House Committee for Foreign Affairs
January 11, 2007 Hearing
Next Steps in the Iran Crisis
R. James Woolsey
Mr. Chairman, Representative Ros-Lehtinen, Members of the Committee, I was honored to be asked to testify before you today on this important issue. By way of identification I am currently a Vice President of the consulting firm, Booz Allen Hamilton; I principally work in the field of energy. Earlier, during a twenty-two year career of practicing law in Washington, I served in the federal government on five occasions, holding Presidential appointments in two Republican and two Democratic administrations, most recently as Director of Central Intelligence for two years during the first Clinton administration. Today I am expressing solely my personal views.
The Iranian Regime
In a sense, Mr. Chairman, the Iran Crisis now enters its 28th year. The totalitarian and corrupt regime in Tehran does not differ in any fundamental way from that which took power in the aftermath of the collapse of the Shah’s regime in 1979.
It is true that beginning in the late nineties during the first year of the Khatami presidency there was a period of a year or so when the optimistic could believe that the forces of moderation might make substantial progress in Iran. But the crackdown in the spring of 1998 on students and journalists, including the imprisonment and killing of many, should have signaled clearly that these hopes had been dashed. Khatami was always a creature of the regime. He had passed the test of regime approval to be permitted to run for President, a test honorably failed by dozens of more truly reform-minded and brave Iranian political figures. He made no substantial changes in the nature of the regime during his time in office.
Now the camouflaged mantle of “moderate” has passed from Khatami to Rafsanjani, who during his time in office was responsible for the execution and imprisonment of a great many regime opponents, and the murder abroad of a large number as well. If President Khatami might be compared to Prime Minister Kosygin in the Soviet Union – a man who was labeled “moderate” largely because he didn’t use excessive rhetoric and smiled more than his colleagues – then Mr. Rafsanjani’s current characterization as a moderate or pragmatist might be compared to the image of Mr. Andropov that the KGB successfully sold to much of the world’s press: the evidence for Mr. Andropov’s moderation was that he listened to jazz and drank Scotch. Mr. Rafsnjani, for example, like President Ahmadinejad, has threatened the destruction of Israel; has noted he is responsible for many deaths of decent people; he is also famously corrupt.
The regime’s threats to destroy Israel and, on a longer time-scale, the United States are part and parcel of its essence. Recent official statements to this effect represent not a shift in policy – Iran’s regime has defined itself by its fundamental hostility to the West, and especially Israel and the US, for nearly three decades (“Great Satan” etc.) – but rather a greater degree of public and explicit candor.
This fundamental hostility is now seasoned by a more pointed expression of the views of the circle of fanatic believers around Ayatollah Mesbah-Yazdi in Qum, including Ahmadinejad himself. This group expressly promotes the idea that large-scale killing should be welcomed because it will summon the return of the 12th Imam, the Mahdi, which in turn will lead to the end of the world. Recently the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting web site has begun to assert that the world is in its “last days” and that, as the world ends, Jesus will appear with the Mahdi, as a Shi’ite and as his lieutenant. This rhetoric is not limited to a small circle. Rafsanjani, e.g., has utilized it as well. To us, of course, it sounds bizarre – but we ignore such ideology at our peril. As Enders Wimbush points out in the current Weekly Standard “Iran’s leadership has spoken of its willingness – in their words – to “martyr” the entire Iranian nation, and it has even expressed he desirability of doing so as a way to accelerate an inevitable, apocalyptic collision between Islam and the West . . . .” Those in decision-making roles in the Iranian regime who believe such things are certainly not going to be very inclined to negotiate in good faith with us about Iraq, their nuclear program, or indeed anything at all. Even deterrence is questionable, much less arms control agreements.
The Iranian regime does not restrict itself to hideous speech. As President Bush noted last night, the regime is assisting terrorists to infiltrate into Iraq and is providing material support to attacks on the US. It is clear, for example, that the increasingly effective Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) are not so improvised any more – many now include sophisticated shaped charges that penetrate armor. And they are of Iranian manufacture. Over the years, directly and through its controlled assets such as Hezbollah, Iran has killed and murdered hundreds of Americans – in Beirut, at Khobar Towers – and large numbers of Israelis, French, and Argentinians as well. Torture has often also been part of the picture.
