During World War II, it would have been unthinkable for the Allies to have stopped at the German border and begun stabilizing France after its liberation in 1944 before destroying the Third Reich and de-Nazifying Germany. Similarly, the stabilization of the Middle East can only be accomplished after the mullahs are brought down and Iran has been de-Islamified.
If the American people have grown weary of war, it is because the average American is tired of waging futile wars predicated on a failed strategy. If we are being asked to sacrifice blood and treasure, we have the right to demand victory, and a military strategy based on containment can never defeat an enemy determined to wage a war of conquest.
According to Israeli intelligence sources, US president Barack Obama has given Iran another year's grace beyond December 31, 2009 as an inducement to cease its quest for a nuclear weapon. The inducements he is offering (delaying the production of the super bunker-buster bomb and delaying the implementation of the just passed House economic sanctions bill) would effectively free Iran from the threat of severe economic sanctions and the bombardment of its subterranean nuclear facilities. If true, it will all be over by then: Tehran will have attained "the bomb" plus the means of delivery, and a nuclear shield under which to export its Islamic revolution.
This dangerous pandering to a regime ideologically committed to establishing a global Islamic caliphate is symptomatic of a greater problem that has dogged American war strategy for decades. The Obama administration fails to realize (as the Western powers failed to realize in 1938 when confronted by Nazi aggression) that the road to stabilizing the Palestinian territories, Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, and virtually the entire Middle East runs through Tehran. The United States has not yet learned that a nation cannot stop an aggressive enemy bent on conquest unless and until that enemy has been removed and its infrastructures eradicated.
The late David Halberstam,in The Best and the Brightest, traces the problem back to the Kennedy era when, in 1961, President Kennedy and his cadre of social theorists including Robert McNamara, McGeorge Bundy, Dean Rusk, George Ball and others ignored the historical lessons of war and, in so doing, set the course for American military defeats that would plague the US military for the next fifty years.
Transposing that American war experience onto Iran today may hold some valuable lessons that might be learned before the mullahs develop their nuclear shield:
The Kennedy administration, in 1961, had institutionalized the Truman "containment" strategy into what came to be known as "flexible response." Designed as an alternative to the "massive retaliation" strategy that led to the allied victory in World War II, and based on the concept of containing Communist expansion while avoiding a nuclear confrontation with the Soviet Union, this strategy assumed that an enemy would more or less conduct war according to our rules of engagement and would "get the message" if we gradually escalated the conflict in response to their aggression.
The doctrine emphasized using military force as a "signal" to one's opponent, the central idea being that both sides would limit the steps they took in order to avoid exacerbating the conflict. Unfortunately, the use of "flexible response" to guide US military strategy in Vietnam proved disastrous: The desire of the North Vietnamese communists to conquer South Vietnam was far greater than any ambitions the Soviets had in Cuba. The strategy led to a graduated escalation in Vietnam that was "never enough to defeat the enemy, but just enough to prolong the war," and allowed the North Vietnamese to define the terms of the conflict much as Iran is doing today throughout the Middle East and the African sub-continent.
Both Presidents Kennedy and Johnson had adopted what amounted to a defensive "containment" posture in South Vietnam to counter the Communist threat from the North. As a result, 500,000 American troops were confined to South Vietnam, with no thought of bringing down its Communist government. Because of that strategy (according to a 1995 Wall Street Journal interview with Bui Tin, a former colonel on the General Staff of the North Vietnamese Army), North Vietnamese leaders felt confident enough, even after their tremendous losses incurred during the Tet Offensive in South Vietnam, to drag out the war until America's will to fight was broken by the US anti-war movement.
The lesson not learned from Vietnam is that deterrence can be made effective only if the enemy can be made to doubt that it can retain control of the situation.
