Thursday, April 20, 2006

A House of Sharp-Edged Cards


It’s been a rough week. I would sure like to go sooth my nerves by borrowing my buddy’s 70-cal and waste a few tree stumps. Come to that, I wouldn’t mind seeing the USAF demonstrate a little shock & awe on Stupidistan, specifically the parts of Iran being used to prepare nuclear weapons. A midair interception of Mr. “I wanna be the Mahdi” with a Phoenix or a nice simple AMRAAM the next time he takes a flight somewhere would be nice too, give him that green glow he’s talked about in his fantasies. Of course, a lot of people have that same desire, and as always happens these days, the United States Elected Leader Envy and Slander Society starts blaming the President for not turning Iran into a glass lake already. As nice as fantasies can be, the President (as usual) has more on the ball and is moving with better diligence and foresight. This is because President Bush has paid attention to the military leaders and regional experts, and understands the weight and consequence of possible actions far better than most people comprehend.

To start, we need to understand that Iran both is and is not like Iraq, and our actions must acknowledge the condition. Like Iraq, sanctions against Iran are not reasonable; ruthless militants are not swayed by economic arguments. As with Saddam Hussein, assassination of Ahmadinejad is not a viable option – the regime would simply install someone else they could control, equally ruthless. As with Iraq, the United States cannot expect the United Nations to take decisive action in the matter of Iran. But there are also important differences between the two cases. Iran has had more than a decade to build up its military, where Iraq lost the best of its armor and aircraft in the first Gulf War. The United States government had already made Regime Change in Iraq the official policy of the government when Bush took office, whereas today it would be difficult to get the House and Senate to agree to make it official policy to change the regime in Iran. The consensus of the Intelligence Community was that Saddam Hussein had a stockpile of WMD, just as that same community now is sure that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons, but this time the Intelligence agencies are not willing to stand behind their own professional assessments. And where the invasion of Iraq in 2003 was based on clear violations of the cease-fire agreement, and the United States held a UN Security Council resolution amounting to an ultimatum to Saddam, and the actual invasion was performed by a coalition of dozens of countries providing material, political, or financial support. In the case of Iran, no such Coalition should be anticipated. The United States would have supporters, to be sure, but this time the support would be covert and unofficial, and largely from nations with direct concerns about Iran’s aggressive intentions, as well as nations which see an opportunity to curry favor with the dominant world empire, as the United States is increasingly seen, for purposes of rebuke but also admiration and alliance. Also, it has become obvious that the Democrats, unable to oppose the Iraq War through any honest policy disagreement, have instead salted the ground to prevent public support for the war by lying about the results of the fight, the context of our actions, and the morale of our troops. One could hardly expect the Democrats to rediscover Patriotism if we target the evil of militant Islam. Rather, one should expect the lie of ‘War for Oil’ to become all the more shrill.

A look at the likely Orders of Battle leaves no question that the United States has many options at hand. Most of those options would eliminate Iran’s Air Force and Navy in less than an hour, and would make Command & Control (to say nothing of Communications) a fiction in the same span. But those options are compromised by the strategic goals pursued. Air strikes are an obvious choice, but Satellite imagery cannot tell us where the underground facilities are located, or how they are protected. Further, damage assessment can be impossible when we need to know whether specific targets were destroyed or not. In addition, the development of technological components is only one part of the program, and hardly the most crucial. So long as Iran has the will to pursue development of nuclear weapons, they remain a threat to succeed, especially given the educational level of the country and the carefully-built agreements Iran has made with nations which can supply material or technology. As a result, there must be regime change, to install a government which does not want nukes.

