Iraq is a MCF, (major charlie foxtrot, for the uninitiated), all sides agree. The river of unanimity divides at the junction "Press On!" and "Get the Troops Out Now!". That one course must be taken is a requirement. At the parting, good people can, and do, disagree vehemently. The nation and the world await the President’s decision as to which direction he will take. Everyone understands that the stakes are huge; for a President that desires a democratic, secure Iraq, for the Shiites and Sunni factions that are fighting for control of the entire Levant, and for the radical Islamic elements, like al-Qaeda, that hope an American withdrawal will remove any further obstacle to their conquests in Africa and and South-West Asia.
In the spirit of conjecture, let me construct a scenario, based not on my strategic insight, but on a collection of disparate threads that might be spun into the whole cloth of a possible strategy. If you will, a plan for victory that gives the US the best opportunity to win a decisive first victory in the Long War.
Currently, there are two main schools of thought about the next step. They are, simply defined:
1) This thing is over, now let’s get our troops home as quickly and as safely as possible, while saving face in the rest of the world. Richard Haass, of the Council on Foreign Relations, enunciates this tactic when he writes:
"Even more than Vietnam 30 years ago, Iraq constitutes a major strategic setback. There is no getting around this. But Iraq is just that—a setback. What is essential is that the U.S. cut its losses there, contain the consequences and look for new opportunities to advance its interests around the world. The sooner the post-Iraq era of U.S. foreign policy dawns, the better."
Admit defeat, get out, get the MSM to spin that we tried, but we had a bad-faith partner that did not live up to his end of the bargain. The problem with this scenario is that we never asked the extant Iraqi state to be our partner. No friends, this is our mess, and the World will forever see this as our fault, if that is the way it turns out.
2) The second option seems to take the form of a surge in troop levels, which cannot be sustained indefinitely, but whose increased numbers would allow our forces to impose a higher level of security on Baghdad to stop the sectarian violence (okay, civil war), while we also whip the political process into shape, and get rid of the vile Muqtada al-Sadr and his militia. This option assumes that the Iraq MCF is winnable. Many commentators on the right have suggested that the situation is reminiscent of the Civil War in 1862-3, before the Union learned how to fight; that only Lincoln’s incredible resolve, in the face of principled opposition from his generals, cabinet, and political opponents, saved the day. Opponents see this option as nothing more than the juvenile persistence of a confused President, more concerned about his place in history than the price of such foolishness. Supporters of the President recognize that this option forcloses all others, that it’s a "one swing and you’re out" kind of tactic. Miss the ball, and the game’s over.
But what if the the White House wheels are turning in the Roveian way, recalling history while looking to the future? Surely there exists the possibility of a larger scenario, a better use of the little remaining political capital, a strategy that does more than solve the immediate problems. Perhaps an alternative that moves the Islamo-Fascist war to another level. What if the poker players in the White House are looking to go all in instead of doubling down on this weak hand?
A look back through history, using the Lincoln-Truman lenses, with a little Bush I thrown in, shows another strategy.
1864: Sherman marches through the South, while Lee and Grant battle in a endless grinding series of battles that have no winner, but leaving thousands of scarce soldiers dead. What kills the South is not just stalemate on the front in Virginia, but the chaos of Sherman burning cities, crops, and dislocating thousands of civilians.
1950: Inchon, with a South Korea on the verge of collapse, the UN and US forces trapped in a small pocket, looking like Dunkirk on a bad week, McArthur does the unthinkable by attacking in a different direction. His boldness saves the day, Truman’s presidency, and thousands of American lives.
1991: The Left Hook where the US army misled the Iraqi army and secretly outflanked the fixed Iraqi positions in a classic manuever that rolled up the enemy in 100 hours.
The Way Forward
2006: The Gordian Knot, wherein President Bush solves a heretofore intractable problem with characteristic boldness. First, some background. Powerline offers part of the solution in their post, saying in part:
"It strikes me that you, President Bush, are in a similar situation in Iraq. You know (if many liberals do not) that retreat is out of the question. Yet the status quo is untenable. Support for your administration’s policy is evaporating. Iraq is being pacified too slowly if at all, and minor tinkering around the edges–a few more men, some more training of Iraqis–won’t make much difference. You need a decisive stroke. You need to tip the table over. You need to attack.
