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Symposium: Iran: To Strike or Not to Strike?

By Jamie Glazov | May 19, 2006

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's18-page letter to President Bush has confirmed, among other things, one highly disturbing reality: Iran will continue chasing its nuclear program -- and to dismiss the West's warnings to desist from such behavior. More toubling still: just recently, a top Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander, Mohammad Ebrahim Dehghani, threatened that Israel would be Iran's first target in response to any U.S. attack. This threat is especially worrisome in light of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's expressed yearning for Israel to be "wiped off the map".


The U.S., Britain and France are circulating a Security Council resolution that would make mandatory Iran halting uranium enrichment. They are pushing for the resolution being adopted under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, which would make it enforceable by sanctions or military action. But Russia and China are not co-operating.


Meanwhile, President Bush has stated that a military option -- potentially a unilateral America military strike -- is possible if Tehran refuses to stop enriching uranium and continues to disallow international inspection of its nuclear program.


How much longer can the U.S. and Israel sit and wait? How much time can we spare once the Mullahs have nuclear weapons in their hands?


To discuss these questions with us today, we are joined by:

James Woolsey, a former director of the Central Intelligence Agency (1993-1995).

Lt. Gen. Tom McInerney, the co-author with Maj. Gen. Paul Vallely on their book Endgame: The Blueprint for Victory in the War on Terror. He is a retired Air Force Fighter Pilot who has been a Fox News Military Analyst for the last four and a half years and continues to appear regularly on Fox. He just returned from his second visit to Iraq in December, 2005.



Kenneth R. Timmerman, the author of Countdown to Crisis: the Coming Nuclear Showdown with Iran (Crown Forum, New York), and Executive Director of the Foundation for Democracy in Iran.

FP: James Woolsey, Tom McInerney and Ken Timmerman, welcome to Frontpage Symposium.


Mr. Woolsey, let's crystallize the key issues: does Iran have nuclear weapons? What is the danger? What must we do about it? 


Woolsey: Few would suggest that Iran has nuclear weapons yet, but it seems to be making progress on operating a cascade of gas centrifuges and claims it has enriched uranium up to fuel grade.


How soon it could have a weapon depends very heavily on the progress of this enrichment process (unless, say, the North Koreans helped them end-run it and sold Iran enough plutonium or highly enriched uranium for a bomb).


With a few centrifuges it would take them years to enrich enough uranium for a bomb, but with many thousands they could do the job in weeks. Our knowledge about this is spotty, as is our understanding of the quality of the centrifuges, which can also affect the pace substantially. Once they have enough fissile material for a bomb, a simple device of the sort of design of our Hiroshima bomb is, unfortunately, not hard to put together. A warhead for a missile would take more work.


This is all of course extremely dangerous, given especially the genocidal fanaticism of the Iranian regime. I would seriously doubt that either Russia or China would agree to any effective sanctions in light of their commercial interests in Iran.


I would advocate, prior to any use of force, that we try to assemble a group of nations that would take tough actions to try to effect a regime change: e.g. a blockade against Iran's imports of refined petroleum products (they do not refine most of the petroleum they use).


I will defer to Tom McInerney regarding the design and effect of an air campaign. I would only add that I agree with John McCain that the use of force in this case is the worst option except for one: letting this regime have nuclear weapons.


One more point - if we use force we must take out the instruments used by the regime to terrorize the Iraqi people &endash; e.g. the Basiji, the Revolutionary Guards, etc. It would be a very bad idea just to strike at the regime's known nuclear facilities and to leave the regime intact.


FP: Thank you Mr. Woolsey.


Lt. Gen. Tom McInerney?


McInerney: One of the nice things about following Jim Woolsey is that I agree with all he has said. We all want to solve this diplomatically but my reading is that Iran thinks the U.S. is pinned down and does not have the will. Russia and China are our enemies in this endeavor and  will ensure that any UNSC action fails, including Chapter 7, so I think we have to form a coalition of the willing composed of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, UAE, Qatar, Kuwait, Turkey, Australia, EU 3 plus other willing NATO countries.


Now not all will join but we must tell them that we want a diplomatic settlement and need their support. If diplomacy fails then they must be prepared to help in the military option. We must find out if they will accept Iranian nuclear hegemony in the region. My sources say they will not. So we must get them involved.


