Holocaust Museum: Defense Secretary Gates weighs in on Iranian threat
Former Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates presents the keynote address March 6 on the precarious state of the Middle East at the Illinois Holocaust Museum's annual Humanitarian Awards dinner in Chicago. | Ryan Pagelow~Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 29, 2012 4:15PM
Former Secretary of State Robert Gates’ assessment of the threat posed by Iran and the current state of the Middle East came with no sugar coating.
“The sad reality is that in any era, there are always those who seek through violence and crimes against the innocent to dominate others,” said Gates March 6 at the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center’s Humanitarian Awards Dinner.
Such forces, the secretary said, can only be addressed with “resolve, strength and sadly by force as well.”
Not that Gates advocates military force against Iran — he doesn’t — but he maintained that he has been on “a 33-year-long quest for the elusive Iranian moderate.”
The keynote speaker at the museum’s largest fundraising event of the year, Gates opened more softly, humorously taking to task the large egos that can be found in Washington D.C., the place he called home while serving as secretary of defense. He served in that role under two presidents and in different capacities under eight presidents.
“Those who travel the high road of humility encounter little heavy traffic,” he cracked about Washington D.C. “There’s so many people lost in thought because it’s such unfamiliar territory. It’s the only place where you can find a prominent person walking down Lover’s Lane holding his own hand.”
But Gates’ world view was a more serious matter. He believes that most of the time, it will be America’s resolve, strength and force that will be required to confront the most serious global threats.
“As we learned on 9/11, the problems that are allowed to fester abroad will at some point reach our shores,” he said.
“There are so many threats, outrages and conflicts crying out for resolution, any nation, even one as powerful as the United States, must make difficult and at times morally agonizing choices.”
Gates reeled off a list of what he sees as offenses committed by the Iranian government, concluding that it’s difficult to determine who is calling the shots and the country’s true intent.
He said Iran is moving from being a “theocratic pseudo-democracy” to an “out-and-out military dictatorship.”
“I have long been convinced that Iran is determined to develop a nuclear weapons capability,” the secretary said. “They see themselves surrounded by several nuclear armed countries.”
In his half-hour speech at the Hyatt Regency in Chicago, making a case for the Iranian threat seemed easier for the secretary than discerning just how to address it.
Even the much-discussed option of taking out just the nuclear sites in Iran with military strikes is not as simple as it may sound.
“The Iranians are not stupid,” Gates said, adding that nuclear sites have been dispersed throughout the country including in urban areas and underground. The retaliation could easily close off oil export in the Persian Gulf, he said.
There are other options for Iran as well, according to Gates, including attacking other countries’ oil facilities, waging war against Israel and creating a wave of terror across the Middle East.
“In short, if you think the Iraq War was hard, an attack on Iran in my opinion would be a catastrophe.”
But Gates also said that if the Iraqi government doesn’t change its policies and without military force, there will be a catastrophe of a different sort.
It will come in the form of “a nuclear armed Iran with missiles that can reach Israel and even Europe in the not too distant future, an Iran that would likely ignite a nuclear arms race in the most volatile part of the world,” he said.
Gates said there is evidence economic sanctions against Iran have made an impact and currently provide the best chance to ratchet up pressure against the country.
He emphasized the importance of the United States having robust naval, missile and air defense capabilities in the Gulf region and maintaining strong relationships with Israel and other Middle East countries that could be vulnerable to an attack by Iran.
Israel, of course, is and has been the principal target of the Iranian regime, Gates insisted.
That has made for some tension between the United States and its Middle East ally.
“The clock is ticking,” Gates said. “And the most difficult question the United States and Israel faces is, “How long do we wait?’”