Politics & Policy

An Ultimatum

Our message: Cooperate or face the consequences.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the third in a four-part series of exerpts from Endgame: The Blueprint for Victory in the War on Terror, by Thomas G. McInerney and Paul E. Vallely.


In many aspects, Iran seems a more formidable enemy than Iraq. It has a larger population, a more challenging terrain, and a military not degraded by years of sanctions. That said, Iran is very likely to fall more easily than Iraq did, because Iran’s domestic opposition is developing into a serious threat to the regime.

Iran reminds us of the Soviet Union circa 1989. It is a large country with a huge population (more than sixty-eight million), and it should be a rich country, sitting as it does on huge reserves of oil. The country’s wealth, however, does not make it down to the majority of Iranians. Instead, approximately 40 percent of Iranians live in poverty, because the clerics who control Iranian political and economic life siphon off much of the national income for their own uses.

The Constitution of the Soviet Union promised numerous rights to its citizens. Likewise, the Iranian constitution presents a façade of political freedom. It has an elected parliament and a democratically elected president. The catch, however, is that the constitution also vests all ultimate power in an nonelected body of six clerics and six religious lawyers, the Guardian Council, and the post of Supreme Ruler, a cleric chosen by another nonelected body, the House of Experts.

For many years, the Islamic Republic apparently was popular within Iran. However, over time, many Iranians have come to oppose the theocratic nature of the Iranian state and resent the concentration of political and economic power in the hands of the mullahs, their families, and their cronies. Among the youth of Iran there are many who find Western political forms and even elements of Western culture more attractive than the political and cultural construct offered by the mullahs. In fact, judging from recent political developments in Iran, it appears that the rule of the mullahs survives only because they manipulate Iran’s political process. Democratic reform won’t happen naturally in Iran–because the mullahs probably will block it, using their constitutional power and, if that fails to stem the tide of democratization, the quasi-official paramilitary forces at their command, their own versions of the militias and “fedayeen” of Ba’athist Iraq. It cannot be denied, however, that the people of Iran are ready and eager for it. The broadly popular Iranian movement in favor of democracy deserves our support for three simple reasons: the Iranian people want to be free, they deserve to be free, and the Web of Terror will greatly diminish when they are free.

For these reasons, the United States and other free nations should offer the democratic opposition everything we can to help them spread their message: satellite phones, computers, fax machines, even satellite radio and television stations, Voice of America broadcasts, and so on. Our goal should be to help the democratic opposition achieve the same impact on Iran that Solidarity had in Communist Poland. Our president should make it clear that our country stands behind the ambitions of the Iranian people for freedom. And if we succeed in creating a stable, democratic Iraq, the president’s words will have a very tangible meaning for the people in Iran.

As encouraging as the growing strength of the pro-democracy movement in Iran is, we cannot wait for moral suasion and quiet diplomacy to have some effect on the mullahs. They are a key strand in the Web of Terror, and their nuclear ambitions are dangerously close to fulfillment.

The Iranians insist that their nuclear program is devoted to civilian purposes, to provide electricity. In September 2003, however, inspectors of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency reported that they had discovered highly enriched (weapons-grade) uranium on equipment at an Iranian nuclear site. This discovery–and other reports concerning the Iranian nuclear program, including some that we heard directly from Israeli and Indian diplomats–brings into question the CIA’s oft-cited analysis that Iran would have nuclear weapons in two to three years. We remember all too well the shock that occurred when, after the 1991 Persian Gulf War, international inspectors discovered that Saddam Hussein’s nuclear program was much farther along than prewar intelligence estimates had claimed. We also now know–thanks to Libya’s about-face on its WMD programs–that Libya was much farther along in developing nuclear weapons than anyone imagined. There is no reason to be sanguine and there is every reason to be worried about how far Iran has gone and is going in its nuclear program.

