Ralph Peters: Iran Building a New Persian Empire

Military analyst sounds the alarm on growing global security threats at the West Coast Retreat.

Editor’s note: Below are the video and transcript to Ralph Peter’s speech at the Freedom Center’s 2015 West Coast Retreat. The event was held March 6-8 in Palos Verdes, CA. 

Ralph Peters: First of all, what are we going to do about those Jews?  No, I'm serious.  I'm serious.  What are we going to do about all the Jewish refugees?  After the nuclear cataclysm in the Middle East? Some missiles are going to get through.  Tel Aviv will be gone, Ashdod, Haifa, but a lot of Israelis will survive.  Now, should we offer them a reservation in Nevada with a sign above the entrance that says “Arbeit Macht Frei”?  Or, maybe we should put them in a DP camp, and the reason I'm saying this isn't just to shock you.  It's because the biggest God damned lie you're hearing today is “never again.”  The world doesn't care.  The world doesn't care, and without the United States and Israel together, working together to common strategic goals, common civilizational goals, there is going to be a catastrophe, and it is nothing short of appalling.  When Bibi Netanyahu came to Congress and laid out the argument as clearly as could be, it was a masterful speech.  I suspect Michael Oren probably wrote it, but it was really just superb, and then you had the refusenik Democrats come up in their conference.  I love the guy from Oregon with the bowtie and a bicycle, and they sided with Iran.  They took Iran's side against Israel.  That's what it came down to.

Now, this is tough for Israel, because Israel has the military might to set back the Iranian nuclear program.  It does not have the military might to fully destroy it, because a succession of American presidents, especially Barack Obama, have given — the Iranians don't need this deal.  They may end up rejecting it because they got what they want.  They wanted time.  They wanted sanctions relief.  Well, we've given them over $12 billion in free and unfrozen funds, but it goes beyond that, because as soon as we started opening the sanctions program, businessmen, including American businessmen, flocked to Tehran, trying to set up deals, smuggling increased.  Obama has been, I want to say Allah's gift to Iran, and if there are any closet anti-Semites out here in the audience, let me tell you why you should care, even if you don't care about Israel, why you should care, because an Iran with nuclear weapons, with a nuclear arsenal, even if it never uses one of those weapons, already has hegemony, strategic control of the Persian Gulf, de facto control of the Persian Gulf, and the greatest concentration of oil and gas supplies in the world.

There was a novel back in the ’40s or ’50s, called "Oil for the Lamps of China.”  Well, it's for a lot more than Chinese lamps now, and China, India, so much of the world is still relying on Persian Gulf oil, so you've got the Israel problem and you've got the oil problem, and Iran's grander ambition still, which I'll get to in a moment, but first thing I want to do is try to talk a little bit about what we are seeing.  You've got to really stand back, and it's hard because all news channels — you focused on the headlines of the day.  It's news.  It's not analysis.  It's news.  You do some analysis, but they want you to comment on the story of the day, but sometimes you have to stand back and put it on the wide-angle lens, and when you do that, the world looks even more terrifying than it does off the headlines.  We have returned, in crucial parts of the world, to barbarism.  There's just no other word.  It is barbarism, and the American intelligentsia for the most part defends and excuses that barbarism, and it is stunning because the campus leftists haven't studied their own left-wing history.

When the revolution wins, guess who goes to the guillotine.  Guess who goes to the Gulag.  It's not the workers of the world.  It's the intellectuals, but again, as you heard wise remarks about this earlier today, it's really about emotion, certainly on the left, but to somebody standing on the right there is really very little powerful analysis, no-holds-barred analysis, and I tell people, first of all, if you want to be a successful idealist, start with a realistic analysis of the problem.  And beyond that, we are not only returning to barbarism, but to atavism, and we are led, in both parties, particularly the Democratic Party, but both parties, more and more by men and women who have never been in a fist fight.  The best thing my parents ever did for me was start me off a year early in school, so I was always the smallest kid in my class, and you learn a lot about human nature in that situation, especially if you're the smart guy too, and then I got taller and started beating them up, but that's all right.

