Or read the transcript below:
Transcribed by J. C. Hendershot & Bethany Stotts
Interview with Admiral James Lyons by Roger Aronoff
The “Take AIM” show on BlogTalkRadio, January 13, 2013.
ROGER ARONOFF: Good morning, and welcome to Take AIM, Accuracy in Media’s talk show on BlogTalkRadio. AIM is America’s original media watchdog, and every week we point out biased coverage and bring you the stories the mainstream media ignore. I’m Roger Aronoff, the Editor of Accuracy in Media, and of The AIM Report, which you can sign up for at our website, aim.org. You can also sign up there to receive our daily E-mail, so you can keep track of what the media are up to.
We have an outstanding guest today. He’s a 36-year Navy veteran, retired Admiral James Lyons, Jr. Admiral Lyons was Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, and the senior U.S. military representative to the United Nations. He is President and CEO of LION Associates, which provides strategic consulting in the areas of foreign policy and security affairs, and he’s a columnist. We’ve been seeing his columns in The Washington Times and other places across the Internet. It’s been some very interesting things he’s been writing about—particularly this Benghazi story, and other things that we’ll get into as well.
Good morning, Admiral Lyons. Thank you for joining us today on Take AIM!
ADMIRAL JAMES “ACE” LYONS (RET): Well, it’s nice to be here!
ARONOFF: Well, there’s so much going on. We’ll get into it quickly, but first, I just want to thank you for your incredible service to this country. People should go to the website, lionllc.com—L-I-O-N. You can read his biography, and read his columns—I definitely urge you to do that.
Just before we came on the air, I mentioned to you that last year I visited the National Museum of the Pacific War in, of all places, Fredericksburg, Texas, the home of Admiral [Chester] Nimitz. It’s an amazing museum. You mentioned you haven’t been there—you know, I’m sure you just could tell the stories that they’re telling in there. It’s really an amazing place.
ADMIRAL LYONS: Well, Nimitz was a great leader, and a great man.
ADMIRAL LYONS: Let me tell you one thing about Nimitz: In today’s Navy, he never would have made it. He ran his destroyer aground as a commander. They would have crucified him today!
ARONOFF: Oh, wow!
ADMIRAL LYONS: It gives you something to think about.
ARONOFF: Interesting. What was your most memorable experience as Commander-in-Chief of the Pacific Fleet?
ADMIRAL LYONS: Well, of course, the Soviet navy was in full bloom then, so that was one of our primary focuses—how we managed to keep, raise the level of deterrence out there and keep the Soviets off balance, and how we were able to bring the Soviet ballistic missile submarine fleet under control. It was really through the dedication and hard work of our personnel, who were really on the front lines, who were able to execute in a way that assured us of achieving success.
One of the most other interesting aspects . . . We did the first humanitarian cruise, of the hospital ship Mercy, to the South Pacific in 1987. I was in Manila in June—this was when Cory Aquino had just taken over from [Ferdinand] Marcos—
ADMIRAL LYONS: —and I knew she needed a quick success, and I was looking at how we could help them. She said her highest priority was to raise the quality of life for the man in the street. I said, “What better way than to give him his health?” and I proposed to Minister of Defense [Juan Ponce] Enrile and then-Chief of Staff [Fidel] Ramos that they join with us, and we deploy a hospital ship to the Philippines. It was still one of the supercarriers that was being converted—tankers—a supertanker carrier that was being converted to a hospital ship. It was completed in December of ’86; we had it outfitted, manned, and on station in the Philippines at the end of April—unheard of! We had 50% U.S. doctors and nurses, and 50% Filipino. The U.S. contingent was made up of Army, Navy, Air Force, and public health doctors and officials. I estimated we could treat a thousand people a day. In nine weeks, we treated over 64,000 people.
ADMIRAL LYONS: Down in Zamboanga, the heart of the Muslim uprising in the Philippines, we had that ship in there. We had them lined up, 7,000 in line on the streets, waiting to get treatment, and to this day they’ve never forgotten it.
ARONOFF: What a great legacy. That’s tremendous. Does that sort of operation still exist today?
ADMIRAL LYONS: Oh, yeah! You see, I wanted to institutionalize it at the time, because the ones who were fighting me the hardest were the Navy and Navy medicine!
ADMIRAL LYONS: The tsunami in 2004 in Indonesia—I called Vern Clark, who was the [Chief of Naval Operations] at the time, and I had John Howe, the CEO of Project Hope. I told Vern what we did with the Mercy in the Philippines, and we had an opportunity to do the same thing in responding to the Indonesian tragedy. I put the two—because we were concerned, you know; still we were in the war in Iraq, and we had problems with the availability of doctors and nurses. Anyway, Project Hope provided the volunteer doctors and nurses, and it became a tremendous success: Before that Mercy deployment to Indonesia, 20% of the people in that province were—or, I should say, 80% were against the United States; after the deployment, 80% were pro-U.S.
ARONOFF: That’s fantastic. Yeah, what a great face for America to be presenting.