My military option is primarily led by a stealth force of 64 AC composed B2s, F 22s and F 117s and 400 non-stealth aircraft, plus 500 cruise missiles hitting 1500 aim points with precision weapons. The targets would be the Nuclear Development facilities, Air Defense forces, Air Forces, Naval Forces, Shahab 3 missile forces and Command and Control nodes over a 36&endash;48 hour time frame.


I would then let pre-planned covert forces assist the Iranian people in taking their country back with precision air support as required. This is the model used in Afghanistan and we must be training it now. It will take time but Iran is ripe to have this implemented. We have at most one year until we must take action in my opinion.


I believe Israel must be kept out of this. They will only complicate a complicated problem.


FP: Lt. Gen. Tom McInerney, your plan for taking out the Mullahs' nuclear capability and then helping Iranians dislodge their ruling tyrants sounds great -- and it would be wonderful if it could really happen that way. But are we sure it is all that easy? What happens exactly if things don't go as planned? What are the negative possibilities here? (i.e. Iran's counter-strikes etc.)


Mr. Timmerman?


Timmerman: I am not used to being in such good company, and thank Jim Woolsey for lucidly and succinctly stating the case of what we know and don't know about Iran's nuclear weapons program, and Tom McInerney for laying out one of several military strike packages should our political leaders fail to seize one of several better alternatives now available.


I would emphasize the following.


The National Intelligence Estimate on Iran's nuclear program, leaked several months ago to the press and reaffirmed recently by John Negroponte, creates a false sense of security by claiming that Iran is five and possibly ten years away from weapons capability. In fact, there are huge gaps in our intelligence.


If Iran used the 2,500 centrifuges they have acknowledged importing from the A.Q. Khan network in the 1990s, they could already have enough nuclear weapons material for 20-25 bombs. To believe that they do not have that weapons material, you must believe their official story: that they spent in excess of $600 million on the black market to purchase that equipment, risked international condemnation, and then kept the centrifuges in crates in a warehouse for eight years without ever touching them.


Moreover, I have received a number of credible reports, from former Iranian intelligence officers and other Iranians whose contacts within the regime have proven to be accurate over many years, that indicate the regime has a parallel, clandestine uranium enrichment program outside of the facilities they have been forced to declare to the International Atomic Energy Agency.


If this information turns out to be true, then all bets are off. As Jim mentioned, Iran could build a Hiroshima-type weapon rapidly; high school seniors in the U.S. have replicated it, and Iran has invested heavily in science and math education (more than we have).


But we have a secret weapon, and that is the people of Iran. There are strong indications of a broad-based rejection of the regime and pro-American sentiments among the Iranian people. New defectors arrive almost daily in the West. The most recent is Amir Abas Fakrevar, a student leader who has joined the High Council of the Iranian Referendum Movement. He managed to escape Iran in late April 2006.


However, we need to understand the history of the Islamic Revolution, and avoid several traps.


Trap number one: we must not fall for the allure of false democratic movements, such as the Mujehedin-e Khalq. This Islamist-Marxist cult hides behind a number of fronts, including the National Council of Resistance and a host of U.S.-based "Iranian-American community" groups, and pretends to support democratic ideals. But make no mistake. The Mujahedin murdered Americans in the 1970s, took part in the Khomeinist revolution, helped the regime seize the U.S. embassy and take U.S. diplomats hostage in 1979, and remains committed to an Islamist state in Iran. Additionally, the MEK has aroused widespread hatred in Iran because it sided with Saddam Hussein during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war.


We have many good options for supporting the legitimate and admirable aspirations of the Iranian people to bring freedom to their country, but the MEK is not one of them. On the contrary, support for the MEK would alienate the overwhelming majority of Iranian patriots, who today look to America for leadership, encouragement, and material assistance in overthrowing the clerical dictatorship.


Trap number two: we must not fall for so-called "reformists," who tell the State Department (and others) that "moderates" exist within the clerical leadership who will walk away from the bearded boy president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.


If you remember nothing else about the "moderates" within Iran's ruling clergy, remember this: Rafsanjani, often called the mullah we can "do business with," is the father of Iran's nuclear weapons program.