But the left, particularly, but even some on the right, are denying fundamental facts of human nature.  You heard Marie Harf's silly comment about well, the terrorists need a job.  They've got a job, and they love their job.  Dad loves his work, and it's just phenomenal to me that this generation, two generations now of leaders whose idea of violence was lacrosse at Princeton.  They're utterly, psychological, practically, and factually unprepared to deal with the likes of the Muslim Brotherhood, let alone ISIS or Al Qaeda, and when you look at the atrocities committed by Islamic State, and increasingly by other terrorist affiliates and organizations who are competing with Islamic State for brutality, because everybody wants to outdo the other guy, what you're seeing is joyous violence.  It's so empowering to these young men who just never fit in, and they're not all from poor families.  Many have college educations, but for some reason, they came from the people factory with a couple ball bearings or gears misplaced.

And for those who were always the outsiders, I'll tell you, Islamic State has a brand that is now as recognizable as McDonald's or Coca-Cola, and it is a very appealing brand, and those videos of burning a pilot alive, all the decapitations, all the executions of masses of Iraqi soldier prisoners, that is the greatest thing possible for these young, disaffected, pimply-faced, sexually dysfunctional guys living in mom's basement, whether the basement is in Cairo or California.  I don't know how to communicate to you how powerful the lure of violence is.  The most addictive substances on earth are not heroin or meth.  The most addictive substance is human blood.  It is absolutely addictive.  Do you think the Nazis hated everything they did?  I'm sure they had on days and off days, but nonetheless.  We're in denial of human nature.  That happened 7 years before I was born, and 1945 ends it, and we say “never again.”

And now, I'll tell you what the problem is with those damn Jews.  In Europe for over 1,000 years, Jews were confined to ghettos in most countries.  They were limited to a small number of professions.  Well, guess what?  They got very good at those professions, and then they get punished for being good at them.  Israel's problem is it's an overachiever.  It exploded the left-wing lie that because of American and European imperialism no states outside of Europe can reform themselves and rebuild themselves, let alone start from scratch.  Without romanticizing Israel in the least, look at the score card.  It is the only country in the Middle East where the true rule of law prevails, the only country where it investigates its own military, the only country where women have full legal rights, the only country where Christians are fully and truly safe.  You can go on and on and on, but I tell people, Israel is flesh of our flesh and blood of our blood, whether you're an Episcopalian like me, or Jewish.

And by the way, with Christians and Jews, we had an argument about one Rabbi 2,000 years ago.  Come on, 2,000 years?  Let's get over it.  Let's move on, okay?  But when you talk about traditionally, until now you can't.  We talked about American culture as Judeo-Christian.  Although it's a monotheist religion, Islam spun off the rails.  It’s divergent in the most negative sense of the word, and if we can't bring ourselves to be proud of our faith, we need to be proud of our civilization, because you heard Victor Hanson talking about California.  People don't come from Mexico to California because California sucks so bad.  This is still the land of dreams.  It truly is, where you can come here and you can build a life, and if you fail the first time, or two times, you can get back up.  You can't even do that in Europe, so amid all the pessimism about our own country that I've been hearing, never underestimate the transformative power of the United States of America.

Civilizations, cultures, and religions change on their frontiers.  It's gonna take generations, but Islam too will change here.  It would go a lot faster if our presidents stopped empowering and listening to the worst voices in the American Muslim community, people from CAIR or the frankly radical organizations, and there's no way around it.  No.  I said I want to pull back the lens.  When I spoke here 5 years ago, I talked about us being in an age of breakdown, of devolution, where the old empires had been collapsing.  You've gotta take a long-term view, centuries-long view, and all those great European empires were collapsing, climaxed by the collapse of the Soviet empire, and then you had the collapse of the mini empires.  Yugoslavia was basically a mini empire, largely dominated by Serbs.  Pakistan, it won't hold together forever.  It's an empire.  Everything west of the Indus River is occupied territory, but something's changed in those 5 years.  We're still in this age of breakdown in the West, but in the Middle East, in Russia, in China, we are seeing the rebirth of the old empires, which brings me back to Iran.

