Rarely does an "EYES ONLY" memorandum to the president leak, even in the post-Woodwardian age. Rarer still does the Secretary of Defense feel compelled to release a statement about the contents of the classified memo on the same day.
But there's an urgent reason why Secretary of Defense Robert Gates put fingers to keyboard today: while the U.S. might indeed lack an "effective long-term strategy" for dealing with Iran's nuclear ambitions, the U.S. has made significant progress on dealing with Iran in the short term, and any sign of ambiguity could jeopardize the effort.
The New York Times sources who revealed my January memo to the National Security Advisor mischaracterized its purpose and content. With the Administration's pivot to a pressure track on Iran earlier this year, the memo identified next steps in our defense planning process where further interagency discussion and policy decisions would be needed in the months and weeks ahead. The memo was not intended as a "wake up call" or received as such by the President's national security team. Rather, it presented a number of questions and proposals intended to contribute to an orderly and timely decision making process. There should be no confusion by our allies and adversaries that the United States is properly and energetically focused on this question and prepared to act across a board range of contingencies in support of our interests.
In New York, Adm. Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told an audience that "what the mainstream of that article talked about...is that we have no policy and that the implication is that we're not working on it. I assure you, this is as complex a problem as there is in our country. And we have expended extraordinary amounts of time and effort to figure that out. To get that right."
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