Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Why Bush Can/Will Attack Iran--Part III

(I meant to finish and post this yesterday, but got distracted by breaking my toe--which I hope isn't some kind of "sign" of anything. Anyway, this is the final part. And thanks for the comments thus far, sorry this took so long and was so long. I'm done now!)

Steve Clemons, director of the American Strategy Program at New America Foundation wrote an article for Salon.com titled “Why Bush Won’t Attack Iran

Clemons is sure that Bush “Won’t Attack Iran”, and anyone who thinks otherwise is just being mean! Bush has learned from his “mistakes”. There are too many “costs” involved in starting another war. The neo-cons power is waning. Of course some skirmish or misunderstanding ( quite possibly specially contrived) in the region might give Cheney an excuse to pressure Bush into a “retaliatory” attack but Clemons is pretty sure cooler heads will prevail.

Well here we are a bit over a week later and Seymour Hersh reports:

During a secure videoconference that took place early this summer, the President told Ryan Crocker, the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, that he was thinking of hitting Iranian targets across the border and that the British “were on board.” At that point, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice interjected that there was a need to proceed carefully, because of the ongoing diplomatic track. Bush ended by instructing Crocker to tell Iran to stop interfering in Iraq or it would face American retribution."

If true it doesn’t fit Clemons’ assessments very well. State is saying “ooh, be careful” whilst Bush is issuing threats. Cheney and the other hawks are meanwhile still working on an attack plan and how to justify it. "Cheney’s option is now for a fast in and out—for surgical strikes,” the former senior American intelligence official told me" (Hersh)

It's Not A War Unless I Say It's a War
Once again the neo-cons are proposing an ‘act of war’, not an 'actual' War—but a war is likely to result and it will be an asymmetric war, exactly the kind of war the US is institutionally ill-equipped to fight.

How many strikes is the big question, and on what?
If it’s going to be the nuclear plants you need big bombs and quite a few of them. You’ll need to take out SAM defenses too. You’ll have to take out air bases to prevent interceptions or counter-attacks. You’ll have to take out command and control centers—where are they exactly? And if there’s any uncertainty over whether something is a military target or not, you’re going to err on the side destruction.
The Revolutionary Guard is apparently a target. Are they in one spot or are they spread around, perhaps located amidst ordinary neighborhoods?

Death by Surgery
The problem of “surgical strikes” and the accuracy of GPS-guided munitions is that they are usually employed in built-up areas and although they are “delivered” discretely, their effect is often quite indiscreet. A 4000lb warhead (such as the AGM-86 ALCM uses) can turn a target into rubble, but it also blasts debris in every direction for hundreds of yards—that’s what bombs do. You don’t need to be hit directly to be killed or severely injured. “Surgical strikes” result in a lot of surgery when the “battlefield” is an urban nation and the concept of a military target includes bus depots and milk factories (as was the case in Lebanon last summer). Even if "collateral damage" is kept to a minimum, it hardly matters--the Iranians aren't going to say "hey thanks for only killing two-hundred civilians, we really appreciate your humanitarian concern".

If the Iranians Fight, They Will Lose
The Iranian military as a whole is no match for the two US navy Carrier Groups currently in position.
Of Iran's approximately 215 fighters around 50% are unserviceable and obsolete, 30 % are outclassed and their twenty-five most modern planes, the MIG-29, suffers from limited range and “discount” radar/electronics. Their approximately 70 attack aircraft are capable machines, but only if they can get them into the air before their runways are destroyed, or else they will have operate from more distant bases, limiting their effectiveness. Their longest range fighter is the Mig-23, but they have only 15 of those and no long-range bombers. They have one “AWACS”.

The US carriers each have a complement of around 80 aircraft. The two combined should be able to deploy 24 F-18E Super Hornets in conjunction with 8 E-26 Hawkeye “AWACS” to handle the threat posed by the Iranian MIG 29s, MIG 23’s and Mirage F-1’s. 72 F/A-18C Hornets accompanied by 8 EA6B Prowler ECM aircraft should be able to handle bombing sorties. The Iranian submarine threat (three rather dodgy Kilo-class subs) can be handled by the ASW choppers and the carriers ship and submarine escorts. Initial anti area-defense and anti radar missions could be carried out by USAF F-117 NightHawks operating out of Kuwait and air-base bombardment could be handled by USAF B-2 Spirits, even though they might have to fly from Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.

The one weapon that the Iranians have that is thought by many to be a major threat to the carriers is the Russian-made SS-N-22 “Moskit” or “Sunburn” anti-ship missile, which with it’s amazing Mach 2 speed at wave-top height (as low as 9 feet) makes it incredibly difficult to identify and track, let-alone shoot down and for which the US has no defense weapons system with which to directly counter it. But then , it doesn’t need to. The Iranians only have a handful that can only be launched from land as its range is therefore only 50 miles, the US Navy need only stay out of range.
(Hersh)--“The Joint Chiefs have turned to the Navy, he said, which had been chafing over its role in the Air Force-dominated air war in Iraq. “The Navy’s planes, ships, and cruise missiles are in place in the Gulf and operating daily. They’ve got everything they need—even AWACS are in place and the targets in Iran have been programmed. The Navy is flying FA-18 missions every day in the Gulf.” There are also plans to hit Iran’s anti-aircraft surface-to-air missile sites. “We’ve got to get a path in and a path out,” the former official said
All of this makes an air strike or series of air-strikes very “do-able” providing a highly tempting prospect to the hawks and no technical issues for the Navy commanders to reject the plan.

