Rethinking American War Strategy
In 1945, after the liberation of France, it would have been unthinkable for the Allies to have stopped at the French-German border (believing they could contain Nazi expansionism in the post-war era), and begun attempts to stabilize and reconstruct France without first destroying the Third Reich and de-Nazifying Germany. For the same reason, the stabilization and reconstruction of Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan, the Palestinian territories, and indeed the entire Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa cannot be accomplished unless and until the Iranian mullahs have been removed and Iran has been de-Islamified. The foreign policy paradigm that an apocalyptic, messianic Islamic enemy bent on establishing a global caliphate can be appeased and contained is not only delusional, but guarantees the rise of Iranian Islamic hegemony throughout the region and beyond.
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 Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa runs through Tehran. The United States has not yet learned that an aggressive enemy bent on conquest cannot be stopped unless and until it has been removed and its infrastructures eradicated.
The late David Halberstam, writing of the American military experience during the Vietnam War in his book The Best and the Brightest, traced 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 institutionalized the Truman “containment” strategy into what came to be known as “flexible response.” Designed as a defensive Cold War response to Soviet aggression, and an alternative to the massive retaliation strategy that led to the allied victory in World War II, the concept was based on the principle of containing Communist expansion while avoiding a nuclear confrontation with the Soviet Union. The 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. It 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 escalating the conflict.
Unfortunately, the use of the flexible response strategy in Vietnam proved disastrous because the desire of the North Vietnamese communists to conquer South Vietnam was far greater than any ambitions the Soviets had in Cuba. 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 to drag out the war until America’s will to fight was broken by the U.S. anti-war movement. Five hundred thousand American troops were effectively confined to a defensive posture in South Vietnam with no thought of bringing down the government of Communist North Vietnam. This strategy 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, and as the Nazis and their fascist surrogates would have done had the Allies tried to contain Nazi aggression after 1945.
Later, during the Iranian embassy crisis, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini told his Revolutionary Guards that they had nothing to fear militarily 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. He rejected bombing Iran’s major military assets or its main government buildings or even capturing its oil facilities. “Our youth should be confident that America will not 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 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. (Does any of this sound familiar today?) In the end, Khomeini ordered the U.S. 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 very little has changed over the intervening quarter century to alter this perception in the minds of the Iranian mullahs.
And President Clinton fared no better. His attempts to contain Islamic aggression continued even as Americans were being murdered by Islamic terrorists in New York, Saudi Arabia, Kenya, Tanzania and aboard 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 their sponsors.
The Bush administration also came to see the containment of Iran as the primary objective of its Middle East policy. It held Tehran responsible for escalating violence in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, and Hamas’ intransigence, and recognized that the balance of power in the region was shifting toward Iran and its Islamist allies. Curbing Tehran’s growing influence through containment, it believed, was the only way to insure regional security, but the situation deteriorated when our Sunni Arab allies in Iraq and elsewhere proved to be either incapable or unwilling to do so.
Meanwhile, senior American officials are reporting that approximately 75%-80% of foreign terrorists in Iraq have been provided with sophisticated weaponry and other logistical support by Iranian Revolutionary Guard units, and an estimated 30,000 Iranian agents currently operate in that country, not to mention Iran’s Islamic surrogates operating in Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, the Palestinian territories, Yemen, Somalia and South America. Moreover, 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.” No surprise here.
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 they intend to further their global Islamic revolution. 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 Islamic tentacles around the world through its global proxies, and has every intention of continuing to do so.
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, multiculturalism, 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 and reconstruct 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 Iran’s proxies are de-stabilizing the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa, the Obama administration continues to seek negotiations with and offer nuclear deals to the Islamic Republic of Iran, all of which have been rejected. He fails to understand that 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 beyond irresponsible. It has created the perception that America is weak, fearful and close to defeat. Such a perception 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 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 have), we not only guarantee a nuclear Iran, but our defeat throughout the Middle East. The Iranians know it, the Arabs know it, and I suspect, even 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 the winning hearts and minds of our enemies, 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 and it’s growing power is threatening international 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 before it’s too late.
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.