The Persians invented chess and if I were to characterize Iran’s international behavior today in those terms I would say that they are actively utilizing a number of pieces. One might call their nuclear weapons development program their queen – their most lethal and valuable piece. No one should, by the way, discount their intention to obtain nuclear weapons. The traces of highly-enriched (not just fuel-grade) uranium, their deception, their heavy water plant and other indicators brand their program as one designed to develop nuclear weapons even in the absence of considering their rhetoric about destroying Israel and ending the world. The Sunni states of the region have become extremely alarmed at the Iranian regime’s nuclear weapons program and six of them, including Saudi Arabia and Egypt, have recently announced their intent to move toward nuclear programs themselves, allegedly solely for electricity generation. It seems remarkable that six states, several of them with substantial reserves of oil and gas, would simultaneously determine that these reserves would be inadequate for their energy needs and that adequate electricity can only be obtained by their simultaneously moving to develop nuclear power. What has in fact, of course, happened is that Iran has now begun a Shi’ite-Sunni nuclear arms race in this volatile region.
I do not believe that any degree of international disapproval -- or sanctions such as the tepid ones that can be obtained through the UN process in the face of Russian and Chinese opposition to strong ones – will lead this regime to abandon its nuclear weapons program. And even if it should be two-to-three more years before Iran could have enough fissile material through the operation of its own centrifuges to fashion an entirely home-built nuclear weapon, one must not forget its co-conspirator North Korea. North Korea’s principal exports today are counterfeit American currency, heroin, and ballistic missile technology (the Iranian Shahab and the North Korean No Dong and Taepo Dong essentially constitute a joint missile development program). Why would North Korea refrain from selling Iran either fissile material or a crude nuclear weapon? Either is easily transported by air. Such a purchase would substantially shorten the time before Iran could have a nuclear weapon.
Iran moves four chess pieces of lesser value from time to time in part to keep the US and Israel off balance, in part to protect their nuclear queen: Hamas, Hezbollah, and Moqtadh al Sadr’s forces in Iraq might be said to be pawns; Syria perhaps rises to the level of rook, since it is a nation-state and has a mutual defense treaty with Iran. It is of no particular importance to the regime that the Alawite Syrian regime needed special Iranian theological dispensation to be regarded as part of Shi’ite Islam nor that Hamas is Sunni. The Iranian regime, going back to the training of the very Shi’ite Revolutionary Guards in the early seventies in Lebanon by Yasser Arafat’s secular Fatah, is quite willing to work with terrorist organizations, including al Qaeda, that have all sorts of different ideological DNA. In recent years this has included visits with and even mutual travel by Ahmadinejad with Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez.
Some believe that Shi’ites will not cooperate with Sunnis, or either with secular groups – that, e.g., there could have been no collaboration of any kind by secular Baathist Iraq or Shi’ite Iran with Sunni al Qaeda. Seventy years ago it was the conventional wisdom was that Communists and Nazis would never cooperate, and that was largely true – until the Stalin-Hitler Pact. The Iranian regime doesn’t just appreciate but more or less lives the old Middle Eastern saying: “Me against my brother. Me and my brother against our cousin. Me, my brother, and our cousin against the stranger.”
Some Suggested Courses of Action
Given the nature of the Iranian regime, what should we do?
I agree that this is a difficult matter and that there are no easy answers. But since I am convinced that the Iranian regime is fundamentally incorrigible, and since I am not yet ready to propose an all-out use of military force to change the regime and halt its nuclear program, in my judgment we should opt for trying to bring about, non-violently, a regime change. I admit that the hour is late since we have wasted much time trying to engage and negotiate with the regime, and I understand that in the context of an effort to change the regime without using force the effort could get out of hand. Yet I am convinced that the least bad option if for us to state clearly that we support a change of regime in Iran because of the irremediable theocratic totalitarian nature of the current regime as it has been demonstrated over nearly three decades, together with its interference with the peace and security of its neighbors – currently especially Iraq and Lebanon – and its nuclear weapons program. I also believe that restiveness among Iranian minorities – Arab, Kurdish, Azeri, and Baluch – and the sullen opposition of many young people indicate that there is some chance of success in stimulating regime change. In a poll taken at the behest of the Iranian government some three years ago over 70 per cent of those polled said that they wanted improved relations with the US. The Iranian government, of course, imprisoned the pollsters.
To implement this policy I would suggest that we begin by rejecting the recommendation of the Iraq Study Group (ISG) that we should try to “engage [the Iranian regime] constructively”, i.e. seek to negotiate with them. As Senator John Kyl and I wrote just over a month ago in an open letter to the President (in our capacities as Honorary Co-Chairmen of the National Security Advisory Council of the Center for Security Policy) opening negotiations with Iran, and Syria, would legitimate those regimes, embolden them and their affiliated terrorist groups, help the Iranian regime buy time for its nuclear weapons program, create the illusion of useful effort and thus discourage more effective steps. We added that no regional conference should take place without including Israel. I would point out that the able analyst of these matters, Kenneth Pollack, in his book The Persian Puzzle (2004) sets it out clearly. Iran is not really interested: “. . . Iran is simply not ready for a meaningful relationship with the United States. . . . From America’s side, our dislike of this regime should not prevent the conclusion of a comprehensive settlement of our differences, but from Iran’s side it has and it likely will for quite some time . . . .” (pp. 396-97).