Also, a look at a map shows where some potential post-attack threats exist. Invading Iraq was feasible, because the United States saw that direct opposition by other countries was not possible. In the case of Iran, a tactical situation exists which is again both similar to and different from the condition of Iraq. Just as Iran and Syria were able to send terrorists across the border into Iraq to harass Coalition forces, Syria and Saudi Arabia are in position to do the same if the United States invades Iran. Further, Iran has long been a plum in sight of Russia, but the Russians have long understood that the United States would not permit Iran to be seized. If, however, the United States were to invade Iran, it would become very likely that the Russians would become suppliers and allies, however unofficial, to the Iranian defenders and insurgents, in hopes of driving out the United States from Iran and so becoming the chief trade partner of Iran. This scenario is heightened in likelihood by the fact that China would like to play that same role. At present, Iran is courting attention from both Moscow and Beijing, in a very like ambition. Therefore, an American attack on Iran raises the risk of indirect retaliation from Russia, China, or both.

Now, let’s stop here and go back to the hand we have been dealt. A lot of people tend to look only at the threats and miss the opportunities. Going back to that map, the United States has forces in place in Iraq and Afghanistan, service and supply locations in the U.A.E. and a number of coastal locations, especially Oman. The United States also has a reliable ally in Israel, and good relations with the governments of Jordan, Kuwait, Pakistan, and to a lesser degree Egypt. Color these in favorable tinctures, and Iran starts to sweat about its strategic position. Add to that the unpublicized-but-very-real private discussions between the Bush Administration and the Putin and Hu Jintao, and you begin to sense that for all the bravado, it is Iran and not the United States which is feeling encircled and defensive. And then there is the little matter of demographics. Every so often word gets out to the West about protests by Iranian students, usually demanding reform and secular freedoms. That gets less attention than it should, because Iran has been doing everything it can to shut down stations like NITV (shoot – Iran thinks Al-Jazeera is too pro-Western!), and has theoretically outlawed satellite dishes and ISPs, yet companies like IRANET offer connection speeds and wireless technology faster than what is commonly available in Europe, and they advertise publicly! That right there demonstrates that the government of Iran is in far less control of the public and the culture than it pretends, and the people of Iran have opinions which do not support the government actions very much. Remember Shirin Ebadi? She won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003, and is a loud, female, Muslim voice demanding human rights reform in Iran. And she represents not only a lot of Iranian women, but more than a few Iranian men.

It’s not to say that Iranians would be delighted to see their country invaded by the United States, yet there is even surprising support shown for such a notion. It is, rather, the confidence that if only a representative government can be given a chance in Iran, America will find the Iranians not only cordial and competent, but eager for trade and political alliances. This is for a number of reasons. First the obvious one; Iranians see America as the natural world leader for commerce and international agreements. The road to financial security for an Iranian businessman is paved with a U.S, trade agreement. Second, for all the hype raised by Liberals, the late Shah was a – forgive me – rather progressive leader, spending oil money on schools and civic improvements at a time when most Sheikhs and Sultans were just building more palaces. This is paying dividends now as a generation of internationally-aware young adults come of age, and see Iran as a player on the world stage, not just the Middle East, and they see Iran as a political leader more than a military conqueror. You get the idea, I think – a lot of people forget that Iran used to be called “Persia”, and there is a distinction to that identity, separate from the Arab or Muslim identity alone. The biggest mistake Mr. Ahmadinejad has made, in some ways, is trying to play Iran into part of a Muslim movement, when Iran demands, always, to be treated as its own case.

A functional strategy for Iran, then, may best be one which tries to avoid invasion per se (while keeping troops at the ready), but which attacks all of Iran’s weaknesses simultaneously. Unlike Iraq, Iran could not easily put down a popular uprising, especially in Teheran. And more, there is reason to believe (from Iran’s history of backing whatever looks to be the winning horse) that a popular uprising would soon find support from the clerics, whose love for the next “Mahdi” has always been conditional on his not putting their lives in danger. In addition, the business leaders (and they are there, believe me) will find it easy to approve a pro-U.S. regime, so that we could find a much different “Revolutionary Government” in power. What is needed is the right combination of conditions and catalyst. The best war is the one we win before any bombs are dropped.

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