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Hagel Whitewashes Iran

When Chuck Hagel chaired the Atlantic Council, the group bent over backwards to exculpate Iran. That was a “twofer” for Hagel, because it fit not only with his ideological predilections, but also pleased donors like the Ploughshares Fund, which has dedicated itself to diminishing concern regarding Iran’s nuclear intentions.

Now that he’s at the helm of the Defense Department, he’s back at it again. Last evening, Bill Gertz reported in the Washington Free Beacon that Hagel’s Pentagon inexplicably changed previous conclusions to argue that Iran’s military doctrine was predominantly defensive in nature:

However, the report to Congress for the first time states Iran’s military doctrine is “defensive,” a significant shift reflecting the more soft line policy views toward the theocratic state held by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. The public portion of the first report to Congress under Hagel also was sharply curtailed this year from the four-page, unclassified assessment released in April 2012, to five paragraphs for the latest unclassified executive summary of the report dated January 2013.

This is a glaring example of politicization of intelligence. Perhaps the Obama administration believes that with a wave of its magic wand, it can will away decades of Iranian doctrine and evidence.

Enshrined in both the Iranian constitution and the founding statute of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is the notion that a raison d’être of the Islamic Republic is revolutionary export. Article 3 of the constitution, for example, declares the goals of the regime to be both “the expansion and strengthening of Islamic brotherhood and public cooperation among all the people” and “unsparing support to the oppressed of the world,” while Article 154 calls for support of the just struggles of the oppressed against the arrogant in every corner of the globe.” As my former colleague Ali Alfoneh pointed out, on July 25, 1981, the IRGC publication Payam-e Enghelab defined “the principle of jihad” as one of the two main tasks of the Guards, the other being defending the supreme leader’s government.

The Iranian leadership figuratively drives around Tehran with bumper stickers on their cars reading “WWKD” (What Would Khomeini Do?). Back in 2008, a debate erupted inside the Islamic Republic regarding the meaning of export of revolution. In a May 3, 2008, speech, Khatami suggested that Iranian officials should understand the concept in terms of soft power. “What did the Imam [Khomeini] want, and what was his purpose of exporting the revolution? Did he wish us to export revolution by means of gunpowder or groups sabotaging other countries?” Khatami asked, before suggesting Khomeini “meant to establish a role model here, which means people should see that in this society, the economy, science, and dignity of man are respected.”

Khatami’s notion sounded good, despite the tacit admission that the regime was sponsoring insurgency in other countries. The response is where it gets interesting. Ayatollah Shahroudi, one of the most important confidants of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, responded by declaring to a group of Guardsmen that they were “the hope of Islamic national and Islamic liberation movements.” Hardliners demanded that Khatami be arrested. Those same hardliners reign supreme today.

In recent months, the Iranians have moved to establish logistical basing rights for their ships in Sudan and perhaps Eritrea. Its use of proxies does not suggest a defensive posture, but rather shows that the Iranian regime wishes to act offensively but maintain plausible deniability. Nor does repeated incitement to genocide coupled with a suspicious drive toward nuclear weapons capability suggest a defensive goal.

Last week, I departed the USS Nimitz, which is currently heading toward the Persian Gulf to provide relief to the USS John C. Stennis, a ship I had the pleasure of spending a couple weeks on last year. On both ships, the sailors spoke of how aggressive Iranian guardsmen can be in international waters.

The change in the Pentagon’s report is truly suspicious. Perhaps it is time for Hagel to answer such questions about why it occurred. Let us hope that should Congress ask such questions, Hagel will better prepared and more articulate than at his confirmation hearing.

No one should get their hopes up, however. Let us hope that Hagel’s decision to twist intelligence does not end up in a situation like Benghazi, where politics trumped situational reality leading to the unnecessary deaths of American personnel.



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