The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Sunday, November 21, 2004

War drums in Washington over Iranian nukes

Is this a case of neocons will be neocons - the equivalent of Palestinians loosing volleys of AK-47 ammo into the air as a tumescence-inducing displacement activity - or is US military action to eliminate the Iranian nuclear threat seriously under consideration amongst those with the power to organise it?

The Observer has a piece today with a lede -
Pentagon hawks have begun discussing military action against Iran to neutralise its nuclear weapons threat, including possible strikes on leadership, political and security targets.
- that really gets us no further on the substance of the assertion.

(Note that anonymising of USG sources this side of the pond doesn't even come with the pillow-chocolate of a spurious excuse for granting anonymity.)

Even the hacks admit they have squat - though they use more words to say so to pad out their column-inches:
analysts remain deeply uncertain whether the increasingly bellicose noises which are coming from Bush administration figures represent a crude form of 'megaphone' diplomacy designed to scare Iran into sticking to its side of the bargain, or evidence that Washington is leaning towards a new military adventure.

One bad sign is the sudden appearance of a maxi-source apparently bearing the Iranian nuclear Crown jewels (Post November 19 - ran on A1!):
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell shared information with reporters Wednesday about Iran's nuclear program that was classified and based on an unvetted, single source who provided information that two U.S. officials said yesterday was highly significant if true but has not yet been verified.

Powell and other senior Cabinet members were briefed last week on the sensitive intelligence...According to one official with access to the material, a "walk-in" source approached U.S intelligence earlier this month with more than 1,000 pages purported to be Iranian drawings and technical documents, including a nuclear warhead design and modifications to enable Iranian ballistic missiles to deliver an atomic strike.

What did Bush say about Fool me once?

The piece says that
U.S. intelligence officials have been combing the information carefully and with a wary eye
- but established practice in USG (and HMG) is to arrive at a conclusion and cherry-pick the intelligence to match.

Meanwhile DEBKA tells us (November 19) that
the Pentagon's most recent game model on military measures to dispose of Iran's nuclear threat concludes it will be necessary to topple the Islamic republic's regime at the same time.

You don't say...

However, it says, when it comes to destroying the Iranian nuclear operation itself,
US intelligence estimates as many as 350 sites
will have to be destroyed.

The paradigm for such missions is, of course, the 1981 Israeli attack on the Osiraq (Osirak) site in Iraq - the neocons' Holy Grail of preventive war. A tad trickier this time, it seems [1].

Conclusions? Since I lack expertise in
  1. Iran;

  2. nuclear production; and

  3. military operations,
reticence is clearly de rigueur.

But, to take just one point: where are the men to come from? AP reported, back in May, that
All or part of nine of the Army's ten divisions are in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Clearly, troops need to be rotated; combat units come with a long tail - logistics, medics and so forth - that also needs relieving [2].

Even if a series of air strikes against Iranian installations did not result in a conventional ground invasion of Iraq by the Iranians (though the lines for martyrdom would probably stretch from Teheran to the Iraqi border), cross-border raiding and infiltration of guerrillas could at the very least tie down many more US troops, and keep the US casualties coming.

There is of course no the slightest chance of significant foreign military support for such an adventure.

So how do the troop numbers add up?

Perhaps the point is that they do not add up: a deployment gap intentionally opened up to act as force majeure to justify a draft.

Why shouldn't a Middle East policy inspired by millennial evangelical loonies deliberately place the US polity under irresistible pressure to investment men and treasure in the sacred lands by creating a foreseeable crisis?

It's what the French call a politique du pire: neocon crusaders know that their fantastic scheme of regional domination has been tested in Iraq and found to be a crock. Only by generating a much more deadly crisis can the scheme be got back on the road.

A civilian mentality is fatal to the successful prosecution of such wars as the PNAC plan entails - as witness France and Algeria, the US and Vietnam: what is needed is the sort of mentality engendered by World War 2 - total war.

Dulce et decorum est pro Iudea mori.

  1. The best-looking (caveat lector!) analysis of a pre-emptive strike on Iranian nuclear facilities is a 7,500 word piece from the Center for Nonproliferation Studies, dating from August. The last words (in italics in the original) in its conclusion are it would not be just another Osirak.

  2. One element of the problem with the tail is that (I believe) a larger proportion of its personnel are drawn from National Guard and the reserves than, say, infantrymen. Doctors, for instance.

    According to this note on the Iraq order of battle, the third rotation (OIP 3) is due to be completed in March 2005, but the elections, and now the Falluja aftermath, may dictate that the previous rotation (OIP 2) may be extended.

    I see that whilst in OIP 1 the balance between active duty and NG/reserve personnel was 75:25, in OIP 3 the ratio dips to around 57: 43, or 50,000 NG/reserve.

    Total strength of the US contingent in Iraq is due to fall between OIP 2 and OIP 3 from 140,000 to 130,000.

    The US Armed Forces Order of Battle looks damned impressive (far too much for my untutored brain to take in); but how much of this dazzling array is actually available to replace forces in Iraq? Most of it, I suspect, is either

    1. unsuitable (eg, bomber groups);

    2. needed for other duties (eg homeland defence);or

    3. already in the Iraq rotation.

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