« You gotta know when to hold 'em... | Main | Chicago Defender to Rep. McKinney: Do the Right Thing »

...know when to fold 'em

Earlier, I discussed the buildup to a possible conflict with Iran. Now, I'm going to engage in a bit of rampant speculation about how such a conflict might unfold, should it actually happen. Naturally, I'm hoping it won't, but as I always say, "hope for the best and plan for the worst."

Despite Iran's open belligerence and posturing, there is very little that they can do to pose a serious threat to the United States proper. The thousands of miles of separation is too great an obstacle for them. But we've had about a century of experience in bringing the battle to the enemy, and have turned the air and seas into our highways. Distance is as much our ally as General Winter has been for the Russians. It's almost easier for us to strike halfway around the world than to muster a military force in our own back yard.

While denied access to us, however, Iran can do a great deal to threaten our interests, as well as those of the rest of the world. Take a look at a map of Iran. Notice the city of Bandar Abbas, and where it sits. It's at the gateway to the Persian Gulf, astride the Straits of Hormuz. And fully 25% of the world's oil supply travels through that Strait. The Strait is 21 miles wide at its narrowest point, and practically speaking even narrower than that: there's a one-mile-wide channel in each direction, separated by a two-mile "median." If anything happens to block that channel, a very large portion of the world (not just the US) will be hurting.

Iran knows this, and has played this game before. Recall the "tanker war" of 1984-1987. Iran and Iraq, having exhausted most other forms of warfare in their struggle, started going after oil tankers. Iraq attacked those ships bearing Iranian oil exports, and Iran responded with Silkworm anti-ship missiles and mining the Straits. The US intervened then, reflagging tankers under US colors and having US warships escort neutral vessels. Two of our warships were badly damaged (the frigate USS Stark by an Exocet missile, and the cruiser Princeton by a mine), but eventually the conflict petered out.

Iran's new strategy seems to be aimed at wreaking havoc, at punishing the world at large for having the nerve to deny them what they want. The first step will be to shut down the Straits of Hormuz. In addition to mines, missile boats, and anti-ship missiles (both land-based and air-launched), since the Tanker War Iran has acquired three Kilo-class Russian submarines. The Kilos were designed to operate in shallow waters like the Gulf, and in some ways are superior to attack subs. They are diesel-electric powered, not nuclear, so they're quieter when submerged. They are smaller, so they are more maneuverable. And because the Soviets give their submarines a double hull, they just might be a bit tougher than ours.

On the other hand, there are only three of them, and our subs are far better armed and have much better sensors. And our submariners are simply better at their jobs by several orders of magnitude.

The other front Iran might choose to open is to try to escalate the fighting, to try to increase the scope of the conflict beyond our willingness to tolerate. They are frantically trying to increase the range of their long-range missiles, so they can threaten Europe and (especially) Israel.

This is the same tactic Saddam tried in the first Gulf War. On the surface, it seemed insane -- if you're losing a war, why on earth would you want to waste time and resources attacking a nation that isn't even currently threatening you? Why in heaven's name would you want to ADD to your enemy's roster?

That's where geopolitics came into play. If Saddam could provoke Israel into retaliating, then he could pretty much count on our Arab allies up and quitting the conflict. Under no circumstances would they stay part of any coalition that included Israel. While their military is without a doubt the best of any nation's in the region, that was a conflict where quantity of allies was more important than quality. We didn't need their expertise, we needed the political support of the Arabs -- and keeping Israel on the sidelines was part of the price of gaining that support. So we did all we could to defend Israel while offering them all sorts of incentives to stay out of the conflict. And since Saddam's attacks were largely ineffectual (he didn't actually use any of the chemical or biological weapons he had, despite threats to do so), Israel sucked it up and took it.

This time, however, Israel might not be so obliging. The Jews are Old Testament people, and that's the "eye for an eye" school. They don't hold to the New Testament, with its talk of "turning the other cheek." If they are hit hard enough, they hit back -- and far harder than the initial assault. If that strike turns out to be nuclear, then they already have plans for dealing with it -- Google up "Samson option," if you're curious.

