NYT: In secret memo Gates complains US has no strategy to stop Iran nukes
The NY Times continues its recent tradition of publishing the contents of secret memos with information from one about our strategy, or lack thereof, for dealing with Iran:
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has warned in a secret three-page memorandum to top White House officials that the United States does not have an effective long-range policy for dealing with Iran’s steady progress toward nuclear capability, according to government officials familiar with the document.
If true, it certainly isn’t unexpected. In fact, the US has spent more time saying what it won’t do (i.e. taking things off the table) than what it will (“serious” sanctions). However it appears that may be changing, finally. If the Times is to be believed (which, anymore, is not an automatic) it is beginning to dawn on the brain trust that a) Iran isn’t at all intimidated by the prospect of sanctions b) feels no serious threat to their intentions and c) doesn’t plan on discontinuing them.
So this memo, if reported correctly, is an apparent effort to ramp up a more coherent and comprehensive approach to dealing with Iran – an actual strategy. And that includes some military options should “diplomacy and sanctions fail to force Iran to change course.”
Is there really anyone out there holding out hope that “diplomacy and sanctions” will have the desired effect?
Of course, and as expected, White House officials deny the absense of a strategy. National security adviser Gen. James Jones claims:
“On Iran, we are doing what we said we were going to do. The fact that we don’t announce publicly our entire strategy for the world to see doesn’t mean we don’t have a strategy that anticipates the full range of contingencies — we do.”
Except -according to the NYT – the Secretary of Defense, certainly someone who would be privy to any military options, doesn’t seem to think we do.
But in his memo, Mr. Gates wrote of a variety of concerns, including the absence of an effective strategy should Iran choose the course that many government and outside analysts consider likely: Iran could assemble all the major parts it needs for a nuclear weapon — fuel, designs and detonators — but stop just short of assembling a fully operational weapon.
In that case, Iran could remain a signatory of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty while becoming what strategists call a “virtual” nuclear weapons state.
Then what? Testing nuclear weaponry’s design no longer requires actually detonation of a nuclear device. Sophisticated computer simulations now serve that purpose. So Gates’ point – if he made it – is entirely credible. They could indeed become a “virtual” nuclear state without us ever knowing about it (although I doubt their arrogance would allow the Iranian government to pass up an opportunity to rub the world’s nose in it).
The Times also contends:
According to several officials, the memorandum also calls for new thinking about how the United States might contain Iran’s power if it decided to produce a weapon, and how to deal with the possibility that fuel or weapons could be obtained by one of the terrorist groups Iran has supported, which officials said they considered to be a less-likely possibility.
But if we’re talking the “full range of contingencies” certainly one which has to be taken seriously and for which a strategy has to be formed.
In fact, other than “senior officials” and the NYT, there’s not much to verify the memo exists or the strategy doesn’t. And a Gates spokesman has even gone as far as to claim, in the Secretary’s name, that such a strategy does exit:
“The secretary believes the president and his national security team have spent an extraordinary amount of time and effort considering and preparing for the full range of contingencies with respect to Iran.”
So does the Gates memo actually say what the NYT says it says?
I’m inclined to say yes, despite the statement of the Gates spokesperson because of this:
Mr. Gates’s memo appears to reflect concerns in the Pentagon and the military that the White House did not have a well prepared series of alternatives in place in case all the diplomatic steps finally failed. Separately, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wrote a “chairman’s guidance” to his staff in December conveying a sense of urgency about contingency planning. He cautioned that a military attack would have “limited results,” but he did not convey any warnings about policy shortcomings.
“Should the president call for military options, we must have them ready,” the admiral wrote.
That clearly indicates that at least Adm. Mullen didn’t believe the strategy included the necessary and appropriate military options. And, as the NYT further reports, that seemed to be confirmed recently in some Senate testimony. Speaking of the military contingencies against Iran, the Times says:
Administration officials testifying before a Senate committee last week made it clear that those preparations were under way. So did General Jones.
So I think it is fair to conclude that Sec. Gates may have written this memo that the NYT is reporting on and, in fact, that there isn’t yet a comprehensive long-range strategy to deal with a nuclear Iran. To translate that a bit more, what that means is the administration’s focus has been almost exclusively on diplomacy and sanctions and Gates is making the case that those don’t appear they will yield the desired results and a more broad spectrum strategy which includes military contingencies be included and seriously considered.
He’s right. But this may also be an effective way to get the word to Iran that time is running out and the military guys are beginning be taken more seriously in discussions about how to react to Iran’s nuclear intransigence.