Every time I hear some policy maker talk about “destabilizing” (as you did the other day, discussing a possible Israeli military attack on Iran) my heart sinks. For two reasons:
–First, because the Middle East–no, make that the whole world–has been destabilized to a fare-thee-well, and many fuses have been lit. All the big countries are unstable. Russia is convulsed, China is facing angry Tibetans and frustrated Han, Japan has already blown up, Europe is a mess, and we’re waiting for the next act in the Great Recession. The Middle East follows suit with multiple domestic insurrections and renewed terrorist attacks (Iraq, for example). None of that was caused by any Israeli attack on Iran;
–Second, the United States is a revolutionary country. Our very existence is destabilizing, especially to the tyrants who are trying very hard to kill us. You know all about that, General, because your guys are getting shot and blown up in Afghanistan every day. A lot of the mayhem, from the killers to their weapons and explosives, comes from Tehran. Not to mention the Iranian plans to assassinate one of their targets in downtown Washington. Even Senator Schumer is worried about Iranian-backed terrorists in Manhattan.
So when I hear someone with your knowledge and your experience talk as if things were moving along nicely with Iran (sanctions are working, the Tehran regime is “rational”), my heart sinks. As it happens, the Iranians just spat in our eye again, sending the latest crew of UN “nuclear inspectors” packing when they asked to look at a nuclear site. And the Iranian supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, gave yet another speech declaring that nothing would deter his Islamic Republic from successfully fulfilling its nuclear dreams.
You say that we know, or “think we know,” that they haven’t decided to go ahead and construct atomic weapons. I don’t read the intel reports that you do, but I believe that the supreme leader made that decision many years ago. I also believe that our intelligence on Iran stinks, as it has ever since the days of the shah. Given that track record, I believe you should work as hard as you can to protect us against the worst case, and not go whistling past the Persian graveyard.
When the Iranians chant “death to America!” just what do you think they mean?
You say they’re “rational.” Are mass murder, mass torture, and mass rape in Iran and Syria “rational”?
Is that the sort of “stability” you’re afraid an Israeli attack will undo? I rather doubt that the people of Homs, or Damascus, or Tehran or Tabriz would share your implied assessment that destabilizing the current situation is a bad thing. Nor should you, given your responsibilities for our fighting men and women.
It is quite true, as you say, that the Iranians might respond violently to an Israeli attack, unleashing terror attacks against us, against the Israelis, and against NATO countries. But then, they’re already unleashed, don’t you think? Certainly Senator Schumer thinks so, and certainly the Israelis — whose diplomats, school teachers and tourists who have been targeted of late from Baku to Bangkok — think so. And what about that American Marine now sentenced to death in Tehran? Is that “stability”?
I know the president wants to make a deal with them, and I know you are not an independent actor when it comes to our foreign policy. But you are charged with acting in the best interests of our military forces, and there is no doubt that the greatest thing for them would be the fall of the terror regimes in Iran and Syria. Absent those regimes, terror organizations like Hezbollah, al Qaeda, Hamas and the Taliban would be a lot easier to defeat. And even the Pakistanis and the Muslim Brothers might pay more attention when you complain about their current hostility.
In that sense, we should aim for “destabilizing” the region, and you should be its leading advocate.
It seems unlikely that Assad can be brought down without a lot of fighting — we dithered too long, as usual — but Iran is different. The Iranian regime is hollow, frightened of its own people. If we supported them politically (calling for non-violent democratic revolution), financially (by organizing a strike fund for Iranian workers), and operationally (providing advanced communications technology so they can organize effectively), they might be able to topple the regime.
Perhaps you have made these points in closed session. I certainly hope so. But your public remarks seem to me to be poorly reasoned and aimed at the wrong audience. If we are worried about violence, our warnings should be aimed at the terrorists and their masters in Damascus and Tehran, not at their intended victims in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
Thank you for your service, sir, and best wishes in your most difficult task.
Dr. Michael Ledeen is the Freedom Scholar at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. He is also a contributing editor at National Review Online. Previously, he served as a consultant to the National Security Council, the State Department, and the Defense Department. He has also served as a special adviser to the Secretary of State. He holds a Ph.D. in modern European history and philosophy from the University of Wisconsin, and has taught at Washington University in St. Louis and the University of Rome.
Dr. Ledeen regularly appears on Fox News, and on a variety of radio talk shows. He has been on PBS's NewsHour and CNN's Larry King Live, among others, and regularly contributes to the Wall Street Journal and to National Review Online. He has a blog on Pajamasmedia.com.
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