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“At least once every human should have to run for his life, to teach him that milk does not come from supermarkets, that safety does not come from policemen, that news is not something that happens to other people.”     Robert A. Heinlein,    The Number of the Beast

September 2, 2007

Bad News For A Holiday Weekend

by Doug Mataconis

It seems things may be heating up in the Persian Gulf soon:

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran has reached its long-sought goal of running 3,000 centrifuges to enrich uranium for its nuclear program, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced Sunday in a report on state media.

The U.N. Security Council had threatened a third round of sanctions against the country if it did not freeze the uranium enrichment program — which Iran maintains is for peaceful energy purposes, but the U.S. says is to hide a weapons program.

“The West thought the Iranian nation would give in after just a resolution, but now we have taken another step in the nuclear progress and launched more than 3,000 centrifuge machines, installing a new cascade every week,” the state television Web site quoted Ahmadinejad as saying.

Still, Ahmadinejad’s comments seemed at odds with independent assessments of the status of his country’s enrichment program.

As recently as Thursday, a report drawn up by International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei, put the number of centrifuges enriching uranium at closer to 2,000 at its vast underground hall at Natanz.

And, as if that weren’t enough, the Sunday Times of London is reporting that the United States has drawn up a massive three day war plan against the Iranian regime:

THE Pentagon has drawn up plans for massive airstrikes against 1,200 targets in Iran, designed to annihilate the Iranians’ military capability in three days, according to a national security expert.

Alexis Debat, director of terrorism and national security at the Nixon Center, said last week that US military planners were not preparing for “pinprick strikes” against Iran’s nuclear facilities. “They’re about taking out the entire Iranian military,” he said.

Debat was speaking at a meeting organised by The National Interest, a conservative foreign policy journal. He told The Sunday Times that the US military had concluded: “Whether you go for pinprick strikes or all-out military action, the reaction from the Iranians will be the same.” It was, he added, a “very legitimate strategic calculus”.

(….)

One Washington source said the “temperature was rising” inside the administration. Bush was “sending a message to a number of audiences”, he said ? to the Iranians and to members of the United Nations security council who are trying to weaken a tough third resolution on sanctions against Iran for flouting a UN ban on uranium enrichment.

And then there’s the Iraq angle to this story:

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, irritated the Bush administration last week by vowing to fill a “power vacuum” in Iraq. But Washington believes Iran is already fighting a proxy war with the Americans in Iraq.

The Institute for the Study of War last week released a report by Kimberly Kagan that explicitly uses the term “proxy war” and claims that with the Sunni insurgency and Al-Qaeda in Iraq “increasingly under control”, Iranian intervention is the “next major problem the coalition must tackle”.

Bush noted that the number of attacks on US bases and troops by Iranian-supplied munitions had increased in recent months ? “despite pledges by Iran to help stabilise the security situation in Iraq”.

There are a few caveats here. First of all, the Times report may not be true at all. It could be based on bad reporting, or even part of a disinformation campaign directed at the Iranians as part of the diplomatic pressure that’s being placed on them. Second, just because there are plans in place doesn’t mean war is imminent, which is what this diary entry at Kos seems to suggest.

Nonetheless, it appears that Iran will be in the headlines in the coming months, for better or worse. If military action does come, one can only hope that it’s preceded by much better planning than we had before the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

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17 Comments

  1. Any American military action against Iraq would be disastrous to US interests. It would eliminate all domestic political resistance to the regime there, destroy any hope of getting UN sanctions against Iran, and give the Iranians a blank check to open up the floodgates on support for the Iraqi insurgency. It would also justify Iranian attempts to interdict oil traffic in the Persian Gulf, leading to a big jump in oil prices.

    Despite all evidence to the contrary, I continue to refuse to believe that the Bush Administration is stupid enough to attempt so disastrous a policy. My hunch is that this is an attempt to goad the UN into sanctions, something along the lines of “Do what I say or I’ll shoot this puppy! I’m just crazy enough to do it!”

