In an interview with Pajamas Media, former CIA Director Michael Hayden sets the record straight about some of his recent comments regarding an attack on Iran.
Some news reports on Hayden’s CNN interview took his words out of context. Here are quotes from that interview posted on CNN’s Political Ticker:
“We engage. They continue to move forward. We vote for sanctions. They continue to move forward. We try to deter, to dissuade. They continue to move forward.” Hayden says military action against Iran is more likely now than ever — and could be justified. “When I was in government, what we would used to mystically call ‘the kinetic option’ was way down on our list. In my personal thinking … I have begun to consider that that may not be the worst of all possible outcomes.”
Many of those reports are saying that he stated a military attack on Iran was likely, while failing to add some of Hayden’s more nuanced thinking involving “kinetic actions” and deterrence.
PJM’s Elise Cooper interviewed Hayden to get some clarity on his comments.
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Many articles cite Hayden’s quote from the interview that “it seems inexorable, doesn’t it?” as proof that he is stating military action is more likely now. However, the meaning of the word “inexorable” does not fit that scenario. Today, General Hayden noted that he used the word to emphasize that “in a pursuit of nuclear technology and having a possible nuclear breakout stage, it seems inexorable they will move forward no matter what we do.”
In my previous discussions with General Hayden, he has always mentioned that his personal view is that Iran is “determined to have a weapon. If not a weapon, they intend to be in a permanent breakout state where they will have everything in place and will be able to create a weapon in a relatively short time. That may actually be their sweet spot.”
As many different attempts to stop Iran’s nuclear program have failed, the options are narrowing. Hayden agreed and further noted that “some of the options we felt very uncomfortable with, like kinetic actions, seem to be moving up the list as other options drop off and are reduced. It’s simple math that as the options narrow those that remain are getting fewer.”
What can be drawn from the CNN interview is that the military action option has raised the stakes but by no means is it inevitable. When asked about this point, Hayden stated that “there is kinetic action that can be taken against Iran. No one said it would be easy.” Although Hayden did not address the character of kinetic action during the interview, he explained that such action can include a conventional military attack as well as other options.
Given the fact that Iran might remain in a breakout stage, could America resort back to the deterrence option that was used during the Cold War? Hayden noted that “it took us a long time to get a balance with the Soviet Union. What does deterrence mean today? Will the Gulf States be as comfortable with the American promise as the Europeans were? Will the Saudis sit by and be as comfortable under the American umbrella as the Germans? Or will the Saudis try to get their own? We just don’t know.”
Placing Hayden’s CNN statements into a proper framework is important. His comments about Iran’s nuclear ambitions are too vital an issue to be reduced to a series of sound bites and headlines. Since America’s options seem to be narrowing, he felt that “deterrence is one of the options that remain, but do you bet the farm that you can deter them? That is the context of what I was saying yesterday.”