Aamer Madhani / Chicago Tribune | July 4, 2008

The words Wednesday from Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were notable for their blunt pragmatism: An Israeli airstrike on Iran would be high-risk and could further destabilize the region, leading to political and economic chaos.

On Iran’s western border, the U.S. military is more than five years into a war in Iraq that has taken 4,113 American lives and cost U.S. taxpayers more than $600 billion. And on Iran’s eastern border, American commanders are now openly questioning whether they have lost their way in the fight against a resurgent Taliban.

Israel, the United States’ closest ally in the Middle East, has refused to rule out a strike against Iranian nuclear sites, and this week’s New Yorker magazine reported that the U.S. has stepped up its covert operations inside Iran

While President George W. Bush repeated Wednesday that a military strike remains an option, Mullen’s words of caution underscored the Pentagon’s belief that a move against Iran—by the U.S. or one of its allies—would have an undeniable effect on the ongoing U.S. missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Opening up a third front right now would be extremely stressful on us,” Mullen acknowledged during a Pentagon news conference. He added moments later, “This is a very unstable part of the world, and I don’t need it to be more unstable.”

The White House, Israel and Western powers say Iran continues to work toward producing nuclear weapons. Iran says its nuclear program is intended only for generating electricity. This week, Iran’s foreign minister struck a conciliatory tone when speaking to reporters about the possibility of Tehran agreeing to suspend its uranium enrichment program.


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