    Comment by Chepe Noyon — September 2, 2007 @ 11:55 am
  2. First, Iran knows we won’t attack. Their president said so. He said he’s an engineer with a Ph.D. Ergo, he has come up with a “double proof” calculation. First, he calculated mathematically that it won’t happen. Plus, God told him so.

    Chepe, the Iranian president is already dealing with Iranian opponents within his own country that are claiming he’s going too far and that the country is going to get attacked. So I can’t imagine that it would eliminate all domestic restraint. I think it would if we occupied but not attacked.

    And Chepe, that socialist marxist union known a the UN has no ability to get sanctions against anyone without the US. Whether we goad them into anything is not helpful and the latest foray into Iraq is proof of this. The UN is a hot air forum that is a waste of money and a tax on the American people. To boot, the UN votes against the US position 80% of the time with %80 against us. The UN has not been helpful at all and has been losing respect as a viable entity. It has itself become one big NGO.

    You over estimate the Iranian resolve. They don’t have the resources to fill the vacuum. There are plenty of Iraqi groups that would give them the same problem we have but on a larger scale.

    As one Iranian told me, President Aminiahole “is tickling the feet of elephants and pulling the tales of lions. Everyone in Iran knows he will eventually get it.”

    Chris

    Comment by Chris Kachouroff — September 3, 2007 @ 7:50 am
  3. Chris,

    What alot of people seem to forget in all this handwringing over Iran is that the Iraqis basically fought them to a standstill with a much smaller military. It doesn’t sound like things have improved much since then.

    Comment by Doug Mataconis — September 3, 2007 @ 8:03 am
  4. Regardless of strengths and weaknesses we know that if our federal government attacks Iran(which I think would lead to a wider conflict) that, at a mimimum, the price of oil would double, if not triple, and would do a huge amount of damage to the U.S. and world economies.

    Comment by Ken H — September 3, 2007 @ 8:51 am
  5. Chris,

    There are two problems with your position. The first is that the Iranian president isn’t actually the one in charge of the country. It’s run by a group of clerics (led by Ayatollah Khameini), who have the authority to predetermine the outcome of elections (since all candidates must be vetted through them). The president is little more than a figurehead that’s either used to appease the masses when they get upset (Khatami) or distract attention away from the true decisions of government through outrageous actions and comments (Ahmadinejad). He doesn’t wield any true power.

    Second, Chepe is quite right about the consequences if we do invade the country. Such an invasion would entail a lengthy occupation, likely even more costly than the one in Iraq, it would definitely be more manpower intensive than the Iraq occupation, and we simply don’t have the troops to pull it off. Iran is also fully capable of cutting off our oil supplies in the meantime by cutting off access through the Strait of Hormuz (using missiles, mines, direct attacks against tankers). Such an attack would have severe consequences on our economy. And our invasion would undermine the domestic resistance to the Iranian regime because if there’s one constant in the history of the Middle East it’s that the people there have never been accepting of a foreign power coming in and dictating terms. They may not like their government…doesn’t mean they want a bunch of foreigners to come in and set up a new government for them, especially considering the disaster that Bush has turned Iraq into.

    Chepe,

    Good points. Unfortunately I don’t share your optimism about Bush. I honestly believe he is that stupid, and I believe that he’s entirely capable of invading Iran because it fits into the “good vs. evil” worldview that has defined his entire foreign policy. The most stunning lessong that Iraq has taught us about our president is that he does not consider the consequences of his actions and he is all too willing to repeat his mistakes. He’s the epitome of what Ayn Rand was discussing when she noted that people often don’t care whether or not what they’re doing will work, so long as they believe it to be morally right. And he believes that overthrowing Middle Eastern governments and forcing democracy upon them is right…I long ago quit believing that he doesn’t mean what he says.