ADMIRAL LYONS: Humanitarian crews now are institutionalized in Navy policy—so this goes on every year in different parts of the world. It’s one of the great ways to win the hearts and minds of people, and to show the best of America.
ARONOFF: I agree. That’s a great story. Let’s move on to some of the issues of the day. You have been a persistent critic of how the [Obama] administration has handled the attack on our special mission compound in Benghazi. We’ve had a couple of reports, including the Accountability Review Board, and then, yesterday, we had Secretary of State [Hillary] Clinton’s testimony. Do you feel we’ve gained a more clear picture of what really happened?
ADMIRAL LYONS: Not in the least: You’re still getting the smokescreen. I must say that, quote, “Independent” Accountability Review Board, from my perspective, was like having the Mafia investigate a crime scene.
ARONOFF: Okay. Explain why. That was the one headed by Pickering, Thomas Pickering—
ADMIRAL LYONS: Pickering and—[Admiral Mike] Mullen. Pickering, he’s the chairman of the International Crisis Group—which is a Soros-funded group. Plus, with his long career in the State Department, I wouldn’t consider that to be foremost in getting an independent review. What really needs to happen here—and you could see it yesterday in the testimony of Secretary Clinton—you’re never going to get the true story until you appoint a Special Prosecutor, pull in, put the people under oath to find out what actually went on. The House has that authority. They’re the only ones today that I think, if they have the courage to do so, to stand up and appoint a Special Prosecutor, and get to the bottom of this mess.
ARONOFF: Okay. Well, yes, that would be very useful. It would be considered highly political, but that’s—
ADMIRAL LYONS: That’s what it’s all about here!
ARONOFF: Exactly. Well, I want to give you, first, the opportunity to clarify a quote that has been widely attributed to you—it was on numerous websites. You were said to have told The Washington Examiner that Benghazi was actually a bungled kidnapping attempt perpetrated upon Ambassador [Christopher] Stevens, and that it was going to be part of a hostage exchange for the “Blind Sheikh,” Omar Abdel Rahman, who sits in jail in the U.S. for his role in planning the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993. I’m sure you’ve seen that—
ADMIRAL LYONS: Right.
ARONOFF: So what is—
ADMIRAL LYONS: First, yeah, I appreciate the opportunity to clarify because, first of all, I’ve never talked to The Washington Examiner. Where this came up: I was on Lou Dobbs’s show, and somebody must have copied down from that show, maybe submitted a report or something, to The Washington Examiner. Lou asked me, “What do [you] think went on? What [do you] suspect happened?”
I said, “Well, if I had to speculate, I believe this was a bungled, a bungled attack—”
ADMIRAL LYONS: “—a kidnapping attack, to kidnap Ambassador Stevens, and hold him in exchange for the Blind Sheikh.” You know there’s been a lot of pressure, certainly from [Egyptian President Mohamed] Morsi; that’s one of his objectives, to get the Blind Sheikh released. Now, again, [Dobbs] asked me what I thought, and I speculated, because nothing else made sense to me. We know that Ambassador Stevens was concerned over his safety there. I mean, why would he stay there—first of all, why was he even there on the night of 9/11? You have the significance of the date of 9/11—most places, people hunker down. Then we had a lot of not only tactical, but strategic warning of this attack. We can get into that now, if you’d like.
ARONOFF: Yeah, why don’t you give us some of that?
ADMIRAL LYONS: Let me say, from my viewpoint, there was both strategic and tactical warning. In the previous June, we had both the British Consulate and the International Red Cross close their offices up due to the assassination attempt on the British Consul General, and other assassinations. We had the bombing outside our special mission compound on the 6th of June. On the 16th of August, the cable was put out—“Look, in a determined attack, we cannot defend this compound—” and they requested additional security assistance. They didn’t get any.
The day of the attack, the Blue Mountain Security manager, that afternoon, sensed there was something wrong. He put out an alert on both his radios and cell phones. Prior to that, we know one of the policemen who was assigned to guard the compound was seen taking pictures of the inner layout the compound. We found a memo, later, by Ambassador Stevens, saying he found this to be most troubling. We know, according to reports, reliable reports, that road blocks were set up at least three hours before the attack. We know the [Turkish] Consul General, who was the last person to see Ambassador Stevens, had to go through those road blocks. When the columnist Diana West interviewed the Turkish Consul General, she asked him about that, and he said, “Well, I didn’t notice anything unusual”—which is somewhat strange. Then there was a British security team that, through prior arrangements, would drop off or pick up equipment from the compound. So there was more than ample evidence, signals—
ARONOFF: Warning, right.
ADMIRAL LYONS: —warnings that something is not right, and knowing that [Stevens] feared for his safety, why would he stay there? It makes no sense to me. That’s why I speculated, “Perhaps this was supposed to be part of a kidnapping, hostage situation, holding him in exchange for the Blind Sheikh”: Because killing Ambassador Stevens made no sense to me, since he was the great facilitator in funneling the arms to the rebels, to other militias—many of which were al-Qaeda-affiliated, who had been fighting our troops in Iraq. So why would you kill the golden goose? It made no sense to me.
