Washington Times, By James A. Lyons:
There is no question that American interests in the Middle East are facing their gravest threats. The genesis for the current turmoil goes back many years with its roots in the Carter administration. Each subsequent administration contributed to the turmoil, particularly that of President Obama.
There were key events, actual acts of war against the United States that, had we responded with the required military action, could have changed the course of history.
The first occurred under President Carter when we undercut our key ally, the Shah of Iran, and facilitated the return and rule of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and his Islamic fundamentalist regime.
The result was the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and the holding of our diplomats hostage for 444 days. Our failure to respond to this act of war served as the launching pad for radical Islam.
The second major event occurred during the Reagan administration when we failed to respond to both the bombing attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Beirut in April 1983, and then the truck bombing of the U.S. Marine Barracks in Beirut October, which killed 241 of our finest military personnel.
It was the greatest loss of Marines in a single day since the battle for Iwo Jima in World War II. We had positive proof the orders for the attack came from Iran. We had our Sixth Fleet Carrier Strike Force planes loaded and ready to respond but could not get authorization to launch.
Our failure to respond became Osama bin Laden’s rallying cry: Americans can’t suffer casualties, they will cut and run. In the eyes of the Middle East, that’s what we did. The mastermind for these two bombings in 1983 was Imad Mughniyeh, an agent for Iran.
Next was the Gulf Tanker War in 1986-88. Even though Iran was engaged in a life-and-death struggle with Iraq, it still continued to conduct “acts of war” against the United States. We had an opportunity in late August 1987 to shut down Iran when we had three battle groups and an amphibious ready group all coming together in the North Arabian Sea.
The plan was called “Window of Opportunity.” We were prepared to proceed systematically up the Persian Gulf, destroying Iran’s key facilities and their residual military forces including the Bushehr nuclear power plant, but authorization was not obtained.
It is important to understand that in the early 1990s Iran, Hezbollah and al Qaeda formed a terrorist alliance. They overcame the Sunni-Shia religious divide in order to confront the “great Satan,” the United States.
With the help of Imad Mughniyeh, this alliance led to several well-known terror attacks, including the 1996 truck bombing of the U.S. Air Force Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia; the simultaneous U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998; the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000; and the horrific terror attack of Sept. 11, 2001, which killed almost 3,000 innocent Americans. Yet Iran remained off-limits.
Judge George Daniels of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled on Dec. 15, 2011, that Iran and Hezbollah were co-responsible with al Qaeda for the September 11 terrorist attacks.
In response, the Bush administration launched attacks against al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. These attacks were initially very successful, but then we shifted our focus to Iraq where we became obsessed with Saddam Hussein’s potential weapons of mass destruction program.
It can be argued that at that point, the United States made a strategic mistake by invading Iraq in 2003 without first changing the dynamics in Iran, which had warred against the West for 24 years and had caused the loss of thousands of American lives.
Instead, our overthrow of Saddam Husain removed the greatest check on the expansion of the Iranian Shia crescent throughout the Middle East.
When Barack Obama became president, he believed he could change the dynamics of the Middle East by engaging our enemies, particularly Iran. His June 2009 Cairo “outreach” speech to the Muslim world, with the outlawed Muslim brotherhood leadership prominently seated in the front row, in effect gave a green light to the Arab Spring.
Secular dictatorships that were cooperating with the United States and keeping Islamic jihadists under control were clearly the first target. The Obama administration embraced the Muslim brotherhood, notwithstanding the fact that its goal is to destroy the United States from within by our own “miserable hands.” Their goal is to replace our Constitution with seventh-century Islamic Shariah law.
In Libya, the Obama administration started arming al Qaeda-affiliated militias that were under the control of the Muslim brotherhood. The Benghazi tragedy is one of the results of this unwise policy.
Nothing will change in the Middle East until the Obama administration changes direction. First, its dangerous policy of embracing the Muslim Brotherhood must be reversed.
Clearly, the organization has exerted undue influence on both our international and domestic policies in combating Islamic terrorism. An example is the Department of Justice’s recently reported move to ban religious profiling in terror probes.
Second, Mr. Obama must give up his delusion that somehow by signing a tentative agreement with Iran, the regime will curtail its nuclear weapons program.
No sooner had Mr. Obama finished crowing about that agreement than Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper said on Capitol Hill that Iran is now fully capable of making a nuclear weapon whenever it chooses. A military option must be given consideration.
Retired Adm. James A. Lyons was commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet and senior U.S. military representative to the United Nations.