One disappointing facet of American education these days, is the lack of respect for History. As a result, people grow up to believe all manner of foolish things, like thinking not supporting their party will do anything but help the opposing party, like thinking that when two people disagree, the truth must lie somewhere in between them, or that you can trust a single group of media elites to give you an objective presentation of the facts. But it also means people miss the opportunity to learn lessons from the past, some of which could help to avoid costly repetition of History. And one of those lessons comes to us from the Honorable Sir Francis Drake.
Even as we speak, the insane asylum which passes for the Majlis of Iran is supporting the Jihadist policies of Mahmoud “Me for Mahdi” Ahmadinejad, which include a determined effort to ramp up uranium enrichment in what appears to professional eyes to be a clear weaponization campaign. That is, Mad Mad Mahmoud wants Iran to have a nuclear weapons stockpile. Needless to say, such a development would be bad enough when a government is known to be hostile to several of its geographic neighbors, but when that government has a significant history of supporting and even sponsoring terrorist groups and operations, the danger passes all limits of acceptable threat. A response is demanded, one which will fully counteract the steps taken by Iran towards a nuclear conflagration.
This is, of course, where matters get tricky. Iran has not, despite its apparent rush, just sat down and thrown its program together, but instead has developed a program which protects its material and secrets, both physically and in operational terms. The nuclear laboratories and development sites are in eight or nine locations, most of them underground and hardened against expected modes of attack. In addition, Iran’s nuclear sites are known to practice good discipline with regard to operational security, especially signals emissions and communication over clear airwaves. This makes any mission to wipe out the program in one blow difficult, even for the kind of weapons possessed by the United States. Also, given the recent actions taken by the U.N., the media, and some of our supposed “allies”, it could be very difficult to launch an attack on the sites before Iran found out about it and moved its critical components.
This is where Sir Francis comes in. Most people don’t have a lot of knowledge about the 16th Century, or interest in it for that matter, but the world was a busy place then, just as now. The world’s closest thing to a superpower in that day was England, which was hated by a lot of nations on the European mainland. Indeed, looking at how Queen Elizabeth I was regarded by most of the European leaders, one can see the seeds of common sentiment between England and America, even so long before the birth of our nation. And like the braver leaders of our day, Elizabeth often found it difficult to address serious threats to her realm, even where she explicitly held the power to act. Circumstance was not often a friend, and so ingenuity must be called to service.
This was especially the case with Spain. Spain was into Catholicism in a very political way, especially with regard to the British. In 1569, the Pope in Rome declared Queen Elizabeth a heretic, and this spurred Philip II of Spain to apply religious overtones to his continuing feuds with England. Two notable developments pressed events to a crisis. First, Francis Drake, a noted pirate nicknamed “El Draque” for his daring, showed a clear preference for Spanish vessels as his targets, leading Philip II and many other Spanish nobles to blame Elizabeth for an alleged sponsorship of the man. Also, not unlike the Jihadists of today, the Spanish crown sponsored acts of violence against Protestants in the Netherlands, with Philip II himself promising a bounty for the murder of William of Orange. When William was murdered in 1584, England answered calls from Dutch rebels to send the Earl of Leicester in as Governor-General, which in no way pleased the Spanish. Accordingly, it became the policy of the court of King Philip II to invade England and overthrow both the court of Elizabeth and the new Anglican Church. To that end a huge fleet of warships was built, called the “Grande y Felicisima Armada” or Armada.
Whether or not Elizabeth had sponsored Drake before, she saw the need now for his service, and Drake also saw the need for such an alliance. Drake quietly began to cultivate contacts with the Basques, a minority in Spain who had been seeking rights and a homeland without success. Somehow, Drake convinced the Basques to help work on the ships of the Armada, but with special attention to certain details, like the masts and rigging. No one knows precisely how many ships were so targeted, but this all took place while the ships were in construction in 1586-7. The Spanish planned to test their new fleet to make sure they were sea-worthy, so to prevent this Drake raided the Port of Cadiz, leaving England on April 12, 1587, and arriving at Cadiz on April 29th late in the afternoon. Over the next day and a half, Drake destroyed every ship in port, some thirty-seven warships and merchant vessels, taking little damage himself. After this, Drake made as if he was headed to the West Indies, where in 1585-6 he had raised havoc before. This essentially forced the Spanish to do two things. First, they negotiated with the same Basques Drake had recruited to replace the destroyed supplies, and second, they decided to make the fleet ready for invasion; it was deemed too risky to let the ships sit at port, even for testing of their condition. So Philip ordered the fleet to make ready for the invasion of England, some hundred-thirty warships. These finally made sail in mid-April 1588, complete with Basque-supplied food (which included such delicacies as rotted fruit and rat bodies) and Basque-conditioned masts and sails.