ARONOFF: All right, well, a number of people have—
ADMIRAL LYONS: There’s one other thing I’d mention—
ARONOFF: Yeah, go ahead.
ADMIRAL LYONS: The leader of al-Qaeda, the day before, on 10 September, put out a video calling for revenge on the U.S. for the killing of a key al-Qaeda leader in Libya by the CIA. When we we’re talking about videos, that’s the video that everybody should have focused on!
ADMIRAL LYONS: Not the fourteen-minute string up, the anti-Islamic string up that nobody had ever seen!
ARONOFF: Yeah, I know. Exactly. Just to be clear then: You don’t have inside information, that’s just sort of your thinking, What are the possibilities?
ADMIRAL LYONS: Well, I’m taking this from the reports that have been in the public media.—
ARONOFF: Oh, I understand that part, but—
ADMIRAL LYONS: I have no inside—I’ve had no inside connection on this. I’ve talked with knowledgeable people—one of my old friends, Bing West, who has written extensively about this, and, certainly, over our campaigns. It just—what went on, really, is a tragedy that I believe could have been prevented. And, certainly, minimized.
ARONOFF: Now, that September 10th video that you referred to, from the al-Qaeda chief, that was Ayman al-Zawahiri—
ADMIRAL LYONS: That’s correct.
ARONOFF: —who released that. Then you also refer to the August 16th cable. Yesterday we heard Secretary Clinton say that she never saw those pleas for help, that, you know, out of the one-plus-million [emails that she receives].
ADMIRAL LYONS: Here we—that’s only one cable.
ADMIRAL LYONS: We had Lieutenant Colonel Wood and his sixteen-man security force, which was at the Embassy in Tripoli. They were there in August. They had been there for a number of months to beef the security. The ambassador requested they stay, they wanted to stay, yet they were denied and yanked out. The pleas for additional security were ignored, denied. Now, I find it difficult to accept that Whats-her-name—the Assistant Secretary for Security—Charlene—
ARONOFF: Charlene Lamb. Lamb.
ADMIRAL LYONS: —yes, yeah—on her own, turned down all those repeated requests.
ADMIRAL LYONS: You have to ask yourself, What was the political agenda they were trying to create here? That the Arab Spring has been such a wonderful, great success in Libya? That we can now stand down, and we can rely on the 17th February Martyrs Brigade to provide the security—which, incidentally, has close affiliation with al-Qaeda in the Maghreb? None of this really, if you step back and analyze it, makes any sense.
ARONOFF: Well, there’s a couple of things. You mentioned Charlene Lamb—when she gave her testimony a while back, there were two things that were brought up yesterday, I believe, by [Representative] Dana Rohrabacher; one is what Secretary Clinton and others are saying—“Look, the House Republicans blocked $300 million from security and that was part of the problem.” The other thing that Charlene Lamb was saying was that she was watching real-time video when this was happening*, and Ms. Clinton said that wasn’t the case—I mean, there’s complete contradiction there between what these two are saying.
[*Correction: Ms. Lamb actually said, “I could follow what was happening almost in real time.” She was listening on the telephone, not watching “real-time video.”]
ADMIRAL LYONS: Yeah.
ARONOFF: Do you have any insight into that?
ADMIRAL LYONS: Well, first of all, Charlene Lamb is not a security expert. She’s just put in that job, so she really had no background on how to provide security and so forth for our embassies. So she really was not qualified for the job.
ADMIRAL LYONS: This smokescreen of the “withheld funding”—you had teams in Libya who wanted to stay, and they wouldn’t let them stay! That doesn’t have anything to do with the funding, this “withholding funding, and, therefore, we couldn’t put in additional resources”—they were there!
ARONOFF: One motive—again, you speculate this could have been the setup for a kidnapping attempt. Otherwise, yeah it’s hard to imagine a scenario. Why would they turn down these requests for added security? Why would send people who were there who wanted to stay? How high up does this go, in your opinion? Where does—
ADMIRAL LYONS: I don’t—well, when you get into the actual day of the attack, where everybody was basically witnessing, through the video, watching the attack go on, and listening to the cries for help—I think this goes well up the food chain.
ADMIRAL LYONS: And we can get into what resources could have been brought to bear that weren’t, why—
ARONOFF: Yeah, let’s touch on that, because this is something that I’ve followed and written about, too. Secretary of Defense [Leon] Panetta, early on, when he was asked about this, said, and I quote here, he said “The basic principle”—on why no troops were sent in to attempt to save or rescue Stevens and the others, his answer was this, and this is a quote: “The basic principle is that you don’t deploy forces into harms way without knowing what’s going on, without having some real time information about what’s taking place. And as a result of not having that kind of information, we felt very strongly that we could not put forces at risk in that situation.” But then he later indicated that he actually gave verbal approval to have the Marine teams based in Rota, Spain to come there, to Tripoli and Benghazi. Then there was the Marine unit that you wrote about, stationed in Sigonella, Italy; none of them went. But it looks like Panetta has changed his story on this—
ADMIRAL LYONS: I think the initial was a little—I mean, all those comforting words that “We don’t want to put our forces at risk.” We had people at risk—they were crying for help!
