Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

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What Happens When Iran Kills American Soldiers?

by Elliott Abrams
July 8, 2011

There must be very few times in American history when a foreign government is accused of killing American troops, and absolutely nothing is done about it.

Every school kid used to learn lines like “Perdicaris Alive or Raisuli Dead,” or “Millions for defense but not one cent for tribute.” The War of 1812 was fought in large part due to the “impressment” of American sailors by the British, a similar example of denial of freedom that fell far short of actually killing American sailors.

So what are we to make of the following statements by America’s senior military officer, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen? Reuters reports that at a luncheon with journalists, Mullen said this:

“Iran is very directly supporting extremist Shia groups which are killing our troops. And there’s no reason … for me to believe that they’re going to stop that as our numbers come down….There’s no question they want to influence, and particularly in the south,” Mullen said. “They are shipping high-tech weapons in there … which are killing our people and … the forensics prove that.”

Mullen made these comments in the context of discussing the American troop presence in Iraq, and went on to say that  any agreement to keep U.S. troops in Iraq beyond the end of the year “has to be done in conjunction with control of Iran in that regard.” So Iran’s killing of American troops is a problem because it complicates leaving some forces in Iraq?

What is one to make of it when our senior commander does not seem outraged by this Iranian conduct and does not demand that we put a stop to it? Our forces are not killing Iranians, but Iran has been killing Americans–in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also through involvement in terrorist attacks such as the Khobar Towers bombing in 1996–for decades, and it has paid no price. This is the probable explanation why continuing American promises, or threats if you like, that “it is unacceptable for Iran to acquire nuclear weapons” don’t appear to rattle Tehran. What credibility can we possibly have when they know we know that Iran has been killing American soldiers year after year without any significant American response.

It isn’t just Iran, either: the Assad regime in Syria became the transit point for every jihadi wanting to travel to Iraq to kill Americans (and large numbers of Iraqis). From all around the globe they came–Pakistan, Libya, Saudi Arabia, you name it–to Damascus International Airport, thence to be shepherded into Iraq with the full cooperation and coordination of the Government of Syria. The American military response: none. This was especially galling, for whatever dangers may have existed in threatening Iran and then having to carry through on those threats if Iran did not cease acting to kill American soldiers, they were absent in the case of a weak country like Syria.  A few object lessons would have persuaded the Assad regime to desist from its actions.

Soon we will have a new Secretary of Defense and a new Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and one can only hope that we will also have a new policy: that neither Iran nor any other government can kill Americans with impunity. The least we owe servicemen and women who risk their lives for our country is the certainty that when we know a foreign government is trying to kill them, we will act to stop it. If we adopted such a policy, we would never again have to hear a Chairman of the Joint Chiefs reveal such a set of facts and suggest as an American response……well, nothing.

Post a Comment 25 Comments

  • Posted by Hass

    “NOthing is done about it” because it is a lie – one repeated often but never backed up and in fact often contradicted. Remember accusations that Iran was providing IEDs to Iraq … even though IED factories were being discovered there?

  • Posted by Seyed

    Mr Elliot Abrams do you have prove Iran is killing tbe American soldiers? If you do please provide. Here we go again the same people who sarted the war with Iraq based on lies want to start a war with Iran.America. got a lot to loose to start a war with Iran otherwise GW would have done it in a heart beat.No. American blood for israel fight.


  • Posted by rafael

    Obama doesn’t care about American soldiers. He is not going to do anything about Iran- unless he needs to take some action to help his re-election chances. He is soft on Iran because Iran is the enemy of Israel. Also, Iranian meddling in Iraq, including the killing of American soldiers, does mean anything to Obama because Iraq is Bush’s project and Obama only wants to tarnish Bush and blame him for anything that goes during Obama’s administration. A good outcome in Iraq, unlikely in any case, will be credited to Bush, which Obama does not want. It’s all about Obama.

  • Posted by Shahin Khordehpaz

    Due to our own president’s ignorance which would be that peanut picking idiot carter and his useless advisers who are responsible for the downfall of the Great Shah of Iran, this is what has become the results, a region full of hate and ignorance based on islamic propaganda. The murderous islamic mullahs of the islamic terror republic have been getting fat from the blood of the Iranian People and our brave soldiers. Eliminate the islamic terrorist regime of mullahs in Iran and the region will prosper. Arm the People of Iran.

  • Posted by sam

    I wonder, just where on earth have you got the evidence that Iran was involved in Khobar bombing?? this diminutive of a man Abrams is clearly anti Iran. lighten up Elliot,at the end of the day Iran is the only friend Israel has in the region.

  • Posted by Dubi

    Alas, I would like to be critical of the Obama Administration handling of this war against Americans, but the Syrians and Irans have been killing our citizens and troops for 30 years, since Beirut, under both Republicans and Democrats. If the Iranians were not accused of killing Americans for the 30 years before General Mullen spoke up, more shame on our leaders.

