Gates Memo: U.S. Lacks Policy for Nuclear Iran

The New York Times obtains a highly-classified memo

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A classified memo written in January and obtained by the New York Times shows that Defense Secretary Robert Gates is concerned that the U.S. does not have an effective strategy in place to cope with Iran's nuclear progress. One scenario he reportedly focused on is the concern that Iran could develop all the necessary parts of a nuclear weapon while remaining in compliance with non-proliferation treaties. What do commentators make of the memo and its revelations?

  • Shows Pentagon's Concern About Diplomatic Failure  In the New York Times report, David Sanger and Thom Shanker conclude that "Mr. Gates’s memo appears to reflect concerns in the Pentagon and the military that the White House did not have a well prepared series of alternatives in place in case all the diplomatic steps finally failed. Separately, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wrote a 'chairman’s guidance' to his staff in December conveying a sense of urgency about contingency planning."
  • And Other Officials Are Worried, Too  Scott Hinderaker of conservative site Powerline says the article adds to "the annals of the administration's empty talk about" Iran. He then speculates that the motive of the person who leaked the memo: "Why would anonymous officials leak word of a highly classified memorandum suggesting that the administration has no policy beyond what has proved to be empty talk? These apparently well-informed officials must think that we have something to worry about."
  • Memo Must Be Read in Context   Marc Ambinder of The Atlantic explains that the real purpose of the memo is not to point out that the U.S. lacks plans to cope with Iran because the "Pentagon HAS such plans," and "IS working with other countries." Instead, he says the memo "ought to be read in the context of complaining or urging the administration to create the political will to legitimately exercise those options."
  • No Surprise to McCain, at Least  Washington opponents of Obama are using the occasion to criticize the administration's Iran policy generally. John McCain told Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday that the memo told him nothing he didn't already know: "I didn’t need a secret memo to know we didn’t have a coherent policy. That’s pretty obvious" (via Politico.)
  • Gap in the Non- Proliferation Treaty May Be Patched  Spencer Ackerman at liberal site FireDogLake eschews speculation about the leaker's motives. He focuses instead on the idea that current treaties allow Iran to go to the brink of assembling a nuclear weapon without incurring sanctions. This is a "real problem" that may be addressed at a Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty conference in May.
  • 7 Years Later, Still No Plans?  Allahpundit at conservative site Hot Air is delighted that the memo "scrambled" plans for Sunday pundits to praise Obama's Nuclear Security Summit. He says the lack of alternative plans to diplomacy should be no surprise given that "the Obama charm offensive" has been a "core plank" of foreign policy. Finally, the blogger is shocked that military strategists haven't developed plans for Iran given that the country's nuclear program was revealed seven years ago. "Yet here we are in 2010 racing to come up with options in case Iran … develops nuclear weapons."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.