Sunday, April 18, 2010

Gates and Mullen say memo leak is misleading

The plot behind the Iran nuclear capability memo has become thicker. I assume that Thom Shanker and David Sanger of the New York Times got an administration-authorized "leak" that was designed to allow the idea that Iran cannot be prevented from achieving nuclear capability to enter the US national dialogue.

Whether that was the intention or not, that will be the ultimate effect of the memo. But US Defense Secretary Robert Gates is now claiming that the idea, reported in the previous New York Times article, that the memo represented a "wake up call" is wrong.
The New York Times article quoted one senior official as saying the document was a “wake-up call.” But Mr. Gates said, “The New York Times sources who revealed my January memo to the national security advisor mischaracterized its purpose and content.”

Senior administration officials, asked Sunday to give specific examples of what was mischaracterized in the article, declined to discuss the content of the memo, citing its classified status. In his statement, Mr. Gates offered no details on the issues he raised in his memo.
The content of the memo is really not notable. We've known for a long time that the US does not have options to prevent Iran from attaining a nuclear capability. We've even known that the Obama administration knows, or should know this because we've seen the results of multiple elaborate war-gaming exercises none of which presented an option that meaningfully effects Iran's acquisition of nuclear capability.

What is notable about the memo is that it was released, that we hear in the administration's own voice 1) that Iran's program cannot be stopped and 2) that Iran's program is not expected to aim for a weapon but for weapons capability. 1) and 2) together mean that the US commitment to ensure that Israel has a monopoly among its neighbors of nuclear capability is over. To hear that in a report both authored by the administration and released to the public is very notable. In fact it is a huge change in the strategic environment.

The way the memo was leaked, on Saturday night, too late for the Sunday news presentations to schedule an administration representative to speak on them - along with the fact that this Sunday it so happened that no members of the administration were scheduled to appear on any of the Sunday television news interview shows indicates that it was a deliberate leak by the administration, and that the New York Times published the account with the blessing of the White House.

The New York Times does have a history of withholding news stories at the request of the President's office. Surely Obama could have had this story withheld.

Gates claims that the memo was not a wake up call - was not a spur to request that the White House create some new military option that didn't exist before. That claim by Gates is correct but also not surprising. Gates does not claim that the memo's conclusion, that the US does not have a policy option that will prevent Iran from achieving nuclear capability is false. If there is news in the later report, that is it.

Gates is now confirming, on the record, under his own name, that Israel, contrary to its perceived strategic necessities, is going to have to adjust to an Iranian nuclear capability. In the article, Admiral Mike Mullen adds his voice in confirmation.

We have not seen a response from Israel, and it may take time for Israel to fully come to terms with these developments, but this weekend Israel's strategic situation, at the level of what it can expect from its patron and sponsor has shifted in a fairly dramatic way.


Lysander said...

Haaretz reported tonight that Ehud Barak does not consider Iran "an immediate existential threat." He added that the strategic impasse can only be broken by a "bold Israeli Move."

Since I don't consider an attack on Iran likely, my guess is he refers to an attack on Lebanon/Syria. I base that prediction on

1) Barak's statement above.

2) Recent Israeli accusations against Syria regarding scuds, and warnings Issued through the Times of London of an Israeli attack.

3) Recent Israeli provocations against Lebanon including firing flares across the border and yesterday IAF over flights that loitered for a time and broke the sound barrier. The intent, I assume, is to get Lebanon to hit back and giving Israel an excuse to attack. The western media will do the rest.

4) It is consistent with past Israeli moves. Launch an attack in an effort to change the balance back to its favor. 1967, 1982, 2006 and 2008.

That is not to say it is a good idea, but I believe they will try it. I'm sure they are convinced they have far superior firepower over Syria (which they do) and that that will be enough to win. They can absorb some rocket fire.

How such a war will go is unpredictable. It can certainly backfire. But it may be that Israel feels that is their best bet for changing the situation in their favor. It will not stop Iran, but it could hurt its regional standing if Syria is cleanly defeated.

OTOH, if a war with Syria is a replay of 2006 but on a grand scale, Israel would suffer a body blow from which it might never recover.

Lysander said...

I should add that Israel's plan may not be the same as that of the US. Iran is now about to hold negotiations with the entire UNSC. In light of this memo, it may be that the west is about to consent to a swap on Iranian territory. But since Israel seeks to prevent any US-Iran agreement, that is actually one more reason for them to attack Syria/Lebanon.

Anonymous said...

Concur with the Spartan Naval Commander. Mullen is a jokester. Apropos, his Hollywood dad was the press agent for Jimmy Durante.