CHESTER HAS MOVED!: The Future of the Iranian Nuclear Program, Part I

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

The Future of the Iranian Nuclear Program, Part I

What does the future hold for the Islamic Republic of Iran and its nuclear weapons program? What forecasts can be made about US policy toward Iran? CONFRONTATION WITH IRAN LOOMS The President has stated that Iran will not be allowed to possess nuclear weapons. He can be taken at his word. The current diplomatic agreement between Iran and several nations of the EU has no verification mechanism, and will not satisfy the President that Iran has ceased its nuclear weapons program. Having seen the ill effects of a failed diplomatic solution to the North Korean nuclear program, the President will be short on patience for similar negotiated disarmament schemes that miss the mark of full and unconditional disclosure, like that of Libya. Iran will not submit to such disclosure. However the current cabinet shakeup plays out, the Bush Administration will view Iran as a greater threat to US security than Syria. While Syria provides geographic territory, logistical support, and moral support to various terrorist groups, these groups, Hamas and Hezbollah, mainly target Israel and not the United States. While Syria may be the repository of whatever Iraqi weapons were stashed away prior to the invasion, Syria has no nuclear weapons development program. The President and Vice President have clearly stated that the over-riding reason for the invasion of Iraq was the threat to the United States of the "nexus between weapons of mass destruction and terrorist groups." This nexus clearly resides in Iran, which is actively seeking nuclear weapons and has a long history of supporting all manner of terrorist groups, including, from time to time, Al Qaeda. THE TIMING OF US ACTION Before assumptions about the use of US force can be definitively stated, the critical question becomes the time horizon. What to make of this? How to define in time, the event that creates the deadline? Iran will eventually reach a point wherein it has completed the infrastructure and research necessary to manufacture a nuclear weapon. This is the point it must not be allowed to reach. The Atlantic article gives the Iranians 3 years, with many backside-covering qualifications. A recent US News report states three to seven years. Other reports, including one referenced in the Belmont Club by Wretchard, state as little as 4-6 months before Iran has the break-out stage and can "construct nuclear bombs whenever it wishes." As we all know from the re-election campaign, President Bush was criticized as "rushing to war" in Iraq. Agreeing with the characterization of this decision (that it was poor form to move so quickly) or not is irrelevant. Instead, assume that Bush prefers to err on the side of action, and move quickly. In this case, let us assume the time horizon for his decision is 12-18 months. In the next year and a half, the US, whether alone or with allies, must address the Iranian nuclear program once and for all, or grudgingly admit Iran into the fraternity of nuclear powers, and like it or not, live with its regime for an indefinite period of time. THE SHAPE OF US ACTION Let us revisit the assumptions about military force from yesterday's critique of the Atlantic Monthly's December cover story. Now we'll add commentary to each of the assumptions: "1. Any military action will reflect current thinking within the Pentagon." This is wrong. Military war plans really only exist for two reasons -- in case of dire emergency, and to use as building blocks for situationally-dependent detailed planning. Witness Operational Plan 1003-V (called "Oh-plan ten-oh-three victor"), which was used to plan the invasion of Iraq. The plan had been gathering dust on the shelves in some classified vault for years, with a few updates and modifications here and there. When the attention spans of senior policy-makers dwell upon a particular issue, the plans are dusted off and revised, revised, revised, ad infinitum, as much as time will allow, and even with the possibility of major changes (complete rerouting of the 4th Infantry Division, for example) right up until the event in question is about to start. "2. The only way to stimulate a regime change is through military force in general and an invasion in particular." This too is wrong. Overthrowing governments used to be one of the core competencies of the CIA. This skill may not be as honed as we would like, but it is there, deep down. Moreover, a well-executed punitive strike, even against limited military targets, and not the entire apparatus of a regime, can be a powerful instigator of regime change. Having one's government unable to prevent a foreign military strike on one's soil is a seriously and catastrophically delegitimizing and destabilizing act. "3. The military has no stomach for stability operations." Also wrong. Secretary Rumsfeld and General Myers have issued directives since the Iraqi campaign started detailing the importance of postwar planning in future conflicts. The military can apply the same operationally detailed planning to postwar stability as it can to invasions, airstrikes, humanitarian missions, and other large-scale undertakings, so long as it has the necessary guidance. "4. The buildup to an invasion cannot be disguised." Correct. While tactical surprise is possible, even with a telegraphed punch such as seen in the defense of Kuwait, the invasion of Iraq, or the recapture of Fallujah, it is very difficult for a democracy like our own to commit large numbers of ground forces to any task while keeping it under wraps. In general, logistics cannot hide. Moving 10,000 men cannot be hidden in a stratgically significant way. If performed quickly enough, their exact destination and time of arrival can be difficult to determine. But their trip itself cannot. "5. The US military is too overstretched for an invasion of Iran at this point in time." More or less correct. An invasion of some size could be mounted, but the longer the invasion force stayed in Iran, the more force structure begins to catch up to it. A large-scale recall of reservists could increase the time US forces could operate in Iran, but such a move would make the United States vulnerable in other spheres of influence (Taiwan, South Korea). As the time horizon moves further and further into the future though, this statement becomes less and less true. As Iraqi forces take more and more responsibility for Iraq's security, the forces available for an invasion of Iran increase dramatically. "6. If a pre-emptive strike only succeeded in delaying the Iranian program, they would sooner or later have weapons after all."* This may be true; but it assumes that the US would stop at one air campaign. If one air campaign buys 18 months, that is 18 months to prepare for the troop heavy option. If another air campaign has to then take place, why couldn't it? Singular, "it-all-comes-down-to-this" decisiveness is always preferable, but if it is impossible to achieve it is entirely plausible that a series of air campaigns could take place. Knowing that there are 12-18 months to work with, what are the options open to US policy-makers? Tomorrow . . . GOALS OF US ACTION, in The Future of the Iranian Nuclear Program, Part II. *Note: These assumptions are derived from the article; they do not appear there verbatim. Note 2: I am about to post an update to Sunday's critique of a New York Times article. Refresh your screen in a moment to see it.

