Friday, November 24, 2006
The War to Defend the Free World
A few notes, responses and paragraphs from an article in Commentary Magazine online-
First Mr. Herman list the arguments of the quitters and Cassandra's, (my comments drop by parenthetically):
"As the impasse over Iran’s nuclear-weapons program grows inexorably into a crisis, a kind of consensus has taken root in the minds of America’s foreign-policy elite. This is that military action against Iran is a sure formula for disaster. The essence of the position was expressed in a cover story in Time magazine this past September. Entitled “What War with Iran Would Look Like (And How to Avoid It),” the essay focused on what the editors saw as the certain consequences of armed American intervention in that country: wildly spiking oil prices, increased terrorist attacks, economic panic around the world, and the end to any dream of pro-American democratic governments emerging in the Middle East. And that would be in the case of successful action. In fact, Time predicted, given our overstretched resources and an indubitably fierce Iranian resistance, we would almost certainly lose. (Smoothingplane: Did Time Magazine slink back to 1936 and solicit Charles Lindburgh's opinion about the Mullahs?) Thus, in the eyes of Time’s experts as of many other observers, military action against Iran is “unthinkable.” What then can be done in the face of the mullahs’ implacable drive to acquire nuclear weapons? Here a variety of responses can be discerned. At one end are those who assure us, in the soothing title of a New York Times op-ed by Barry Posen of MIT, that “We Can Live with a Nuclear Iran.” (Newsweek’s Fareed Zakaria is similarly sanguine.) Others, like Senator Joseph Biden, insist that we have at least ten years before we have to worry about Iran’s getting a working bomb. ( Smoothingplane: Senator Biden is deaf to what all others hear- one minute of speaking is as one hour of listening.) According to Ashton Carter, who served as an assistant secretary of defense in the Clinton administration, (Smoothingplane: That's feint praise,) we at least have enough time to explore every possible diplomatic avenue before contemplating any direct military response.
( Smoothingplane: When anomolies begin to tip at accepted scientific theorems, hypothoses to explain them are finite. The ridiculous and preposterous don't enter the lists. Diplomatic avenues are infinite, explorations eternal; that is the point. Tortoises and no contemplation, all the way down.)
The gist of Mr. Herman's argument:
"To put it briefly, the Islamic Republic has its hand on the throttle of the world’s economic engine: the stretch of ocean at the mouth of the Persian Gulf known as the Straits of Hormuz, which are only 21 miles wide at their narrowest point. Through this waterway, every day, pass roughly 40 percent of the world’s crude oil, including two-thirds of the oil from Saudi Arabia. By 2025, according to Energy Department estimates, fully 60 percent of the world’s oil exports will be moved through this vital chokepoint.
The Straits border on Iran and Oman, with the two lanes of traffic that are used specifically by oil tankers being theoretically protected by international agreement. Since 9/11, a multinational force comprising ships from the U.S., Japan, six European countries, and Pakistan have patrolled outside the Straits, in Omani waters, to make sure they stay open. But this is largely a token force. Meanwhile, the world’s access to Saudi, Qatari, Kuwaiti, and Iraqi oil and gas, as well as other petroleum products from the United Arab Emirates, depends on free passage through the Hormuz Straits.
The Tehran regime has made no secret of its desire to gain control of the Straits as part of its larger strategy of turning the Gulf into an Iranian lake. Indeed, in a preemptive move, it has begun to threaten a cut-off of tanker traffic if the UN should be foolish enough to impose sanctions in connection with the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program. “We have the power to halt oil supply,” a senior Iranian official warned the European Union last January, “down to the last drop.”
In April of this year, as if to drive the point home, Iranian armed forces staged elaborate war games in the Gulf, test-firing a series of new anti-ship missiles capable of devastating any tanker or unwary warship. In the boast of one Iranian admiral, April’s “Holy Prophet war games” showed what could be expected by anyone daring to violate Iran’s interests in the Gulf. (snip)
Mr. Herman next talks about some Iranian contingency plans, and says:
"...military contingency plans are just that—contingency plans; the file cabinets of defense ministries around the world are full of them. Nor do all analysts agree that the Straits of Hormuz can be effectively mined in the first place. Nevertheless, even the threat of mines or suicide boats would likely be enough to induce Lloyds of London to suspend insurance of ships passing through the Straits, causing tanker traffic to cease, oil markets to rise precipitously, and Asian and European economies to reel.
Something like this very nearly happened in 1987 during the Iran-Iraq war, when only direct U.S. intervention kept the Straits open and the world’s oil flowing. For the United States is hardly the only country with a stake in keeping the Gulf and Straits free of Iranian control. Every country in Western Europe and Asia, (Smoothingplane-and every 'War for oil' fool) including those that complain most bitterly about American policy in the Middle East, depends on the steady maintenance of the global economic order that runs on Middle Eastern oil.
But—and herein lies a fruitful irony—so does Iran itself. Almost 90 percent of the mullahs’ oil assets are located either in or near the Gulf. So is the nuclear reactor that Russia is building for Iran at Bushehr. Virtually every Iranian well or production platform depends on access to the Gulf if Iran’s oil is to reach buyers. Hence, the same Straits by means of which Iran intends to lever itself into a position of global power present the West with its own point of leverage to reduce Iran’s power—and to keep it reduced for at least as long as the country’s political institutions remain unprepared to enter the modern world.
Which brings us back to the military option. That there is plentiful warrant for the exercise of this option—in Iran’s serial defiance of UN resolutions, in its declared genocidal intentions toward Israel, another member of the United Nations, and in the fact of its harboring, supporting, and training of international terrorists—could not be clearer. Unfortunately, though, current debate has become stuck on the issue of possible air strikes against Iran’s nuclear program, and whether such strikes can or cannot halt that program’s further development. Optimists argue they can; pessimists, including those highlighted in Time’s cover story, throw up a myriad of objections.