So, Iran thinks that by playing an adapted version of the MAD doctrine, they can deter the United States. They believe that if given the choice between a nuclear-armed Iran and a full nuclear exchange in the Middle East, we will retreat and let them continue their plausibly-deniable nuclear ambitions. Instead of trying to stop them, we will allow them to make nukes and then use them to threaten others later down the road. Or, worse, give them to any of the dozens of terrorist organizations they support to use against the US, Israel, or whoever else ticks them off enough.

The problem with this whole strategy, though, is it's based on one fatal miscalculation. George W. Bush doesn't bluff. Twice nations have challenged his resolve, and two governments were toppled.

The US is doing a great deal to head off this conflict. While repeating firm statements of resolve, there's also a great deal of quiet movement going on. We are actively working with the UN to get them to enforce their resolutions and treaties with Iran. IYeah, it was futile with Iraq, but one has to use every tool at one's disposal.) We are firming up our relations with Europe, even France, as the threat Iran poses is a smidgen more immediate to them. And we are dusting off and updating our military contingency plans for striking at Iran.

(One brief aside: OF COURSE the Pentagon has plans for attacking Iran. That's what the brass does when they aren't actively involved in a war -- they make plans. I bet if one dug deep enough, you'd find bombing plans against Canada, invasion plans for England, and even contingency plans for nuking the Moon. These are exercises for military planners, and one never knows when they might come in handy. Who would have thought that after the Napoleonic Wars, England would need plans for a forced invasion of France? Or the United States need plans to invade the Philippines, its own territory?)

Some critics say we simply don't have the resources to deal with Iran while also tied up in Iraq and Afghanistan. That argument simply doesn't hold water.

I know it's probably a mistake to keep returning to the World War II model, but it just seems to work so well. Also, they always say "write what you know," and that's the area of history I know best.

One of the ways the United States successfully fought two major conflicts during World War II was by essentially assigning one branch of the Armed Forces to each front. The European War was largely fought by the Army and its subsidiary, the Army Air Force, while the Pacific was the turf of the Navy and its subsidiary, the Marine Corps. (Yes, all branches fought in all theatres, but as a general rule this reflects their major focus.)

Likewise, the efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan are almost solely the province of the Army and the Marine Corps. The Navy and Air Force are largely relegated to supporting the other two branches.

And fortunately, the Navy and Air Force are the specialists in the stand-off strike conflict. They are the long-range heavy-hitters, specialists in destroying an enemy's means of fighting. They are the ones who would be tasked with smashing Iran's military and nuclear capabilities.

Critics say that we are in no position to invade and occupy Iran, and they are right. But so what? That's not our objective. We don't need to do that. All we need to do is mitigate the threats they pose right now. Long-term, Iran's reigning mullahs are not viable. They are sitting on a pressure-cooker, trying to balance the internal and external threats to their power -- and there's a good chance that a sharp blow to their military might could cause them serious discomfort, if not let the lid off the pot they're desperately keeping closed.

One more point: as I said, the Navy and Air Force are specialists in the deep strike. But that doesn't mean we couldn't use bases and local support in the fight. We currently have Iran surrounded, with Afghanistan to the east and Iraq to their west. The Navy owns the Persian Gulf -- the Iranians can make a good stab at denying its use to us, but they can't control it.

Let's refer back to that map. Iran controls the northern side of the Straits of Hormuz. The southern side is a peninsula, an arm of the Arabian Peninsula. That would be a logical and tremendously useful place to use as a base for our Navy and Air Force. And historically, we have pretty good relations with the two nations that own that hunk of land, Oman and the United Arab Emirates.

Such a pity that we've recently pissed off the UAE, over an utterly meaningless "security issue" as whether or not they can administer some terminals at six of our ports.

Meanwhile, the "nothing that might make Bush look good can be allowed" crowd is in full dither, desperately trying anything they can to prevent a confrontation with Iran while they are still most likely not a nuclear power. Seymour Hersh has a piece up in the New Yorker, discussing how the Air Force is planning air strikes (duh -- as I said before, that's how they justify their pay) and the like. Hersh has his usual assortment of anonymous sources, all repeating the anti-Bush mantras -- he's got a Messiah complex, he's a war-monger, he has his mind set on going to war, etc. etc. But there are nuggets of truth in his piece that indicate that a lot of these plans are actually tactics themselves.

