I just returned from a trip to the Middle East where I visited with civilian and military leaders in Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates. It was a trip I wanted to make for some time now, given the scope of our security commitments in the region and the mutual challenges we all still face. At each stop and in each meeting, I was encouraged to find, though perspectives certainly vary, the desire for stability and security is as common as it is vigorous.
I was also struck by two other overarching themes.
First, where the United States has military relationships in the region, they are strong and getting stronger. Our partners want to engage, exercise, and operate with us. They also want to pursue new and innovative ways to tackle common challenges there and around the world.
The Egyptians were proud of their participation in this year’s Bright Star exercise, and want to make it even more vibrant in the future. The Israelis, of course, remain a vital ally and a cornerstone of our regional security commitments. I was delighted to meet with more than 100 Israeli doctors and nurses who deployed to Haiti to help with international relief efforts. To a person they were proud of the impact they made and of the speed with which they made it.
In similar fashion, the Jordanians, long a key contributor to UN peacekeeping missions, walked me through the medical support they continue to provide in Iraq and Afghanistan. They also showed me a Special Operations Training Center that has tremendous potential for how modern militaries can best prepare for counter-terrorism operations in a harsh environment.
The Saudis shared with me valuable lessons they learned working with the Yemeni government to deal with the Houthi issue and in the UAE I was very impressed to see an air coordination and advanced training center that not only provides virtually unimpeded training opportunities to regional air forces, but also improves real-world tactical air coordination issues.
The second overarching theme was, of course, Iran.
If there is one great concern shared by all the nations I visited, it is over the direction they believe Iran is going and what that means for them and for their citizens. I maintain my conviction that Iran remains on a path to achieve nuclear weapons, and that even this very pursuit further destabilizes the region. Like us, it isn’t just a nuclear-capable Iranian military our friends worry about; it’s an Iran with hegemonic ambitions and a desire to dominate its neighbors. This outcome drives many of the national security decisions our partners are making, and I believe we must be mindful of that as we look to the future post-Iraq and post-Afghanistan.
Let me be clear: we owe the Secretary and the President a range of options for this threat. We owe the American people our readiness. But as I have said many times, I worry a lot about the unintended consequences of any sort of military action. For now, the diplomatic and economic levers of international power ought to be the levers first pulled. Indeed, I would hope they are always and consistently pulled.
No strike, however effective, will be in and of itself decisive.
Read the AFPS story, Mullen: Iran’s Goal to Further Enrich Uranium ‘Destabilizing’ here.