"The most common such objection is that the ayatollahs, having learned the lesson of 25 years ago when Israel took out Saddam Hussein’s nuclear reactor at Osirak, have dispersed the most vital elements of their uranium-enrichment project among perhaps 30 hardened and well-protected sites. According to Time’s military sources, air sorties would thus have to reach roughly 1,500 “aim points,” contending with sophisticated air-defense systems along the way. As against this, others, including the strategic analyst Edward Luttwak in Commentary (“Three Reasons Not to Bomb Iran—Yet,” May 2006), argue convincingly that it is hardly necessary to hit all or even the majority of Iran’s sites in order to set back its nuclear program by several years.
But, as I have tried to show, the most immediate menace Iran poses is not nuclear but conventional in nature. How might it be dealt with militarily, and is it conceivable that both perils could be dealt with at once? What follows is one possible scenario for military action.
The first step would be to make it clear that the United States will tolerate no action by any state that endangers the international flow of commerce in the Straits of Hormuz. (snip)
Our next step would be to declare a halt to all shipments of Iranian oil while guaranteeing the safety of tankers carrying non-Iranian oil and the platforms of other Gulf states. We would then guarantee this guarantee by launching a comprehensive air campaign aimed at destroying Iran’s air-defense system, its air-force bases and communications systems, and finally its missile sites along the Gulf coast. At that point the attack could move to include Iran’s nuclear facilities—not only the “hard” sites but also infrastructure like bridges and tunnels in order to prevent the shifting of critical materials from one to site to another.
Above all, the air attack would concentrate on Iran’s gasoline refineries. It is still insufficiently appreciated that Iran, a huge oil exporter, imports nearly 40 percent of its gasoline from foreign sources, including the Gulf states. With its refineries gone and its storage facilities destroyed, Iran’s cars, trucks, buses, planes, tanks, and other military hardware would run dry in a matter of weeks or even days. (snip)
The scenario would not end here. With the systematic reduction of Iran’s capacity to respond, an amphibious force of Marines and special-operations forces could seize key Iranian oil assets in the Gulf, the most important of which is a series of 100 offshore wells and platforms built on Iran’s continental shelf. North and South Pars offshore fields, which represent the future of Iran’s oil and natural-gas industry, could also be seized, while Kargh Island at the far western edge of the Persian Gulf, whose terminus pumps the oil from Iran’s most mature and copiously producing fields (Ahwaz, Marun, and Gachsaran, among others), could be rendered virtually useless. By the time the campaign was over, the United States military would be in a position to control the flow of Iranian oil at the flick of a switch. (Smoothingplane: I'm feeling sanguine again.) (snip)
"Obviously, no plan is foolproof. The tactical risks associated with a comprehensive war strategy of this sort are numerous. But they are outweighed by its key advantages.
First, it would accomplish much more than air strikes alone on Iran’s elusive nuclear sites. (snip)
This would be a naval and air war, not a land campaign. (Smoothingplane-see pictures below at 'Posturing-Heh') (snip)
In fact, there is little Iran could do in the face of relentless military pressure at its most vulnerable point. (snip) Pumping crude oil is its only industry, making up 85 percent of its exports and providing 65 percent of the state budget. (Smoothingplane-exporting terrorism is a loss leader.) With its wells held hostage, the country’s economy could enter free fall.
To be sure, none of these considerations is likely to impress those who object in principle to any decisive action against Iran’s mullahs. To some, the scenario I have proposed will seem just another instance of rampant American imperialism or “gunboat diplomacy.”(Smoothingplane- These people of course prefer rampant Iranian nuclear gunboat diplomacy, Hezbollah rocket diplomacy and "please don't hurt me, it's not nice, let's talk about our feelings" diplomacy.) To others, a war of this kind will surely appear calculated further to inflame anti-Americanism in the Middle East, arousing the fury of the dreaded “Arab street.” (Smoothingplane-If the Arab street is pissed at the flaming wreckage of Iranian ambition, let them go piss into the flames.) Still others will point with alarm to the predictably angry reaction of Iran’s two great patrons, Russia and China. (Smoothingplane-And our angry reaction to China and Russia, and their commerce for terror deals with Iran? We're supposed to just eat that?) And many will worry that decisive U.S. action will boomerang politically, by alienating Iran’s democrats and dissidents and thus jeopardizing the hoped-for eventuality of a pro-Western government emerging in Tehran. (Smoothingplane-These "many" would argue against bombing Nazi death camps, "But the prisoners will be angry we've killed so many of them to stop the murder of the few of them who would have been left if we didn't bomb them." As clear as the sun. )That "... U.S. action (would) permanently traumatize Iranian national pride and alienate its democrats for generations to come..." is nonsense. I think the Iranian people are saying, right now, "How long oh Lord?")
Mr. Herman says: "Let me address these concerns in turn."
Go read what he says. Link again. And last paragraph of the article-
"In 1936, the French army could have halted Hitler’s reoccupation of the Rhineland with a single division of troops, but chose to do nothing. In 1938, Britain and France could have joined forces with the well-armed and highly motivated Czech army to administer a crushing defeat to the German Wehrmacht and probably topple Hitler in the bargain. Instead they handed him the Sudetenland, setting in motion the process that in 1939 led to the most destructive war in world history. Do we intend to dither until suicide bombers blow up a supertanker off the Omani coast, or a mushroom cloud appears over Tel Aviv, before we decide it is finally time to get serious about Iran?
Posted by Kerry at 7:26 AM