If Iran develops nuclear weapons, so might other countries in the region. Saudi Arabia, for instance, already has as many as fifty Chinese-made intermediate-range ballistic missiles. Saudi Arabian officials have met with Pakistan’s President Musharraf, and, as we recently discovered, Pakistan has a history of selling nuclear technology and nuclear know-how, including apparently to Iran, North Korea, and Libya. We have no way of knowing what the Pakistani nuclear establishment might have sold to Riyadh in the way of equipment, advice, and documents related to nuclear weapons or the Pakistani army might have exchanged as a quid pro quo for Saudi financial support of the Taliban and Pakistan-sponsored Islamist rebels in Kashmir. It is imperative that Pakistan disclose all of its nuclear proliferation dealings with other countries.

More important is the question of Israel’s reaction to Iran’s nuclear weapons program. On January 4, 2004, the Israeli Defense Minister, Shaul Mofaz, an Iranian-born Israeli, spoke to the Iranian people via a radio broadcast. Speaking in his native Farsi, General Mofaz bluntly told his listeners that Israel would not accept an Iranian nuclear bomb. Only a couple of weeks later, we met with Israeli diplomats who underlined Mofaz’s comments. They also confirmed information we received in 2003: Israel considers a preemptive strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities as a serious possibility. There is precedent for such a strike. In 1981, in a brilliantly planned and executed attack, the Israeli Air Force destroyed Iraq’s French-built Osirak nuclear reactor, an act that was publicly condemned and privately welcomed in the region and around the world.

In Rowan Scarborough’s book, Rumsfeld’s War, it was revealed that the Israeli defense forces have eighty-two nuclear weapons as part of their nuclear deterrence force. In our research for this book, we discovered that a group of countries, led by Israel and the U.S., had been working since 1981 on a mega-secret project to develop and deploy a weapon system that can neutralize nuclear weapons. The highly advanced, space-deployable, BHB weapon system, code-named XXXBHB-BACAR-1318-I390MSCH, has extraordinary potential and is a key part of the West’s deterrence strategy. For the past twenty-five years, the project and the scientists involved in it were kept in strict secrecy and their existence denied. The scientists rejected Nobel Physics prize and Nobel Peace prize nominations and have been repeatedly and deliberately the subject of intense military disinformation through the media in order to divert attention from their highly secretive work. In 1981, when CIA director William J. Casey signed onto the SDI (Strategic Defense Initiative)–a missile defense shield against incoming nuclear warheads–he gave the green light for the technology’s development for deterrence purposes and peaceful use only. Although we have only limited information, it appears that Iran’s rapidly developing nuclear capabilities could be neutralized and rendered obsolete, as could the capabilities of other rogue countries.

Moreover, Iran continues to be a major state sponsor of terrorism with such clients as Hezbollah, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Authority. Iranian support of these groups is coordinated by agents of Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (also known as the Pasdaran), organizations that have been used by the mullahs to export Iranian-style Islamic revolution throughout the region for decades. In early January 2004, an American intelligence officer confirmed to us that there are also al-Qaeda operatives in Iran–and Iran has refused to turn over these terrorists to the United States.

A pro-Western, democratic regime in Iraq is, obviously, a threat to the Iranian mullahs’ legitimacy because it would provide a rallying point for Iranian exiles and would-be democratic reformers. If the mullahs continue to run Iran, they will try to destroy a democratic Iraq. It was not a surprise, therefore, when we learned from a CIA officer that the MOIS already is active in the Shi’ite areas of Iraq, often in support of extremist Shi’ite clerics. We cannot tolerate Iranian support for terrorism, including attempts to subvert Iraq. But most of all, we cannot tolerate Iran’s development of nuclear weapons.

