Transcript- The Situation Room, 28 February, 2007

"Now, with two U.S. aircraft carrier battle groups in the region, is there a growing chance the United States could find itself at war with Iran? Joining us now, retired U.S. Army Colonel Pat Lang, former chief of Middle East intelligence at the Pentagon.

Pat, thanks for coming in.

COL. PATRICK LANG, U.S. ARMY (RET.): My pleasure.

BLITZER: Take us behind the scenes right now, all of the saber rattling. The leaks we’re also seeing — the Seymour Hersh article in "The New Yorker" magazine.

What’s going on, in your assessment, behind the scenes?

LANG: Well, a lot of this, of course, is intended to reach the ears of the Iranians. You know, it’s — it’s quite a good idea, in a lot of ways, to make sure the Iranians know the United States is very serious about the concerns about them and if they aren’t careful, they could end up in big trouble with us.

At the same time, I think that you have to understand that there is intensive planning for how you would execute an operation against the Iranians going on in the military, in response to direction by the president.

These are contingency plans and when they say — when the White House says that we do not plan to attack Iran, what they really mean is that they haven’t made a decision.

BLITZER: Because in the build-up to the war with Saddam Hussein in Iraq, for months administration officials were saying they’re not planning on attacking and there’s been no orders given or anything like that, when we know that the planning had been very, very intense.

But the planning for the operation, I think, is well advanced.

BLITZER: Because in the build-up to the war with Saddam Hussein in Iraq, for months administration officials were saying they’re not planning on attacking and there’s been no orders given or anything like that, when we know that the planning had been very, very intense.

LANG: Yes. And that is undoubtedly going on right now. And the level of ambiguity that’s being projected by the administration over this is probably quite productive in terms of getting people in the region into the state of mind in which they would like to talk, if the administration really would like to talk to them.

BLITZER: But I take it, and correct me if I’m wrong, you’re hearing from some inside the Pentagon, some top generals, others, that there’s no great desire to actually start a war with Ahmadinejad in Iran?

LANG: Oh, I think at the present time, there’s a very strong grouping of people at the top, both in the uniformed military and within the civilian part of the Bush administration who absolutely think this would be a terrible idea. And they insist their voices will be heard. So you’d have to say there is a very active dialogue about this which is seeking the attention of the president.

BLITZER: But if the president, the vice president gives the order to go ahead — and Sy Hersh in "The New Yorker" says that within 24 hours the plans could be implemented. I don’t know if he’s right or wrong on that. But if they give the order, these military officers will salute and begin the process.

LANG: Well, there’s no reason why an operation couldn’t be launched within 24 hours from the order to go because this is mostly going to be air and naval business. There is no real tradition in the American armed forces of officers resigning rather than obeying an order they think is wrong. But in this case, I think the issues are so great and the pressures are so high that this is under active consideration, and that’s been mentioned in a few places.

BLITZER: You think top U.S. generals would actually resign rather than go forward and implement a decision like this?

LANG: I think the issue is certainly on their minds. It is, yes.

BLITZER: And what — tell me why they would be so concerned.

LANG: Because, in fact, the United States, as everyone knows, is vastly overextended. And we have a great many more issues to take care of in other parts of the world involving the jihadi international terrorists and things of that kind. And we really can’t afford another war.

BLITZER: Here is what the Pentagon said the other day, even in anticipation of the Seymour Hersh article in "The New Yorker." "The United States is not planning to go to war with Iran. To suggest anything to the contrary is simply wrong, misleading and mischievous."

LANG: Well, I think that’s the prudent thing for them to say. It’s what I would expect them to say. And as I said, what it indicates is the fact that when they said we’re not planning to go to war, it means we have no intention at this time to launch an operation. It doesn’t mean the plans aren’t being made or haven’t been made.

BLITZER: Two U.S. aircraft carrier battle groups are now in the region, the Stennis, the Eisenhower. People hear about an aircraft carrier going in, but when they go in, they go in with a lot of support, a lot of other battleships and destroyers, submarines. That’s a lot of power that the U.S. is projecting in that part of the world.

LANG: It certainly is. Besides the carriers and their air groups themselves, a lot of the screen vessels for the carriers are missile shooters that shoot surface-to-surface missiles, cruise missiles, things like that. They pack a tremendous wallop. Then you could fly sorties from around the world with American strategic bombers.

BLITZER: So what’s the point of doing this?

LANG: Well, I think it is — it has two purposes.

The first purpose is to make sure that you have the Iranians’ attention and that they are willing to listen to the United States when we say, in fact, that we know what we want you to do and we think that you should do it. And the other purpose is that, if all else fails and a decision is made to do something, you are in position to do it.

