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Robert Gates Clarifies Stance On Attacking Iran After Martha Raddatz 'Misquote'

Judy Wang, Paresh Dave |
October 17, 2012 | 11:59 p.m. PDT


Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates at USC (Judy L. Wang)
Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates at USC (Judy L. Wang)
Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates called out last week's vice presidential debate moderator Martha Raddatz for quoting him out of context, saying during a speech Wednesday that he believes the effects of not attacking Iran could be just as catastrophic as those from taking military action to disturb its nuclear ambitions.

Both presidential candidates have said they would do whatever is necessary to prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon. But Mitt Romney has criticized President Barack Obama for delaying tougher sanctions and taking what Romney says is a weak posture against Iran.

In questioning Vice President Joe Biden and Representative Paul Ryan about Iran, Raddatz asked, "Last week former Defense Secretary Bob Gates said a strike on Iran's facilities would not work and, quote, could prove catastrophic, haunting us for generations. Can the two of you be absolutely clear and specific to the American people how effective would a military strike be?"

Gates' original comment came during an Oct. 3 speech in Virginia. Delivering a nearly identical address at the University of Southern California on Wednesday, he said Raddatz misquoted him by not including the other half of his statement, which was not mentioned in easily reviewable news reports.

"But I also believe if Iran doesn't change its policies, and if there is no attack, we'll face a catastrophe of a different form," Gates said.

He said an attacking Iran would drive the nuclear program deeper underground and only delay it by two years. As formidable as it is, Gates said, Israel doesn't have the military capacity to destroy all Iranian underground facilities -- some of which haven't even been discovered. He said the best plan is ratcheting up economic and diplomatic sanctions until the Iranian government realizes trying to build a weapon "actually hurts Iranian security."

Though Raddatz asked them to do so, neither Biden nor Ryan fully critiqued Gates' assertion.

"They say the military option's on the table but it's not being viewed as credible, and the key is to do this peacefully, is to make sure that we have credibility. Under a Romney administration, we will have credibility on this issue," Ryan said during the debate.

"When this administration says that all options are on the table, they send out senior administration officials that send all these mixed signals," Ryan also said. Gates, of course, was Obama's defense secretary until he retired in mid-2011.

Biden said it was not in his purview to talk about classified information, but that the administration is confident a strike could deliver a "serious blow to the Iranians."

During a question and answer session after his speech Wednesday, Gates was asked about the U.S. possibly pursuing military options in Iran, which he considers one of "the toughest national secruity problems." In response, the former Secretary of Defense answered, "I don't know," although he admits he discussed and developed a plan while in office.

"Wars are hell of a lot easier to get into then get out of," he added.

Gates said recent U.S. presidents have been "too quick to reach for gun." As defense secretary under George W. Bush, he also warned that Syria would retaliate for an Israeli attack on its nuclear facility. It never did.

And a former colleague rebuked Gates' statements about the dangers of attacking Israel.

"To be sure, the case of Iran is very different from that of Syria," wrote Elliot Abrams, a deputy national security adviser under Bush. "But the man who thought the attack on Syria's nuclear program would be catastrophic may not be the most reliable judge of likely consequences—nor of the entire American-Israeli relationship."

Though Gates labeled Iran as a personal "nemesis," he said China would become an enemy only if treated as an enemy. He said China has refused to "candidly" discuss North Korea -- America's other problem.

In closing, Gates pointed towards the inward problem of American politics and the "dysfunction of our own political system." Before he left his position, Gates' biggest worry was that he was the last of a generation, and the only, to serve under presidents from both the Democratic and Republican parties. 

He criticized and warned of political parties and their "inability to step out of their ideological cocoons," concerning themselves with winning elections to the point where the government is incapable of doing even its "most basic functions."

However, he ended on a hopeful note and urged people to get involved with the election during the primaries to produce more centrist candidates in the general election.

SEE ALSO: Obama's Flawed Foreign Policies and Obama's Effective Foreign Policies

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