For example, Hersh mentions that US warplanes have been practicing the highly-specialized maneuvers used to launch nuclear weapons -- the "over the shoulder" bomb-toss among them. Hersh specifically mentions that these are being done within Iran's radar coverage -- we WANT them to know just what we could do, if we wished. One puts on such displays where the enemy can see them for one purpose, and one purpose only: as a reminder of just what we can do.

How would a conflict between the United States and Iran go? My hunch is that it would be briefly furious, as large numbers of Iranian military assets and research facilities were obliterated. There would be a few missiles tossed off towards Israel, but with conventional warheads, and they would probably miss or fall short. (I see Jordan taking a few hits, and getting a bit annoyed.) There would be some intense activity in and around the Straits of Hormuz, as Iran tries to impede traffic and the US tries to stop them. (This is when bases in the UAE would be tremendously useful.) And ultimately another nation will intervene to broker a ceasefire, possibly France or Russia but possibly another Muslim nation.

No, I don't think it will go nuclear -- yet. Not unless Iran actually has built a bomb or two, and I have absolutely no faith that they will show the restraint Saddam showed in 1991, when he chose to not use his chemical and biological weapons. If they have even one, it will get used. If that happens, the US may well use nuclear "bunker-buster" bombs to destroy hardened underground facilities to make sure no more are launched.

I hope -- I really, sincerely hope -- that this won't come to pass. But a negotiated settlement takes two parties who are willing to negotiate, and Iran's President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has shown absolutely no interest in meaningful negotiations. He's willing to talk all we want, but has made it repeatedly clear that absolutely nothing will come of it.


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference ...know when to fold 'em:

» Pro Cynic linked with How would we fight Iran? And vice versa?

» Watcher of Weasels linked with Submitted for Your Approval

» Watcher of Weasels linked with The Council Has Spoken!

» Watcher of Weasels linked with The Council Has Spoken!

Comments (26)

A well articulated follow-u... (Below threshold)
Steve Crickmore:

A well articulated follow-up, but Jay you made one big omission. What would be the consequences in Iraq. They wouldn't be pretty in that volcano of a country. And surely Bush who claims he was a victim of faulty intelligence in Iraq, better think over "any (American) military planning "that as quoted, albeit anonymously in the Hersh article, " is premised on a belief that a sustained bombing campaign in Iran will humiliate the religious leadership and lead the public to rise up and overthrow the government "(Iranian).

I don't think Bush is that ... (Below threshold)
Mike B in OKlahoma:

I don't think Bush is that subtle, frankly. And I doubt something that subtle will work on the current Iranian leadership, who strike me as oddly similar to Bush "What I want to believe is what is true, and don't confuse me with data." If the information is even presented to the top leadership, they will explain it away or dismiss it.

In the event of a war, Iran would best be advised to simply hide their submarines away. The fact that they were out there would tie knots in tanker traffic as long as they existed. But if they exposed themselves, they'd probably get sunk. The Persian Gulf is a submariner's nightmare to operate in.

For the same reason, the US would probably focus on destroying the subs with aircraft and perhaps surface vessels, rather than sending our submarines (which are much larger and less suited to operate in restricted waters) after them.

Notice that just about ever... (Below threshold)
Proud Kaffir:

Notice that just about every supporter of Bush is named but every critic is anonymous.

I would support the airstrikes- although i think nuclear strikes are unlikely. However, I agree that the possible Shiite uprising in Iraq has to be considered.

Hmmm.1. Liberals r... (Below threshold)


1. Liberals respout the paraphrased Chimpy McHitler nonsense yet again. News at 11.

2. Shia'a are divided into two basic camps that DON'T FUCKING LIKE EACH OTHER.

2.a. Iranian
2.b. Iraqi

It's only been mentioned about 20 million frigging times all over the blogs.

3. It's time for the Arabs and muslims to grow the FUCK up. Either they learn how to deal with other people or they need to learn how it feels to be dealt with.

Jay;Since you make... (Below threshold)


Since you make brief appearances on OW's site
then disappear after you drop your bullshit one
liners, I thought I would return the favor.

