iranian regime — which has been in place now for several decades – and the United States have had virtually no dialogue. There’s been talk, there’d been a couple of starts and few, let’s go have a discussion – but there really hasn’t been any meaningful dialogue since the revolution.”[11]

“This constant drumbeat of conflict … is not helpful and not useful. I expect that there will be no war, and that is what we ought to be working for. We ought to try to do our utmost to create different conditions.” [12]


General John Abizaid, CENTCOM Commander (2003 – 2007)

“We need to understand that war in the state-to-state sense in that part of the region would be devastating for everybody, and we should avoid it, in my mind, to every extent that we can.” [13]


General (Ret.) Anthony Zinni, CENTCOM Commander (1997 – 2000)

“The problem with the strike is thinking through the consequences of Iranian reaction.  One mine that hits a tanker, and you can imagine what is going to happen to the price of oil and economies around the world.  One missile into a Gulf oil field or a natural gas processing field, you can imagine what’s going to happen.  A missile attack on some of our troop formations in the Gulf or our bases in Iraq, activating sleeper cells, flushing out fast patrol boats and dowels that have mines that can go into the water in the Red Sea and elsewhere. You can see all these reactions that are problematic in so many ways. Economic impact, national security impact — it will drag us into a conflict.  I think anybody that believes that it would be a clean strike and it would be over and there would be no reaction is foolish … It will make Iraq and Afghanistan look relatively small in comparison, in terms of troop requirements and everything else.” [14]


Admiral (Ret.) Joe Sestak, former Congressman (D-PA)

“A military strike, whether it’s by land or air, against Iran would make the aftermath of the Iraqi invasion look like a cakewalk with regard to the impact on the United States’ national security.”[15]


General (Ret.) James Cartwright, former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Senator Jack Reed (D-RI)

Senator Reed: […]The usual proposal for a military action is some type that a discreet strike to disrupt the nuclear facilities in Iran. I presume that would not be 100 percent effective in terms of knocking them out. It would probably delay them, but that if their persistent enough they could at some point succeed.  Is that a fair judgment from your position?

General Cartwright: That’s a fair judgment.

Senator Reed: So that the only absolutely dispositive way to end any potential would be to physically occupy their country and to disestablish their nuclear facilities. Is that a fair, logical conclusion?

General Cartwright: Absent some other unknown calculus that would go on, it’s a fair conclusion.[16]


Dr. Colin Kahl, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East (2009-2011)

“If you’re worried about an Iranian nuclear weapon, the nearest term pathway to that is probably a relatively ineffective Israeli strike.” [17]

“Any war with Iran would be a messy and extraordinarily violent affair, with significant casualties and consequences.”[18]


Meir Dagan, former head of the Israeli intelligence agency MOSSAD

The possibility a future Israeli Air Force attack on Iranian nuclear facilities is “the stupidest thing I have ever heard … It will be followed by a war with Iran. It is the kind of thing where we know how it starts, but not how it will end.” [19]

Attacking Iran “would mean regional war, and in that case you would have given Iran the best possible reason to continue the nuclear program. The regional challenge that Israel would face would be impossible.” [20]


[1] U.S. to Israel: Don’t attack Iran. USA Today. 2 February 2012.

[3] Bush’s CIA director: We determined attacking Iran was a bad idea. The Cable. 19 January 2012

[4] Haaretz News Service. “’Military Strike Won’t Stop Iran’s Nuclear Program’.” 22 February 2011.

[6] Hostein, Lisa. “Gates: Proceed Warily on Iran”. Jewish Exponent. 21 March 2012

[8] Shanker, Thom. “Warning Against Wars Like Iraq and Afghanistan.” New York Times. 25 February 2011.

[9] Stewart, Phil. “Petraeus Says Strike On Iran Could Spark Nationalism.” 3 February 2010.

[12] Admiral Fallon, Al-Jazeera interview.  September 30, 2007.

[13] General John Abizaid. Interview with John Hamre. Center for Strategic and International Studies. September 17, 2007. http://csis.org/files/media/csis/events/070917_smartpower_abizaid.pdf

[14] General Anthony Zinni. Charlie Rose Interview. 4 August 2009.