Here is how you can do it. In late November, U.S. military sources revealed that they had found irrefutable evidence that Iran is arming the militias who are killing American soldiers:
U.S. officials say they have found smoking-gun evidence of Iranian support for terrorists in Iraq: brand-new weapons fresh from Iranian factories. According to a senior defense official, coalition forces have recently seized Iranian-made weapons and munitions that bear manufacturing dates in 2006.
Iranian-made munitions found in Iraq include advanced IEDs designed to pierce armor and anti-tank weapons. U.S. intelligence believes the weapons have been supplied to Iraq’s growing Shia militias from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, which is also believed to be training Iraqi militia fighters in Iran.
So here is what you, President Bush, should do: take as a model the Cuban Missile Crisis. First John Kennedy, then Adlai Stevenson, laid before the world the evidence, in the form of aerial photographs, that the Soviet Union was installing nuclear arms in Cuba. The proof was taken as conclusive, and, consequently, the Kennedy administration’s actions enjoyed universal support at home, and widespread support abroad.
Do something similar here. Commandeer a half hour in prime time to tell the American people, and the world, that we have clear evidence of Iran’s involvement in killing American servicemen. Show the captured munitions. Explain exactly how they have contributed to American casualties. Display aerial photos of the training camps. No doubt there is much more evidence that can be presented or described.
You should say that Iran’s supplying of weapons in order to kill Americans is an act of war. In the dramatic finale of your speech, announce that thirty minutes earlier, American airplanes stationed in the Middle East took off, their destination, one of the munitions plants or training camps of which you have shown pictures. That training camp, you say, no longer exists. You say that if Iran does not immediately cease all support for, and fomenting of, violence in Iraq, we will continue to strike military targets inside Iran.
A forceful and dramatic conclusion. But that isn’t quite the end; instead, in the manner of Columbo or Steve Jobs, you add just one more thing: you declare that no nation that is engaged in killing American servicemen on the field of battle will be permitted to arm itself with nuclear weapons. Iran must either open all nuclear-related facilities to inspection by an international group headed by the U.S. (not the U.N.), immediately and for the foreseeable future, or those facilities, too, will be destroyed, along with the economic infrastructure that supports them.
If you do this, will the country back you? Not all of it. The liberals are too far gone. But half the country–your half–will, and maybe more. It is, after all, a little hard to explain why we should not respond to acts of war committed against us by a hostile nation that has vowed to destroy us."
We’ve seen how Iran responds to threats……..they don’t. No, Iranian hubris is strong and the Imams are itching for a fight, one that would establish, once and for all, their hegemony. So far, we’ve only got half of the proposed solution. This is the justification, and the strategic direction, but we need a good plan.
And here it is. First, though, some background….
"As the impasse over Iran’s nuclear-weapons program grows inexorably into a crisis, a kind of consensus has taken root in the minds of America’s foreign-policy elite. This is that military action against Iran is a sure formula for disaster. The essence of the position was expressed in a cover story in Time magazine this past September. Entitled “What War with Iran Would Look Like (And How to Avoid It),” the essay focused on what the editors saw as the certain consequences of armed American intervention in that country: wildly spiking oil prices, increased terrorist attacks, economic panic around the world, and the end to any dream of pro-American democratic governments emerging in the Middle East. And that would be in the case of successful action. In fact, Time predicted, given our overstretched resources and an indubitably fierce Iranian resistance, we would almost certainly lose.
Thus, in the eyes of Time’s experts as of many other observers, military action against Iran is “unthinkable.” What then can be done in the face of the mullahs’ implacable drive to acquire nuclear weapons? Here a variety of responses can be discerned. At one end are those who assure us, in the soothing title of a New York Times op-ed by Barry Posen of MIT, that “We Can Live with a Nuclear Iran.” (Newsweek’s Fareed Zakaria is similarly sanguine.) Others, like Senator Joseph Biden, insist that we have at least ten years before we have to worry about Iran’s getting a working bomb. According to Ashton Carter, who served as an assistant secretary of defense in the Clinton administration, we at least have enough time to explore every possible diplomatic avenue before contemplating any direct military response.
Taking a more openly appeasing line, critics of the Bush administration like Ray Takeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations and Chatham House’s Ali Ansari urge us to enter into extended engagement or “dialogue” with Iran, with an eye toward persuading the mullahs to end or at least to modify their nuclear program. This is essentially the tack that has been followed by European and European Union diplomats for the past three years, with notably little success.