The majority of Iran's population are Persians.  The Persians were one of the great civilizations of the ancient world.  When the Persians invaded Greece in the late 6th and early 5th century B.C., we sided with the Greeks, because they're our guys, but frankly at that point, the attainments of the Persian Empire were far greater, and all the Greek cities of Asia Minor sided with the Persians.  Now, fortunately, the Greeks beat them off, and they experimented with this new idea of democracy, and 2,500 years later democracy has succeeded so well, it's got us to Nancy Pelosi, but there's a point to that too.  You can't criticize people for not getting democracy right out of the gate.  We're still experimenting with it.  We're still trying to make it work better, and it's tough.

Now, on the subject of those Greeks. It’s commonplace for people to say, oh, Homer, the Iliad and the Odyssey.  They're the keystone books, the wellsprings of our civilization.  Nobody reads the Iliad except scholars.  The Iliad is about the joy of killing, and I tell people, look, the real point of military discipline is not getting young men to kill; that's easy.  The point of military discipline is to get them to stop killing when you give the order.  Young men are inherently violent.  In our society, we channel it for the most part, except in some particular neighborhoods.  We channel it amazingly well.  We do.

But so, back to Iran.  Iran, with its Persian core, is trying 2,500 years later — and there's been some Iranian empires, smaller ones, in the interim — they're trying to rebuild or to build a new Persian empire, and the problem now is the old Persian empires were relatively tolerant, especially the first couple.  They would tolerate different religions within the empire.  This is now an ambitious resurgent empire overlaid with ferocious, messianic, apocalyptic religion:  Shia Islam.  So, this is really a terrible threat, and you see, right now, as we speak, Iran has already reached out to Iraq, which is now, there's no other way to put it, it is an Iranian vassal state, to Syria, which is becoming a vassal state, has become a vassal state really, Lebanon, Hamas, into western Afghanistan, into Yemen.  It has been 2,500 years since the Iranians had an imperial presence over such a wide swath of the globe.

That would be bad enough, but you've got other attempts to rebuild empires.  Opposing Shia Iran, the Persian Empire, you've got the Islamic State Caliphate, and it resounds, and I’ve got to say this: How would you feel if the King of Saudi Arabia said, oh, southern Baptists, they're not real Christians; Orthodox Jews, they're not real Jews.  That's about how much credibility Barack Obama has.  He's not an Islamic scholar, and none of the people around him are.  You heard more common sense about Islam today than you'll hear in Washington in a year, so you've got this resurgent caliphate and it is a clash of ancient empires, of religions, of civilizations, and, oh, by the way, look a little bit to the north and you've got a resurgent Russian empire.  Now, Vladimir Putin is absolutely fascinating to me.  The elites in the West, and we talked about this last night, the elites in the West write off Putin, because he didn't go to the right prep schools in Switzerland.  He didn't go to the right universities.  He chews with his mouth open.

Really, the Europeans were all up in arms, in a tizzy after one conference about 6, 7 years ago, because of Putin's table manners.  It's not his table manners that matter.  Look at what he's done.  Even Anne Applebaum, who I think is the best columnist we have on Russia and Eastern Europe, she dismissed Putin as a mere chinovnik, a petty bureaucrat.  It's not even rising to the level of bureaucrat, and they missed the fact that the people who go to the great prep schools, who go to the elite universities, they sustain the system in being.  They do not change the world.  The world is changed by outsiders.  Hitler was a lance corporal with digestive problems, to put it politely.  Napoleon was a relatively junior artillery officer.  Mao was an indifferent student.  Ho Chi Minh washed dishes in the basement of a Paris hotel.  Mohammad was illiterate, and Muslims will admit that.  It was an oral tradition, originally.  It's the outsiders with a vision, the galvanizing vision, that change the world, and the one thing Obama has in common with them is they appeal to the limping proletariat first.  First, Hitler gets the Brownshirts, but then when he comes into power, he gets rid of the Brownshirts, but you can always find an attractive audience, violence supporters, among those at the bottom.