9 Comments:

Blogger someone said...

Thanks, Chester. What of the fairly imminent issue, discussed here, of Russia delivering fuel rods to Bushehr? Have we averted that, or does that speed up our time frame a bit?

November 16, 2004 at 8:55 PM  
Blogger trilogy said...

A comment on the #5 point you make. I think you will see the terrorist situation in Iraq subside dramatically once the US attacks Iran. Give that some thought. A 50,000 man force in Iraq alongside the new Iraqi army at your back will feel pretty good when that time comes.

Also, it seems to me that a good way to get set up for an attack against Iran would be to build up the US force in Iraq, on land, in the air and at sea, under the pretext of dealing with the insurgency quickly before the election. A tactical surprise is very possible in my opinion.

I also think that Iran, for all their brave talk, would be pretty darn confused if the US started to bomb a couple dozen sites all at once, some of which the Iranians may even think the US does not know about. Despite what others have said, Iran did not handle the rag tag army or Iraq very well a few years ago. They would simply be no match for a dedicated American stike. Then I think you would see the Iranian people do the rest.

One more thing. There was a reason why Dresden was bombed to the ground and two very big bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I don't like to see even one American soldier die because of this scum.

A friend from the north

November 16, 2004 at 9:43 PM  
Blogger adamtait said...

This is an interesting time, considering the current state of affairs over at Langley. While the CIA may not be in "turmoil", I do not believe it is in a position to play a big role in covert attempts to deal with the Iranian Mullahs.

The Mossad, on the other hand, is perhaps better equipped to make things happen in Tehran.

November 16, 2004 at 9:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why must the US be limited to overt military action, air strikes or useless diplomatic posturing? Could we not use CIA/SOCOM assets to strike transportation of critical supplies to Iran? Distribute propaganda to incite resentment in the citizens, and doubt/fear in the Iranian military. Bribe officials and assassinate scientist and politicans. Why must we enter the fight with one hand tied behind our back. There is more than one way to counter the tactics of our enemies. If our intelligence agencies can't help us here it is indeed time that they should be reorginized.

November 17, 2004 at 9:16 AM  
Blogger Robert said...

"Having one's government unable to prevent a foreign military strike on one's soil is a seriously and catastrophically delegitimizing and destabilizing act."

Did Pearl Harbor "delegitimize and destabilize" the US government? Of course not! Such a strike tends to unite people behind their existing government in seeking revenge on the foreigners. The use of force creates counterforces.

November 17, 2004 at 11:58 AM  
Blogger brdavis said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

November 17, 2004 at 2:36 PM  
Blogger brdavis said...

Robert --

Did Pearl Harbor "delegitimize and destabilize" the US government? Of course not! Such a strike tends to unite people behind their existing government in seeking revenge on the foreigners. The use of force creates counterforces.Uh-uh. Bogus.

Your analogy is indifferent to the situational realities of the two examples.

The US government of Roosevelt was both stable, and well-supported by the populace.

The current Iranian government is experiencing wide-spread civil unrest and is arguably on the verge of democratic revolution.

Your statement "...a strike tends to unite people behind their existing government" is demonstrably weak in even the recent historical sense. Think Panama. Think Nicaragua. More? Think blitzkrieg. Think Sudetenland in 1938 (the Czech government fell). Poland in 1939.

...let alone the cultural differences between the US circa 1940 and present-day Iran that preclude any kind of hopeful attempt at syllogistic reasoning you expected to draw.

Actually, it is historically more rare that a sudden attack does NOT destablize a government. The Chamberlain-ist appeasers ("peace in our time") are FAR more common historically then the Churchill-ian fighters.

The difference between Carter in 1970 and Bush in 2001 should be strikingly obvious.

When we hit Iran, the mullahcracy will fall. The people of Iran aren't going to rally 'round the flag: they're going to go hunting their oppressors.

November 17, 2004 at 2:39 PM  
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