Monday, July 21, 2008

What Comes Next?

Scott Johnson at Powerline does a nice job of summarizing the conservative dust-up over recent U.S. diplomatic efforts toward Iran. As he observes, many of us were stunned when Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns was dispatched to Geneva to "sit in" on the latest round of EU-3 diplomacy with Tehran.

While Mr. Burns didn't actively participate in the talks, his presence was viewed as something of an overture; others would describe it as an exercise in appeasement. Back in January, Secretary of State Condolezza Rice said the U.S. would pursue a "normal" relationship with Iran "only after" suspension of its uranium enrichment efforts. Six months later, the centrifuges at Natanz are still spinning and there sat Mr. Burns, listening to his Iranian counterpart reject the latest EU proposals, and vow that its enrichment program would continue.

In the current issue of The Weekly Standard, Stephen Hayes offers a blistering critique of the Bush Administration's flip-flop on Iran. Some of the strongest comments come from officials now serving in diplomatic and defense posts--the very folks who've witnessed the policy shift. One described the new approach as "preemptive capitulation," while other political appointees said they were "embarrassed" to be working for Mr. Bush.

Not so fast, counters Hugh Hewitt. He contends that the recent meeting in Switzerland was tantamount to a "last offer" from the west--an offer that was rejected by Tehran. As Mr. Hewitt writes:

The Bush Administration has done everything a superpower can do except use military action. Iran's mullahs come to the conclusion that the U.S. and Israel either will not or cannot stop their nuclear ambitions. If strikes are launched against the mullahs' nuclear facilities, the U.S. will have tried every avenue to stop the program without resort to bombing. but Iran is an outlaw regime and it does not care a bit what the world demands of it.

That may be true, but it presumes that someone (the United States or Israel) is prepared to act militarily. Mr. Hewitt must be privy to some "inside" information, or he's merely engaged in wishful thinking.

Fact is, there is no sign that the U.S. is prepared to use military force against Iran. Last year's flawed National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) virtually guaranteed it, claiming--speciously --that Tehran halted its weapons design program , although key efforts needed to produce a bomb (including enrichment) were continuing apace.

With Mr. Burns mission to Geneva, the White House shows every indication that it is prepared to stick with the diplomatic track, despite a lack of past success, and dismal hopes for progress in the future. True, the U.S. military has available options for dealing with the Iranian threat, but there is no sign those plans are being seriously considered. Indeed, there is every reason to believe that the next president, Democrat or Republican, will inherit an Iran with even greater enrichment capabilities, and more determined than ever to develop nuclear weapons.

As for the Israeli tea leaves, they are (decidedly) more difficult to read. But Tel Aviv faces its own problems in dealing with Iran. First, the Olmert government is embroiled by scandal, and there is some doubt about the prime minister's political survival. With a resignation or election in the offing, it is less likely that Israel would launch a strike against Iran, absent conclusive proof that Tehran is about to get the bomb.

Additionally, the Israelis face the serious issue of targeting a dispersed nuclear program with limited assets. The Israeli Air Force clearly has the capability to mount a limited strike against Iran's four primary nuclear sites. But follow-on attacks are more problematic, since the IAF would lose the element of surprise, essential for long-range attacks through unfriendly airspace.

As we've noted before, the Israeli campaign is essentially a "one-strike" option. And even if it is successful, there is the strong probability that Iran has a covert nuclear program, at sites unknown to western intelligence agencies or the Mossad. Under that scenario, Tehran's nuclear efforts would continue, and produce a weapon on a timetable similar to the current, overt track.

Giving your adversary a "final offer" is a viable policy option--assuming that "offer" is backed by the threat of severe consequences for non-compliance. So far, we don't see any "sticks" to complement the carrots being offered by the U.S. and its European partners.

What comes after diplomacy? Apparently, the Bush Administration doesn't want to go there, much to the mullahs delight.


BadTux said...

The problem with the military option is the problem of determining whether Iran's leaders are serious or not when they state that they will consider any strike against Iran as an act of war and will then pursue war with any and all resources available to them. With the majority of the combat brigades of the U.S. Army tied down in Iraq and Afghanistan and limited deployable Marine and National Guard elements, the U.S. would of necessity need to rely on air assets. Iran's pitiful air force is unlikely to give substantial resistance and their air defenses are patchy enough to be easily taken out, but then there's thousands of torpedo-armed speedboats deployed along the Iranian coast which would immediately swarm and attack our ships in the Persian Gulf at the same time that they fire off all of the hundreds of Silkworm missiles in their inventory.