Finally there is the tougher solution preferred by the Bush administration: economic sanctions imposed by the UN. The problem here is that the more effective such sanctions are designed to be—proposed measures include freezing Iranian assets abroad and suspending all business and financial ties—the more reluctant have been France, Russia, and China (our partners on the Security Council) to go along. Sanctions that do pass muster with these governments, whose aggregate business dealings with Iran far outstrip those of the United States, are precisely the ones with little or no bite.
And even watered-down sanctions, as U.S. Ambassador John Bolton admitted in a recent interview, are “by no means a done deal.”
To a greater or lesser extent, all of these recommendations fly in the face of reality. Despite Iran’s richly developed repertoire of denials, deceptions, and dissimulations, there is ample evidence that it has no intention whatsoever of relinquishing its aim of becoming a nuclear power. Moreover, this aim may be achievable not within a decade (as Senator Biden fancies) but within the next two to three years. In September, the House Intelligence Committee reported that Iran may have already succeeded in enriching uranium; some intelligence analysts believe that it may already have access to fissionable nuclear material, courtesy of North Korea. If that is so, no diplomacy in the world is going to prevent it from acquiring a bomb.
But neither are nuclear weapons the only threat posed by the Islamic Republic. While the international community has been preoccupied with this issue, the regime in Tehran has been taking steady steps to achieve hegemony over one of the world’s most sensitive and economically critical regions, and control over the world’s most precious resource. It is doing so, moreover, entirely through conventional means."
The US and Europe are focused exclusively on the Nuclear issue, while Iran exerts its influence in an entirely conventional way. We lack the military power to invade Iran directly, never mind that we don’t have the lead time necessary to build the logistical mountain necessary for such an attack. No, Operation Gordian Knot would be based on an entirely different objective, as Mr. Herman explains:
"But, as I have tried to show, the most immediate menace Iran poses is not nuclear but conventional in nature. How might it be dealt with militarily, and is it conceivable that both perils could be dealt with at once? What follows is one possible scenario for military action.
The first step would be to make it clear that the United States will tolerate no action by any state that endangers the international flow of commerce in the Straits of Hormuz. Signaling our determination to back up this statement with force would be a deployment in the Gulf of Oman of minesweepers, a carrier strike group’s guided-missile destroyers, an Aegis-class cruiser, and anti-submarine assets, with the rest of the carrier group remaining in the Indian Ocean. The U.S. Navy could also deploy UAV’s (unmanned air vehicles) and submarines to keep watch above and below against any Iranian missile threat to our flotilla.
Our next step would be to declare a halt to all shipments of Iranian oil while guaranteeing the safety of tankers carrying non-Iranian oil and the platforms of other Gulf states. We would then guarantee this guarantee by launching a comprehensive air campaign aimed at destroying Iran’s air-defense system, its air-force bases and communications systems, and finally its missile sites along the Gulf coast. At that point the attack could move to include Iran’s nuclear facilities—not only the “hard” sites but also infrastructure like bridges and tunnels in order to prevent the shifting of critical materials from one to site to another.
Above all, the air attack would concentrate on Iran’s gasoline refineries. It is still insufficiently appreciated that Iran, a huge oil exporter, imports nearly 40 percent of its gasoline from foreign sources, including the Gulf states. With its refineries gone and its storage facilities destroyed, Iran’s cars, trucks, buses, planes, tanks, and other military hardware would run dry in a matter of weeks or even days. This alone would render impossible any major countermoves by the Iranian army. (For its part, the Iranian navy is aging and decrepit, and its biggest asset, three Russian-made Kilo-class submarines, should and could be destroyed before leaving port.)
The scenario would not end here. With the systematic reduction of Iran’s capacity to respond, an amphibious force of Marines and special-operations forces could seize key Iranian oil assets in the Gulf, the most important of which is a series of 100 offshore wells and platforms built on Iran’s continental shelf. North and South Pars offshore fields, which represent the future of Iran’s oil and natural-gas industry, could also be seized, while Kargh Island at the far western edge of the Persian Gulf, whose terminus pumps the oil from Iran’s most mature and copiously producing fields (Ahwaz, Marun, and Gachsaran, among others), could be rendered virtually useless. By the time the campaign was over, the United States military would be in a position to control the flow of Iranian oil at the flick of a switch.