    Comment by UCrawford — September 3, 2007 @ 10:15 am
  6. Doug,

    Beating the Iranian military in a conventional fight is not the issue. The issue is a post-war occupation. You have to have a substantial number of troops on the ground to control population, provide security, stop looting, fight insurgents, provide services where government stops doing so, etc., etc., etc. Historical estimates on effective counterinsurgencies have usually put the number around roughly one soldier to every 50 citizens, which would require an occupation force of 1.4 million for a country the size of Iran (71 million…three times the size of Iraq). Incidentally, 1.4 million is almost exactly the size of the entire U.S. military…which is already fighting active wars in two countries and numerous police/peacekeeping operations in others.

    http://www.rand.org/publications/randreview/issues/summer2003/burden.html

    Unless of course you think that the Bush administration’s view of Middle Easterners is more accurate.

    http://democrats.senate.gov/dpc/dpc-new.cfm?doc_name=fs-108-2-211

    Comment by UCrawford — September 3, 2007 @ 10:28 am
  7. Actually, should have specified that 1.4 million is the number of active military personnel. We also have 1.2 million reservists, all of whom would have to be called up simultaneously, assuming Bush didn’t try and half-ass it again. In which case, say good-bye to a substantial number of your work force, all of whom their employers must save their jobs for until the end of the occupation.

    And if an invasion did go down, it’s a certainty that the government will be seriously looking at reinstating a draft…logistics and attrition would force them to.

    Comment by UCrawford — September 3, 2007 @ 10:46 am
  8. Chris, I believe you misunderstand my point about the UN. Regardless of your opinions of this organization, it has already passed one weak sanctions measure against Iran and is informally considering a second, stronger measure. If we attack Iran, that second measure will surely be abandoned.

    Comment by Chepe Noyon — September 3, 2007 @ 11:09 am
  9. Chepe’s right. I’m no fan of the U.N. either, but half-hearted and semi-useless support is better than no support or open hostility from the international community.

    Comment by UCrawford — September 3, 2007 @ 11:38 am
  10. CHEPE,

    That the UN is a marxist organization is not opinion. It is fact. The charter allegedly abolishes war and no longer finds sovereignty “useful”, and etc. And, that it votes against us a majority of the time is also a fact.

    What should be more problematic for you as an American is the fact that you have no problem with the UN claiming authority to pass ANY SANCTIONS against a sovereign nation. It is antithetical to the concept of sovereignty. The U.N. has no legitimacy, was never voted upon by any citizen of any country, and should not be recognized at all. It is an abomination but you’ve been taught that something is better than nothing. Instead of having the UN do all of this nonsense, gather a temporary peaceful coalition of states and do the same thing.

    BTW, the UN is not doing it. The US is doing this under the guise of the UN. No one else is spearheading this. See, e.g., http://www.globalpolicy.org/security/sanction/iran/2006/0314intention.htm

    CRAWFORD

    I am well aware of the governmental structure of Iran. No disagreement there. I was speaking to what is perceived by the media and the public.

    In terms of invasion, Iran is nothing. They will fall in three days. Three ranger battalions and a few boys with tanks will do it. Of course, if we go in with the same neocon attitude of nation building, then yes, we’re cooked. It’s either total war or nothing. It’s best to stay out of that place and leave them to themselves. It’s why I said, “I think it would [become a problem] if we occupied but not attacked.”

    Comment by Chris Kachouroff — September 4, 2007 @ 6:22 pm
  11. Chris,

    The problem is that if you’re not going to follow up, there’s no point in attacking in the first place (your exaggerations about our military’s ability notwithstanding). All an attack will do is create resentment across the Middle East, provide incentive for groups that currently have none to target us, and cost American lives needlessly…it’s the equivalent of throwing rocks at a hornets nest. Iran does not currently have WMD capability. They don’t have delivery systems capable of hitting the U.S. Even if they develop it they don’t have the industrial base or economic resources to build and maintain an arsenal capable of causing enough destruction to Europe and the U.S. to prevent a nuclear counterstrike from us that would annihilate their country (a counterstrike that would be wholly justified), and the leaders of Iran (despite Bush’s rhetoric) understand this completely. Contrary to idiot opinion, the Iranians aren’t just a bunch of crazy Ay-rabs with no sense of self-preservation like al-Qaeda…they’re a sovereign nation, their leaders are just as in love with power as political leaders anywhere else, and they can be generally counted on to behave in their own best interests. They just realize that acceding to Bush’s demands aren’t in their best interests because Bush’s foreign policy is designed to appease his voting constituency, not to improve things for Iran.