Although I cannot say you never criticize Bush,
your usual gripe is akin to a spat with a lover
over leaving the toilet seat up.

Here's your most recent nugget of enlightenment;

"So put your blue-tinted glasses back on, Oliver, and whine about inane, trite political matters. Us grownups will deal with the problems -- as usual."

Your BushLove compels you to follow him anywhere;
no questions asked.

Leo, I'm at work. I'm on lu... (Below threshold)
Jay Tea:

Leo, I'm at work. I'm on lunch break. I say what I can when I can. It's called "paying the bills."

And this issue AIN'T ABOUT Bush. It's a hell of a lot bigger than that. If Kerry was president right now (shudder), I'd be saying exactly the same thing. You're the one blinded by your BushHatred.

I'm compelled to follow him everywhere, no questions asked? Damn, if that's the case, I've been messing up. I put a lot of time and effort into criticizing him over illegal immigration and the Harriet Myers nomination, just to name two; I could have saved myself a lot of work if I'd just gone to whitehouse.gov and cut and pasted.

Much like Oliver does, with DNC points. "Culture of Corruption" indeed.

Welcome, Leo, and feel free to stick around. You'll notice we don't force folks to register to comment, or filter for "questionable content,"unlike other places you frequent. We're much more free-wheeling.

Be warned, though; some of your fellow readers have very, very sharp teeth.


Jay,I don't think th... (Below threshold)

I don't think there would be an attack on Iran.
An attack on Iran would be an absolute military and strategic disaster for America. America has already received a lot of criticism for going into Iraq.
The occupation of Iraq has already turned out to be a huge disaster.
American can NOT make the mistake of even thinking of attacking Iran at this stage.
Shahab 3.........Hezbollah......Iraq.....10,000 trained freedom fighters going to America.........oil prices...space program.....I am sure America will think of all that before even trying to send a fly to Iran.

10,000 trained fre... (Below threshold)
10,000 trained freedom fighters going to America.

...to burn cartoons.

Some time in the la... (Below threshold)
Tincan Sailor:

Some time in the last year Israel bought from
the US 150 Million worth of Smart Bunker Buster
Bombs,now you tell me what hard target in
Palestine is going to get one of these? NOT!

10,000 trained fre... (Below threshold)
Tincan Sailor:

10,000 trained freedom fighters going to America,
Now I know one hell of a lot of folks who would
think that was just fine,its called gun control
and hitting your target...Muslim-Unity if ever
there was a major screw up that would be it...
Having been around for some time now I can
tell you the US can be pushed around a lot and
kicked in the stone's but there comes a time
when we will hand your ass to you big time

Senanticleo This is ... (Below threshold)

This is not about politics, its about survival of our way of life period...

10,000 trained freedom f... (Below threshold)
Proud Kaffir:

10,000 trained freedom fighters going to America

Lock and load, boys. Here they come!

The U.S. would quickly dest... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:

The U.S. would quickly destroy Iran's offensive and even defensive military. As in Iraq, communication, radar, and strategic transpiration infrastructure would be destroyed in the opening salvos and the leadership of Iran would be driven underground. U.S. armor could easily punch through anything the Iranians can muster and roll into the capital of Iran in a few weeks.

Incredibly, that quick overpowering surgical military capability the U.S. has developed with trillions of dollars over several decades creates a problem military planners apparently overlooked. What we saw in Iraq was that while the military was destroyed, the people had no sense of defeat. The only reason we were able to hold onto victory in Iraq was because we came as liberators. That works if the majority of the people feel they needed liberating or are smart enough to play along until the liberators leave.

Maybe the Iranian people don't like their government, but I don't think they feel they need liberating by force. The quick military victory of the U.S. will leave the Iranian people with no sense of either defeat or of being liberated. Imaging what Iraq would be like if few Iraqis supported the U.S. There would be no Iraqi forces to take over duties from the U.S. and little turnout for any elections. There would be no way out except to just leave.