Putin came to power just 15 years ago.  When he came to power, Russia was flat on its back, and for all his, what we see as silly photographs, bare-chested photographs, et cetera, for all of that, he has done a stunning job.  He has won, or at least fought to a draw, every major confrontation with the West.  When is the last time you heard somebody, U.S. government spokesman, talk about Crimea?  Now, it's east Ukraine, and at some point it will probably be central or southern Ukraine.  It's just stunning to me this elite that governs us are in denial about the nature of human violence, just the nature of humanity.  They're in denial about the threat significant portions of Islam in the Middle East, the Islamic world in the Middle East, pose, and they're in denial about one absolutely huge factor: Religion.

And, I know I talked about this 5 years ago, because we are, again, governed by people in both parties, who for the most part in Washington, even if they go to church or synagogue every week, they're secular.  They're secular, and what people who like Barack Obama, whose religion is Barack Obama, and the people around him don't understand, despite being exposed to the Reverend Wright, because he just blew that off really, although he took a lot of the message in subliminally, but the transfigurative power of religion, of revelation, real or imagined, they just don't understand the power, so this takes us back to Islamic State.  Think of the deal that those Islamic State leaders offer through brilliant use of the Internet and YouTube, et cetera.  Their deal is not a Wal-Mart greeter, as Marie Harf would have them be.  Their deal is you come here and God will sanction you torturing, killing, raping, taking sex slaves, and, oh, by the way, if you get killed, you get an even better deal in paradise.  It is an incredibly powerful message, and we're not going to join Islamic State.  We have lives.  We have things to protect, but it's always the people that, again, it's not socioeconomic.  Bin Laden was a millionaire, until he blew it all, and they're not all uneducated.  Zawahiri's certainly not uneducated, but they're the misfits, and they're the people that change the world.

So, we've got an elite that doesn't understand human nature, resists it, resists an open-eyed view of Islam, absolutely refuses to see anything in strategic terms, and I mentioned China briefly.  China is really interesting because they're not trying to reestablish an empire.  China has changed profoundly.  China always was interested in its borderlands, but China is now, for the first time in thousands of years of its history, is outward looking.  China is building an overseas empire in Africa, South America, and when you look at them building a new empire, the resurgent empires, and the moral cowardice, and the unwillingness to defend our civilization in the West, it is a prescription for very, very, very bad trouble, or as my old drill sergeant used to say, you're in beaucoup deep kimchi, comrade.  And so, anyway what I would like to do now is open it up for questions, because I'm sure you have a lot, and I can better address your concerns if I know what they are.

Unfortunately, because of their policies, we are going to get into a war with Iran.  The odds are very, very good.  Appeasement doesn't work with fanatics.  Appeasement doesn't work with empire builders.  It hasn't worked with Putin; you remember the reset, and by the way, one of the lowest moments in the U.S. presidency was when Barack Obama was caught leaning over to Dmitry Medvedev and telling him, after the election, after I fool the American people, I can give Vladimir a better deal.  So, with Iran, this idea of strategic patience amounts to standing there and letting a mugger beat the hell out of your because you hope he'll stop at some point.  Strategic patience just makes the enemy stronger, and look, there is not a military solution to every problem.  That's obvious, and we should be very hesitant to use military force, but some problems only have military solutions and unfortunately, because of the disastrous policies of this president and his administrations, my God, the threats are so broad now that you don't know where to start, although I will tell you, honestly, if I have to weight them, Threat No. 1 is actually Vladimir Putin and his ambitions, because he's got the nuclear arsenal.  A close second is Iran.  ISIS, they're close third, and other Islamic organizations.