The fleet ran into a storm shortly after leaving Lisbon, where the Basque’s handiwork showed its results. No ships were destroyed then at the storms, but the entire fleet had to return to port for repairs. Unfortunately for the Spanish, the damage done to the sails and rigging did not suggest to them the need to inspect their keels and hulls. The patched-up fleet set out again in May and held close to the northern coast of Europe as it approached England. A raid through the English Channel emboldened the Spanish, as Drake was not in position to fire effectively at the Armada, but the Spanish were not able to land troops at that time, for a variety of reasons. So the Spanish retreated to Calais and waited for the troops they were to ferry across to England, some 30,000 men headed by General Parma. This delay provided an opportunity for the English.
Admiral Howard sent a number of “fireships” into the Spanish fleet. Old worn-out ships loaded up with wood, tar, loaded guns and various explosives, these ships were released upwind of the Armada and allowed to make mischief as the wind permitted. More than a few ships of the Armada panicked when they recognized the fireships, so much so that some cut their anchor lines in order to get away from them. Those ships which cut their anchor lines lost significant ability to remain in position with a standing fleet, thus weakening the formation. The next day the English fleet attacked in earnest, and while the battle was technically indecisive, the smaller but mush more maneuverable English fleet suffered far fewer losses than the Spanish, and more to the point, both sides understood that the Armada was far from invincible. After losing dozens of ships, the remaining Armada of more than a hundred ships fled into the North Atlantic, and the threat of invasion from Spain was over.
Sailing around to the east coast of England, the Armada then discovered the cost of using the Basques. Strong gales met the fleet and many weakened hulls, whether from battle or the mischief from the Basque dockworkers, gave way. Most of the remaining Armada sank in the storms. This battle sent a clear message to France and other rivals of England; the Lion could be thwarted in its ambitions, but invading the island was far more difficult than it appeared, and could undo the invader through the attempt.
The lesson from Sir Francis is deep in layers. You use what weapons are made available to you, whether the ordinary or the unconventional. You make use of your enemy’s rivals and other foes to achieve common advantage. You do the unexpected. And you use every weapon at hand. The United States, in the matter of Iran, has every right to destroy the regime of Ahmadinejad, has every right to seek and destroy the key elements of the nuclear enrichment campaign, and has the right to act unilaterally or in cooperation with allies, as it sees fit.
If I were put in charge of a program to deal with Iran, I see three projects which deserve my support. First, I would set up special units tasked to attack and destroy critical elements of Iran’s nuclear development team; a nuke is a complex device and the loss of certain material or components can devalue the threat. Along those lines, I would suggest finding means to contaminate the fissile material, as well as deny or sabotage trigger mechanisms. Bearing in mind the likelihood that Iran’s principal use of a nuclear device would be as a terrorist weapon, the targeting of guidance or delivery platforms would be a lesser priority, although still worthwhile. The elimination of selected military and imamate leaders would also be a logical priority, although such actions would require NCA approval and must be held in strictest secrecy. I would not, for reasons of visibility and likely public outcry, target Ahmadinejad himself or high-profile Majlis leadership, but would instead sponsor, although indirectly, more secular political alternatives, which do in fact exist in Iran and whose public support is far greater than the media reports.
As to immediate actions, I would strongly support planning for air raid on any military assets which could be expected to be used in any kind of offensive action, especially staging bases for armor, submarine docks, and silos within 100 km of the borders to Iraq, Pakistan, or Afghanistan. I would ask Congress to immediately double the effective military commitment to Qatar, the U.A.E., and Bahrain. I would make clear to anyone asking on the issue, that I considered Iran a clear threat to the United States and its interests, and that preparations for an appropriate response to any Iranian action must be undertaken now.
If Iran was ever directly connected to any insurgent actions inside Iraq, I would authorize reprisal raids within Iran, so far as Zanjan, Arak, or Ahvaz. I would make clear that any action by Iran risked decisive response, to be decided and measured solely by the United States.
I would also work from within, however. Iran has been seeking support from the Palestinian Authority who, once you get past their fecal leadership, can sometimes be surprisingly useful as an ally. The PA, apparently unknown to the Iranians, have been making some overtures to the West, as many members are less than pleased with the results of their last elections. Carefully managed, then, the PA may in some cases serve American interests if specific members can be recruited. The reason they would want to do this, is the common-sense desire to be on the winning side for once, knowing that their only serious chance at a permanent homeland is with U.S. support, which would have to be earned. Also, the League of Arab States is more than a little below the radar – this group of 21 nations is not unlike NATO in some respects, and while technically non-affiliated with the United States, has cooperated with the U.S. in some past times, and certainly leans more towards America than towards Iran, which (pointedly) is not a member of the League.
My point is that we don’t have to have big explosions in major towns in order to have significant results – indeed, such operations as will serve us best may well be underway already. Just something to think about when the MSM goes off pretending to know what it’s talking about.