Of course there are still the Iranian ballistic missiles and the Army to consider. The Iranians have perhaps 200 SCUDS or “Shahab-2”, famous for being crappy, and perhaps 150 Shahab-3 (purchased/built from N. Korea) with 360- and 800-mile ranges respectively not enough to Israel but enough to reach into Iraq so those would probably have to be dealt with to protect the US troops there from retribution. (Iran’s dozen Russian made 1860-mile range cruise missiles which may never have worked anyway are now a few years past their shelf-life.)

Minor Threat To US Troops In Iraq
The Iranian army supposedly number 350,000. Of these 200,000 are apparently conscripts. I have no idea whether they might fade-away as the Iraqis did or commit themselves to fighting out of outrage and honor. Whichever, just in numbers the Iranians surely match the US in Iraq who would be the only US force they could touch.

I can’t imagine them all charging off to meet the US in direct head-to-head battle though—despite the relative weak position of the US being confined to camps, restricted in movement and essentially in enemy territory. Instead they might conduct a few specific raids but their best bet would be to work hand-in-hand with the Iraqi Shia to scale up the attrition of US forces.
Of course the Sunni might have a major problem with that and the Iranians might end up finding themselves deeply involved in Iraq rather then influencing Iraq which would be very messy indeed. Ultimately then the Iranians may not retaliate to the US in any significant traditional way at all.

There Always Be an Israel
The Iranians other outlet for retribution would be Israel, the US proxy in the region. If they increase weapons supplies to Hezbollah, Israel will of course strike back hard, with US backing of course, and so the familiar cycle will continue (on a bigger scale).

So with the attack on Iran guaranteed to succeed in terms of blowing things up there’s really no reason for the neocons not to proceed—and there’s no doubt they are keen to go ahead.

On Following Orders
Still, the military itself has to be willing to execute the orders. That they’ve been working on the plans for a while doesn’t mean they all agree with the proposal—planning for such things is a routine part of the job. But we’ve seen how quickly cautious or non-compliant senior commanders get booted and replaced and how malleable the relations between the JCS, the Pentagon, the DoD and the Executive are. Admiral Fallon is not happy with the Iraq situation and may not be happy with the Iran idea which would use “his” Navy to be accomplished. Fallon can be replaced. I don’t suppose Bush has yet run out of generals and admirals willing to follow his orders no matter how unwise they might be.

The Arguments to Attack Have Already Been Made
If Bush and Cheney think they can strike Iran effectively—and they obviously can, then why on earth shouldn’t he issue the order? Once the plan is settled it wouldn’t take long for final preparations to be made and then its “go–time”.

The “why’s” have been established. It may be that a triggering “incident” is being sought to help with the justification but what form that might take I can’t imagine, in that for instance the killing of some US personnel to be blamed on the Iranians would really be just another day in Iraq.

It's Just a Matter of When
French Prime Minister Sarkozy claims the Iranians will have a nuclear weapon in two years. By that reckoning there’s no time to lose.
But if Iran really is working on developing a nuclear weapon, the IAEA estimates them to be at least 10 years away (if one looks at the Pakistani and Indian programs, it took them thirty years each from the time they acquired their first nuclear reactors, to having nuclear missiles). Though the neocons might really believe the threat is imminent, they have to recognize that they don’t have to act immediately, but it would seem they have to act within the remainder of Bush’s reign (about 13 months left).

At this point I wouldn’t want to conjecture on the timing. I don’t know if they need an “incident” or not. Perhaps some unforeseen domestic political situation would force their hand. Maybe they’ll wait until just before the elections in the hopes of influencing them—or indeed then declare a state of emergency and delay or cancel them entirely. Or maybe after the elections, once they see which way the wind has blown (the conservatives are a weirdly optimistic bunch when it comes to their own futures), giving them enough time to execute the attacks but leaving no time left for them or Bush to have to deal with the consequences.

However it is played-out, Bush and the neocons have nothing to lose. They’ve never been interested in genuine public popularity so their poll numbers are of no concern. The exploitation of 9-11 and the consequent Iraq war has given them tremendous power over the machinery of government and plenty of profits. Why would they not want to continue on in the same way?
The only way an attack on Iran won’t happen won’t be because Bush or his advisers weigh all the “costs” and after deep thought decide against it—there are no real costs for them. I think the only thing that will stop them is if someone with authority vital to the plan’s execution just says “no!”

That’s it (and quite enough too!).

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