ADMIRAL LYONS: In a situation, you go with the resources you have available—and, in this particular case, we did have that 130-man Marine force recon team sitting there at Sigonella. Even if I only got 50 of them over there, that would have been significant in turning the situation around. We may not have been able to save the ambassador, but we certainly could have saved those other two SEALs that were over on the annex.
And there’s another tactic that we’ve used over the years very successfully in dispelling mobs, and scenes like we witnessed there in Benghazi: We had F-16 aircraft that could have been there within a matter of an hour or two. What you have them do is, you have them make a low pass over the scene at full afterburner. It has a telling effect—it really gets their attention. Plus, with the equipment they have in their cockpit, they could have been utilized to take some offensive action—if we had the courage to do so.
ADMIRAL LYONS: And there’s another thing here, too.
ADMIRAL LYONS: The independent Review Board made a statement that they made some request to embassies, but let me tell you this: I know of no request that was made to the Turkish Consul General, the Turkish Consulate, the Italian Consulate, or that British Security Team that was in Benghazi. All have said they received no requests for support. They went on to say, “If we were requested, we would have provided it.”
ARONOFF: It’s really incredible. I think the sort of smokescreen that you referred to, that Secretary Clinton was throwing out there yesterday, part of it was “Well, look at what all was going on: All of our embassies were under siege that day, in Egypt, in Tunisia and—” I guess—“in Yemen,” so they were looking at dealing with all of those situations and, I think, suggesting they were just kind of overwhelmed by what was going on, and maybe didn’t act right. This sort of also led up to this scenario where Senator Ron Johnson, from Wisconsin, was asking her about why they persisted in telling this story about the anti-Islamic video that you referred to a few minutes ago. Her answer was saying—she said, quote, “What difference [at this point] does it make” whether it was because it was “a protest or because guys were out for a walk one night who decided they’d go kill some Americans?” So I ask you, Admiral Lyons: What difference does it make?
ADMIRAL LYONS: Well, let me answer it this way: Richard Nixon found out what the difference is when you lie to the American public—and in his lie, it was only a bungled burglary attempt; nobody got killed. In this case, we had four Americans murdered. Furthermore, we knew, within a matter of hours, that this was a determined, preplanned terrorist attack. So you have to ask yourself, Why perpetuate this lie for almost two weeks? Why did [Clinton] participate in that video—at taxpayer’s expense, I might add—that was sent all around Pakistan condemning the 14-minute stringer anti-Islamic video that nobody had seen? Certainly, with our embassy in Cairo, they had put out their Great Apology the day before, and, really, there wasn’t anybody in our embassy; the Egyptians were able to quickly restore order there. In Libya, you had no such situation: You had, really, no functioning central government in Libya. It’s really in total disarray. The Arab Spring there has fostered a group of al-Qaeda-affiliated militias that have now made available all [Muammar] Gaddafi’s military equipment, much of which we’re seeing show up in Mali, and certainly may have been a part of equipping the group that did the terrorist attack in Algeria.
ARONOFF: Another thing that is really baffling is that for over three weeks after this happened there was no FBI that arrived at the crime scene to go through it, see what forensic evidence—
ADMIRAL LYONS: Right.
ARONOFF: —there might have been, see anything—I mean, that just seems like such an incredible oversight—
ADMIRAL LYONS: Just let me comment on that—
ADMIRAL LYONS: I want to go back to the last point we were discussing—
ADMIRAL LYONS: —and that is, in perpetuating this lie, we also had administration officials lying to Congressional committees. That’s a felony. So, “What difference does it make?” It makes all the difference in the world. You cannot flaunt the truth here, just walk away from it and, basically, tell the American public to stuff it. That’s not acceptable.
The point on the organizing the two Marine anti-terrorist teams in Rota, that was good to go ahead and stand ’em up. What I find incomprehensible: The first team, it took them 23 hours to go a few hundred miles from Rota to Tripoli. I could go around the world in 23 hours, so that makes absolutely no sense to me. And the fact that they stood down the second team, which was supposed to go to our special mission compound in Benghazi—the excuse being, “Well, all the Americans are out of there”—makes no sense to me, since this was American territory. That compound should have been immediately secured, and certainly that Marine team was quite capable of doing that. Had they done that, the FBI would have been immediately able to access that scene and gain valuable information. Plus, we would have stopped the looting, and, in this sense, that compound had to have certain classified communications equipment; I can’t believe that they did not have communications equipment—and you have to ask, What happened to that equipment? Who has it today? I know Secretary Clinton made this grand, flowing statement, “There was nothing classified in the compound.” I find that incomprehensible.
ARONOFF: Yeah, I mean, how do they know? Look: CNN, just walking through there, found [Stevens’s] log book!
ADMIRAL LYONS: Yeah, of course!
ARONOFF: And then, three weeks later, The Washington Post went in and found other things that no one had even touched or picked up. I mean, it’s incredible.
ADMIRAL LYONS: So you got to—What was it they wanted to keep our people from seeing there?