The conference in March, I think, is a fascinating thing.

BLITZER: The conference in Baghdad.

LANG: That’s right.

BLITZER: That the U.S. will attend the various neighbors, including Iran and Syria will attend. This is an Iranian — excuse me — an Iraqi invitation to all of the neighbors, including the U.S., some others, to come in and talk about the situation in Iraq.

LANG: Yes. Britain, France and Russia will probably also attend. I think this is a step in the right direction, because the Middle East is like a Chinese puzzle. You have all these pieces that have to be lined up in order to make the thing work correctly. And the Iranians, the Syrians and all the different players in the region are all part of that pattern.

You have to work on getting these pieces lined up in some other way than beating them with a hammer.  This meeting is a good first step, I think.

BLITZER: So, if the U.S. secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, is there, the Iranian foreign minister is there, the Syrian foreign minister, will this be an opportunity to sort of break the ice and get into serious discussions?

LANG: It certainly is an opportunity if we wish to take that opportunity. I hope that what we don’t do is go there and tell the Iranians, for example, that all we want to talk about is what we don’t want you to do to in Iraq, rather than discussing the whole range of issues between us and them across the region. Because if all we do is tell them, "this is what we want you to do, are you going to do it," they’re going to go away and keep on doing what they are doing.

BLITZER: But the administration’s position all along has been the U.S. is more than happy to talk to the Iranians, the Syrians at the highest levels. From Iran’s point of view, they first have to stop enriching uranium.

LANG: Yes. Well, that’s just the general pattern of the Bush administration’s diplomacy, which is to tell people generally, "we know what you should do and we want you to tell us you are going to do it. And that will begin the process of negotiation."

In fact, these countries in the region think they are bigger than that, and they’re not going to surrender what they think are their valid interests unless there is some sort of dialogue that involves bargaining. These countries are the world’s biggest deal makers, and they’re just not going to go for a completely one-sided thing.

BLITZER: They know how to negotiate.

LANG: You bet.

BLITZER: All right, Pat. Thanks very much for coming in. Pat Lang, he used to be in charge of Middle East intelligence over at the Pentagon. Appreciate it very much. "

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20 Responses to Transcript- The Situation Room, 28 February, 2007

  1. robt willmann says:

    Good job in smoothly steering the conversation on CNN over to the March Baghdad conference of Iraq’s neighbors and others about how to deal with the mess made by the U.S., Britain, and Israel in Iraq. And in making some valid points in the process.
    Also, it was critical to inform the public on the word games being played by the administration when it says that it is not planning an attack or war on Iran. This kind of vocabulary hustle is as old as mankind (and womankind). It got intensive public exposure when we heard a president of the U.S. (Clinton) say that it depends on what the definition of the word “is” is. Another memorable example had loud speakers blaring that “this is not an assault” while the FBI and other personnel assaulted the Branch Davidian’s complex in Waco, Texas with tanks and, among other things, a chemical weapon in 1993.
    For 25-plus years in the law business I have listened to and taken part in game-playing with the definition of words, which in psychology has been called “the operative meaning of words”. It is a pathetic sight indeed to see people think they are clever when they realize that the meaning of expressions depends on the meaning of the individual words within the expressions, and they can mislead others by applying definitions different from those assumed by the bulk of listeners.
    Then the CNN website says that “U.S. officials won’t hold direct talks with Iran or Syria at a Baghdad conference next month . . . ,” according to press secretary Tony Snow.
    “Direct talks would happen only if those countries made changes to their own policies.”

  2. mt says:

    “LANG: ‘. . . These countries are the world’s biggest deal makers, and they’re just not going to go for a completely one-sided thing.’
    BLITZER: They know how to negotiate.
    LANG: You bet.”
    LOL. Condensed: They’ve been around the block, for awhile.

  3. Mo says:

    “You have to work on getting these pieces lined up in some other way than beating them with a hammer”
    Like you say Pat, let us hope they don’t just think that this meeting is some ingenious new way of weilding that hammer.
    Do you think there is anything in the fact that the meeting was announced while the VP was abroad, pronouncing hostile statements against Iran? Is it possible that those in the Military and the Administration opposed to attacking Iran used his absence as a chance to pull off a virtual coup d’etat against Cheney?

  4. Will says:

    Iran Bombers:
    The Shooter (a.k.a Pumphead), Ellitot Abrams, think tanks, various Neokon Likudniks, reckless Saudi Prince Bandar
    Iran neogtiators:
    Rice, Gates and his uniformed Pentagon Staff,
    methinks the Irve Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Jr. can have a tilt in this balance depending on their verdict.
    Fitzie’s modus operandi has always been to go after an underling before going after a big fish. He plainly has The Shooter in his sights. That was obvious in his closing statement in his references to “A cloud being cast over the office of the VP” and “Scooter had thrown sand in the face of the FBI.”
    They now start on day seven of their deliberations. A different jury convicted Martha Stewart on a stupendously less serious charge w/ incredibly less evidence. We will see.