But, as I think I started to say, Israel has the power to start a war with Iran, to harm their program, but Iran would respond asymmetrically.  If it doesn't have nukes yet, they would respond asymmetrically.  They would attack Arab oil fields, gas fields, loading terminals, storage tanks on the other side of the Persian Gulf, and cripple the world economy, and who will everybody blame?  Israel, and then at that point, we will be in it anyway, so if we must, if we absolutely have no choice but to act against Iran, we should do it together.

Another problem is with all these delays, Iran wanted time.  They wanted time, and they got it, so they built additional underground bunkers.  The Obama administration hasn't even asked to inspect many of them.  We essentially pretend they're not there.  If you can't inspect the deep underground bunkers built specifically to withstand heavy ordinance, what might be going on there?  Might they be up to something 500 feet below the surface of the earth?  So again, there's no good answer.  We all want easy answers, but there's no easy answer to this, and every day with Obama, President Hamlet, to be or not to be, forever wringing his hands, unable to make a decision, it gets worse.  George W. Bush was mocked for saying, well, I'm the decider.  That may have been infelicitous English, but that's what a president is, the decider, and the most important role of any president is Commander in Chief.  Obama has failed comprehensively, comprehensively in that respect.

Audience Member: Do you think that the American public is willing to go to war with Iran?

Ralph Peters: Well, we don't sell it properly, and again I'm not, I wish we could find another way to deal with it.  It depends on how you ask the American public.  If you ask, did you want Iran to destroy Israel, well, the answer's no, we don't want to do that, but if you went, well do you want to send your troops back to the Middle East for a long-term engagement, then the answer's going to be no.  Polling's all about how you ask the questions, and another point I'd like to make, and I'll get to you, you hear so much BS in Washington.  You hear there's no military solution to terrorism.  We have never tried.  We've never tried.  We've tried these half measures with restrictive rules of engagement.  We tried to make friends with our enemies before we won.  You make friends with your enemies after they surrender, after you win, and then you'll hear the lie that, oh, if we kill terrorists, we'll just make more terrorists and more enemies.  World War II, we did a job on most of Germany's major cities and most of Japan's major cities, plus dropped two atom bombs, and today Germany and Japan are, in their different ways, steadfast allies.

Human memory can be very short, but at any rate, literally I'm really at a loss for words, but the foreign policy situations, security situation is such a goat rope, to put it politely, that for the first time in my life I don't know where to start.

Audience Member: Hello, my name is Maria, actually from Russia, from Moscow, so my question will be about Russia and about foreign policy.  So, the question is that I will tell you, and if you agree with me, please explain why.  If you disagree with me, please explain why.  So, under the example of relationships between the United States and North Korea, sanctions and so on, the dictatorship in North Korea became more and more strong.  So, aversely we can tell that the same situation now we have with Russia, so the more sanctions we have in Russia, from foreign countries like Europe and the United States, then the more strong becomes Putin, the more Russia becomes an empire, talking that the United States is a huge enemy, and all disasters that are happening just because of the United States.  So, here is my first question.  Do you agree with this or disagree with this, and please I would like to know your opinion about what do you think should be a foreign policy for the new hope Republican President of the United States in 2016?  Thank you.

Ralph Peters: Well, the first thing, I'll do the second one first, the first thing a new president has to do is rebuild the alliances that Obama has damaged so badly, and not just with Israel, even Egypt at this point.  It's as if Obama instinctively wants to side with America's enemies, and I'll talk about Obama if you remind me in a moment, but I'll get to your first question.  I think it's a reasonable thesis, but I don't share it because you can't let Putin off total scot-free, and he was attacking America and blaming America for everything under the sun, even before the sanctions, and it's a tragedy, because there is no inherent reason for the United States and Russia to be at each other's throats, but Putin, in the classic dictatorial authoritarian method, he needs foreign foes to play to xenophobia.  And so, no matter what we do, he's going to play that card.  I would say the problem is the sanctions weren't tough enough.  Now, a difference between Russia and North Korea is the North Korean leadership is perfectly willing to starve its people to death by the tens of millions.  That was the case in Ukraine 80-some years ago, but even Putin isn't going to starve tens of millions of Russians to death.

