This is part of a series based on seven days of meetings in Jerusalem, Ramallah, and Tel Aviv, Israel, with top officials and experts from the Israeli government, Palestinian Authority, and other international organizations.
Below are the prepared remarks of Rudy deLeon, Senior Vice President of National Security and International Policy at the Center for American Progress, for the 13th Annual Herzliya Conference in Herzliya, Israel, Wednesday, March 13, 2013.
Panel: “Iran and the Red Line: Time for the Sword or Time for Diplomacy?”
Let me thank the conference chair, Major Gen. Danny Rothschild, and conference director Tommy Steiner for the invitation to the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C. My colleagues Brian Katulis, Matt Duss, and I appreciate the chance to participate in this conference.
As Israel prepares to receive President Obama, America is strong, dedicated to protecting the security of the United States, and united and prepared to stand with Israel, the region, and the international community in response to the Iranian nuclear provocation.
The United States and Israel are strong partners who share common moral values and faith, and possess unrivaled levels of military support.
The nature of Israeli democracy in the region is unique. Israelis and Americans have many of the same political debates. We have the same values and beliefs, and share a commitment to democracy and cultural ties that serve as a common bond between our two countries.
Compared to where we were five years ago, the Obama administration today has put America in a much stronger position to deal with Iran’s nuclear program. The United States no longer has tens of thousands of ground troops in Iraq. And though substantial work remains to be done, American forces have made serious gains against the Al Qaeda network, including the successful mission to hunt down and eliminate Osama bin Laden.
NATO is transitioning the military mission in Afghanistan to the Afghan people in 2014, and the civil transition—as planned in Tokyo—is being implemented, step by step. Even with this progress, our troops remain on the frontlines, and we are grateful for their service, their skill, and the commitment of their families to our nation.
The combination of rigorous intelligence collection, integrated in partnership with our allies, highly redundant networks, and the expanded use of unmanned aerial vehicles, often referred to as drones, challenge our enemies in the most inventive and sophisticated ways.
Our long-range combat aircraft, with multiple types of payloads, can deliver a precision strike from forward-deployed bases around the world, or air refueled, from the United States.
The crew of the USS John Stennis, often working with the navies of Britain and France, regularly transit and guarantee international passage through the Strait of Hormuz. The sailors on our ships work in some of the world’s most dangerous environments, putting in long hours in the brutal heat, but they are a daily reminder of America’s commitment and strength in the region.
In the cyber sphere, the U.S. commander of Cyber Command testified this week that their mission is not only a defensive one, but that they are actively working to disrupt those who would use cyber methods as a threat, or a tool of terror.
These capabilities, created by multiple American administrations, with the support of Congress, will continue to secure and provide for the “common defense” wherever risks and threats may arise.
Finally, America is strong because it has capable and dedicated military men and women, like the U.S. security coordinator and his team in Jerusalem, working through the U.S. State Department to build security partnerships between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
But as strong as America is, the United States will be even stronger when it resolves its short- and long-term budget issues.
In the near term the United States will need to move beyond the six-month cycle of continuing appropriations and sequestration that impact defense, the economic recovery, and the needs of the next generation of Americans, particularly the education they need to compete in today’s global economy.
As former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned, “We are putting our national security at risk by lurching from budget crisis to budget crisis.” Nothing could be more sobering than the USS Harry Truman sitting at home port in Norfolk, Virginia, as the crew waits for budget issues in Washington to be resolved.
To all parties, make no mistake: American forces forward deployed are ready for any contingency, and the crew of the USS Harry Truman is standing by and ready to join the Stennis if need be.
In the longer term, the country needs a budget plan. We have been here before, and have always managed to find bipartisan compromise. There is the history of Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill, or George H.W. Bush working with Dick Gephardt, and Bill Clinton and Bob Dole finding common ground even as they prepared to run against each other for president. The old debates of guns versus butter have been replaced by a new tension between tax cuts and spending, with efforts to find common ground facing new political obstacles.
The strength of the American economy is the foundation of U.S. national security. That’s why the continuing economic recovery and a path forward on the budget are so important to our collective security interests. One lesson from the last 10 years is that you can’t send ground troops into combat, dramatically cut taxes, and not have a major impact on the budget.