  5. Mlaw230 says:

    I wonder if you might comment on how the military, particularly the flag officers, perceive their duty when commenting in public.
    Do they believe they have a duty to be straight forward or to toe the line, at the risk of parsing their words to the point of deceipt?
    Clearly, the questioning regarding “planning” was not whether there were contingency plans in place, of course there are, nor whether a decision had been made, which presumably would not happen finally until the execute order was given.
    It appears to me that if your interpretation is accurate then the General clearly mislead his audience.

  6. W. Patrick Lang says:

    Which general? pl

  7. Will says:

    the question about bombing Iran is a recurring theme in Lang press and TV interviews so I added it to the WP article under blog and punditry
    “== Will the U.S. Bomb Iran? ==
    Lang interprets “the U.S. has no plans to bomb Iran” to mean that intensive planning is at an advanced stage but no final decision has been made to push the button. He says the forces are largely in place. The bombing could be carried out by naval air from the [[aircraft carriers]] in place, missiles from the screening ships of the carrier groups, and Air Force assets. He says there is dissension in the U.S. administration at high levels whether to bomb Iran, and it is possible for high level resignations to occur even in the uniformed services. He says the concentration of forces has a dual purpose, to prod Iran toward serious negotiations and to be there as a resort if negotiations fail.[][]

  8. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Col. Lang:
    I think that a US attack on Iran is tantamount to writing off the nascent states of Iraq and Afghanistan and condemining the populations of those states to decades more of chaos because of US – EU obdurancy. Certainly this will be the view of non-Western World, in my opinion.

  9. John Howley says:

    “…the Middle East is like a Chinese puzzle…”
    Wouldn’t that give Beijing an advantage over us?

  10. arbogast says:

    Colonel Lang, isn’t it time to consider the motives and desires of the Iranians?
    I, for one, believe that they actually want to precipitate an attack by the U.S. I think they will do everything in their power to push the right buttons on Bush and Cheney to get them to attack.
    Because, seriously, what does each side get from an air attack by the United States?
    The US gets to “destroy” notional nuclear development sites as well as notional logistic support sites for Iran’s activites inside Iraq.
    What does Iran get? The US opening a second front, albeit an air and sea second front, nevertheless a second front. The US taking a severe beating in world public opinion. And finally an excuse to make things a bit hotter for the US in Iraq.
    I would say that Iran realizes that an American air attack on its soil will hasten the US’s departure from Iraq.
    What do others think?

  11. mlaw230 says:

    Colonel: I had in mind what I believe was the same comment you were responding to, which was General Pace’s “categorical” denial while be questioned by Senator Byrd.
    There are numerous other examples, including instances when the questioning has centered on whether there are (or were) enough troops deployed in Iraq, or whether the DoD was simply deferring to the “commanders on the ground”, my impression from watching and the reporting of others indicates that they most likely did NOT share the opinion of the Administration and that those decisions were quite often being made by the Sec. of Def.
    I recognize that these officers are in a delicate position when being questioned by Congress, and on the record. They can give their true opinion and undermine their bosses, or they can essentially lie. I have often wondered about the wisdom of asking such questions at all, or the wisdom of allowing them to answer opinion and policy questions, but the real issue is to whom are they responsible?

  12. Leigh says:

    Our negotiating style reminds me a great deal of the Israelis’–do what I want first, then I’ll negotiate for whatever else there is to talk about if anything.

  13. canuck says:

    Could you please comment on Pentagon whistleblower, Lt. Col. Karen Kwiatkowski’s, remarks
    Is she exaggerating? Her rhetoric is hard to believe. Was the lesson about air power not taken to heart after Hezbollah’s triumph?

  14. arbogast says:

    Okay, have finally completed the account of Okinawa.
    To my mind, here’s the key graph:
    It is likely that many of these 61,471 men would return to duty after weeks or months, after putting a proportionate strain on the medical system. Nevertheless, if all casualties are counted, not just KIA, the Americans’ short- and medium-term loss from Okinawa operations totaled 72,358 men, not too different from the total of IJA regulars present. American planners’ anxieties about invading Japan proper may have sprung from this fact, known to them but not emphasized later, that the U.S. total casualty figure on Okinawa was 72,000 men.
    That’s what happened to the IDF in South Lebanon. That’s what will happen to them again. That’s why it is exceedingly unlikely that they will attack on the ground again (unless missiles rain down on Israel).
    Air strikes? Entirely different matter.

