As the latest round of negotiations between Iran, the U.S., and Europe fails to yield any meaningful nuclear concessions from Tehran, a gathering of experts in the fields of defense, national security, and foreign policy convened in Washington D.C. on Tuesday (Nov. 19). Held on the eve of the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, the event sought to contrast and compare JFK’s handling of the Cuban missile crisis to President Obama’s response to the current impasse with Iran, and to see what lessons the former might hold for the latter. The threat posed by the rogue Middle Eastern state, say the panelists—not just to its neighbors in the region, but to the United States—is far more immediate than most realize.
The meeting was sponsored by EMPact America, a bipartisan non-profit organization dedicated to spreading awareness of the dangers of an Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) attack, a stratagem that EMPact’s founders allege is within Iran’s technological reach, and for which the United States is woefully unprepared.
The event, attended by an eclectic mix of pundits and opinion-makers, featured a panel of speakers drawn from the ranks of academia, the military, and the federal government. The event commenced with brief but poignant introduction from prominent entrepreneur and EMPact America founder Henry Schwartz. Following Schwartz’s remarks, Frank Gaffney—founder and president of the Center for Security Policy (CSP), a Washington-based think tank—moderated a discussion with former U.N. ambassador and political commentator John Bolton, U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Thomas McInerney, Mideast expert and former CIA operative Clare Lopez, and Morton Klein, national president of the Zionist Organization of America.
An EMP attack by Iran, explained Schwartz, would have the power to “shut down our electrical grid, and thus, end our civilization as we know it.”
“Iran has repeatedly called for a world without America,” Schwartz continued, “and has practiced this type of EMP attack from barges in the Caspian Sea.” He went on to describe various plausible scenarios for a high-altitude EMP detonation, describing the repercussions as “catastrophic.”
“The opportunity and time for diplomatic efforts has been exhausted,” declared Schwartz. “The U.S. must act militarily to stop Iran, to prevent them from becoming a nuclear-armed existential threat to America.” Mr. Schwartz went on to explain how successful stall tactics on the part of Iran over the last 20 years have brought us to this critical juncture, and how the ineffectual foreign policy of the Obama administration has exacerbated an already perilous situation, necessitating a “muscular response” to the Iranian threat.
A presentation by foreign affairs expert Frank Gaffney provided additional context for understanding the present situation with Iran. Citing reports by a national German newspaper, Gaffney pointed to a military collaboration between Iran and Venezuela, which would enable Iran to launch an attack on the United States even before obtaining intercontinental ballistic missiles. One tactic, launching a strike from a cargo ship sitting off the U.S. coast, dubbed the “Scud-in-a-tub,” was deemed a particularly worrisome possibility. It is an attack vector, says Gaffney, for which we “neither have any missile defense, nor, for that matter, any warning systems.”
Seeking to drive his point home and demonstrate that his concerns were not an exaggeration, Gaffney recalled an incident last July in which a ship, sailing through the Panama Canal under the North Korean flag, was intercepted and found to be carrying two surface-to-air missiles concealed within its cargo.
Fox News contributor and former ambassador John Bolton offered insights on the inner machinations of the Iranian regime. He characterized the superficially democratic aspects of Iranian government as nothing more than a ruse. Describing how the true power lay with the Ayatollah Khamenei and the nation’s mullahs, he explained the position of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani as that of a secondary leader. Tongue firmly planted in cheek, Bolton helpfully suggested that his listeners think of Rouhani as “Iran’s Joe Biden.”
“And when you think of it that way,” Amb. Bolton elucidated, “watching President Obama chase Hassan Rouhani around New York at the opening of the (U.N.) General Assembly in September was more than an embarrassment; it was a strategic mistake. Because Iran correctly read Obama’s efforts, first with the photo opportunity, then to even have even a telephone conversation, as signaling weakness in the American position, as signaling desperation to reach some kind of cosmetic deal with Iran on the nuclear weapons program.” This in turn, claims Bolton, has enabled Iran’s Supreme Leader to maintain a significant advantage in the negotiations held since then.
Perhaps no one was more outspoken in his criticism of President Obama than ZOA chief Morton Klein. Klein pointed to a number of political missteps vis-à-vis Iran, including certain appointments by the Obama administration. Chuck Hagel, for instance, President Obama’s secretary of defense, had called “for containment of Iran” for at least a decade. “Containment” of an Iranian nuclear arsenal, Klein clarifies, as opposed to preventing them from developing one in the first place. Klein also took the president to task for failing to speak up regarding Iran’s sponsorship of terrorist activities (e.g. via Hezbollah) throughout the globe. He also decried certain alleged “anti-Israel statements” by the president to Congress, “the likes of which I don’t recall ever hearing during my 20 years at ZOA from any U.S. administration.”
“This man is not serious about stopping Iran,” proclaimed Klein, “and is really allowing Iran to obtain nuclear weapons.”
Prominent political activist and Jewish community leader Dr. Joseph Frager was also critical of what he perceived as the president’s indecisiveness on Iran, but was quick to point out that the Iranian nuclear/EMP threat isn’t an issue specific to Israel. “As the panel members clearly explained, this is an American issue,” said Frager. “And we as American citizens should be gravely concerned for our own sake, even if not for that of our only real ally in the Middle East.”
Keeping with the event’s theme, Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney shared with the audience the benefit of his own experience. A former combat pilot, McInerney actually flew reconnaissance missions over Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis. A key difference between the Soviets (and their Cuban proxies) and the Iranians, says McInerney, is that the Soviets were “reasonable.” As essentially rational actors not making their decisions on the basis of some apocalyptic ethos—in contrast to the Shi’ite fundamentalist theocracy in Iran—the Soviets, McInerney explained, could be counted on to prefer life over death, and therefore avoid a war that would inevitably prove catastrophic for both sides.
McInerney expressed his concern over what he characterized as the “unilateral disarmament” of the U.S. military, as well as the current administration’s refusal to stand by longtime U.S. allies like deposed Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak who, for all his faults, nonetheless maintained regional stability, and peace between Egypt and Israel, an unpopular stance with the Egyptian public.
Rounding out the panel of experts was CSP senior fellow and former CIA operations officer Clare Lopez. Ms. Lopez placed the Iranian threat in a broader historical context, describing Iran’s nuclear pursuits as a means for the Shi’ite country to challenge its Sunni neighbors (in particular, Saudi Arabia) and assert hegemony over the global Islamic community.
Although each speaker was able to shed light on a particular aspect of the Iranian regime and its nuclear ambitions, certain common threads featured prominently throughout the discussion. There was a general consensus, for instance, that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps are a driving force behind those ambitions. It was also argued by several presenters that Iran securing a nuclear arsenal would set of a chain reaction in which the Arab states would ultimately follow suit, further destabilizing the region.
Though not exactly an earth-shattering revelation, perhaps the most disconcerting point of agreement was that, indeed, President Barack Obama is no JFK. Whereas Kennedy “redeemed” himself from the displays of weakness that precipitated the Cuban Missile Crisis by projecting an image of strength and decisiveness (this despite the concession of removing U.S. missiles from Turkey), President Obama shows no signs of mending his ways. Will the Iranian government succeed in their nefarious aims? One thing is certain: Unless overwhelming pressure from the American public forces a dramatic shift in the present administration’s foreign policy, we will be doing absolutely nothing to stop them.