ARONOFF: Well, yeah, I mean, that’s the question, but they didn’t secure the place to keep reporters from just walking through and picking up whatever they could find.
ADMIRAL LYONS: Yeah, well, they couldn’t stop the reporters from going in, but they certainly could stop our military from going in.
ARONOFF: Right. The question, I guess, is where this goes from here. Let me bring up one other aspect: Frank Gaffney of the Center for Security Policy, and others, have speculated that really what was going on here was that—and you made reference to this—the weapons that we had supplied to the Libyans who were fighting to overthrow Gaddafi, all these weapons, or many of these, were now being supplied to the so-called rebels in Syria—
ADMIRAL LYONS: Right.
ARONOFF: —some who were al-Qaeda and all that, so this was sort of a gun-walking—think Fast and Furious—operation into Syria, to other al-Qaeda people, and this is what’s being sort of covered up here. Do you have an opinion on that?
ADMIRAL LYONS: Let me put it to you this way: I agree with Frank’s statement there. We know that it was being funded both by Qatar and the Saudi Arabians. What was going on would make Iran-Contra look like child’s play.
ARONOFF: Hmm. So where is Congress? Why—I mean, look: The Republicans control the House. Do they not have access to this information? Do they lack—
ADMIRAL LYONS: Well—
ARONOFF: —the guts? The vision? What is, you know–
ADMIRAL LYONS: —I think really what has to happen is, the House has to have the courage to appoint a Special Prosecutor. We still don’t even know how Ambassador Stevens died.
ADMIRAL LYONS: You’ve not been able to interview any of the people that were rescued from Benghazi. You’ve got to get these people in, put them under oath, and find out the true story of what went on. Nothing else, to me, is acceptable.
ARONOFF: Well, a number of people—for instance, Ralph Peters, yesterday, was on Fox criticizing the Republicans for not having prepared well. First of all, it’s difficult when you each get five minutes to ask questions—
ADMIRAL LYONS: Yeah.
ARONOFF: —and [Clinton] can take up three or four of those minutes answering your first question, so it’s kind of—
ADMIRAL LYONS: Oh, absolutely. And anyway, she had a month to prepare for her performance—
ADMIRAL LYONS: —which really was a fluff show from my viewpoint.
ARONOFF: Yes. Let’s touch on a couple other things sort of related in a way. One thing is the Arab Spring in general: Now we see that we’re about to supply these advanced F-16 fighter planes and these Abrams tanks to Egypt. Egypt is now controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood—
ADMIRAL LYONS: Exactly.
ARONOFF: —and Morsi, and we know what he thinks of Israel. The question, the obvious question that hangs over this is, Who are these weapons to be used against? And Why are we doing this? What is your overall opinion of how this Arab Spring is going, and this act in particular?
ADMIRAL LYONS: The Arab Spring is a total disaster. We have uncontrolled militias, certainly throughout Libya, Mali. You’ve got, certainly, the situation in Syria. You look at Iraq: Iraq is far from any streaming success. The major weapons systems, the F-16s and the Abrams tanks—the 200 Abrams tanks that are being transferred—all of that commitment was done with [former Egyptian President Hosni] Mubarak.
ADMIRAL LYONS: So, to me, since they threw out Mubarak, I would have canceled the deal. Why go forward with it?
ARONOFF: Mm-hmm. I think the theory goes that Morsi played the role of this great peacemaker when he got—
ADMIRAL LYONS: Oh, now wait a minute. “Great peacemaker”—
ARONOFF: —Hamas to stop—
ADMIRAL LYONS: Please, spare me! He’s the guy who endorses Hamas!
ARONOFF: You’re right.
ADMIRAL LYONS: Hamas is a wing of the Muslim Brotherhood in Gaza! It is their group! So this “great peacemaker” is just—
ADMIRAL LYONS: —pure hogwash! We’ve got to take our head out of the sand. The Muslim Brotherhood penetration in this country is really unconscionable: They’ve been able to penetrate almost every one of our government agencies. You see it reflected down in the administration’s directive, where we have to purge all of our training manuals and instructors on anything that purports the truth about Islam. Anything that is considered anti-Islamic must be purged, and our instructors that don’t fall in line find themselves with new orders elsewhere. We have the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, that our great Secretary of State has endorsed, which impinges on our First Amendment right of freedom of expression, and the administration is embracing this, that we leave it up to the—what is it, 57 or 58 Islamic states that make up that organization—to determine what they consider to be insulting to Islam, and, therefore, they can impose sanctions or bring you to trial, or whatever on this. None of this makes any sense to me.
ARONOFF: I have to ask you, because you cannot be the only military man—and obviously you’re an ex-military man; “Retired” is after your name, as admiral and head of the Pacific fleet and all that—where are the military leaders today? Is there anyone—you think of some of the people, like [Major General John K.] Singlaub, who stepped down, and people who speak from their conscience; I’m sure there’s others who look at this the same way you do, but are obviously restrained—
ADMIRAL LYONS: Unfortunately, political correctness has infected almost every level of our military leadership. It’s very clear that the message today is, “You go along to get along.”
