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Subtle Shift From Adm. Mullen on Iran Strikes?

To take one more crack at Adm. Michael Mullen’s comments after a Columbia University address yesterday, it’s certainly clear that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff took pains to keep any military option against Iran as a last resort. But he may have shifted his emphasis about what hypothetical military strikes might accomplish.

According to Reuters (via Laura Rozen), Mullen said military strikes — presumably meaning missile strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities — would go “a long way” toward delaying Iran’s nuclear program. That’s tonally different than some of Mullen’s comments earlier this year that threw cold water on the efficacy of military action. Consider this February comment to the press, shortly after Mullen toured the Middle East:

We owe the secretary and the president a range of options for this threat. We owe the American people our readiness. But as I’ve said many times, I worry a lot about the unintended consequences of any sort of military action. For now, the diplomatic and the economic levers of international power are and ought to be the levers first pulled. Indeed, I would hope they are always and consistently pulled. No strike, however effective, will be, in and of itself, decisive.

My emphasis. In fairness, it’s possible to reconcile the two statements — while no single strike could be decisive, a bunch of them could go a long way toward slowing Iran’s nuclear program. But Mullen used to talk about what military strikes couldn’t accomplish, and now he’s venturing toward musing on what they can – while still cautioning that they still carry a big risk of unintended consequences and ought to be the very last resort. If Mullen was looking to tamp down Mideast speculation that a misinterpreted memo from Secretary of Defense Robert Gates meant the U.S. had few military options against Iran, that’s one way to go about it.

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