    If we seriously want to defuse the problems with Iran in the Middle East, we’ll:

    1) Drop all trade sanctions against the regime, normalize relations, and start buying their oil. And

    2) Ignore Bush, because few of his predictions on foreign policy have ever proven correct.

    Comment by UCrawford — September 4, 2007 @ 6:56 pm
  12. In terms of invasion, Iran is nothing. They will fall in three days. Three ranger battalions and a few boys with tanks will do it. Of course, if we go in with the same neocon attitude of nation building, then yes, we’re cooked. It’s either total war or nothing. It’s best to stay out of that place and leave them to themselves. It’s why I said, “I think it would [become a problem] if we occupied but not attacked.”

    I agree, but what you say reminds me of a guy about seven years ago who was running for President about seven years ago.

    His name was George and he talked about how the military shouldn’t be involved in nation building.

    Unless, apparently, we’re talking about building a nation that, until the British Empire created it, never existed. And then only existed thanks to dictatorial rule.

    And then he tells me that democracy can work in this country.

    And that’s one of the reasons I have a hard time trusting this Administration when it comes to any foreign policy initiative it takes.

    Comment by Doug Mataconis — September 4, 2007 @ 8:55 pm
  13. UCrawford,

    What I think your criticism of what Chris is saying ignores is the value of the threat of attack.

    If the people repressing the citizens of Iran think we’re ready to destroy their centers of power, don’t you think that they might actually respond ? Notwithstanding their insane Prime Minister and the Mullahs, I tend to think, from what I’ve read and from the Iranian-Americans I’ve met who actually have family there, is yes.

    I think that the gloom-and-doom analysis of the situation with Iran fails to recognize several things, and the most important one is that the Iranian people want to be free. They showed it several years ago when they backed candidates who opposed the repressive policies of the government. And there has been more than one book written about the underground cultural movements in Iran that are clearly more pro-Western than we are led to believe.

    Notwithstanding all of that, though, the regime still poses a threat. Both to its own citizens and to the stability of the Middle East, and, by extension, most of the world. A few well-directed anti-ship missiles would close the Straits of Hormuz and cut Persian Gulf Oil off from the rest of the world.

    And, if Iran really did get close to obtaining nuclear weapons, do you really think that Israel would wait a second before launching a pre-emptive attack ?

    Quite honestly, given the fact that the regime in question supports two terrorist groups dedicated to Israel’s destruction, I can’t say I’d be surprised to see an Israeli first strike.

    And, that, I think you’d agree wouldn’t be any good for anyone.

    Comment by Doug Mataconis — September 4, 2007 @ 9:04 pm
  14. Mr. Kachouroff, you are welcome to dismiss the United Nations with whatever set of mudslinging terms you wish. I myself prefer to analyse policy and judge accordingly.

    “In terms of invasion, Iran is nothing. They will fall in three days. Three ranger battalions and a few boys with tanks will do it.”

    Those are brave words, but not well-informed ones. The Iranian army has 500,000 men. You claim we can beat that army with a few thousand Americans. Despite their being outnumbered several hundred to one, they’ll prevail in just three days. You make the Charge of the Light Brigade look like a carefully considered and brilliantly executed tactic.

    And you seem to agree that, as soon as we’ve conquered Iran, we’ll have to bug out, because we certainly can’t occupy the country.

    Mr. Mataconis, the threat of an attack is only useful if the attack itself is plausible. That is not the case with an American attack on Iran.

    Comment by Chepe Noyon — September 4, 2007 @ 11:44 pm
  15. And, if Iran really did get close to obtaining nuclear weapons, do you really think that Israel would wait a second before launching a pre-emptive attack ?

    It depends on whose side the West takes.

    Israel is an island. They are strong because the implicit and explicit backing of most of the West.

    It would be incredibly foolish of them to engage in any form of aggression without our complicity. Of course, the Arab world knows this, which is why we get blamed for any aggression on the part of Israel.

    The “with us or against us” doctrine cuts both ways.

    the Iranian people want to be free. They showed it several years ago when they backed candidates who opposed the repressive policies of the government. And there has been more than one book written about the underground cultural movements in Iran that are clearly more pro-Western than we are led to believe.

