In Iran, if we desire peace, we must prepare for war

In Iran, if we desire peace, we must prepare for war
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Almost four decades have elapsed since the Iran hostage crisis, and our strained relationship with the Iranian mullahs appears eerily stuck on “Pause.”

Recent images of Iranian hard-line lawmakers burning a paper U.S. flag in parliament following President Donald TrumpDonald TrumpFormer New York state Senate candidate charged in riot Trump called acting attorney general almost daily to push election voter fraud claim: report GOP senator clashes with radio caller who wants identity of cop who shot Babbitt MORE’s announcement that the United States would pull out of the Iran nuclear agreement are representative of our sustained antagonism with one of the world’s largest state sponsors of terrorism.

On Nov. 4, 1979, Iranian students with ties to the Muslim Student Followers of the Imam’s Line assaulted the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. Supporters of the Iranian Revolution, they took 52 U.S. diplomatic employees hostage, holding them captive for 444 seemingly interminable days.


Seared in my memory are network television images of blindfolded American hostages paraded before cameras among chanting radicals and the sad imagery of Old Glory in flames.

As a frightened high school freshman that autumn of ’79, and with precious little understanding of geopolitical chess, I listened intently as my grandfather, a World War II and Korean War veteran, shook his head and cursed America’s new age of impotence. The “Greatest Generation” understood that retrenchment as a foreign policy simply emboldened dictators, fascists and zealots.

It’s a mistake we once again appeared to be repeating recently because, in foreign policy matters, Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaDemocrats need a coherent response to attacks on critical race theory Blinken meets representative of Dalai Lama in India Obama to join NBA Africa as strategic partner MORE was Jimmy Carter 2.0.

In the summer before the Iran hostage crisis, while seeking to address suffocating inflation, soaring unemployment and an energy crisis, President Carter delivered his infamous “Malaise Speech” in a surrender-address to the nation. No one could have foreseen that his speech would serve as a diminution prologue to events that were soon to occur in Iran.

Even the daring yet ill-fated Operation Eagle Claw rescue attempt in April 1980 only served to cement the image of America as a diminished, ineffectual world power.

The brazen takeover of our embassy in Tehran and the kidnapping of our diplomats was but a symptom of a condition that afflicted the United States again during Barack Obama’s presidency. The Obama years proved that when America shies away from its global responsibility or pretends it can lead from behind, bad state actors — such as the Islamic State and Iran — can and will act aggressively and mercilessly.

Today, we find ourselves in the same kind of transition period that occurred in the wake of the 1980 presidential election. Ronald Reagan’s victory back then sent a clear message to the Ayatollah Khomeini that the United States no longer would cower in the face of aggression. So, following his election, the hostages were dutifully returned home.

Reagan embraced the Latin adage, “Si vis pacem, para bellum’’ — “If you want peace, prepare for war.” He exhibited strength and power during the Cold War, staring down the Soviet Union and reestablishing America as the only global power.

The election of Donald Trump to succeed Obama has served the same notice on the world: America is back. Poke it at your own peril.

After the U.S.S. Cole was attacked by al Qaeda in the Gulf of Aden in October 2000, I spent many months deployed to Yemen as part of the FBI security teams supporting the special agents investigating that deadly episode. During the course of two deployments that dragged into the summer of 2001, I had the privilege to meet and serve with Michael Metrinko.

He had recently returned from a short break in government service and was posted to Yemen by the U.S. State Department. He was fluent in Farsi and widely considered an expert in Middle East relations.

The ever-evolving circumstances of diplomatic relations with countries like Yemen and Iran have confounded American presidents for centuries. Metrinko was so aware of the stops-starts in these relations; after all, he was one of those 52 American hostages held captive by the Ayatollah from 1979 to 1981.

We came from different backgrounds: I was prior military and a member of the FBI’s tactical resolution teams; Metrinko had been a Peace Corps volunteer and served two lengthy tenures in the dovish State Department. Yet, on warm, arid evenings while we were deployed in Yemen, we had many conversations about his imprisonment after the embassy was breached.

Held in isolation for most of his captivity, once his captors learned he spoke fluent Farsi, Metrinko worked his body and mind furiously to remain sharp; he never ceased to better understand his circumstances and prepare for all contingencies. A sober, cerebral man, he has spoken and written much about the hostage crisis, to better prepare future American diplomats who may one day encounter a similar fate. He patiently explained to me the nuances in language and culture that, to most Americans, can seem so alien and difficult to understand.

It was exceedingly evident that Michael Metrinko loved the Middle Eastern countries where he served, from Iran, Syria, Israel and Yemen to, years later, Iraq and Afghanistan. He embraced the notion that the United States should always endeavor to strengthen our relationships in countries that contain vital U.S. interests but we should remain pragmatic and realistic about negotiating or dealing with regimes such as Iran’s that have sworn “Death to America.”

That’s where we find ourselves now. We are staring into the 40-year abyss that is post-shah Iran. The original Obama-Kerry deal to prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon was never really an arrangement that the mullahs were going to honor. Donald Trump’s expected dismantlement of a deal that the Obama administration never convinced Congress to ratify as a treaty — which would have made it more permanent — did not cause this fractious relationship and it didn’t imperil the possibility of lasting peace between our two nations. The existential threat to our country that would result from a nuclear Iran remains omnipresent. We simply cannot pretend a handshake deal protects our homeland from a rogue state.

We must deal with Iran from a position of strength. And, in that manner, we can hope to construct a real deal that compels Iran to honor its obligations.

And we must always remember: “Si vis pacem, para bellum.”

James A. Gagliano is a retired FBI supervisory special agent and a CNN law enforcement analyst. He is an adjunct assistant professor at St. John's University and a leadership consultant at the Thayer Leader Development Group (TLDG) at his alma mater, the United States Military Academy at West Point. Follow him on Twitter @JamesAGagliano.