Painting a picture of internal political dysfunction in a dangerous world, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned Wednesday night that a U.S. or Israeli attack on Iran would have disastrous consequences.
Neither the United States nor Israel is capable of wiping out Iran’s nuclear capability, he said, and “such an attack would make a nuclear-armed Iran inevitable. They would just bury the program deeper and make it more covert.”
Iran could respond by disrupting world oil traffic and launching a wave of terrorism across the region, Gates said.
“The results of an American or Israeli military strike on Iran could, in my view, prove catastrophic, haunting us for generations in that part of the world.”
First in this season’s Norfolk Forum speaker series, Gates spoke to an audience of nearly 2,000 in Chrysler Hall.
United Nations sanctions aimed at discouraging Iran’s nuclear ambitions are starting to have an impact on the Iranian economy, he said, and “that’s our best chance going forward, to ratchet up the economic pressure and diplomatic isolation to the point where the Iranian leadership concludes that it actually hurts Iranian security and, above all, the security of the regime itself, to continue to pursue nuclear weapons.”
And while Israeli anxiety over Iran’s intentions is understandable, he added, America should make it clear to Israel’s leaders that “they do not have a blank check to take action that could do grave harm to American vital interests.”
Meanwhile, Gates warned, the United States is paralyzed by partisan gridlock that threatens the nation with financial insolvency.
The combination of across-the-board spending cuts and tax increases set to take effect in January, put in motion by Congress’ inability to agree on how to reduce the ballooning national debt, would do grave damage to the military and virtually every other essential government operation and could throw the country into a new recession, he said.
The central problem, Gates said, is that both major parties have been captured by their ideological extremes.
“The moderate center, the foundation of our political system, is not holding.
“Too many of our politicians seem more concerned with winning elections and scoring ideological points than saving the country.”
Gates ran the Pentagon from 2006 to 2011 under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. He was the first defense secretary to serve under presidents of both parties.
He was also the only career CIA officer in history to rise from entry-level employee to director of the agency. He was director from 1991 to 1993.
The Kansas native now holds the honorary post of chancellor at the College of William and Mary. A 1965 graduate of the college, he is the first alumnus in the modern era to become chancellor.