We would "win". For some definition of "winning" that includes a billion dollar aircraft carrier sitting on the bottom of the Persian Gulf leaking radioactive wastes into the water, a complete shutdown of oil exports from the Persian Gulf, etc. The problem is whether the cost would be worth the benefit, given that taking out Iran would benefit Israel, but has no benefit to the United States since Iran does not have a navy aside from a few littoral cutters and a few submarines incapable of going more than a few hundred miles from the Iranian coastline and thus poses no existential threat to the United States.

Cost vs. benefit. That's the question. We know the cost. What's the benefit to the United States? None, as far as I can tell.

Andrewdb said...

I am afraid you are correct, but it is not a slam dunk. See here:

We must might be preparing to do what is necessary.

jay said...


Pretty professional link, the article calls him van Ripen. And I'm tired of hearing about Millennium Challenge every time Iran is discussed. They have no chance of sinking a carrier.

BadTux said...

I see that you are not familiar with the work of Gary Brecher, Jay. He takes a humorous look upon military affairs. The problem is, he has been right far too many times to dismiss simply because he writes in a jocular style.

Regarding "I'm tired of hearing about Millennium Challenge", you do realize that saying this makes you sound like a battleship admiral during the 1930's whining about "I'm tired of hearing about these new-fangled aircraft carrier thingies!". It is unclear whether it is possible to sink a nuclear aircraft carrier with anything short of an atomic weapon. Still, even if said carrier were only damaged to the point of needing to be towed out of the bathtub behind its escort vessels, a scenario which even "serious" military analysts admit is possible, we are still probably talking about a billion dollars of damage, not to mention the cost of the sunken escort vessels (and if one Exocet getting through can disable the U.S.S. Stark, if one motorboat getting through can disable the U.S.S. Cole, it is clear that multiple strikes would have taken them out entirely). So my question remains: What is the benefit that accrues to the United States of America (not Israel) from this action, and is this benefit worth the potentially multi-billion-dollar cost?

Ken Prescott said...

As for Millenium Challenge:

I asked a rah-rah-rah Van Riper fan the following question:

"Did he ever explain how he managed to recruit THOUSANDS of people who met all of the following criteria: they all had excellent technical and tactical skills, they were crazy enough to be willing to commit suicide, AND they were self-disciplined enough to commit suicide on someone else's timetable instead of their own?"

The Van Riper fan coughed twice, then changed the subject.

Corky Boyd said...

I think Powerline reads this wrong as do a lot of others. It isn't the the beginning of a new diplomatic offensive, rather it's going the last mile with Iran as we did with Iraq before the two gulf wars. Israel can't negotioate with Iran, but we can dot the Is and cross the Ts diplomatically, to give legitamacy to Israel, if they feel it necessary to get involved.

For Badtux:

The Abraham Lincoln is not in the Persian Gulf any more, it and its escorts left July 8. It is conducting operations outside the straits of Hormuz probably for the very reasons you point out. It is most unusual for a 5th Fleet carrier not to be operating out of the Bahrien facility. Story here:

It apears thet the adminstration has opened the door for the Israelis to do their thing if no progress is made.

We will not be involved directly. Bush's term is winding down. He has done well with the two other axes of evil. He can't get Congressional approval under the War Powers Act to deal with Iran. It's too late on his watch for the US to get involved anyway.

BadTux said...

"Did he ever explain how he managed to recruit THOUSANDS of people who met all of the following criteria: they all had excellent technical and tactical skills, they were crazy enough to be willing to commit suicide, AND they were self-disciplined enough to commit suicide on someone else's timetable instead of their own?"

Excellent technical and tactical skills? Exactly what excellent technical and tactical skills are required to drive a speedboat at full speed at an aircraft carrier or its escorts and pull a cord that says "Blow up this boat"? Crap, I can show you ten thousand rednecks on Toledo Bend Lake on any weekend who have the skill to do that despite being drunker than a skunk. And the average Iraqi is better educated than that redneck. (And I can say that 'cause I is one, and know what passes for "education" in East Texas inside and out both as a former inmate in and former teacher in those schools).

As for recruiting thousands of people willing to commit suicide on someone else's timetable instead of their own, you apparently slept through the Iraq-Iran War. Despite the fact that they had disbanded most of their army in the aftermath of the Iranian Revolution at the time Iraq invaded, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards forced back the Iraqi invasion via mass suicide charges. Yes, TENS OF THOUSANDS OF HIGHLY DISCIPLINED PEOPLE COMMITTING SUICIDE ON ORDERS. Towards the end of the war they had put together a professional military from the fragments of the old military combined with the IRG, but the fact of the matter was that the Iranians never ran out people willing to commit suicide and disciplined enough to do so on order.