The president must first inform Iran in the bluntest language possible that developing nuclear weapons is a red line it cannot cross. The president should not only immediately invoke his statutory authority to impose sanctions against corporations that do business with Iran’s oil industry, but also encourage foreign governments to do the same. Japan needs to be encouraged to crack down on its corporations by a direct appeal to its self-interest: Every Japanese corporation that invests in Iran’s oil industry is making a de facto investment in Iran’s nuclear weapons cooperation with North Korea–and North Korea has Japan as a target. Likewise, the United States must urge Russia and Germany to pull their support from Iran’s civilian nuclear program; the technology and know-how is too easily transferred to weapons programs. It might be worth approaching France with a request to restrict its support of Iran’s nuclear program if only to give the world another example of the French government’s boundless venality.

The United States must prepare to approach the UN Security Council with a draft resolution for a total economic embargo on Iran, the seizing of Iranian assets (to be held in trust for future Iranian government), and a strict naval quarantine in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz. The United Nations would lift the embargo only when the Iran government dismantles its nuclear weapons program under the supervision of international inspections. Libya (and before Libya, South Africa) has given Iran an example to follow on how to dismantle a nuclear weapons program in a way that meets international standards of verification. Iran would be required to surrender or destroy all equipment needed to produce fissionable materials (highly enriched uranium and plutonium), all long-range ballistic missiles, and all cruise missiles; release all documents related to its nuclear weapons program; and expel all foreign scientists, technicians, and engineers involved in nuclear weapons design, development, and production. Because the French or Russians are likely to veto–or, at least, threaten to veto–such a Security Council resolution, the United States should be ready to impose these conditions on Iran with a coalition of our own. If that coalition is, in the end, composed solely of the United States, the Gulf States, Great Britain, Australia, Japan, and India, it would be enough.

A strict “no sanctuary” policy regarding terrorists is an essential part of the global strategy against terrorism. Therefore, the United States should be prepared to give Iran another dose of strong antiterror medicine by using airpower to strike terrorist sanctuaries within Iran. If Iran allows al-Qaeda or other jihadist groups to set up shop or take refuge within its borders, it must pay the price of being an accessory to and abettor of terrorism.

The Iranian mullahs’ support for terrorism, their repression of their own people who so obviously yearn to be free, and their appalling human rights record are reasons enough to change the regime. Their ambitious nuclear weapons program makes regime change in Iran more than desirable; it makes it necessary–now. And to achieve that, we should deploy every lever we have–diplomatic, economic, and even military–until we get the necessary result.


North Korea created its nuclear weapons program for money, which means, for export. North Korean scientists, engineers, and technicians are in Tehran and other cities in Iran, working for Iran’s nuclear weapons program. North Korea is developing and selling ballistic missiles to Iran, Syria, and Yemen (and probably to other customers that we might not know about now). Pakistan has admitted that it traded its expertise related to nuclear weapons to North Korea for North Korea’s expertise in ballistic missile technology.

In an August 5, 2003, op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, Jim Woolsey, former director of the CIA, and Tom wrote a lengthy article on resolving the problems with North Korea. In it they describe how the North Koreans use their nuclear weapons program for extortion. Not only has North Korea violated agreements not to pursue nuclear weapons and withdrawn from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, it has demanded what is essentially a bribe to turn the program off again. North Korea expects that if it rattles its nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles enough, it will succeed, as it has in the past, in shaking money and material aid from the United States and Japan. Its transparently mercenary motives, however, shouldn’t disguise the fact that the North Korean nuclear threat is very real.

In early July 2003, krypton 85–a gas produced when spent nuclear fuel is reprocessed into plutonium for nuclear weapons–was detected in an area removed from North Korea’s only known reprocessing facility at Yongbyon. In January 2004, North Korea showed an unofficial delegation of American nuclear experts who were touring its nuclear facilities that it removed spent fuel rods from the holding ponds where earlier nuclear inspectors had put them and sent them away for “reprocessing.” When North Korea ousted international inspectors and left the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in January 2002, it had 8,000 spent fuel rods at the Yongbyon facility. If they indeed have been reprocessed, North Korea’s dictator Kim Jong Il might have material for several nuclear weapons (he is already suspected of having one or two).