Now, they're not going to starve, but we make mistakes in the West, because who do American journalists and politicians talk to?  They talk to the well-educated, urban Russians who speak English, and they have no sense of how appealing Putin is to the middle-aged woman out in the country.  And so, I just try and tell people that you don't understand that when Putin does things that look ridiculous to us, in fact, it plays very, very well.  The real man, real he-man, and again there's no good way to handle them, but the tragedy is that there's no inherent reason for us to be at each other's throats, except Putin needs an external enemy, and in the early to mid '90s there was so much goodwill toward Russia.  We didn't want to take over Russia.  Why?  We'd have to fix the health care system to start, and you know how that goes, but America never had any imperial ambitions.  It was a real clash of ideologies, the Russian belief in a greater Russia and the Western belief in self-determination, even for Ukrainians, and to be fair to Putin, and I will even be fair to Putin, the problem isn't that Russia got the Crimea and the Donbass area back, it's how he did it: The use of force.  If it had been a plebiscite that would have been very different because frankly Crimea just becomes part of Ukraine in the 1950s, and it was Khrushchev's gift, but it was a poison pill.

When the Russians gave Eastern Ukraine, primarily Russian speaking, and gave Crimea to Ukraine, they were following the Stalinist tradition, even though Stalin was gone, of basically infecting populations so they couldn't become too homogeneous.  He wanted to create a substantial minority of Armenians in Azerbaijan, of Russians in Eastern Ukraine and in the Baltics because it always gives you a lever against them, and so again, that's not a satisfactory answer.  I know it's not, but in this terribly dangerous world I wish I could give smooth, satisfactory answers you could take home with you.  I can't.  I can just sound the alarm bell.

Audience Member: In '48 the Israelis had a serious supply problem and, as many of us know, they were bailed out in large measure by the Czech government/the Soviet Union.  After the recent war in Gaza, do you think the Israelis have solved the resupply problem particularly with regard to an action against Iran?  Where are they going to get the hardware from?

Ralph Peters: They’ve got the air frames to do some damage.  They're getting more tankers, but right now people don’t realize it.  The U.S. Navy and Air Force are running low on specific munitions after this little pinprick campaign against Islamic State.  Why?  Because the money for defense industry is in selling new big-ticket items.  The money is not in providing low-cost munitions.  There's some, but there's not nearly as much markup, and so, as I've talked about before, you have this travesty in the United States where retired generals who are taking home pensions of $200,000.00 a year or thereabouts could now go work for Lockheed Martin or Raytheon and not only double dipping but that prevents them from speaking out while they're on active duty and saying hey, guess what?  The F-35 really doesn't work.  Now, because Israel was under such pressure, their defense acquisition system tends to be much more honest and aggressive, but I'm sure that in the Bronze Age there was corruption in weapons procurement.  You remember Daddy Warbucks in Little Orphan Annie?  It's always been there, but you gotta keep it under control, and if you keep it under control, capitalism can give you some amazing results.

But the other point you brought up is very interesting to me and I'd like to just talk a moment about it, is 1948.  Why did the Israelis win?  Anybody?  Because they were fighting for their survival, the survival of themselves as a people and as a faith, and in my generation of Army officers, we watched the Israelis thump on Arab armies again and again and again, and we said Arabs can't fight.  We missed something important.  People fight for different things.  Arabs don't fight for states.  In the Arab world, the state was always the enemy.  They came and took your taxes, took your son, maybe took your daughter, and the game was hid and seek with the state, but Arabs and other peoples of the Middle East will fight for their faith, for their clan, family, tribe, and they will fight for their turf. In the case of the Kurds, who of course are not Arabs, the Kurds are like Israel in '48.  They're fighting for their survival, and we're again on the wrong side.  Instead of helping the Kurds directly, we are sending weapons to Baghdad that never get to the Kurds, and the Baghdad government is owned in every respect but a written deed, by Iran.  It's crazy.  U.S. air power in Iraq today is flying air cover, air support for Iranian efforts, and we are on the way to seeing that new Iranian empire that will be very, very, very dangerous.

