A recent 10-day naval exercise by Iran was intended to display a capability to close the strategic Strait of Hormuz should further sanctions be imposed that would affect Iran's oil industry. The exercise was accompanied with the usual bluster, even threatening some unspecified action should the attack carrier USS John C. Stennis return to the Persian Gulf. Suffice it to say, the U.S. Navy will continue to operate its ships in international waters, which includes the Persian Gulf, whenever necessary to carry out its mission.
A more recent report indicates that Iran's parliament is preparing a bill that would prohibit all foreign warships from entering the Persian Gulf unless they first request and receive permission from the Iranian navy. Such a flagrant violation of the internationally recognized "freedom of the seas" concept was likely sanctioned by the fanatical Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. It should be made patently clear to the Iranian theocracy that any interference with the peaceful movement of civilian vessels or warships in or out of the Persian Gulf will be considered an "act of war" and be dealt with promptly.
There should no doubt of our resolve and the U.S. Navy's capability, along with our allies, to protect freedom of the seas and keep the Strait of Hormuz open. Soon the United States will have three carrier battle groups in the region: the USS Abraham Lincoln, USS Carl Vinson and the John C. Stennis. This awesome capability is similar to three battle groups we had assembled in August 1987, when we were prepared to shut Iran down for its aggressive actions in the Gulf reflagged tanker war, but could not get authorization to execute our plans. Had we attacked, we would not be in the position we are in today.
Now that all troops are out of Iraq, we still must not only address Iran's latest maritime threats, but its expansionist agenda and its drive to achieve a nuclear weapons capability. The liberal foreign policy establishment has already leaped on the mistakes of the Bush administration for its controversial decision to invade Iraq as well as its conduct of the war. The case is being made that we should have learned our lessons and not forget the more than 4,400 American lives lost as well as the tens of thousands injured and the almost trillion dollars expended. They have a point. However, Iran was always the main threat.
There is no question that the bastion of democracy did not materialize in Iraq as the Bush administration has hoped. Instead, we now have an Iraqi administration, dominated by Iran, helped by the ineptness of the Obama administration.
The liberal foreign policy establishment thinks a wiser course for resolving our issues with Iran should be diplomacy rather than military action. They acknowledge that President Obama tried to engage the Iranian leadership with no preconditions, but was not only rebuffed, but ridiculed. Further, two letters said to have been sent to the Iranian leadership went unanswered.
The establishment should remember that Iran has been at war with the United States for more than 30 years. Its direct involvement in the bombing of our U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut in October 1983, as well as the Khobar Towers bombing of June 1996 in Saudi Arabia and the direct assistance it provided the Sept. 11 hijackers, cannot be dismissed. Nor can their direct assistance to the Iraqi militias, which accounted for many of the more than 4,400 fatalities we suffered.
With the latest Iranian bluster threatening U.S. warships, plus moving to declare de facto control over the entire Persian Gulf, the United States is being directly challenged. In the past when we have been challenged by the fanatical Iranian leadership, our leadership - from the Carter administration to the current one - has backed down. It is to be hoped that this great nation will not be let down again.
With our continued groveling, a window might be opened for direct negotiations, but what would it really mean? We are viewed by the fanatical mullahs as "infidels," and therefore, any agreement would be meaningless. Furthermore, if our apparent negotiations with the Taliban are any indication of how the Obama administration would approach the Iranians, I fear "appeasement" would be the least of our concerns. Capitulation would most likely be the outcome.
At the end of the day, our issues with Iran can only be resolved by regime change. Our diplomatic and military actions must be coordinated to bring about such a change. They must include as a minimum the following:
c Bring action before the U.N. Security Council to condemn Iran's latest potential intentions to interfere with either civilian or military ships transiting the Strait of Hormuz.
c Have the Security Council announce a declaration to keep the Strait of Hormuz open by all means available.
c Support the European Union in imposing sanctions on Iran's oil industry both for exported and imported fuels.
c The U.S. and its allies should be prepared to enforce the "freedom of seas" concept throughout the Persian Gulf.
c The U.S. and its allies should be prepared to implement a coordinated strike plan against Iran's nuclear infrastructure. Iran's oil industry infrastructure should be held hostage to limit Iran's response.
c The U.S. and its allies should be prepared to assist the "Green Revolution" opposition force uprising against the regime by both covert and overt means, including financial support.
Keeping the Iranian theocracy in power cannot be an option if any sense of stability is to be achieved in the Middle East. Further, any resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict cannot be achieved with the Iranian theocracy remaining in power.
Retired 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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