  • Posted by Dan Friedman

    “Soon we will have a new Secretary of Defense and a new Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and one can only hope that we will also have a new policy…” But the commander-in-chief will remain the same and so will the “policy.” If we want anything to change we’ll have to change the president first.

  • Posted by ada aksu

    Well, US does not pay for killing hundreds of civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam. Iran is just acting as arrogant as the US has always acted. American double standards when it comes to war are absolutely astonishing. Get ready to receive more treatment like that from Iran on your way down as a fading power.

  • Posted by Garrard Glenn

    How do we respond to the murderous activities of Iran and Syria? Load on the soft power? Try to destabilize them? Special Ops? What do you recommend, Mr. Abrams?

  • Posted by Peter Duveen

    The Iraq Study Group under James Baker recommended working with Syria and Iran to stabilize the region. This was a natural, and I think, productive proposal. The best option would be to revisit it, with, of course, the appropriate regard for Israel’s security.

  • Posted by Elliott Abrams

    To Mr. Glenn:
    In the Syrian case from 5 years ago, I believe hard power would have done the trick very quickly. We had large forces in Iraq and a combination of cross-border raids and sabotage would have cowed Assad quickly. Remember what he did when Israel bombed his nuclear reactor in 2007: nothing. He swallowed the attack and abandoned the program.
    Iran is far harder, after two decades of letting them get away with murder. But that combination of military power and covert options seems to me correct here too. As to trying to destabilize the regime via soft power, we should have been doing that and should be now. The fall of that regime would change the region.

  • Posted by abe

    What was exactly done by the U.S when Israel killed 34 U.S servicemen aboard the U.S.S Liberty?

  • Posted by kitty

    Keep our tails between the legs head down and walk away quietly, as usual Mr. Abrams as is more concerned for the security of Israel rather than our country’s long term interests.

  • Posted by Michael Eastes

    We had a saying when I was growing up in Texas: “he just needed killin'”.

    There has to be a way to readily bring this problem home to Syria, Iran, and any other player who wants to kill U.S. and allied troops and civilians. It seems that these bad actors only understand death and destruction. Our country is well-equipped to bring the pain home to such regimes, and should do so with alacrity.

    Just one Cold War veteran’s opinion.

  • Posted by Dean A. Smallwood

    Why should this come as a surprise to anyone ? I’ve known since at least 2004 that this was happening and would say so to anyone inclined to listen . For the DOD or DOS to say that this is something new is specious at best and at worst , criminal !

  • Posted by Diana M.

    Michael Eastes…you are right. While I may be a child of the late 50s, and thru the 60s and 70s, I remember my father, a former Marine, and what he instilled in me, taught me. America didn’t used to tolerate cold-blooded, blatant, decimation of our troops by a foreign country without a response. Where has our country’s backbone gone? Why aren’t our leaders exacting military retribution against Iran for these pointed attacks and deaths of our soldiers? Why isn’t that country and their extremist military/government being held accountable for their atrocities? By Iran’s very act of committing their own troops and weapons in an active theatre of war, and killing our troops, then they are, by choice, an active participant in that war. Which means that they are, therefore, a legal target which we can engage. Why aren’t we doing so? Have our troops, American troops, died in vain? Have they paid the ultimate sacrifice for nothing, because it happened to be an Iranian who killed them instead of a declared Iraqi or Afghan soldier fighting against us?

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  • Posted by Mike P. Sinn

    What’s your proof that Iran was responsible for the Khobar Towers bombing?

    On June 21, 2001, an indictment was issued in United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in Alexandria, Virginia charging a bunch of Saudi’s and zero Iranians with murder, conspiracy, and other charges related to the bombing.

    You don’t think Al Qaeda is responsible?

  • Posted by Elliott Abrams

    From Elliott Abrams–
    On June 21, 2001 the Attorney General of the United States said this:

    “Named as defendants are the leader of the Saudi Hizballah terrorist organization, as well as several prominent members, including the head of the Saudi Hizballah’s military wing, along with members of terrorist cells in Saudi Arabia who planned and carried out the Khobar attack.
    “The indictment explains that the terrorist activities leading to the 1996 Khobar blast began as early as 1993, when members of Hizballah began extensive surveillance to find American targets in Saudi Arabia.
    “In 1995, according to the indictment, the terrorists focused on Khobar Towers, which housed U.S. Air Force personnel assigned to the Gulf region. After amassing large amounts of plastic explosives, the terrorists, assisted by an as-yet unidentified member of Lebanese Hizballah – referred to in the indictment as “John Doe” – converted a tanker truck into a huge bomb. They detonated that bomb near the north face of building #131 at Khobar Towers shortly before 10 p.m. on June 25, 1996.
    “The indictment explains that elements of the Iranian government inspired, supported, and supervised members of the Saudi Hizballah. In particular, the indictment alleges that the charged defendants reported their surveillance activities to Iranian officials and were supported and directed in those activities by Iranian officials. This indictment does not name as defendants individual members of the Iranian government.

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