A large part of the U.S. public has no stomach for protracted struggles even when they suffer no personal hardship. The days when the public would steadfastly support the nation's leadership in the face of massive battlefield casualties and acute shortages of goods at home are long gone. Any long-term occupation of Iran would likely produce both large numbers of casualties, high energy prices and staggering national debt. Given the political climate, a Bush invasion of Iran would likely be followed by a Clinton or Kerry retreat in 2009. Iran would declare victory and begin rebuilding it's forces. Iran would become the leader of the Islamic world, a world patiently preparing to avenge itself on the U.S.

I think a better strategy would be to engage Iran in an arms race. Let them know that once they have a nuclear bomb they become a nuclear target. Let them know that every launch facility they have is targeted by a U.S. nuclear missile. Let them know that if they threaten the U.S. we will launch a preemptive strike. If the Iranians are serious, they would then have to build boomer subs that could elude U.S. hunter killer subs, a task likely not even achieved by the USSR in the past or Russia today. In the meantime, the U.S. would continue work on it's anti-missile and directed energy weapons and start production of new nuclear weapons, which Bush has already asked for.

The real threat of the 21st century is not Iran, but engaging Iran in an arms race would give the U.S. cover for preparing for the bigger threats that likely will come along. At the same time that race would isolate Iran politically and bankrupt their economy. The only way Iran could afford to stay in such a race would be to increase it's oil production and ensure a steady supply (wouldn't that be a hoot). In the end Iran would depleted its national treasure and find they never reached parity with the U.S.

Mac, only problem is Irania... (Below threshold)

Mac, only problem is Iranians have their own suicide bombers to transport a-bombs, they don't need missiles. And SB's are harder to track back and find the offender, especially since the only stuff left to track is the isotopes. Making reprisal slow and possibly inaccurate. And less of a deterrent.

Semanticleo - that was a on... (Below threshold)

Semanticleo - that was a one-liner? 'Splains a lot about U!

Defeating Iran is not that ... (Below threshold)

Defeating Iran is not that difficult to do in principal provided we are willing to inflict substantial damage to Iran's civil infrastructure.
The Navy is quite capable of destroying Iran's Navy and Air Force. Destroying their oil refineries and electrical distribution nodes and ports will bring them to their knees. We have the forces on station already to do this, it's just the question of will to do so. The goal is not to occupy Iran, just to de-fang them. This we can do relatively easily.

OF COURSE the Pentagon h... (Below threshold)

OF COURSE the Pentagon has plans for attacking Iran. ... I bet if one dug deep enough, you'd find...contingency plans for nuking the Moon.

Nuking the Moon?

Where's Frank J?


You should consider what wo... (Below threshold)

You should consider what would happen if Iran launched a low-altitude nuclear explosion off our coast using a cheap, easily transportable scud. The theory is that it would cause an EMP that would devastate us - and that Iran has in fact conducted such a test. Military stretegists have been hand-wringing over this scenario for some time now. Is it a risk we can afford to take? I think the "Iran is not a threat" theory is a little narrow-sighted. We wouldn't want to have a "failure of imagination" would we?

Jeff,First, the EM... (Below threshold)


First, the EMP threat, while realistic, isn't as practical as it once was - mostly due to fiber. I will agree that it is still somewhat a threat. But there are people far more intelligent on this topic than me. They have discussed this quite exhaustively before but I still don't think the EMP destruction will be as terrible today as it would have been 30 years ago when it became a hot topic. While we, as citizens, might see some disruption, the military has been hardening their equipment for 30 years.
Second, I didn't read JT's comments to say I think the "Iran is not a threat" theory. Maybe I missed it but I think the whole point of the post was to address the threat, not dismiss it.

this issue AIN'T ABOUT Bush... (Below threshold)

this issue AIN'T ABOUT Bush. It's a hell of a lot bigger than that.

Freakin' 'A', Jay.

Just when we need preemption the most.

Unfortunately, we spent that account down.
$2 trillion for Iraq, and and about $1.98 left for
Iran. I think we need a little more, don't you?

epador,Ma... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:


Mac, only problem is Iranians have their own suicide bombers to transport a-bombs, they don't need missiles.