The news gets worse. In the fall of 2003, the CIA declared that North Korea’s nuclear weapons program is sufficiently sophisticated that it will not have to explode a nuclear bomb in order to determine if its weapons will work. That means that the world might not know North Korea has operational weapons until it actually uses one, or another rogue state or a terrorist group detonates one of the weapons North Korea has sold it in Los Angeles, Tel Aviv, New Delhi, or London. Given North Korea’s boast in April 2003 that it would sell weapons-grade plutonium to whomever it pleased, there is no gainsaying the fact that the North Korean nuclear threat is enormous and pressing.

There is no realistic way to stop North Korea from exporting plutonium–and even manufactured weapons–to potential customers, which would include rogue states and terrorist organizations. North Korea already clandestinely ships ballistic missiles to customers all over the world. Former Secretary of Defense William Perry observed that the amount of plutonium needed for a bomb is about the size of a soccer ball. It would be easy for the North Koreans to use air shipments, including those protected by diplomatic immunity, to smuggle nuclear materials and/or bomb components to their customers.

So how do we stop North Korea? There are two options. First, North Korea is dependent on China for food, fuel, and financial support. China needs to understand that if North Korea goes ahead with its nuclear weapons program, then Japan, Taiwan, and even South Korea could follow–and Northeast Asia would be “nuclearized.” The president of the United States should remind the Chinese that this scenario is not in their interest, and remind them too that he and South Korea’s president, Roh Moo-hyun, signed a joint declaration in May 2003 that they will “not tolerate nuclear weapons in North Korea.”

The Chinese might eschew such a forceful course of action–as they have in the past. North Korea is their ally after all. Or China might demand concessions related to Taiwan that the United States would find intolerable. That means the United States needs to develop other options. Many U.S. policymakers reflexively reject the use of force against North Korea, casting any conflict on the Korean peninsula in nightmarish terms. The Chinese and North Koreans know this, and take advantage of it. To put it bluntly, they do not expect American action. To restore our diplomatic credibility and to have an effective response if war becomes unavoidable, however, the United States and South Korea must come together–initially in secret, if necessary–and begin to assess realistically what it would take to change the North Korean regime by military means.

A surgical strike against the nuclear site at Yongbyon would be insufficient, not only because there might be other nuclear sites, but because we must protect South Korea from attack, particularly from the masses of North Korean artillery just north of the Demilitarized Zone. We must prepare to win a war, not merely execute a strike.

To our advantage, the U.S. and South Korean militaries have spent more than fifty years preparing to fight and win a war against North Korea. Massive airpower is the key to being able both to destroy Yongbyon and to protect South Korea from attack by missiles or artillery. There are many hardened air bases available in South Korea, and the South Koreans have an excellent air force of approximately 550 modern tactical aircraft.

The United States should begin planning to deploy the Patriot tactical ballistic missile defense system in South Korea. We should also deploy U.S. Navy warships equipped with the Aegis system to shoot down ballistic missiles fired at South Korea and Japan. The United States also should reinforce its tactical air forces in the area, moving several air wings to Japan and South Korea, putting aircraft carrier battle groups in the Western Pacific, and deploying surveillance aircraft and drones.

All these elements must be movable on short notice in order that, once “the balloon goes up” in Korea, that U.S. and South Korean air forces can launch well over 4,000 sorties a day (compared with 800 in Iraq). Considering that the vast majority of these sorties would use precision munitions, and that surveillance aircraft would permit immediate targeting of artillery pieces and ballistic missile launch sites, the use of air power in such a war would be swifter and more devastating than it was in Iraq.

North Korea’s obsolescent air defenses–both fighter aircraft and ground-based missiles–would not last long. Most of North Korea’s armed forces are along the DMZ. Smash them in a ferocious air campaign and the rest of the country is open to ground operations by U.S. and South Korean forces. Marine forces deployed off both coasts of North Korea could put both Pyongyang and Wonsan at risk of rapid seizure, particularly given the fact that most of North Korea’s armed forces are situated along the DMZ.