ARONOFF: Mm-hmm. Do you sense anything boiling up under the surface, anyone that you know, or you hear about, that is—
ADMIRAL LYONS: Well, we had—certainly there are reports in the last day or two of our [United States Central Command] commander, who seems to be forced to retire several months early—
ARONOFF: [General James] Mattis.
ADMIRAL LYONS: —right—on his views on Iran, which I certainly share; I’ve been in the forefront—I’ve been trying to remove the Iranian Khomeini regime for over 30-some odd years.
ADMIRAL LYONS: In fact, during the Carter administration, I was the Director of Politico-Military affairs for the [Joint Chiefs of Staff] and when [the Iranians] took over our embassy, the Chairman asked me, “What can we do?”
I said, “I’ll tell you what we’re going to do: We’re going to take Kharg Island,” which was their main oil exporting depot. We could have walked right in with our Navy SEALs. That would have had them been by the gonads, and we would have given them 24 hours to get out of our embassy, or their main oil-exporting depot would be ashes. But what happened? We didn’t do anything, so they continued with the kidnappings, assassinations, and so on, culminating in the Reagan Administration, where they blew up our embassy—and then we have proof positive the orders for the  Marine barracks bombing came right from Tehran. We had our planes loaded; we were ready to totally wipe out the Islamic Amal. We were going to take that Sheikh Abdullah Barracks, above Baalbek, and make it look like a plowed corn field in Kansas. We would have been in and out in a minute-and-a-half—and we could never get authority to launch. The one who prevented that launch was none other than our own Secretary of Defense. Why, I’ve never been able to figure out.
ARONOFF: [Caspar] Weinberger, huh?
ADMIRAL LYONS: Not only that, we were going to do combined strikes with the French.
ARONOFF: Were you referring to Weinberger?
ADMIRAL LYONS: Yes.
ARONOFF: Yes. Okay.
ADMIRAL LYONS: And not only once, but twice—and I got this from Bud McFarlane, who was the National Security Advisor. He’s allowed me to quote him on this, and I’ve done so in several articles.
ARONOFF: Did it go to Reagan, above that? I mean, was he given a chance to overrule?
ADMIRAL LYONS: Let me tell you what happened: I had personally briefed Weinberger and his office on the strike, along with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and all of that, and I had been working with CIA on all of this. [William] Casey had called me out to Langley, said, “Look, if we found out who did it, would [you] make up the plans to take them out?’
And I said, “Of course.”
Long story short: They identified the group, we drew up the plans, we had the planes loaded, I’d briefed Weinberger in his office. We had the meeting, a National Security Council meeting, with the President, and at that meeting, Weinberger told the President, “Well, I think there are still Lebanese Army troops in those barracks”—which was totally false, because the Islamic Amal, with the help of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, took over those barracks on the 16th of September, 1983.
So the President, quite properly, turned to Bill Casey and said, “Bill, what about that?” Well, Bill had just returned from a trip, and I knew, when he insisted on taking the meeting, John McMahon, who was the Deputy Director, should have taken the meeting, but was overruled, and, of course, Casey you didn’t know, so the President said, “Go back and sort it out.”
The next day, lo and behold, no, there were no Lebanese army troops in those barracks, but this time, according to Bud McFarlane, Weinberger was waving his arms—“If we go ahead with this strike, we’re going to lose all our Arab friends, and yah-dah-dah-dah-dah”—he threw enough smoke in the air that we never could get the authority to launch.
The next time came when we were going to do a combined strike. The French lost 54 or 55—of their military during that same day, October 23rd, 1983, and they wanted to retaliate. I’m told by Bud McFarlane that the President approved the combined strike by Jerry Tuttle, who was the carrier strike group commander. In fact, what we did, we carried the strike plans to the carriers, because I knew then the Soviets were reading our columns. This was long before [John] Walker surfaced.
ADMIRAL LYONS: I won’t go into the background, how I knew that.
ADMIRAL LYONS: Anyway, the President approved the combined strike—and Weinberger wouldn’t issue the order. McFarlane called him up and said, “What’s going on?” He never got a satisfactory answer out of him. You would have thought he would have been fired on the spot, but, according to Bud, he used his “kitchen cabinet” association with the President, and nothing happened.
Those two events really launched—when we didn’t do anything, if you recall, when we didn’t respond to 241 marines being killed, that became Osama bin Laden’s rallying cry, that “The Americans can’t suffer casualties—they will cut and run!” And in the perception of the Arab world, that’s exactly what we did.
ARONOFF: Mm-hmm. Paper tigers. So today, our posture, in relation to Iran and Israel—first of all, what’s the signal being sent by these arms being shipped to Egypt, as well as the appointments of [John] Kerry, [Chuck] Hagel, and [John] Brennan as President Obama’s national security team? What does this say about our posture toward both Iran and Israel?
ADMIRAL LYONS: Certainly, if I were Iran I’d be thrilled to death with those appointments.
ARONOFF: Why’s that?