  15. Mo says:

    I agree that a US strike on Iran may prove benefitial to both parties as you could also add that an attack would strengthen the support for the hardliners in Iran massively; Something Ahmedinijad would welcome as his support is dwindling fast.
    saying that, the recent reports of violence and bombs in Iran suggest to me that an attack by the US would not be limited to air strikes but with some sort of attempt at causing a good deal of internal problems, with the hope that the regime can be removed.

  16. Clifford Kiracofe says:

    Seems the current situation is rattling more than a few rarified international circles as Patrick Seale reports in his latest piece, “Are Middle East Conflicts Ready for Resolution?”
    He reports the most recent pow-wow of the exclusive “Club de Monaco,” which includes some influential Americans, focused on the Iran war “option” and Iraq situation.
    A recent membership list of the group appears at:
    Dr. Clifford Kiracofe
    Department of History
    Virginia Military Institute

  17. pbrownlee says:

    “the first act to follow that setup of the Office of Special Plans, we had a staff meeting, and our boss, Bill Ludy, who was the boss of Special Plans technically, not in reality but on paper. And he announced to us that from now on, action officers, staff officers such as myself and all my peers, at least in that office, and I presume this went all the way through the rest of policy, but we were told that when we needed to fill in data, putting it in papers that we would send up, doing our job, as we did our daily job, we were no longer to look at CIA and DIA intelligence, we were simply to call the Office of Special Plans and they would send down to us talking points, which we would incorporate verbatim no deletions, no additions, no modifications into every paper that we did. And of course, that was very unusual and all the action officers are looking at each other like, well that’s interesting. We’re not to look at the intelligence any more, we’re simply to go to this group of political appointees and they will provide to us word for word what we should say about Iraq, about WMD and about terrorism. And this is exactly what our orders were. And there were people [Laughs] a couple of people, and I have to say, I was not one of these people who said, ‘you know, I’m not gonna do that, I’m not gonna do that because there’s something I don’t like about it, it’s incorrect in some way’. And they experimented with sending up papers that did not follow those instructions, and those papers were 100 percent of the time returned back for correction. So we weren’t allowed to put out anything except what Office of Special Plans was producing for us. And that was only partially based on intelligence, and partially based on a political agenda. So this is how they did it. And I’ll tell you what, civil servants and military people, we follow orders, okay. And we buy into it. And we don’t suspect that our leaders are nefarious, we don’t suspect that. They, they quite frankly have to go a long way to prove to us that they are nefarious. That’s how it worked, and I imagine it’s working much the same way there in terms of Iran.”

  18. confusedponderer says:

    increasingly it looks as if my gut feeling in this respect was right.
    This should be interesting to Marcello and Mr. Habakkuk in terms of freely available ‘off the shelve’ technology on the market that allow for sophisticated weapons if only one has the know-how to assemble them.