An operational fantasy? Not in the least. The United States did all this once before, in the incident I have already alluded to. In 1986-88, as the Iran-Iraq war threatened to spill over into the Gulf and interrupt vital oil traffic, the United States Navy stepped in, organizing convoys and re-flagging ships to protect them against vengeful Iranian attacks. When the Iranians tried to seize the offensive, U.S. vessels sank one Iranian frigate, crippled another, and destroyed several patrol boats. Teams of SEALS also shelled and seized Iranian oil platforms. The entire operation, the largest naval engagement since World War II, not only secured the Gulf; it also compelled Iraq and Iran to wind down their almost decade-long war. Although we made mistakes, including most grievously the accidental shooting-down of a civilian Iranian airliner, killing everyone on board, the world economic order was saved—the most important international obligation the United States faced then and faces today.
But the so-called “tanker war” did not go far enough. In the ensuing decades, the regime in Tehran has single-mindedly pursued its goal of achieving great-power status through the acquisition of nuclear weapons, control of the Persian Gulf, and the spread of its ideology of global jihad. Any effective counter-strategy today must therefore be predicated not only on seizing the state’s oil assets but on refusing to relinquish them unless and until there is credible evidence of regime change in Tehran or—what is all but inconceivable—a major change of direction by the reigning theocracy. In the meantime, and as punishment for its serial violations of UN resolutions and of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran’s oil resources would be impounded and revenues from their production would be placed in escrow.
Obviously, no plan is foolproof. The tactical risks associated with a comprehensive war strategy of this sort are numerous. But they are outweighed by its key advantages.
First, it would accomplish much more than air strikes alone on Iran’s elusive nuclear sites. Whereas such action might retard the uranium-enrichment program by some years, this one in effect would put Iran’s theocracy out of business by depriving it of the very weapon that the critics of air strikes most fear. It would do so, moreover, with minimal means. This would be a naval and air war, not a land campaign. Requiring no draw-down of U.S. forces in Iraq, it would involve one or two carrier strike groups, an airborne brigade, and a Marine brigade. Since the entire operation would take place offshore, there would be no need to engage the Iranian army. It and the Revolutionary Guards would be left stranded, out of action and out of gas.
In fact, there is little Iran could do in the face of relentless military pressure at its most vulnerable point. Today, not only are key elements of the Iranian military in worse shape than in the 1980’s, but even the oil weapon is less formidable than imagined. Currently Iran exports an estimated 2.5 million barrels of oil a day. Yet according to a recent report in Forbes, quoting the oil-industry analyst Michael Lynch, new sources of oil around the world will have boosted total production by 2 million barrels a day in this year alone, and next year by three million barrels a day. In short, other producers (including Iranian platforms in American hands) can take up some if not all of the slack. The real loser would be Iran itself. Pumping crude oil is its only industry, making up 85 percent of its exports and providing 65 percent of the state budget. With its wells held hostage, the country’s economy could enter free fall….
…In 1936, the French army could have halted Hitler’s reoccupation of the Rhineland with a single division of troops, but chose to do nothing. In 1938, Britain and France could have joined forces with the well-armed and highly motivated Czech army to administer a crushing defeat to the German Wehrmacht and probably topple Hitler in the bargain. Instead they handed him the Sudetenland, setting in motion the process that in 1939 led to the most destructive war in world history. Do we intend to dither until suicide bombers blow up a supertanker off the Omani coast, or a mushroom cloud appears over Tel Aviv, before we decide it is finally time to get serious about Iran?"
Let’s summarize. The pressure in Iraq is almost unbearable, due in large part to the support given the Shiite militias by Iran. There are rumblings that Saudi Arabia will step in to defend the Sunni tribes if their extermination/dislocation appears likely. We need to get out of the way of the "civil war" and focus on the big problem, Iranian desire for hegemony. We can hurt Iran, perhaps fatally, with the intense application of currently under-utilized, in-theater assets, i.e., Naval airpower and sea power, special forces, embarked Marines, and strategic Air. We can, with minimal cost in lives, dollars, and flexibility, shut down Iran while simultaneously degrading their nuclear arms program. An Iran in turmoil, dare we even hope revolution, will have to take care of itself before it looks to its putative client state, the Iraqi militias, thus relieving the strain in Iraq.
Are we bold enough? Can we "break on through to the other side" of the Long War? As Powerline concludes…."You are beset right now, Mr. President, by a sea of troubles. Any passive policy will fail; only boldness offers hope. The calculus not just in Iraq, but throughout the region, must be fundamentally changed. Many are counting you out, Mr. President, but the fact is that you still hold the highest cards: the American armed forces. It is time to give the Army, the Marines, and, this time, the Air Force, the order: fix bayonets and prepare to charge."
It is time for victory, and this is the way.