Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates expressed his views on Iran to the Wall Street Journal CEO Council in Washington on Nov. 16. His key message was that sanctions (economic pressure) are working. He went on to make the case that this economic pressure is causing splits in the Iranian leadership. He implicitly advocates continuing on this course to cause further splits, while at the same time acknowledging that he believes personally that the Iranian leadership is intent on acquiring nuclear weapons.
What's more disturbing is that even though the Iranian leadership has continued to conduct "acts of war" against the United States for more than 30 years, Mr. Gates nonetheless has ruled out any military action against Iran. Instead, he makes the case to continue attempts at negotiation with the illegitimate regime of Ali Khamenei and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
On the surface, it seems Mr. Gates does not appear to appreciate the psychological effect that the mere threat of attacking Iran would have on the Iranian leadership, if we only set out to do so. It would undercut the view that has persisted since the Carter administration that no responsible American leader wants a war with Iran. It is this ill-advised position, plus our failure to respond to Iran's repeated acts of war, that has given a major boost to the Islamic fundamentalist movement.
Mr. Gates stated to the council that a military strike on Iran's nuclear infrastructure would be just a "short-term solution," as it would buy us only a few years. What he failed to address was that the problem is not just Iran's nuclear infrastructure - the main problem is the corrupt Iranian regime. He went on to state that such a strike would have the effect of unifying the Iranian opposition forces around the illegal regime.
Far from it. It would be the key catalyst for the opposition to move. The opposition is poised to act, but it needs outside support.
Mr. Gates' position really reflects the Obama administration's stated intent to prostrate ourselves in order to have direct negotiations with Iran. In the end, what would such negotiations really accomplish? Let's not forget we are dealing with a terrorist regime. The U.S. position had always been one of not negotiating with terrorists - the exception being Iran.
In Mr. Gates' approach, he offers no solution to the main problem, which is the continuing existence of the corrupt Iranian regime. The solution is clear, but it takes political will - something that has been lacking for more than 30 years. Our military men as well as thousands of innocent civilians have paid the ultimate price because of our failure to act. As we ramp up our military strategy in Afghanistan, we need to expand and execute a deliberate psychological strategy to divide and destabilize the Iranian regime so it tears itself apart from within. Perception management is the key. We need to support vigorously the opposition movement, which would include a viable political replacement for the current regime. The catalyst for regime replacement should be a strategic military strike to eliminate the nuclear weapons infrastructure.
We have our casus belli on a number of legal fronts, not the least of which is Iran's systematic killing of our military forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. What's the administration's position on that?
Retired Navy Adm. James A. Lyons was commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet and senior U.S. military representative to the United Nations.
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