Second, we should indeed engage, but with the Iranian people, not their oppressors.
Along the lines of recommendations made a year ago by the Committee on the Present Danger (which I co-chair with former Secretary of State George Shultz), and by Iran experts such as Michael Ledeen, we should target sanctions – travel and financial – on the Iranian leadership, not on the Iranian people, and draw a sharp line between them. One possibility in this regard is to seek to bring charges against President Ahmadinejad in an international tribunal for violation of the Genocide Convention in calling publicly for the destruction of Israel. Our precedent would be the charges brought against Charles Taylor while President of Liberia for crimes against humanity before a special international tribunal in Sierra Leon. Iran’s protectors in the United Nations would doubtless block the establishment of such a tribunal, but clarity and principle have a force of their own – Natan Sharansky and other Soviet dissidents then in the Gulag have told us of the electrifying effect of President Reagan’s declaration that the USSR was an “evil empire”.
We should also engage in ways similar to those techniques we used in the 1980’s to engage with the Polish people and Solidarity -- by communicating directly, now via the Web and modern communications technology, with Iranian student groups, labor unions, and other potential sources of resistance.
We should abandon the approaches of Radio Farda and the Farsi Service of VOA and return to the approach that served us so well in the Cold War. Ion Pacepa, the most senior Soviet Bloc intelligence officer to defect during the Cold War (when he was Acting Director of Romanian Intelligence) recently wrote that two missiles brought down the Soviet Union: Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty. Our current broadcasting does not inform Iranians about what is happening in Iran, as RFE and RL did about matters in the Bloc. Privately-financed Farsi broadcasts from the US follow the RFE-RL model to some extent, but exist on a shoestring. Instead we sponsor radio that principally broadcasts music and brief world news, and television that, I suppose seeking a bizarre version of balance, sometimes utilizes correspondents with remarkable views: one VOA correspondent, on another network, last year characterized the arrest in the UK of 21 individuals accused of plotting to blow up transatlantic airliners with liquid explosives as “a conspiracy against Islam” by the US and alleged that the US and the UK fabricated the plot to deflect attention from “Hezbollah victories”. (Richard Benkin in Asian Tribune Aug. 12, 2006, vol. 6 no. 41.)
Our current broadcasting is a far cry from RFE and RL’s marvelous programming of news, cultural programs, investigative reporting (in the Eastern Bloc), and satire. (As an example of what could be done with satire I have attached to this testimony an article published some months ago by me and my family about one, admittedly quite unorthodox, possibility.)
Finally Iran’s economy is driven by oil exports. This leaves it open to several measures. Although Iran has reaped substantial financial rewards from today’s high oil prices we have begun to have some effect on its oil production by our campaign to dry up its oil and gas development. The Iranians are very worried about this. Deputy Oil Minister Mohammed Hadi Nejad-Hosseinian recently said in an interview that:
“[i]f the government does not control the consumption of oil products in Iran . . . and at the same time, if the projects for increasing the capacity of the oil and protection of the oil wells will not happen, within ten years there will not be any oil for export.” (Daneshjoo publishers, Current News, article 9303.)
At the appropriate time we could move toward a step that, although drastic, is potentially very effective relatively quickly – namely cutting off Iran’s imports of refined petroleum products (Iran has built no refineries in many years and must import around 40 per cent of its gasoline and diesel fuel).
And finally, by moving toward technology that can reduce substantially the role of oil in our own economy and that of the world’s other oil-importing states, we can help deprive oil exporters – Iran, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Venezuela, and others – of much of their leverage in international affairs. As Tom Friedman of the NY Times puts it, the price of oil and the path of freedom run in opposite directions. The attached op-ed piece of mine, published in the Wall Street Journal December 30, notes the possibility of plug-in hybrid vehicles soon making it possible for consumers to get around 500 miles per gallon of gasoline (since almost all propulsion would come from much less expensive electricity and renewable fuels, the latter mixed with only 15 per cent gasoline). This may seem an extraordinary number. But when General Motors last Sunday joined Toyota in the plug-in hybrid race to market and unveiled its new Chevrolet Volt, one of its executives used a figure of 525 miles per (gasoline) gallon. Five hundred and twenty-five miles per (gasoline) gallon should give Minister Nejad-Hosseinian and his colleagues a bracing degree of concern.