FORMER CIA DIRECTOR JAMES WOOLSEY TELLS TEL AVIV AUDIENCE: “COCK GUN AGAINST IRAN, BUT DON’T PULL THE TRIGGER”.

LISTEN: Ex-CIA head speaks out at Tel Aviv International Salon Event, “I did not say execute strikes against Iran”.

Former CIA Director, James Woolsey speaking in Tel Aviv on Thursday night, 2nd of Feb 2012 (PHOTO BY DANIEL EASTERMAN)

Director of the Central Intelligence Agency between 1993 and 1995, Robert James Woolsey was considered to be the sole representative of the neoconservative wing under the Clinton administration.  By Woolsey’s own admission he had an almost “non-existent” relationship with the President, participating in high-level meetings with Clinton himself only on very rare occasions.  After leaving the CIA, Woolsey became very active in two major think tanks strongly associated with the pro-Israel and neoconservative movement – the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) and the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, which he now chairs.

At the beginning of his speech last Thursday night, Woolsey told the packed Tel Aviv audience that contrary to several reports appearing in the media, he “absolutely did not advocate US military strikes against Iran.”  Instead, he proposed that the US send “five carrier battle groups to the Indian Ocean, equipped with long-rang aircraft with accurate weapons; together with the deployment of B1and B2 bombers.”  This show of force would ensure US readiness and present a clear and present threat to the regime in Tehran. “If you can’t tell the difference between cocking a gun and pulling the trigger”, said the former CIA chief, “then I feel sorry for you”.  In a reference to Teddy Roosevelt’s famous saying of “speaking quietly and carrying a big stick”, Woolsey suggested that in this case the best option was to say nothing at all and let America’s military build-up do the talking.

The lion’s share of Woolsey’s analysis on Iran focused on the wider regional implications of an Iranian bomb sparking a fully-fledged nuclear arms race in the Middle East.  “For all practical purposes, the Cold War was a two player game between the US and Soviet Union, with China as a minor footnote,” said Woolsey.  “Even in a difficult confrontation such as the Cuban missile crisis, basically we understood as time went on that both sides simply didn’t want to blow the world up.”

“With Iran we have a different problem”, continued Woolsey.  “If Iran gets a nuclear weapon, the Saudis, the Egyptians, the Turks and maybe a few others will not be far behind.  Under the current NPT (nuclear non-proliferation treaty), it makes it pretty easy for states in the Mideast and other parts of the world for that matter to cheat.  A two-party standoff is one thing, but a multi-party standoff in which a number of different types of individuals are interacting with a number of different countries in unpredictable ways – that’s something else entirely.  For just that reason alone, we should be willing to do whatever is necessary to keep Iran from getting a nuclear weapon”.

Referring back to his experience as part of a US delegation negotiating arms control treaties with the USSR during the Cold War, Woolsey described how he got to know the Soviet representatives quite well and quickly came to the understanding that they were essentially rational actors.  “By the mid to late 1960s, you could find more true-believing Marxist-Leninists in the bookstores of the upper-west side of Manhattan than in Kremlin,” quipped Woolsey.  “The Soviet officials I negotiated with didn’t want to die for their Marxist principles – they were more concerned with remodelling their dachas [sic]”.  For Woolsey, the current Iranian leadership by contrast is made up of a group of fanatical Ayatollahs which according to him make, “the Wahabbis of Saudi Arabia look like moderates”.

And yet, here was the apparent contradiction at the heart of the former CIA man’s argument.  While making the point that the Ayatollahs would welcome an age of nuclear instability for bizarre theological reasons, Woolsey also invoked the idea of “the Persians” as the inventors of the game of chess and thus masters of cold realpolitik, strategy and tactics.  In the question and answer session that followed, the audience failed to enquire how it was possible for Iran’s leaders to be both brilliant rational military strategists and crazed religious ideologues at the same time.

With regard to the controversy surrounding the quotes of Woolsey in the media on Iran, towards the end of the event it became clear that it wasn’t so much that the Former Director was actually opposed to attacking Iran, but merely opposed to interfering with the authority of the President of the United States.  “Once you’ve served at senior levels in government, you want to be careful not to stick your nose in the President’s business”, he said bluntly.  “I’m not a supporter of President Obama and I think he’s made a substantial number of mistakes, but I don’t think its up to me as a former senior official to say: do this, or don’t do this.  Get ready to strike Iran I’m willing to say, but to actually strike Iran, I’m not willing to say that”.

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