People ask me who do I want to win in Tikrit, Beelzebub or Mephistopheles.  If the Iranian-backed defenses fails it's really a bloody nose for them.  That's great, but that means Islamic State wins, and everybody loves a winner, and one of the reasons for the exponential growth, one of the reasons of growth of Islamic State, is simply that people want to join the winning team.  You saw defectors from Jabhat al-Nusra, from secular militias, from Al Qaeda.  Everybody wants to be the winning team, and as I said earlier, it's a good deal, but we are now faced with these people, Arabs and others, Persians, who are not fighting for the state per se.  The Arabs aren’t fighting for a state.  They don't have a vision of an Arab empire to the extent the Persians have a Persian Empire.  The Arabs are fighting for the Caliphate, and the idea of the Caliphate truly resonates with them, truly does.  The Persians are fighting for an empire.

And by the way, on Vladimir Putin, Putin is not trying to rebuild the Soviet Union he can't do it.  He's trying to rebuild the Russia of the Czars, about the year 1900, just before the Russo-Japanese War, when Czarist Russia was at its greatest expansionary extent.  That's what he wants to restore.  He's a great Russian nationalist.  He's not a commie.  Nobody in the KGB were commies.  They knew what was going on.  They're the only people that really knew, but he is perfectly willing to increasingly use Stalinist methods, and his background as the petty bureaucrat, lieutenant colonel – I'm partial to lieutenant colonels myself, but his background gave him the ability.  He was a case officer.  That means that's somebody that works with agents, and the primary thing a case officer has to be able to do in intelligence is size up the guy sitting across the table from you or walking with you in the street, and Putin is brilliant at sizing up Westerners.  The only person who has marginally stood up to him has been Angela Merkel, and she unfortunately has domestic issues that let her go so far and no farther.  So I'm sorry, that's the best answer I can give.

Audience Member: I have some experience with domestic regulatory agencies and cyber security, and I see them as being quite detached in realities of technology.  It's like giving a civilian a military role, and I'm wondering if you could shed some light and your opinion on if you think our cyber defense – I'm actually more concerned with cyber offense.  We hear so little from the NSA, as it should be.  I don't think the military should be on TV saying what's going on, but with all this rolling about privacy and Snowden and people running it, and China and Russia I know hacking.  Russia trains people to hack America.  How is that a military issue, and do you have confidence that we are having a cyber defense and offense that's adequate?

Ralph Peters: Well, the lines between purely military operations, economics, cyber, they're all breaking down, and I too worry more about our cyber offense capabilities.  We're actually not bad, from what I can tell, on cyber defense.  A problem is when private industry won't play and then they get themselves in trouble.  Then they want help, but cyber offense, you look at the brilliant propaganda videos done by Islamic State.  You can't do something like that in the United States.  You can't do anything that aggressive, but also, Islamic State, al-Baghdadi or one of his underlings can say, hey, do this now.  Film this and get it out, and they do it.  Maybe he watches it, but in our bureaucracy the levels of people that have to chop off on it, have to sign off on it make it absolutely certain that by the time it hits the Internet it's old news.  Speed matters.  Who would have thunk it?  In the Internet age speed matters?  And Washington is still operating on a 19th century timetable.  I have to move on.  For me this is a treat because I get to talk at some length instead of 4½-minute sound bites.  It may not be a treat for you.  It is for me.

Audience Member: Using your 5-year timeframe, what are the alignments today and 5 years hence between China, the Middle East, Russia?  Where does Israel fit into these new alignments, and what about Japan and the Baltic states, and any economic backdrop you wish to add to it?

Ralph Peters: Oh, that's easy.  That's a pretty big question.  I will just say that you can't put rigid timelines on things.  For instance, you can't put a rigid timeline on when the Iranians will have a nuclear arsenal because there's so much we don't know and we haven't even asked them about that.  That's the crazy thing.  Obama and Kerry want this deal so badly they've been willing to ignore all the monstrous actions of the Iranians.  Iranians killed and maimed so many U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.  They're acting antithetical to our interests everywhere throughout the greater Middle East, but Obama wants that deal for his legacy.  Iran wants a new empire with nuclear arms.  Obama wants a legacy.  Obama's legacy is going to be a nuclear-armed Iranian empire.