ADMIRAL LYONS: Because none of them are for taking any military action against Iran, which is giving them clear sailing for the development of their nuclear weapon capability. And it isn’t just their capability in Iran—you’ve got to look at what they’ve done in Latin America. We have Iranian operational missile bases today in Venezuela—fully up and operational. They’ve been able to accomplish what the Soviet Union tried to do in Cuba in 1962.
ADMIRAL LYONS: We have cities in the United States today which are under the threat umbrella of those missiles that are in Venezuela. It needs to be addressed. In fact, they should be forced out of there post-haste—“Either take them out, or we’ll take them out.” I don’t see that happening.
ARONOFF: What about Israel? What is the message to Israel with these appointments and these actions and—
ADMIRAL LYONS: It certainly cannot be encouraging.
ADMIRAL LYONS: I think they’re going to have to look at themselves to become more self-reliant. Regretfully, none of this contributes to maintaining the peace through a strong deterrence. When you show weakness, which we’re doing, it only encourages those who would do us harm. I mean, how many times do we have to go down this path to really come to our senses on this? Here we had four Americans killed in Benghazi—what do we do? Absolutely nothing. There are training camps—we know there are training camps out there that these militias were using; I wanted to destroy them! This idea of “Well, we’ve got to respect the sovereignty of Libya”—not when our people are being murdered—and held under duress. There is no, quote, “functioning government,” in Libya, from what I can see.
ARONOFF: You had another column last week, called “Where Are the Carriers?” You wrote about the Navy’s power projection—in other words, their “ability to deploy and maintain [maritime] superiority at” what you call the “point of entry wherever required.” You say we’re down to having only nine such carriers, and a total of 287 ships when we should have more like 350. What’s going on here? Is it strictly budgetary? Does it—represent a strategic or philosophical shift?
ADMIRAL LYONS: There are several things. Budget certainly is one key factor. We had the decommissioning of the Enterprise after 45 years of really wonderful service, not only for the Navy, but for the country. We have the Abraham Lincoln undergoing a four-year overhaul. So that took you from the eleven carriers, operational carriers, that we had down to nine, and the Gerald Ford is being delayed through a very innovative catapult system that’s being placed on it, so that is not operationally available. The Navy’s been forced to maintain two carriers in the Middle East, primarily, one, to provide close air support in Afghanistan, and to be able to respond to any provocations by Iran. Now, I see no reason why the Navy has to have carriers to provide close air support in Afghanistan when, I believe, this role can be fulfilled by the Air Force and the Marine air wings. Certainly, with our draw-down, they should have sufficient assets to take care of that.
With regard to Iranian provocation—you know, when you keep a carrier boring a hole in the same geographic location, you lose the impact of what that carrier strike group means, and what our intentions are. You just become part of the background. We fell into this trap during the Carter administration: We kept wearing our ships, aircraft, and people out, and we didn’t do anything, we just kept boring holes out there. You really need to keep your potential enemies off balance. You don’t do that by being static. You need to be able to move those carriers and keep the other side guessing on exactly what your intentions are, and how you’re going to respond. When you have to come into an area with a carrier strike group, that has a special meaning: That means we’ve just signaled our intent, that we have a primary interest on what’s going on in this area, and we are going to be a major player. That doesn’t happen if you just keep being part of the background.
ARONOFF: Just a couple more things here I’d like you to comment on. The Law of the Sea Treaty keeps lurking right behind the scenes; for years, with Senator [Dick] Lugar there, they were always looking for an opportune moment to get it passed in the Senate and then ratified. What is your opinion? You’ve obviously been out there on the front lines—
ADMIRAL LYONS: Yeah, the LOST Treaty is something. Why would you turn over your sovereignty to a UN-type committee where you have no veto power and you know you’re going to be outvoted 40 to 1?
ADMIRAL LYONS: It makes absolutely no sense to me. You’re seeing this being displayed by China out in the South China Sea, making their illegal claims to, basically, the entire South China Sea, even though, I believe, they have signed up to the Law of the Sea Treaty—but they will not submit. They did it with an exemption: They said anything they consider part of their territory, they will not submit to the Law of the Sea Council for resolution. So you can see where that is leading! Actually, another other case here: We’ve had this Law of the Sea Tribunal, which has impacted—what was it—on Ghana, that involved telling them what they could do or not do in their tributaries—which are clearly territorial waters! So why would subject ourselves to such a situation? It makes no sense to me. We enjoy—we must—we enjoy and support the freedom of the high seas. We’ve done it since our founding, it is recognized international law, and there’s no reason for us to submit ourselves to a UN council that clearly is against our interests.
ARONOFF: You mentioned China and their sort of resurgent naval power. President Obama made reference to us becoming more of an Asian-Pacific nation. What do you see happening there over the next few years? What’s the big concern? Is our Navy in that part of the world up to the task? Are we prepared for it strategically?