Woolsey:  As we try, one hopes, over the next year or so to bring about a regime change without needing to go to war, we should keep Iran's imperial nature in mind. A bare majority of Persians rule restive minorities of Arabs, Azeris, Kurds, Baluch, and others. Just as we need to exploit the resistance to the regime among young people, reformers, and women, we also need to pay attention to its geographic and ethnic fissures - a large share of Iran's oil, e g, is in the restive Arab-populated south.


We can't do this successfully if stability is our paramount goal and we refuse to exploit these divisions in its name. It should not be difficult to see that Iran is today ruled with an iron hand by genocidal fanatics with a vigorous nuclear weapons program and, for some of them, explicit enthusiasm for mass death and even for the end of the world.


What case can anyone make for regarding the continued existence of this regime as anything but an unprecedented tragedy waiting to happen?



MacInerney: In general, I think we are in violent agreement except for one or two issues.


Primarily we have to enable the Iranian people to retake their country. This is not easy -- as we are finding out in Iraq -- but we have had three successful elections there and now the steps for formation of a new government.


None of it is easy but just because it is difficult doesn't mean it should not be done. The change in this region will be very challenging but not insurmountable.


We should exploit the divergent population of 51% Persian, 34% Azerbaijanis and Kurds, and 2% Arabs plus others. Virtually all the oil is located in the southwest region close to the Persian Gulf and very vulnerable to being isolated and to covert action. Seventy percent of the population is under 30 and the jobless rate hovers near 20 percent. This is a perfect combination for a covert campaign.


I believe an independent assessment needs to be done on the value added of the MEK and the NCRI to this campaign. The Iranian Government fears them as a threat and I am interested in their role today, not 25 years ago. In any case, let's get a re-evaluation of their value added or value diminished role. We must seriously fund and work toward this campaign starting immediately to include a Government in Exile and a Coalition of the willing in the region using their inputs for a solution.

Timmerman: Both Jim and Tom are right to point to Iran's ethnic diversity, a fact that is not appreciated or understood by many. Real vulnerabilities exist. Persians dominate Iran's historic heartland, but ethnic minorities populate the periphery. Indeed, nearly every international border of Iran is dominated by non-Persian minorities.


But we must be careful how we exploit these potential internal lines of fracture. I have always counselled my friends in the Balouchi, Kurdish, Azeri, and Turkomen communities not to opt for separatist agendas, and I would counsel the U.S. government to avoid this as well. Why? Because the specter of ethnic separatism in Iran drives Persians nuts. If our goal is to help the Iranian people to liberate themselves from clerical dictatorship, it would be counter-productive to drive the Persian majority into the arms of the regime. But that is what we would do by fuelling separatist wars. We would make the regime the de facto champion of Iranian nationalism &endash; definitely not our goal.


So my message has always been to the ethnic movements: put the focus on freedom from the clerics, not on separatist agendas. Find common cause with other freedom-fighters. In the free, democratic Iran of tomorrow you will find freedom for your own community &endash; as Iranians first.


I vigorously oppose any support for the MEK on similar grounds. This is a group that attempted to invade Iran militarily in April 1988 with the help of Saddam Hussein's army, and was repulsed by 16-year old kids and grandfathers armed, literally, with pitchforks. The overwhelming majority of Iranians consider them as traitors. And because they made common cause with Khomeini during the Revolution and for the first two years of the Islamic regime, many Iranians do not see a significant difference between the MEK and the current regime. They are two sides of the same coin. The only reason the MEK is in the opposition is because they lost a power struggle. When considering Rajavi (the MEK cult leader), remember Trotsky.


The MEK has for years claimed to head a "coalition" that formed a "parliament-in-exile." In fact, the 500-or so front groups that belong to this "coalition" are just MEK fronts &endash;and some of them just individuals - not independent groups.  Ultimately, they elevated the leader's wife to become "president-elect."


President-elect? Hullo? Of what? By whom?


This is a group that was formed by the KGB in the 1960s and 1970s as part of the international liberation movement against the United States and its allies. In recent years, they have become adept at playing to the globo-Left, as well as to some, on the right, who are seeking ready-made solutions to the threat from a nuclear-armed Iran.