Audience Member: Where's the future alignment?  Where does the Middle East align with China, align with Israel?  If this is all shifting, there are clearcut –

Ralph Peters: I can't give you pat answers.

Audience Member: What do you perceive, because there's been a lot written about it?

Ralph Peters: In the immortal words of Frank Zappa, trouble comin' every day, and I'm not being flip.  Frank wasn't all that dumb, but again, you just can't put timelines on it because you have the Black Swan events.

Audience Member: Forget about the time limits.  What's happening today, and what happens to Japan and the Baltic states?

Ralph Peters: Well, if you leave timelines out, what happens to the Baltics will be a matter of Putin's fiat.  He wakes up one day and decides to go for Estonia, and Putin can be coldly analytical, but he also has a real temper.  China is getting what it wants without war.  They'll push to the brink and then back off, push to the brink again.

Audience Member: But they're aligned with whom right now?  They're aligned with Israel in part.

Ralph Peters: Yeah.  Well, Israel – Israel is threatened as it has not been since 1948.  That was a complicated question.  I'm sorry.

Audience Member: I’ve heard from several of our former military analysts and maybe not military per se but commentators that Israel does not have the capability of destroying Iran's complete nuclear capability.  My understanding from talking to people inside Israel's military is they have no doubt that they can take all of it out.  What they are concerned about, and please, maybe this is false bravado, like they said with the latest round of bunker busters that the U.S. has, they said no weapon comes to Israel that stays the same after it arrives from the United States. That they modify all their weapons, but what they said they were the most afraid of was that the Obama administration would lead a worldwide economic embargo against Israel the day after.

Ralph Peters: Yeah.  I am not as confident about the Israeli ability to destroy it.  I said they can badly harm the nuclear capability.  The Israeli intelligence services are very good, but Iranians have had so much time to build so deep underground.  There are at least 30 locations the Obama administration won't even go after, doesn't want to mention, because they want the deal, so that's the best answer I can give you.

And let me just finish up.  I've heard a lot of things said about Barack Obama, and he's really a tragic figure, not in least tragic for America, but you look at his background.  He's a red diaper baby.  He's all his life in Indonesia, and this is important, he was on the island of Java.  Now on central Java where he was, Islam has only been there around 500 years.  I've been there.  I've done a research project there.  There's a tremendous hangover from Buddhism, animus practices, and it frustrates the Saudis that the Saudis send a lot of money trying to move them, but that's a nation approaching 240 million Muslims and they've produced several hundred terrorists, but out of 240 million that's pretty amazing, and a lot of those came from Banda Acehans on Sumatra, but Obama saw Islam in his formative years at its most benign.  It wasn't Saudi Arabia where his mom would have to wear a veil and couldn't drive herself.  It wasn't anywhere else in a Middle Eastern dictatorship.  It wasn't among the hillbillies of Afghanistan.  It was among the relatively sophisticated semi-urban Muslims of Java, and then he spends the rest of his life, with a few-year exceptions in high school, et cetera, around very hard left people, and I really believe that President Obama has been in a hard left milieu for so many decades that he is much more ideologically rigid and much farther to the left than he realizes.  I think because of being around people like Bill Ayers, reading Saul Alinsky, Rev. Wright certainly, on some level I think he sincerely believes America is unjust.  He misses the irony.  Here's a mixed-race president who gets to the White House having done nothing, and he says America's bigoted.  Well then why would we elect him?  But I really do believe that he is soft on Islam because of his background, and he really is convinced that sooner or later socialism, or call it what you will, will work somewhere, and also he's so thin-skinned and so arrogant.  This is a president – think about it – he gets angrier about Fox News than he does about Islamist terror.  So greetings from Fox News, folks.

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