    That’s excellent news and if it’s true, they’ll take their freedom in due time, like every other democratic revolution in history.

    Attacking them is every bit as likely to hinder the cause of freedom than it is to help it. Why isn’t democracy working in Iraq? The cultural divides are a big problem, but most importantly, they weren’t ready yet. I don’t mean that in the common sense that the populace isn’t educated enough to understand freedom; I mean that they didn’t have the right leaders in place.

    It takes a few very special people to create a lasting democracy; very few people could resist all of the temptations that come with such power. As a revolutionary movement builds, these people will bubble to the top, or the movement will fail. Either way, if you don’t let the process run its course you’re not going to find the right kind of people.

    Comment by Jeff Molby — September 5, 2007 @ 2:07 am
  16. Doug,

    That would be their insane president that you’re referring to, and he has no significant power. He still takes his marching orders from the clerics and they’re more than capable of forcing him to tow the line when they want, same as they did with Ahmadinejad’s predecessor Khatami, the “pro-U.S. reformer”. The elected executive and legislative offices in Iran are largely a sham.

    As for the “threat of attack” you elude to, why would they launch a nuke at us if we’re not actually attacking them? Why would they launch a nuke at Israel, who have the capability to retaliate? Such an assault would spell disaster for the Iranian regime and utter annihilation if they tried it. As long as we aren’t attacking Iran, the threat of Iran attacking us is virtually non-existent. Chepe is right, the idea of Iran attacking us is not plausible. The only group that’s tried it is a non-state actor and they achieved their goal…getting our fucking idiot president to overreact and start fights with people who weren’t a threat to us.

    As for the peoples’ desire to be free, yes they desire it. What they don’t necessarily desire is pure Western-style capitalism (because they’re still Muslim) and what they definitely don’t want is Bush-style “freedom” at the point of an American gun. And frankly our history of involvement in Iranian internal affairs (propping up the Shah’s oppressive government and decades of sanctions and hostile rhetoric) and our constant bungling in Iraq have hardly sold them on the competence of America to lead them down the right path. The idea that freedom can be imposed by military invasion is the great lie of neo-conservatism and it reveals the communist ideals at the of neo-conservatism…the idea that freedom derives from state action, not individuals.

    And no, I don’t think Israel would launch a pre-emptive strike against the Iranians if they got nukes. Nor do I think the Iranians would launch on the Israelis, based on the religious importance of the cities in Israel to the Muslims. I think it would develop into a situation of brinksmanship, one that we have no business being involved in because the countries involved are more than capable of sorting it out themselves.

    Comment by UCrawford — September 5, 2007 @ 2:43 am
  17. I couldn’t find where I’d posted here.

    DOUG: I was being a little facetious with the Ranger stuff. Didn’t come across too well.

    CHEPE:

    I apologize for not responding sooner. You accuse me of mudslinging. Tell me what facts do you rely upon to say that I am mudslinging against the U.N. I know it very well and have yet to say one untrue thing about it. Show all of us what mud that is. Point to just one false statement I made about the U.N.

    I sense you are part of that UN philosophy, no? As for me and my fellow Americans, our Constitution is the Supreme Law of the land and not the U.N treaty or some other UN resolution crafted by an unelected official. The UN does nothing for America.

    In terms of the Rangers and tanks…you’re right. That’s way too many. I only need 48 troops. That’s right, 48. 8 men to man 6 B-52 stratofortresses equals 48. The war would be over in 2 hours and Iran would be glass. As General Patton would say, “since a friendly thermonuclear explosion is measured in the millions of degrees, that place will not only have the world’s largest supply of oil but the next thousand years of the world’s supply of light bulbs and liquor bottles.” No nation building no assembly required.

    CRAWFORD:

    I am in agreement with you. I didn’t make it clear that a police action doesn’t work. It’s total war or nothing. I believe in the Patton Doctrine:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B3WnpUZFEyA

    Chepe, you really need to see that video too.

    Comment by Chris Kachouroff — September 5, 2007 @ 11:45 pm

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