In light of recent developments in the Middle East and North Africa a conference was held in Washington on February 19 entitled, “Middle East in transition: Prospects for Iran”. Among many distinguished speakers was General Peter Pace, former Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff of the United States. He served as the principal military advisor to the President and Secretary of Defense and the National Security Council.
He spoke about the threat of the Iranian regime and the opposition to it and said, “Some folks said to me this week, if the United States government took the MeK (People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran – PMOI) off the [State Department’s] terrorist list it would be a signal to the Iranian regime that we had changed from a desire to see changes in regime behavior to a desire to see changes in regime. My response to that is: Sounds good to me.”
The following is an excerpt from transcription of his remarks at the conference:
I truly am honored to be here with you, to be part of this panel with so many folks who I had the pleasure of serving with and who I admire but mostly because of you here in this room. I did not come as a backup singer in a chorus.
I came as an individual who has had some unique experiences and I hope my experience can somehow help us all understand better how to help Iran.
Like you, like each and every one of you the overriding reason to be here this morning for each of us is our passionate desire to see the Iranian people live their lives the way they want to in freedom.
I’ve been asked to speak to you a little bit about the threat that Iran currently is and the potential responses to at that time threat.
First, it would be good if we define what a threat is. In military terms it is a capability to do you harm and, number two, an intent to do it. Countries over time have changed, as I believe Iran will.
The United States has fought against England and Italy and Germany and Japan, all countries with citizens who are now our friends.
In the past as today they’ve had weapons that could hurt us. The difference is they do not intend to hurt us.
Given the definition of threat, of, A, capability and B, intent is the current regime in Iran a threat? Absolutely. Look in the region. They provide weapons and instruction and sometimes personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan specifically to make it difficult for the governments in both of those countries to grow their democracies, specifically to kill Americans and our coalition partners, specifically to impose their will on their neighbors.
Their special operations persons and their support for Hezbollah just makes that tortured region so much more difficult to live in and so much more difficult to find a peaceful solution. Their conventional forces, some are for self-defense but others like the thousands of able minds that they have, the hundreds of small, fast attack boats that can do swarm tactics against both military and commercial attacks in the straits of Hormuz.
There are missiles, cruise missiles and the 2000 plus missiles that they have, some of which that can travel 2000 plus kilometers are all threats to their neighbors in the region and to those coalition forces from around the globe that are trying to help in the region.
In a couple of years all of Europe will be within missile range of the missiles they are developing. A couple of years after that the United States will be in missile range.
So there is a very real threat to the region, to Europe and to the United States in both the current capabilities and the capabilities that are on the drawing board.
A couple of the missiles can travel enormous distances with the potential of nuclear weapons and the threat grows astronomically. As has been mentioned, the advent, the attainment of a nuclear weapon capability by this regime in Iran is truly unacceptable.
Can you imagine what they will do? They are already in a position to coerce their neighbors. Can you imagine what their having a nuclear deterrent would do to their willingness to be more adventurous with their armed forces, with their support to paramilitaries with their support to terrorism?
Not only is it a problem from the standpoint of that regime having that kind of capability, it then means that the rest of the region has to make a basic decision.
Do they cower under that threat, do they become nuclear powers in their own right? Then what happens when a regime that has shown its willingness to provide money and all sorts of weapons has nuclear weapons that it might give to others, be it other nation states or, worse, terrorist organizations? This is a huge threat to all of us.
What are our possible responses? First, there is the possibility of a military response.
It is the least best option and certainly the last one that we ought to contemplate or use, but if you want to have some ability to talk to the current regime and if you want to have any credibility you better have a military capacity and the willingness to use it at the right time.
So it’s important to also understand that the U.S. military for one is quite capable of handling any new threat.
Some folks get confused between our desire to not fight and the true strain on our forces that five or six deployments to Iraq or Afghanistan has put on them and, on the other hand, our ability to protect ourselves.
Today there are about 200,000, give or take, U.S. service members serving in the Gulf region. That’s 200,000 out of 2.4 million active Guard and Reserve.