This essentially defensive "containment" strategy has continued to plague American military war efforts ever since. During the Iranian embassy crisis, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini told his Revolutionary Guards that they had nothing to fear from America after the Embassy takeover, as President Carter's only serious response to the hostage-taking was to impose ineffectual diplomatic and economic sanctions, an ill-fated rescue mission, an embargo on Iranian oil and a break in diplomatic relations - none of which threatened Khomeini's regime. "Our youth should be confident that America cannot do a damn thing," Khomeini told his followers three days after the embassy takeover. "America is far too impotent to interfere in a military way here. If they could have interfered, they would have saved the Shah."
What especially seems to have surprised Khomeini was that President Carter and his aides, notably Secretary of State Cyrus Vance appeared apologetic for unspecified mistakes supposedly committed by the United States and asked for forgiveness and magnanimity. (Sound familiar?) In the end, Khomeini ordered the US flag to be painted at the entrance to airports, railway stations, ministries, factories, schools, hotels and bazaars so the faithful could trample it under their feet - the ultimate insult. It is noteworthy to recall the words of Adolf Hitler after his 1938 meeting with British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain: "Our enemies are little worms," Hitler told his General Staff. "I saw them at Munich." America had lost more than its prestige in the eyes of Ayatollah Khomeini; it had lost its credibility, and thousands of Americans would die over the next three decades because of this perception of American weakness. Fast forward to February 14, 2005, when Ayatollah Mohammad Baqer Kharrazi, secretary general of the Iranian Hezbollah, declared, "We shouldn't be afraid of anyone. The United States is nothing more than a barking dog." It appears that nothing has changed over the intervening quarter century to alter this perception in the minds of the Iranian mullahs.
President Clinton fared no better. His attempts to "contain" foreign aggression continued even as Americans were being murdered by Islamic terrorists in New York, Washington DC, Pennsylvania, Saudi Arabia, Kenya, Tanzania to the USS Cole in Yemen. He sent cruise missiles to blow up empty tents in the Afghan desert and pharmaceutical factories in the Sudan; passed on capturing or killing bin Laden; signed agreements with dictators based on the assumption that America would somehow be "safer;" hamstrung American intelligence services in the name of civil liberties; shrank the American military in the name of economy; fostered the belief that the oceans and our sheer size would protect us from our enemies (an illusion that should have died on 9/11 but continues today), and chose to use the courts as the battleground with terrorists (as does the Obama administration), rather than taking the war to them and especially to their sponsors. This led bin Laden (and probably Ahmedinejad) to conclude that he was dealing with an American "paper tiger" -- a country that relied on rhetoric, dialogue and appeasement, but never aggressive military action, to secure its strategic interests abroad -- the same mentality that has now led the Saudis, the Egyptians, the Arab Emirates, Turkey and several South American dictators to mend fences with Iran's Ahmedinejad, whom they perceive to be the "strong horse" in the Middle East today.
This same failed strategy is again playing itself out in Iraq. Senior American officials report that approximately 75%-80% of foreign terrorists in Iraq are of Saudi, Libyan, Syrian, Algerian, Yemenite and Sudanese origin who have been provided with sophisticated weaponry and other logistical support by Iranian Revolutionary Guard units and an estimated 30,000 Iranian agents operating in Iraq. A Defense Department report released on December 19, 2007 emphasized that support for terrorist groups by Tehran's Shiite government remains "a significant impediment to progress."
The Iranian mullahs and their well-entrenched Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps have literally been getting away with murder for thirty years, and have exported their revolution throughout the Middle East and beyond on the backs of terrorists -- while America and the West have failed at every attempt to stop them short of regime change. Now, the Iranians are on the verge of developing a nuclear shield under which to export their global Islamic revolution. Most Americans still do not understand the mindset of this enemy: We tend to think it is all rhetoric -- that the Iranians could not possibly believe all this nonsense about global caliphates, restoring Andalusia, Hidden Imams and creating the nuclear chaos necessary to bring on Armageddon.
As Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute wrote recently: "The containment argument (against Iran) runs along Cold War lines - The price of (Iran's) breakout is too high; the regime cares only about power, not about using (nuclear) weapons; containment will be simple because the Arabs are so scared of Iran they'll do anything to help us; Ahmadinejad doesn't have his finger on the (nuclear) button…… In fact, these arguments are either false or misleading." Iran cannot be "contained" any more than could Nazi aggression: it is spreading its tentacles through its global proxies.