We should not fear the complex mosaic that is Persian society and politics. Our best option in my view is for President Bush to appoint a personal emissary, with the rank of Ambassador, to the Iranian freedom movement, who will convene the equivalent of a loya jirga of several hundred prominent Iranian leaders. The majority of those able to attend such a meeting will of necessity come from the diaspora; some will come secretly from the inside.


We are seeing the beginnings of a broad coalition coalescing around the Iran Referendum Movement, but it is not yet there. They need quiet, sympathetic assistance; and, from time to time, someone with authority to read the riot act.


The real key is harnessing the tremendous diversity of the pro-freedom movement and getting them to set aside personality and partisan bickering. The model should be something akin to the Continental Congress; not the Bolshevist avante-garde. We don't need to replace today's clerical murderers in Iran with another group of headsmen.


Woolsey: Iran (and the closely-tied fate of Iraq) constitutes a test case for the post-cold war world. The substantial growth in democracy and the rule of law that has marked the last 60 years may be reversed, catastrophically, if we accept a reverse evolution - imperial behavior in their regions by oil-rich autocratic states, worst of all those, such as Iran, whose imperialism is fired by fanaticism.


As Tom Friedman demonstrates in the recent issue of Foreign Policy, the price of oil and the path of freedom now move in opposite directions. It is not accidental, as Russians are fond of saying, that we see Russia, Venezuela, and Iran moving more deeply into dictatorship and, in heavy-handed ways, also moving to assert regional dominance at the expense of democracy and liberty. Every time we pull up to the gasoline pump we help pay for the tyrants' side in this growing 21st-century struggle between despotism funded by oil exports and the rest of us. Yes, we must block Iran's nuclear weapons program. But we will only be able to deal effectively with Iran and those who travel with it on the road of dictatorship and oppression if we move away from oil dependence. It's long past time for prompt, fundamental steps to this end - a subject for another day.


MacInerney: Again I believe we are all in general agreement on what needs to be done and basically how to do it.  The skills of Changing a Regime from within have been lost by our CIA, State and Defense Departments thanks to the Church Committee and all following Administrations.


We must regain these skills and work with a Coalition of the Willing covertly to implement this Regime Change. Ken is exactly right in that the US has a relatively high degree of popularity in Iran that must not be squandered. The absolute dislike and hatred for the present regime is widespread and fuels the popularity of the US.


Our positive actions in Afghanistan and Iraq to bring democracy and freedom to these countries has not been lost on the Iranians despite Western media attempts to play it otherwise.


The Iranian people are not rising up in the streets to protest our involvement with their neighbors but harbor a deep hope that they will soon join them in the same freedoms and enlightenment.


Russia and China will remain major impediments to these freedoms as Jim points out. Again not an easy challenge but better that the nuclear alternative that awaits inaction.


Ken is right that their ability to build nuclear weapons is much closer that Mr Negroponte's pronouncements of 5-10 years.


Decision time is now.


FP: Ken Timmerman, last word goes to you sir.

Timmerman: I think President Bush should take the opportunity presented by the 18-pages of drivel from Ahmadinejad to send a reply &endash; not to the bearded boy president, whom I leave to Tom McInerney and the U.S. Air Force &endash; but to the people of Iran.


The President should reaffirm his commitment to helping them to achieve their freedom, and then pledge material assistance.


He should announce that he is appointing a high-level emissary to the Free People of Iran. Why not Dick Cheney? That will get the regime's attention.


Cheney (or whoever) should then convene a loya jirga of Iranian opposition leaders who are committed to freedom, pluralism, secularism, and the rule of law. The Iran Referendum Movement has already made good progress in this direction, bringing former political adversaries together into 38 committees around the world. From these committees, 250 delegates were selected for a general convention that met in Brussels in December 2005. This convention elected a 15-member High Council, which in turn appointed a 7-member executive board. That is democracy in action, and is a good start.


The President should also pledge that he will ask Congress to commit the necessary resources - $300 million minimum, $500 million would be better &endash; to carry out the plan developed by the loya jirga. We need to get money and equipment into Iran to help the freedom fighters wage political warfare.


People object that we don't have the time to focus on regime change from within. But remember: Ceaucescu fell in just two days.

We have a moral obligation to at least give it a try, because the only other options are appeasement or war, either one of which could very quickly spiral out of our control.

FP: James Woolsey, Tom McInerney and Ken Timmerman, thank you for joining Frontpage Symposium.


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