“Middle East in transition: Prospects for Iran” was the title of a major conference in Washington on February 19. Among distinguished speakers was General Hugh Shelton. Senator Bob Torricelli, who chaired the conference, introduced him as “principal military advisor to presidents Clinton and Bush, who served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the United States.” He was also knighted by Queen Elizabeth.
General Shelton spoke about change in the Middle East and in Iran and said: “Iran’s current regime is clearly a government that needs to change. The MeK (People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran – PMOI) is the organization that they fear. When you look at what the MeK stands for, when they are antinuclear, separation of church and state, individual rights, the Mek is obviously the way that Iran needs to go.”
Excerpts from transcription of his speech follow:
Thank you very much. What a tough act to follow but it’s great to be here with such a distinguished panel, friends that I’ve had the opportunity to serve with, selfless servants and it is great to see Governor Bill Richardson again. It’s been a while since we served side by side.
It’s always great for me to be with such a concerned group of citizens, citizens that are concerned about their fellow countrymen, people that are concerned about what’s going on back in Iran right now and in particular people that are excited about the potential for change.
Now, the subject that I was asked to speak about today, change, is one that is very complex and caused me some concern because change is all basis tough. It’s hard, it’s challenging, it takes difficult work by many, many people.
What is the most effective means to make that change, the most efficient means? What’s the most, the least disruptive way that you can do it? Finally, what’s the right timing? When I look at Iran I say the timing is now, today.
Having been involved in the change of a couple of governments I can tell you that’s the toughest change that you can go through. It is really challenging. The first thing you do is you have to start looking at who is the enemy.
When I do that I think about the ancient warrior Sun Su and I paraphrase: If you know yourself and you know your enemy you will be victorious in every encounter. If you know yourself but not your enemy for every victory you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither yourself nor your enemy then you are a fool and you will be defeated in every encounter.
When I look at change in Iran I think we know who the enemy is and I’ll talk more about that just a few minutes. Let me take a quick look at Egypt.
As a result of recent events there is considerable excitement around the world regarding the chance to change. That’s particularly true in the Middle East. In almost every case it is because in those countries you find people that are oppressed, dissidents that are being jailed or imprisons. You find democratic methods or techniques are almost non-existent. Torture, killing and imprisonment are commonplace and there is usually a resistance movement in these countries going on but in the case of the Middle East countries I became quite concerned but when you look there is this fundamentalist or radical element that is present in almost every one of the countries.
It is an opportunity that the current regime in Iran sees in making a change in control in that country that will allow them to control the region.
When I look at what’s going on in Egypt today I know there are elements of the media that are very positive and very upbeat. All of us are excited about the Egyptian people being out from under what turns out to be a very oppressive leader but at the same time I think we have to be concerned and I for one am concerned about what the future holds.
Not all countries can use the same template that we saw in Egypt because in Egypt the people with the guns, the armed forces, the army if you will, were very supportive of the people. They were a very highly respected institution in Egypt and still are and they were determined they would support those that were opposing the regime by not gunning them down like the Iranian government does today. Mubarak had his flaws. He needed to go because of his type of leadership but on the positive side he was a moderate Arab leader who was very friendly to the United States and had been very supportive throughout.
As I look at Egypt today I am quite concerned because where are they going to go now in terms of their government, how quickly will the Iranian people be in a better position than they are today and finally what will be the relationship of the emerging government in Egypt as pertains to the west and specifically with the United States.
Hopefully it’s not going to turn out to be a case of we got what we asked for or be careful what you wish for.
That brings me to Iran. From my perspective the Iranian people can not be worse off than they are with the current Iranian regime. Today Iran suffers from a regime that is a mixture of theocracy and autocracy and one that continues to defy the international community. I believe that the Iranian people both those that are inside the country today as well as those that are living in exile or outside the country are in favor of change and not tomorrow, but today.
There is one exception and it’s a big exception and those are the people in Iran that are armed, the ones that are in control, the ones that enjoy being in control and do not want to see a change in government because they are the ones that are treated well, they are the ones that benefit from the current regime and that is where we see an issue.
Just like in Iraq, we had the very same issue and that was that many Iraqi people wanted change, they wanted Saddam out. The Republican Guards, the police, the Army had the guns and, therefore, it was very difficult for them to make that change until we intervened. The Iranian issue is compounded by the fact that the largest organized resistance to Iran’s current regime has been put on the list the MeK.
Ambassador Dailey, when he was serving he office he recommended they be taken off. His recommendation was not followed which in my opinion was a mistake and one that we should rectify immediately. Not tomorrow, but today.
Ambassador Dell Dailey was on target then. He’s dead on target today. We need to move. Iran’s current regime is the largest exporter of state sponsored terrorism in the world.
U.S. forces have encountered their opposition groups every place we’ve been in for the last 25 years. Our friends and allies in the Middle East fear the current Iranian regime and I saw that on every trip that I made and still with those I correspond with in the Middle East.
Yet by placing the MeK on the FTO list we have weakened the support of the best organized internal resistance group to the most terrorist oriented anti-western world antidemocratic regime in the region. That’s a disgrace.
On top of that we stood by as the Iraqis invaded Camp Ashraf as they killed unarmed Iranian civilians living there, individuals that had been promised protection by the United States, individuals that had supplied us with invaluable information during the toughest days of the Iraq war and when I saw this, when I saw the invasion on television I was reminded of the ethnic cleansing that the Serbs carried out against the people of Kosovo. We didn’t stand by then. We intervened.
Iran’s current regime is clearly a government that needs to change. The MeK is the organization that they fear and that should tell us something right off the bat. When you look at what the MeK stands for, when they are antinuclear, separation of church and state, individual rights, MeK is obviously the way that Iran needs to go.
Why we haven’t joined our friends, our European allies along with our great partner, England, and taken them off the list is beyond me. It was a noble attempt but one that did not pan out. Our European allies saw that it didn’t pan out and they moved quickly to take them off the list.
I believe we’ve got a great Secretary of State in Secretary Hillary Clinton but for those below her in the State Department, those that make the recommendations that come up to the Secretary I say who are we kidding? Get on with it. Get the recommendation to the Secretary and do it.
The MeK is not a perfect organization. They’ve made mistakes. So have we, but I think the MeK, when you look at them in the big picture they provide hope for the Iranian people that far exceeds anything that we or our allies can offer excluding direct intervention at this point.
I think for those of us here today, our prayer is that we will see democracy prevail in Iran and in the Middle East but in such a manner that it will provide peace and stability and that we can maintain that throughout the region and our hope is that the MeK will be removed from the FTO list and be allude to continue their efforts to bring about change in Iran for the sake of the Iranian people. Thank you very much.