A person willing to commit suicide only addresses the navigation and detonation phase of the delivery, not the transportation phase. In any heightened security scenario, Iran could find it very difficult to deliver their bomb. Also, we may just declare beforehand that any attack on the U.S. will be assumed to come from Iran and result in massive retaliation. With no ability to deliver their weapons in a militarily effective way, they could only rely on the mercy of the U.S. to limit its retaliation. Not a good plan even for the idiots of Iran.

Leo:"Millions for ... (Below threshold)
Jay Tea:


"Millions for defense, but not one penny for tribute."

The Declaration of Independence lists "life" first, before "liberty" and "the pursuit of happiness."

The Constitution, in the Preamble, puts "provide for the common defense" before "promote the general welfare" and "preserve the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity."

Sounds like we have pretty good authority for reorganizing our priorities...


Unfortunately, you seem to ... (Below threshold)

Unfortunately, you seem to miss all the important points in your article.
Just like most other American media and politicians who have the brain power on an amiba and the attention span of a gold fish, you are looking for a quick fix to satisfy the American thirst for blood!
You also fail to see, let alone understand the bigger picture.
The RAGE of the ordinary Iranian's sense of nationalism, defense and injustice caused by the American destruction and death in their country would last for many decades to come.
Iran, irrespective of the colour or type of government, will continue to retaliate against America and American interests for decades to come!
All this before we talk about the RAGE of the Shia and other muslims in the rest of the world! many of whom will happily give their lives to avenge such outrage!
Many thousands of people would continue to die for decades to come!
America will never be the same EVER AGAIN!
American's lives will never be the same AGAIN!

Maybe the reason is your lack of Culture and lack of understanding other Cultures, not even the European cultures!

I do wish that you lot wake up from your hybernation and get out more and see and talk to other people in the world rather than keep naval gazing and dreaming up of this type of garbage!

tblubrd,I believe ... (Below threshold)


I believe Jay's thesis is that Iran poses a threat to our interests in the gulf, but poses no threat to the U.S. mainland. My point is that this is not necessarily the case. The existence of fiber helps bolster our communication ability, but does nothing to shield us from our dependence on electricity, so I must disagree with you. The vulnerability of our power grid has already been shown. You are correct in that most doomsday scenarios are not as devastating as believed. I certainly hope this is the case here but I would not casually dismiss this threat.


You are a nut. It is not America's "thirst for blood" that needs to be contended with. You must have copied your ridiculous screed from the official al-Qaeda hand book. Nobody thinks of war as a "quick fix." That is the view which Leftist's like to foist upon us. Any war that lasts for more than 2 weeks is a "quagmire" and "another Vietnam." The militant Muslim's desire for our destruction is already there and it is not going to go way. Please go back and cower in your corner.

The Princeton wasn't hit un... (Below threshold)

The Princeton wasn't hit until 1991. The USS Samuel B. Roberts hit a mine in 1988, leading to a massive retaliation.

Hey, James... got a news fl... (Below threshold)

Hey, James... got a news flash for you...

America and American lives haven't been the same since September 11th, 2001.






Follow Wizbang

Follow Wizbang on FacebookFollow Wizbang on TwitterSubscribe to Wizbang feedWizbang Mobile


Send e-mail tips to us:

[email protected]

Fresh Links


Section Editor: Maggie Whitton

Editors: Jay Tea, Lorie Byrd, Kim Priestap, DJ Drummond, Michael Laprarie, Baron Von Ottomatic, Shawn Mallow, Rick, Dan Karipides, Michael Avitablile, Charlie Quidnunc, Steve Schippert

Emeritus: Paul, Mary Katherine Ham, Jim Addison, Alexander K. McClure, Cassy Fiano, Bill Jempty, John Stansbury, Rob Port

In Memorium: HughS

All original content copyright © 2003-2010 by Wizbang®, LLC. All rights reserved. Wizbang® is a registered service mark.

Powered by Movable Type Pro 4.361

Hosting by ServInt

Ratings on this site are powered by the Ajax Ratings Pro plugin for Movable Type.

Search on this site is powered by the FastSearch plugin for Movable Type.

Blogrolls on this site are powered by the MT-Blogroll.

Temporary site design is based on Cutline and Cutline for MT. Graphics by Apothegm Designs.

Author Login

Terms Of Service

DCMA Compliance Notice

Privacy Policy