Are they under strain? You bet they are. Have they been working at this for the last nine or ten years, yes. Are they willing to serve their country? Yes, they are.
Fundamentally if a threat arises to the United States of America does this country have the resiliency and the power to do something about it? The answer is: Absolutely.
There are two million plus U.S. service members. There’s an entire United States Navy and Air Force and all of the other elements of our national power. It would be ugly because we would have to use more brute force because many of the precision weapons and precision intelligence assets that are needed to be less destructive are already being employed but no potential enemy should ever misunderstand the difference between ongoing operations and our desire to not over work our troops and our desire to use a military instrument as a last resort, you should not confuse that with the ability to use it. So the military option on the table is important. It must have credibility but it is, in fact, the very last thing you want to use.
Next is negotiations. The entire Iranian nuclear program has been undertaken during negotiations. It is important to continue to talk but I don’t see where a nation, if it has, determined that it will have nuclear weapons would be dissuaded by negotiations.
That leaves why you are all in this room. Uprising of the people. It has been pointed out Egypt and all of the other public demonstrations that are going on throughout the region now hold both great promise and great peril.
There is no doubt in my mind that the Egyptian people who have won for themselves this opportunity to rewrite their own constitution, to live in freedom the way they want to inside their own country, there’s no doubt in my mind that there are forces out there including current Iranian regime forces that would seek to steal that program from him. As has been pointed out also the Egyptian armed forces and the Egyptian police have been supportive and unoppressive of the true will of the Egyptian people. A different story in Teheran.
So it is gatherings like this that are so important. I know the issue of the MeK is critical to each of you.
I try to understand when I knew I was going to be part of this panel today why is it that my government continues to list the MeK as a terrorist organization. I have not found the reason that convinces me.
I also know, however, like everybody else up here, that you don’t know everything. There’s always something you don’t know.
A couple of things that were said to me this week as I was trying to delve into why is it. I’m not saying I agree with these things but there are things that people believe and that you in this room, therefore, still have not overcome. One is the history since 1965. The ten points that were read today are wonderful. I would support each of those points if I were an Iranian citizen and I certainly do as a citizen of the world but somehow that promise of rejection of violence and these ten principles has not yet translated into trusting and believing amongst some folks whose voices matter and figuring out how to address that in a way that’s understandable and trusted is key to where you want to go.
Some folks said to me this week if the United States government took the MeK off the terrorist list it would be a signal to the Iranian regime that we had changed from a desire to see changes in regime behavior to a desire to see changes in regime. My response to that is: Sounds good to me.
You can’t get where you want to go if you don’t understand what the obstacles are. And there’s another obstacle out there and it is folks believe that a lot of people in Iran do not trust the MeK because of the alliance between Saddam Hussein and the MeK during the Iran-Iraq war and that fear is also holding back many individuals and it has to be overcome if you want to get to where you want to go with regard to the MeK.
Lastly, I had the great privilege of wearing the uniform of the armed forces of the United States for over 44 years. It was a source of great pride to me to defend my country’s constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and in my life in uniform as best I could to help protect the American people and those of us of like mind around the globe but I know one thing for a fact and that is that the freedom I was protecting was freedom I had inherited.
I did not have to stand up to be counted. I did not have to throw out a regime. I simply had to recognize as an American how lucky I was to be born in this country and what a privilege it was to defend it which is why I truly wanted to be here this morning, why I had such incredible admiration, why I stand in awe of the citizens in Iran yesterday, today and tomorrow who despite the threat of being killed by their own armed forces or police, who despite the threat of regime punishment that is handed out so readily, despite that they are standing up for the simple reason that they want to live their lives the way that I inherited my life and as a citizen of the United States and a citizen of the world to be able to come here together with you all and to somehow have our voices be heard in Iran, if we through our actions today and tomorrow can help encourage and support those who are pining for freedom then as already has been pointed out here today, the inevitability of freedom in Iran will come sooner and that is well worth our time today and tomorrow and every day until it happens.