Next point: Now that both the United States and Israel have had their elections, this is the moment to re-emphasize our common voice and our enduring security relationship. The upcoming visit to Israel by President Obama and his meetings with Israeli government leaders—the prime minister, military and defense leaders, students, Israeli citizens, and with Palestinians—offer our leaders on both sides this opportunity to show the strength of the U.S.-Israeli alliance.
There are new faces on both sides. Ehud Barak and Leon Panetta had a very strong relationship and were in continuous contact. The United States now has a new leader at the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, and soon there will be a new minister of defense in Israel. They will continue the same close cooperation and partnership between the United States and Israel on all security issues.
Additionally, as Gen. Jim Mattis retires from the Marine Corps and his tenure as head of U.S. Central Command, I want to acknowledge his more than 35 years in uniform. To our partners abroad, there has been no better friend, and to our adversaries, there has been no sterner foe than Gen. Mattis. We salute his faithful service in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Marine Corps Combat School at Quantico, Joint Forces Command, and U.S. Central Command.
Following Gen. Mattis is Gen. Lloyd Austin, who will continue the key American presence in the region by accepting the commanding job at U.S. Central Command on March 22. Gen. Austin will play the same constructive and engaged role.
Secretary of State John Kerry has been on the job for almost two months now and is already making his impact felt in this region.
Last year President Obama requested $3.1 billion in military assistance for Israel—the most in history. My prediction is that, even with tough budgets at home, U.S. assistance to Israel will continue to be robust.
The president has directed close coordination, strategically and operationally, between our government and our Israeli partners, including on political, military, and intelligence issues.
The president’s trip to Israel affords leaders on both sides of the alliance the chance to continue to build the global coalition that is so critical to countering the Iranian nuclear provocation.
In order to continue the multinational support and maintain the legitimacy needed to do what is necessary to confront Iran, our allies and supporters must preserve this essential unity. Since international sanctions have been implemented, oil exports from Iran have dropped by 1 million barrels a day, and the free fall in the value of the rial is causing widespread inflation in Iran.
Sanctions have slowed the nuclear program in Iran and damaged their economy, but Tehran could quickly end all doubts by opening the doors to all its facilities to the International Atomic Energy Agency. There will be many pressures going forward. The IAEA has a very important role to play, and we should expect the continuing negotiations to be highly frustrating.
Iran continues to press its influence in the region. Yet as reported in the media, Iran’s
expulsion of a senior Al Qaeda official appears to signal a rift over Syria, and it appears that Tehran is no longer offering a safe haven to terrorists within its borders. The regime faces serious obstacles both internationally and domestically. Syria is Iran’s Achilles heel, and the potential fall of Bashar al-Assad threatens to further weaken Iran’s regional influence. Domestically, economic conditions continue to deteriorate, cronyism and corruption continue, and the foreign investment climate in Iran is poor.
Each of the international allies committed to sanctions on Iran brings different capabilities. Holding this coalition together requires constant work, and we should be mindful that sanctions hurt not just Iran but the economies of our partners as well. This will require diligent, determined diplomacy to hold the coalition together, but President Obama, the administration, and the U.S. Congress remain committed to prevention.
Russia and China have long stated their opposition to an Iranian nuclear weapons program. Adding their voice to the coalition would send a strong new signal to Tehran that their behavior is not that of a responsible stakeholder, and that it is time to come clean to the international community. While China and Russia’s contribution is encouraged, the United States and its allies remain committed to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
Today the United States is leading a successful three-year global effort to isolate Iran diplomatically and implement a broad range of strict economic sanctions targeted at undermining its nuclear program. While the Obama administration’s outreach to Iran did not achieve immediate results, demonstrations of American good faith have forged greater international unity around the problem, and served as an important force multiplier for efforts to pressure the regime. And make no mistake: It is precisely because America is strong that we are not afraid to talk to our enemies.
Now, as talks with the P5+1 have resumed, we are still waiting for a satisfactory Iranian response.
The U.S. ambassador to the talks, Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, is savvy, tough minded, and formidable as she sits down to implement the directives of President Obama and Secretary Kerry. She knows that the effort to demonstrate the seriousness of the military option must be matched by efforts to demonstrate the seriousness of diplomacy. There are no illusions about the difficulty of these challenges.
The global coalition President Obama has built during his administration reflects the hard work of many.
As Vice President Joe Biden said just one week ago, “Presidents do not bluff.” And the president of the United States, who is coming to Israel next week, is not bluffing.
To Tehran, let’s be clear: President Obama’s policy is prevention.
We are united. We are committed. And together we are formidable.