[18] Kahl, Colin. Foreign Affairs. 17 January 2012

[20] Bronner, Ethan. “A Former Spy Chief Questions the Judgment the Israeli Leaders.” New York Times. 3 June 2011.

Posted By David Elliott

David Elliott is the Assistant Policy Director at the National Iranian American Council.

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7,349 signatures

Tell Google: Stop playing Persian Gulf name games!

May 14, 2012
Larry Page
Chief Executive Officer
Google Inc.
1600 Amphitheatre Parkway
Mountain View, California 94043

Dear Mr. Page:

It has come to our attention that Google has begun omitting the title of the Persian Gulf from its Google Maps application. This is a disconcerting development given the undisputed historic and geographic precedent of the name Persian Gulf, and the more recent history of opening up the name to political, ethnic, and territorial disputes. However unintentionally, in adopting this practice, Google is participating in a dangerous effort to foment tensions and ethnic divisions in the Middle East by politicizing the region’s geographic nomenclature. Members of the Iranian-American community are overwhelmingly opposed to such efforts, particularly at a time when regional tensions already have been pushed to the brink and threaten to spill over into conflict. As the largest grassroots organization in the Iranian-American community, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) calls on Google to not allow its products to become propaganda tools and to immediately reinstate the historically accurate, apolitical title of “Persian Gulf” in all of its informational products, including Google Maps.

Historically, the name “Persian Gulf” is undisputed. The Greek geographer and astronomer Ptolemy referencing in his writings the “Aquarius Persico.” The Romans referred to the "Mare Persicum." The Arabs historically call the body of water, "Bahr al-Farsia." The legal precedent of this nomenclature is also indisputable, with both the United Nations and the United States Board of Geographic Names confirming the sole legitimacy of the term “Persian Gulf.” Agreement on this matter has also been codified by the signatures of all six bordering Arab countries on United Nations directives declaring this body of water to be the Persian Gulf.

But in the past century, and particularly at times of escalating tensions, there have been efforts to exploit the name of the Persian Gulf as a political tool to foment ethnic division. From colonial interests to Arab interests to Iranian interests, the opening of debate regarding the name of the Persian Gulf has been a recent phenomenon that has been exploited for political gain by all sides. Google should not enable these politicized efforts.

In the 1930s, British adviser to Bahrain Sir Charles Belgrave proposed to rename the Persian Gulf, “Arabian Gulf,” a proposal that was rejected by the British Colonial and Foreign offices. Two decades later, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company resurrected the term during its dispute with Mohammad Mossadegh, the Iranian Prime Minister whose battle with British oil interests would end in a U.S.-sponsored coup d'état that continues to haunt U.S.-Iran relations. In the 1960s, the title “Arabian Gulf” became central to propaganda efforts during the Pan-Arabism era aimed at exploiting ethnic divisions in the region to unite Arabs against non-Arabs, namely Iranians and Israelis. The term was later employed by Saddam Hussein to justify his aims at territorial expansion. Osama Bin Laden even adopted the phrase in an attempt to rally Arab populations by emphasizing ethnic rivalries in the Middle East.

We have serious concerns that Google is now playing into these efforts of geographic politicization. Unfortunately, this is not the first time Google has stirred controversy on this topic. In 2008, Google Earth began including the term “Arabian Gulf” in addition to Persian Gulf as the name for the body of water. NIAC and others called on you then to stop using this ethnically divisive propaganda term, but to no avail. Instead of following the example of organizations like the National Geographic Society, which in 2004 used term “Arabian Gulf” in its maps but recognized the error and corrected it, Google has apparently decided to allow its informational products to become politicized.

Google should rectify this situation and immediately include the proper name for the Persian Gulf in Google Maps and all of its informational products. The exclusion of the title of the Persian Gulf diminishes your applications as informational tools, and raises questions about the integrity and accuracy of information provided by Google.

We strongly urge you to stay true to Google’s mission – “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” – without distorting or politicizing that information. We look forward to an explanation from you regarding the recent removal of the Persian Gulf name from Google Maps and call on you to immediately correct this mistake.



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