NEWS | March 3, 2011

Middle East revolutions undermine al-Qaida, Iran


Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates responds to a reporter’s question during a press conference with Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at the Pentagon, March 1, 2011. Gates and Mullen discussed Middle East issues and the nominations of two new top military commanders. Photo by Cherie Cullen.

WASHINGTON (March 02, 2011) – Al-Qaida and Iran are the biggest losers in the wave of reform sweeping North Africa and the Middle East, top Defense Department leaders said here today.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at a Pentagon press briefing that they are optimistic about the changes taking place in the region.

“I think, first of all, the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt and the protests elsewhere that are leading to reforms for a number of governments are an extraordinary set back for al-Qaida,” the secretary said. “It, basically, gives the lie to al-Qaida’s claim that the only way to get rid of authoritarian governments is through extremist violence.”

The people of the region are proving this is not the case, he said.

Gates went on to say he believes the wave of reform is a set-back for Iran. “The contrast of the behaviors of the militaries in Tunisia and Egypt and, except for a brief flurry of violence, in Bahrain, contrast vividly with the savage repression that the Iranians have taken against anyone who dares to demonstrate in their country,” he said.

It will take months or years before the full consequences of the revolutions are known, Gates said.

Still, a “process of change has begun,” he said. “And the prospect for that change, particularly if it is carried out without violence, as has been the case in several of these countries, and gives rise to democratic governments, I think it is a gain, first of all, for the peoples of the region, but ultimately a gain for everybody.”

The admiral said he shares Gates’ optimism because he saw the effect first hand last week when he visited seven countries in the Arabian Gulf region. “One of the reasons I share the optimism is because in each country, it is clearly about the people of that country,” he said. “It’s been about change inside those countries.”

All nations will have to adjust to these changes, the chairman said, and the relationships will change too. “I’m optimistic that there is a chance for stability and opportunity that just didn’t exist as recently as four weeks ago,” he said.

Still, Libya remains a problem and the U.S. military is working to give President Barack Obama options as Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi attempts to end the revolt by killing demonstrators, Gates said.

The secretary has ordered the USS Kearsarge and the USS Ponce – now in the Red Sea – to the Mediterranean. The Navy vessels “will provide us with capability for both emergency evacuations and humanitarian operations,” he said.

The Kearsarge delivered 1,400 Marines to Afghanistan and was serving as the U.S. Central Command reserve force. To augment the Marines remaining on the ship, Gates ordered 400 Marines from the United States in support of the Kearsarge’s mission.

“We are obviously looking at a lot of options and contingencies, but no decisions have been made on any other actions,’ the secretary said. “I would note that the U.N. Security Council resolution provides no authorization for the use of armed force, and there is no unanimity within NATO for the use of armed force.”