In addition, the South Korean army is well equipped and well trained. With help from perhaps two additional U.S. Army divisions, it could drive quickly and deeply into North Korea. In fact, our combined forces could defeat North Korea decisively in thirty to sixty days. There is no doubt on the outcome. If North Korea refuses to end its nuclear program–and if China refuses to force North Korea to end it–we need to make it clear that we will act decisively to take out North Korea’s weapons and its noxious regime. We can and we must.


Syria is a domino waiting to fall. It is an enormous supporter of terrorism–but it lacks the oil wealth of Iran, Saudi Arabia, Libya, and Iraq. It is a ruthless police state–but its base of support is Alawite Muslims, who make up about 11 percent of the population. It is the last Ba’ath Party-controlled state; its deep-pocketed Ba’athist neighbor, Saddam Hussein, is gone.

And most important for us are reports that Saddam Hussein sent chemical, biological, and other weapons or weapons components to three locations in Syria. The first is in northern Syria in a tunnel complex used by the Syrians for their own WMD called al Baida. The second location is a Syrian Air Force Camp near Tai Snan. The third location is in southern Syria, near the Lebanese border, in a city called Sjinsjam, itself close to the city of Homs. Weapons also could be hidden in sites in the Bekaa Valley. Saddam Hussein and his henchmen sent these weapons as well as hundreds of millions of dollars in cash to Syria for “safekeeping.” With Saddam Hussein’s regime gone, however, cash-strapped Syria will keep the cash and sell these weapons to the several terrorist groups that look to Syria for support, among them Hezbollah and Hamas. Israel would be the target. Israel knows the weapons are present in Syria, and, therefore, we would not be surprised to see preemptive Israeli strikes against Syria to prevent these weapons from being transferred to these terrorist groups.

It is hardly surprising that Syria made diplomatic overtures to the United States after Operation Iraqi Freedom. It is in a difficult geo-strategic position, ringed by Israel, Turkey, and American forces in Iraq. Syria’s economy is weak and its major source of revenue–helping Saddam Hussein beat the oil embargo on Iraq–now is gone. The Syrian regime has little popular support–and its leaders know it. While impressive to some on paper, Syria’s military is unimpressive in reality. In short, Syria cannot bargain from a position of strength and, therefore, it would be unconscionable for the United States to delay acting quickly and decisively to cut Syria out of the Web of Terror.

For their part, the Syrians hope to give the United States just enough cooperation to prevent military action, and perhaps even gain economic aid, while continuing to serve as the conduit of Iran’s support to Palestinian terror groups and aiding the broader Web of Terror. The United States must end Syria’s double game immediately by issuing an ultimatum to Syria’s president, Bashar Assad: expel all terror groups from Syrian soil and Syrian-controlled Lebanon, give up all Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, and stop letting Iranian cadres, weapons, and money pass through your country to Palestinian terror groups–or the United States and a coalition of the willing will topple your regime.

Facing the Mediterranean Sea, Syria is an ideal place to use America’s dominant sea and air power. Coalition forces would move quickly into Syria and the Bekaa Valley, guiding precision air strikes on terrorist training camps, harassing any terrorists who flee U.S. air assaults, and seeking storage sites for weapons of mass destruction. Delivering reinforcements quickly at key points would be a relatively simple affair.

Bashar Assad should be made to realize that he has two options: cooperate with the civilized world against terror, as Colonel Gaddafi is apparently doing, or be toppled like Saddam Hussein.

Lt. Gen. Thomas G. McInerney retired from the U.S. Air Force as assistant vice chief of staff of the Air Force and director for the Defense Performance Review. Maj. Gen. Paul E. Vallely retired from the U.S. Army as deputy commanding general, Pacific, and is the senior military analyst for FOX News Channel.


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