At first, I thought all the statements — about Iranian support for terrorists (in both Iraq and Afghanistan) who kill Americans — were parting messages from government officials on their way out, and therefore free to say such things. They knew the facts all along, but repeatedly soft-pedaled them and on occasion even denied having such evidence. So when Secretary of Defense Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mullen (finally) said “the Iranians are killing our guys,” I wasn’t impressed. “NOW you tell us!” was my gut reaction. “So how come we didn’t hear about this many years ago?”
And that’s still my reaction, up to a certain point.
Along with other military families, and a tiny handful of pols and pundits, I have been adamant about this matter for many years of Democrat and Republican administrations. I once sent a personal note to a senior government official in which I asked why he should not be considered in violation of his mission for failure to act, or at least speak out, against the Iranian regime’s murder of Americans. All to no obvious effect. The Gates and Mullen statements seemed altogether too easy to me, a sort of conscience-balm for two men who had failed to do their duty over many years.
But then came a similar statement from Ambassador Jeffrey in Iraq, and I had to say “whoa!” And then Panetta said the same thing. Those are different, those come from officials who are there right now, and their words count for a lot more than those of guys entering retirement. Indeed, I think we must now read the Gates and Mullen statements as part of an administration campaign to raise public consciousness.
It looks like the sort of campaign that is designed to lay the groundwork for a policy shift. Can it be?
Lest you forget, here’s the baseline:
Question: “Aren’t you concerned that your outstretched hand has been interpreted by extremists, especially [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad, [Hizballah leader] Nasrallah, [Hamas leader] Meshal, as weakness?”
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, it’s not clear to me why my outstretched hand would be interpreted as weakness.
It would be churlish to blame Obama and his minions for the ongoing Iranian-sponsored assault against Americans — it’s been going on for decades. And every president since Jimmy Carter has appeased the Islamic Republic, believing that a “grand bargain” was days away. But the other presidents’ search for rapprochement with Iran was, for the most part, conducted secretly, while Obama put himself in front of the appeasement bandwagon.
Caveat: There have always been Obama officials who said privately that the president has known all along that his call for good relations with Iran would fail, and that sterner measures would be necessary. It may even be true (although I doubt it; I think that he believed that his “special gift” would bring the mullahs into a big tent of peace and love).
Whatever the original intention, its failure is manifest to us all, isn’t it? So now what?
The logic of the new Panetta/Jeffrey campaign is: if you’re going to acknowledge the Iranian war against the United States, you’ve got to do something about it. What will Obama do? Panetta says we’re going to “take it on.”
The first test is discouraging: A Syrian mob attacked our embassy in Damascus, and we didn’t fire even a warning shot. The French Embassy was also attacked, and the French guards fired, probably in the air.
Does anyone remember the Iranian assault against our Tehran Embassy in 1979? When a mob attacked, the Marine Guards did not shoot. Indeed, they did not even have live ammunition in their weapons. The Embassy was overrun, hostages were taken, and the countdown for Jimmy Carter had begun.
The first rule is that self-defense is legitimate and important. Failure to actively defend Americans under assault will only multiply the number of assaults against Americans. Dithering encourages our enemies; we have to be decisive.
The second rule is that we must strike — politically in almost all cases, not militarily — directly at the heart of the regimes that organize the killing of Americans. We must support their enemies, who, in both Iran and Syria, constitute a clear majority of the Iranian and Syrian people.
The third rule is that those responsible for killing Americans must be held accountable. When the Quds Force killers appear in areas where we can operate, we should hunt them down. When their political leaders travel, we must demand that Interpol arrest them. And we should strike violently at the terrorist training camps from which the Iranian proxies emerge, as well as against the assembly points for the explosive devices and rockets that are used to kill and maim our men and women.
That means changing the intended recipient of the outstretched hand from the tyrants to the people, and brandishing a clenched fist at the tyrants. Is Obama capable of such a drastic change? It’s very unlikely. More likely he’ll brag about sanctions (that he opposed for years) and continue to make feckless statements about the need for “changed policies” by Assad, Khamenei and Ahmadinejad.
But then, he probably knows that wimps don’t win reelection. Americans despise wimps, and as Machiavelli said, popular contempt is the single greatest danger to any leader.
So we’ll see. I don’t think Obama is about to embrace the Ledeen Doctrine of unleashing democratic revolution against tyrants that order the murder of Americans. But life is full of surprises.
UPDATE: SecState Clinton seems to have called for regime change in Syria. Or so the Wall St Journal says. Iran, Mrs C?
Barry Rubin isn’t impressed, since the “new policy” seems to run through Turkey, heh. With this administration you have to wait while before “is” gets properly defined…
UPDATE II: Welcome Instapunditeers! And thanks to Glenn for the link.