Bush critics alarmed over reports of possible strike on Iran Mon Apr 10, 4:11 AM ET

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Critics of the George W. Bush administration expressed alarm about explosive new reports that the president is mulling military options to knock out Iran's nuclear program.


Retired General Anthony Zinni, the former head of US Central Command, told US television Sunday that he had no detailed knowledge of the alleged military plans, but he suggested a preemptive strike against Iran's nuclear program would be extremely risky.

"Any military plan involving Iran is going to be very difficult. We should not fool ourselves to think it will just be a strike and then it will be over," said Zinni.

"The Iranians will retaliate, and they have many possibilities in an area where there are many vulnerabilities, from our troop positions to the oil and gas in the region that can be interrupted, to attacks on Israel, to the conduct of terrorism," he said.

Zinni made his remarks after the publication of a pair of reports this weekend saying that the administration is seriously considering military action against Iran, amid a stalemate in diplomatic efforts.

The New Yorker magazine reported in its April 17 issue that the administration is planning a massive bombing campaign against Iran, including use of bunker-buster nuclear bombs to destroy a key suspected Iranian nuclear weapons facility.

The article by investigative journalist Seymour Hersh said that Bush and others in the White House have come to view Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as a potential "Adolf Hitler."

"That's the name they're using," Hersh quoted a former senior intelligence official as saying.

Hersh told CNN's "Late Edition" show that a "messianic" president feels driven to try to contain Iran and that the White House is determined to keep open a nuclear option against strong objections from some top Pentagon officials.

"It's the fact that the White House wouldn't let it go that has got the JCS (Joint Chiefs of Staff) in an uproar," he said.

"He (Bush) thinks, as I wrote, that he's the only one now who will have the courage to do it," said Hersh, the reporter who also broke the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal.

Hersh reports in his article that the administration already has advance forces on the ground in Iran.

"I think it's fraught with danger. But they're there," he told CNN.

Frederick Jones, spokesman for the National Security Council, which advises the president, told AFP: "The US government has been very clear about its approach in dealing with Iran."

"As the president has said repeatedly, we, the US, along with the international community, are seeking a diplomatic solution."

Democratic Senator John Kerry, one of the administration's most outspoken critics, assailed the White House for what he said is its over-reliance on military might.

"That is another example of the shoot-from-the-hip, cowboy diplomacy of this administration," the former Democratic presidential contender said.

"For us to think about exploding tactical nuclear weapons in some way is the height of irresponsibility. It would be destructive to any non-proliferation efforts and the military assessment is, it would not work," he told NBC television's "Meet the Press" program.

Meanwhile, according to a report Sunday in the Washington Post, Bush is studying options for military strikes against Iran as part of a broader strategy of coercive diplomacy to pressure Tehran to abandon its alleged nuclear program.

Citing unnamed US officials and independent analysts, the newspaper said no attack appears likely in the short term, but officials are using the threat to convince Iranians of the seriousness of its intentions.

The paper said Bush views Tehran as a serious menace that must be dealt with before his presidency ends. The White House, in its new National Security Strategy, labeled Iran the most serious challenge to the United States posed by any country.

Zinni said he shared Washington's concerns about Tehran's motives, but said diplomatic efforts should first be exhausted.

"I believe that if the international community would stand fast, the Russians and the Chinese would stay with us, I think that kind of pressure, the fear of being isolated and condemned as a rogue state could have the effect that we need to halt the program.

"I'm not saying that there isn't a military action that will become necessary at some point," Zinni continued.

"But I believe ... when you take that military action, you have to ask the question, 'and then what?' Because you're going to have a series of those 'and then whats' down the road," he said.

Hersh told CNN however, that the White House has spurned Tehran's overtures for dialogue.

"This president is not talking to the Iranians. They are trying very hard to make contact, I can assure you of that, in many different forms," he said.

"He's not talking. And there's no public pressure on the White House to start bilateral talks. And that's what amazes everybody," he said.