Middle East Revolutions Undermine al-Qaida, Iran, Gates Says

WASHINGTON, March 1, 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.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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