Indeed, that is the big difference between Iranian soldiers and Iraqi soldiers. Iranian soldiers fought to the death in the Iran-Iraq War. Iraqi soldiers, on the other hand, didn't throw down their weapons and run screaming like little girls for home only because the Iraqi police were behind their lines waiting to shoot them if they broke and ran. The dirty secret of the Iraqi Army even under Saddam is that they were only barely above the level of ARVN 1966 "want a rifle? It's a bargain, never fired and only dropped once!" fame.

The Iranian suicide charges during the Iran-Iraq War aren't any big secret. I lived through it. I watched it go down in the foreign press at the time, though in the U.S. apparently everybody slept through the Iraq-Iran War. The one thing that came through to me at the end was that the Iranian soldiers at the time were ill-equipped (Iraq was getting Soviet arms and U.S. technical equipment, Iran had *nothing*, nobody would sell Iran arms at the time other than Ronald Reagan in exchange for cash for the Contras but that wasn't a whole lot of arms), but those were some both brave and crazy mo-fo's who managed to hold off Iraq despite being outgunned in every way.

Underestimate Iranian's bravery and willingness to die for their country at your own peril. Saddam did. He figured that the Arabs in the west where he invaded would welcome the Iraqi invasion with flowers. Funny how it doesn't work like that in the Middle East, eh?

TinkersDam said...

"Gary Brecher" is a rather suspect source at best, and for every time he's been right he's made enough stupid statements to make me wonder whether he's meant to be taken seriously or is some sort of Onion-esque parody.

More to the point, PRAYING MANTIS is probably a better point of reference than tabletop exercises. That's not to disparage Van Riper's inventiveness, but I'm skeptical of Iran's ability to launch enough Silkworms to overwhelm the Aegis system.

Papa Ray said...

Ralph Peters tells us what 'bomb Iran' Really Takes.

It's one of the best write ups I have read on the subject.

All in all the devil is in the political will of the Israel government. Most of the blogs I have read in Israel say bomb them and then bomb them again when the fight back. They also think that America will come to their aid, after the fact.

I think we will also.

Papa Ray

BadTux said...

I think Peters is definitely the closest to realistic here as to what it takes. I agree with him. Those assets have to be taken out first thing if we bomb Iran or we face the Van Riper scenario. And they have to be taken out *first*, to eliminate any opportunity for Iranian retaliation, via a several weeks long air campaign before we even start talking about getting anywhere near the Iranian nuclear facilities.

The question is whether the U.S. will do this. Given recent history in the region, my answer is no. The U.S. has done everything half-a$$ in the region rather than doing what's necessary for victory. Iraq was done half-a$$, Afghanistan was done half-a$$, and I see no reason to think that Iran would be done right either. The U.S. leadership is afraid to ask the American people to pay the price needed to do it right, probably because then the American public starts asking "what do we get out of this?" and apparently our leadership is afraid that the American public won't like the answer to that question. So if the U.S. attacks, my fear is that it will also be half-a$$ and not sufficient to insure victory. As Iraq and Afghanistan have shown, the cost of doing it half-a$$ is a lot of avoidable death and destruction and no victory in sight... if we'd flooded Iraq with the 500,000 troops that the Army manuals call for, for example, do you seriously think there would be problems in Iraq today? When even the fairly modest "surge" was enough to reduce violence there, think what it'd be like if we'd really done it right instead of half-a$$!

As for Israeli delusions of U.S. military support if Israel attacks Iran, I do not know what to say. The 1973 war should have cured that delusion, the U.S. did not run a single bombing sortie on behalf of Israel despite Syrian troops making it to within a stone's throw of Tel Aviv before they finally outran their SAM cover and got slaughtered by the IAF. If the U.S. was willing to provide only logistical support in 1973 when the very existence of Israel was threatened, what sane person would expect the U.S. to provide more support now? Sadly, it seems a huge percentage of the sane Israelis are now my co-workers here in the United States...

Ken Prescott said...

Excellent technical and tactical skills? Exactly what excellent technical and tactical skills are required to drive a speedboat at full speed at an aircraft carrier or its escorts and pull a cord that says "Blow up this boat"?

They have to FIND the damn thing first, which is no small challenge, even in the Persian Gulf, and then navigate successfully toward it. (Believe it or not, people can't see over the horizon, and over-the-horizon navigation is well beyond most people's capability.) They also have to do so in a coordinated manner. The former is technical competence. The latter is tactical competence.