  19. David Habakkuk says:

    The savaging of the Iranian EFP story by the Yorkshire Ranter, to which Ali linked, was indeed of great interest in relation to the question of the increasingly availability of sophisticated weaponry.
    As regards the availability of accurate missiles, the impression I gleaned from your posts, and those of Marcello and ‘still working it out’, was roughly as follows. The cheap option, guidance from satellites, was vulnerable to U.S. countermeasures; but this vulnerability may become less once there are more satellites, as degraded signals from multiple satellites may be adequate for guidance (can one jam multiple signals?) Optical systems not dependent on satellite or TERCOM are likely to develop, but (relatively) slowly. Inertial systems are likely to become more sophisticated, and are relevant given the relatively short distances. But one would probably need terminal guidance, and one is still talking high-tech, not kitchen variety missiles. (More exotic possibilities were mentioned, but these are more speculative.)
    All this does not lead to a vision of Goliath (certainly not in the form of U.S. carrier battle groups) become instantly vulnerable to any impoverished David with a cut-price missile. But I think that it does suggest that the basic point made by Ray Close — formerly the CIA station chief in Saudi Arabia — stands: Hizballah missiles are likely to present an increasingly deadly threat to Israel, a threat which a ‘buffer zone’ south of the Litani does not do much to offset. And this threat will obviously be compounded if the new defence line can indeed create for the Israelis some approximation to the problems created for the U.S. by the Japanese defenders of Okinawa, as Ali and Colonel Lang are suggesting.
    The piece I cited (at was actually one of a series Close posted on Larry Johnson’s No Quarter blog last July and August. At the risk of being tendentious, I would like to summarise the directions in which I think his arguments lead.
    1. The increasingly availability of accurate missiles to Hizballah — also other groups — may indeed present something close to an ‘existential threat’ to Israel. A prime source of such missiles is Iran. Doing anything drastic about Iran is actually beyond the power of Israel. So there is, unsurprisingly, immense pressure from Israel and its supporters in the United States to get American power deployed to sort out the problem once and for all.
    2. However, these developments emphatically do not present an ‘existential threat’ to the United States — or one might add, to Europe. Moreover, the risks of military action against Iran are very great. Moreover, one has to add, the problem has been made immensely more difficult by the foolish emphasis on ‘regime change’ adopted by the Bush Administration. If you tell an adversary that however much he complies with your requests you are out to get him, the adversary has small incentive to compromise and every incentive to seek every possible means to ‘deter’ you. In addition, the adversary may conclude that war is inevitable, in which case threats which might ‘deter’ in other circumstances may cut no ice. And indeed, it would not entirely surprise if some Iranians had concluded that war with the United States was inevitable, and the best time to fight it was now. After all, American troops are not going indefinitely to be bogged down in Iraq, which both diminishes the military power the United States can bring to bear and makes these troops vulnerable to attacks on their supply lines. And this vulnerability, of course, also greatly increases the potential risks to the United States of attacking Iran (also of such an attack to Britain).
    3. The question of missile capabilities also becomes relevant here, in particular in relation to the vulnerability of oil supplies. And this is obviously a matter of the vulnerability not simply of U.S. warships, but of a wide array of civilian ships, installations etc on which oil supplies depend. However, this argument cuts both ways. Irrespective of whether they can improve their abilities to attack the U.S. Navy, it is far from obvious that the ability of the Iranians to interdict oil supplies will diminish with time. So, as indeed Ray Close brings out, the problem of the vulnerability of oil supplies is likely to be seen by the Bush Administration as an argument for taking military action before it is too late. One cannot simply say the Administration is wrong. But then, in 1914 and 1941 Germany was quite right in believing that if it had a military option against Russia, it needed to be exercised rapidly. The error was in the belief that it had a military option which could be exercised without catastrophic results.
    4. There is also the crucial nuclear question. The prospect of an Iranian nuclear capability is clearly far more serious for the United States (and Europe) than that of Hizballah missiles. How serious is a contentious matter. What one can say is that it is far from clear Iranian nuclear weapons are any kind of ‘existential threat to the U.S. or Europe’ — even if they may be to Israel; and it is no good saying that an Iranian bomb is intolerable, if the only means one can suggest of avoiding this are likely to create worse problems than the problem one is trying so solve.
    5. Short of the military option, the available alternative solution to the problem of Israeli vulnerability is to try to encourage the enemies of its various opponents. So, one can encourage the opponents of Hizballah in Lebanon, incite Fatah against Hamas, attempt to exploit ethnic differences in Iran, and attempt to exploit Sunni resentment of the increase in Shi’ia power. Even were these successful, which is doubtful, however, the likely result would be an increase in chaos. Whether or not chaos in the Middle East is in the interests of Israel, it patently is not in the interests of the United States — or indeed Europe. As confusedponderer has pointed out, Germany has a strong interest in stability in the Middle East. This is also true for Britain. Moreover, it is a cardinal interest of Europeans to avoid anything resembling a ‘clash of civilisations’, as its effect on our social cohesion risks being intolerable.
    6. The effect of the current direction of Bush Administration policy, however, has been to create a situation in which, while the risks of an attack on Iran are very great, the risks of not attacking Iran have been gratuitously and wantonly increased. To end up looking a paper tiger — a power that makes blustering threats, including insinuations of willingness to use nuclear weapons, and then does nothing — has real costs for American credibility. These are likely to be vastly less than those of resort to war which goes wrong, but they are real nonetheless.
    7. Implicit in all this, however, is a central fact — that Israel may be ending up with no good options either. On the one hand, as Close brings out, the dangers it faces are very real. On the other, attempting to present the interests of Israel as identical to those of the United States, when this is patently not the case, is a very dangerous game indeed. If, as a result, the United States does itself immense harm, then the trend to question the value of the alliance with Israel which is already evident may move from the margins into the political mainstream. Moreover, attempting to counter this with accusations of anti-Semitism may be disastrously counterproductive. If a taboo which has been fundamental to post-1945 Western civilisation — for very good reasons — comes to be seen as being cynically exploited to make Americans (and Europeans) act in ways radically in conflict with their interests, one can expect a dramatic erosion in the power of the taboo. Those who have been so lavish in the use of smear tactics may find themselves met with a shrug of the shoulders.

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