Ahmadinejad may be a psychopath, but, like Hitler, he is a psychopath with a vision. The US has always assumed that it is the only nation with grand visions -- like peace, democratization, religious tolerance, multi-culturalism, free enterprise and globalization. But Iran and its Islamic surrogates have their own "grand vision" and the grandest of all tells them that both America and Israel will never be anything but enemies of their regimes, culture and religion, and that victory over both is assured because it has been pre-ordained by Allah. Their vision is to humiliate the "Great Satan;" annihilate the "Little Satan," Israel -- and drive Western culture, Western values, the forces of modernization and Western influence from the Middle East.
So the question arises: How can America possibly stabilize the Middle East when Iran and its terrorist proxies are totally committed to humiliating us, breaking our spirit, destroying our efforts, and ultimately driving us from the region?
Today, even as Iranian proxies are de-stabilizing the Palestinian territories, Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Egypt, Jordan, Somalia, Morocco, Yemen and the Gulf Emirates, the Obama administration continues to negotiate with the Islamic Republic of Iran. But in the Middle East,negotiations are simply a way to buy time to gain a strategic advantage: That is Iran's goal. For the US to press for negotiations and economic sanctions at this late date is not only irresponsible bordering on negligence, but such actions are being perceived as signs of weakness, fear and defeatism, and will only serve to reinforce the power and influence of the Tehran regime, and allow it to move on the fast track to a functional and deliverable nuclear weapon.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and his President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad look at our actions -- none -- and believe that American resolve is faltering, that we have lost the will to retaliate, that we are divided, frightened and indecisive. This is why our flawed military strategy in the region is only enhancing the perception of American weakness. If we remove the threat of military intervention and regime change (as Tehran believes), we not only guarantee a nuclear Iran, but our defeat throughout the Middle East. The Iranians know it, the Arabs know it, and the Israelis know it.
Unfortunately, we have sent a message to our friends and our enemies that we consider bringing down the mullahs and ending the Islamic revolution in Iran too costly to pursue even though we have exhausted all other Alternatives, or at least have run out of time to enforce them. In so doing, we have conveyed the perception that although America possesses a vast technological advantage and great military power, it lacks the political will to use them against Iran. For all the money and effort the US has expended on winning hearts and minds, rather few hearts and minds have been won. No amount of treaties or concessions can paper over the fact that Iran will not be pacified and convinced to forego its quest for nuclear weapons with threats of diplomatic isolation, economic sanctions or offers of hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign aid. Iran continues to provide money, support, and deadly munitions to Shiite and radical Sunni groups throughout the Middle East, Africa, and South America, its growing power is threatening regional stability: it is training thousands of "volunteers for martyrdom" throughout the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa to spread its Islamic revolution across the globe, and its success is based upon the belief that both America and Israel are in strategic retreat.
As former Attorney-General John Ashcroft wrote in the final chapter of his Book, Never Again, with reference to the events of 9/11: "I remember the cost of weakness. Misguided decisions always have consequences. In this war....a moral imperative for toughness exists. What will separate us from the mistakes of the past is our will to win." Like it or not, the responsibility for regime change and de-Islamifying Iran rests primarily with America and the many dissident Iranian groups seeking an end to the Islamic revolution and a return to stability, international acceptance and economic prosperity. The demonstrators in Iran on December 7th rightfully exclaimed: "Obama, are you with them [the regime] or with us?" He had best heed their call.
It is not the weapon but the regime that creates the danger, so if Iran is to go nuclear, we had best insure that a friendly government rules in Tehran. As Stephen Hayes wrote recently in the Weekly Standard: "In 2009, we tried to engage the Iranian regime. In 2010, we must change it." Otherwise, no nation that ever opposes the mullahs' global Islamic ambitions will be secure once their nuclear shield is in place.