At least the other guy who was a Van Riper fan understood the difficulties inherent in the proposition. You're not even that bright.

As for recruiting thousands of people willing to commit suicide on someone else's timetable instead of their own, you apparently slept through the Iraq-Iran War. Despite the fact that they had disbanded most of their army in the aftermath of the Iranian Revolution at the time Iraq invaded, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards forced back the Iraqi invasion via mass suicide charges. Yes, TENS OF THOUSANDS OF HIGHLY DISCIPLINED PEOPLE COMMITTING SUICIDE ON ORDERS.

First, they did so in a manner that utterly highlighted their technical and tactical incompetence.

Second . . . well, those guys not around for a second set, are they? Nor are they around to mentor the next generation of do-or-die fanatics.

And that has some serious and long-lasting side effects.

The mullahs are too damn old for this stuff.

The revolutionary fanatics of 1978-1980 took a disproportionate share of the KIAs in the Iran-Iraq War, and they're out of the militarily productive age group anyway.

The younger generation generally despises their elders as the ones who destroyed Iran's culture, society, and economy. Yup, there's some nice, highly motivated suicide warriors for the greater glory of the Islamic Republic of Iran . . .

BadTux said...

Ken - you need to go research your Shiites and Sunni. We've been at war in this region for close to seven years now and it's embarrassing that you don't know the difference between Shiite and Sunni. Iran is a Shiite nation. Shia are not led by mullahs, they are led by ayatollahs. Unlike Sunni Islam where each mosque has its own mullah and each mosque is independent (i.e. there is no clerical hierarchy), Shia Islam has an actual hierarchy where ordinary clerics are on the bottom and the ayatollahs are on the top.

Regarding your other points, you are correct that a task force in the Arabian Sea is not going to be a target because of the difficulty of locating a carrier task force beyond the horizon. On the other hand, your notion that Iran lacks patriotism is ridiculous. Unlike Iraq, which was a pasted-together pastiche of three different ethnic groups crammed together by the British, Iran is an actual nation, one of the few in the region which was *not* put together by one of the colonial powers. There is no reason to believe that they would have any more shortage of volunteers than we would have here in the U.S. If there was a gigantic armada of Iranian ships approaching our coast launching air attacks against New York City and Boston and President Bush (who has a 27% popularity rating) called for volunteers to run a suicide attack against them with every small boat available in every harbor from Florida to Maine, the problem would be too MANY volunteers, not a shortage of volunteers -- no matter how unpopular President Bush is with the majority of Americans. When someone attacks your nation, you step up and do something about it, anything that your leaders ask you to do about it -- even if it's suicidal.

But then, given your confusion between Shia and Sunni, I suppose I should not be surprised about your lack of knowledge about Iran. Just out of curiousity, have you ever been to Iran? Or ever talked to anybody who has been to Iran? I am a member of a motorcycle adventure group (we ride around the world on motorcycles) and have talked to a number of people who've been through Iran (though only one American, as far as I know, has managed to get a visa to do this -- the others I know are Europeans). For example, I can show you photos of their main nuclear installation. It's not a secret. It's a tourist attraction. Yes, you actually sign up at the tourist bureau for the tour, a bus takes you there with lots of Iranians, and a tour guide takes you around the place! Iranian families actually make a day trip of it and take their children and picnic lunches and such! I know a guy from the Netherlands who took that tour and took photos that he has posted on the Internet. (You can go to The Hubb , motorcycle adventure central, and look them up if you wish). The photos from Iran are fascinating. They show a swiftly modernizing place that is nowhere near as technically backward and uneducated as you apparently think. And according to these people who've actually been to Iran, at least the highly-educated English-speaking Iranians express disgust with their government and with the religious police, but if you start talking about the American or Israeli threat to bomb their pride and joy, the nuclear facilities that *they get taken on guided tours of!*, they react in much the same way that the average American reacted on December 7, 1941 when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor -- with a furious indignation and a desire to do anything to get back at the nation that bombed their country.

Somehow I doubt you have this much knowledge of Iran, given that you don't even know the difference between Shia and Sunni apparently. So it goes. The Internets are full, full I say, of folks blovinating about things they are ignorant of, and it's unclear that this will ever change, because the ignorant rarely even know they are ignorant, they just are.

Ken Prescott said...

On the other hand, your notion that Iran lacks patriotism is ridiculous.

badtux, please don't reply to me until you learn how to read.



BadTux said...

Personal insults do not make up for a lack of knowledge :P.

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