ADMIRAL LYONS: The Theater is evolving more into what they call the “air-sea battle”—that’s primarily the United States Navy and U.S. Air Force, to project U.S. power into the region—and, clearly, we’re strapped. We touched on it previously—the budget, sequestration. We have an anemic ship-building program. Admiral [Jonathan] Greenert, I support him in getting relief from the two carrier commitment to the Middle East, that certainly is key, and key to our maintaining our flexibility and ability to influence events as they occur. You know, always, when there’s a crisis, one of the first questions out of the White House is, Where are the carriers? So to maintain the impact of the carrier, certainly, must remain foremost—and our ship-building plan right now, if, in effect, it’s able to, will only give us 292 ships within the next decade—when we ought to be at 350—and, really, over 20% of that 292 ships will be the literal “combat ship.” The most recent test and evaluation report really was a disaster for the Navy because, as I’ve said many times, this is a ship we’re spending several hundreds of millions of dollars to produce . . . and it has no offensive or defensive capability. Beside all the falderal, this is a program that should be canceled, and we should be building a ship with a fighting potential.
ARONOFF: One more question I want to ask you. Have you seen this movie, Zero Dark Thirty? Have you had a chance to see that yet?
ADMIRAL LYONS: No, I haven’t seen it.
ARONOFF: Yeah, well, what is your take on the killing of Osama bin Laden and—
ADMIRAL LYONS: See, I have no problem with that.
ARONOFF: Yes, and—
ADMIRAL LYONS: I understand we could have carried it out earlier. I’m glad that there was, I think—I’m told—that Secretary Panetta was key in forcing that decision.
ADMIRAL LYONS: Hopefully that was the case. But, you know, we’ve had situations in the past where we could have changed the course of history. For example, in 1996, Sudan offered to turn over Osama bin Laden and his key hierarchy, during the [Bill] Clinton administration—and he turned it down. He—
ARONOFF: Mm-hmm. Yeah, Ambassador [Tim] Carney, I remember, yes.
ADMIRAL LYONS: —clearly. The 9/11 should be hung around [Clinton’s] neck. Had we gone ahead and taken that offer, I would suspect we never would have had a 9/11.
ARONOFF: Right. I think you’re right. That was a key moment, and, yes, Ambassador Carney, I believe, talked about that very specific offer that was made. And then, of course, there were a couple of other chances to take him out, and they didn’t want the collateral damage that would have accompanied it. So it’s been—
ADMIRAL LYONS: All this great concern for collateral damage—how about the collateral damage that’s been done to Americans all over the world, including New York City?
ADMIRAL LYONS: Let’s get our heads screwed on. This “great concern” doesn’t impress our adversaries. Thank God we didn’t have to contend with that during World War II, or we’d still be withholding bombs.
ARONOFF: Well, Admiral Lyons, to me, you’re a national hero and a treasure. I wish there were more like you, willing to speak your mind. At this point it’s really, really amazing. I want to thank you for being our guest here today on Take AIM. Let me give you one last chance; if there’s any other final thoughts you would like to offer—
ADMIRAL LYONS: Well, yes, there’s one; it’s been in the papers today: The Pentagon has approved women in combat.
ADMIRAL LYONS: I’ve got to say this: There are many viable roles for women in the military. Combat is not one of them. In a country with over 310 million people, of which about 150 [million] are men, why do I have to take women and put them in combat? To meet somebody’s social agenda? This makes no sense to me.
ARONOFF: Right. That’s what you see going on here, just sort of a social agenda politics. Right?
ADMIRAL LYONS: You have that right. We saw it with the removal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
ADMIRAL LYONS: I see this as debilitating, and affects our overall military morale.
ARONOFF: But yet no one on active duty is willing to either give up their careers to—
ADMIRAL LYONS: I think the Marines objected to it, but they got clamped down.
ADMIRAL LYONS: This, again is the atmosphere, the mentality of political correctness. The Muslim Brotherhood has a plan: It is to institute sharia law in the United States in place of our Constitution—they call it the “Stealth Jihad”—and, in their own words, “to destroy us by our own miserable hands.” And they’re making quite an amount of inroads, as you’re witnessing today.
ARONOFF: And very few have the courage really to stand up and say anything about it, because they don’t want to be accused of “Islamophobia,” right.
ADMIRAL LYONS: Yeah, if you say anything, you’re an [“Islamophobe,”] and so forth.
ARONOFF: “Islamophobe,” yeah.
ADMIRAL LYONS: You’ve got to stand up for America, and for what we believe and stand for.
ARONOFF: Our guest, again, today has been Retired Admiral James Lyons, James “Ace” Lyons, Jr., a 36-year Navy veteran, a former Commander-in-Chief for the U.S. Pacific Fleet, and U.S. senior military representative to the United Nations. It’s really been an honor and a pleasure to have you on our show, Take AIM. If you’ve missed some of this, and came in late, we will have this up next week sometime on our website. You can listen to the entire interview—it’ll be up there forever—or read a transcript of this. Admiral, thank you so much, again, for your service to the country, and for spending this hour with us here on Take AIM.
ADMIRAL LYONS: A pleasure to be here. Keep charging!
ARONOFF: Will do! Thank you, sir.
ADMIRAL LYONS: Thank you, right.
ARONOFF: So long.
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