The Future of the Iranian Nuclear Program, Part IV
[See Part I, Part II, Part III] This part of the Iran series will consist of reactions to reader comments. The original plan was to cover in Part IV each of the military options mentioned in Part III. But responding to reader comments will foster lively discussion. We'll still cover each military option in-depth, and we'll still look at the hand that the Iranians hold as well. All in good time. We asked for comments from readers in Part III and received 30 comments here on the blog and a couple of dozen more via email. All were great contributions. Some general observations: Many readers were very pro-spec ops use. Special operations forces are a powerful asset and we should all be glad that they are on our side. But they are not a pancea for our current dilemma. If a military campaign does kick off, special operations troops will surely be heavily involved, but they won't be the only ground forces. The Afghanistan campaign may have looked like nothing but special forces with a smattering of conventional troops, but Iran is quite a different situation. In Afghanistan, the country had been in a civil war for several years. The Northern Alliance was a veteran military force, regardless of their sophistication or training. All the US had to do was give them some guidance, and integrate their use with the combined arms power of air assets and they were able to roll right over the Taliban. In Iran, on the contrary, while there are democracy movements, and opposition to the government is supposedly high, there is no organized military force that Green Berets could join and co-opt or assist. Depending on how bad the police state really is, there may be little or no political organization amongst the opposition either. Training an opposition force would probably take months -- and would be hard to keep under wraps. Several readers also took the route of covert action, wherein the CIA in some way would undermine the government and support the opposition. While this is entirely plausible, there are many issues with pulling it off. First, this is a long-term strategy. If the CIA has been mixing things up, building relationships, gaining footholds and whatnot for the past 3 or so years, then perhaps an option like this could work -- and even then as part of some larger military campaign. But if we're going to ask the CIA to overthrow the Iranian regime and they are starting from scratch tomorrow, it's just not going to happen within the time frame that we've established for ourselves (12-18 months). I think it best to completely discount the possibility that the CIA could engineer a coup, plan for something else entirely, and then if they do pull it off, it'll just be a bonus for all of us. Other readers mentioned the idea of sabotaging the nuclear sites somehow. This is an excellent idea, but many of the above-mentioned caveats about CIA action still apply. Before the first Gulf War, the CIA managed to have a virus installed on a large printer that was destined to be shipped to Iraq via Jordan and used in Iraq's air-defense system. The virus was then triggered somehow and made the air-defense network go haywire right as our F-117s were beginnng to hit Baghdad. An excellent example of sabotage --but this meant: infiltrating the networks of arms dealers and computer companies who would sell this type of equipment, making sure that it would be used, getting the virus right, etc, etc, etc. "Keep it simple stupid" applies to everything you are doing against an enemy with an independent will, and precise acts of covert sabotage have many, many key points at which they can fail if just one thing goes wrong. Other readers mentioned the possibility of new bunker-buster weapons that are still classified. This is entirely possible. Every time I hear Bush talk about the need for a smaller bunker-busting nuke, I keep hoping that we've already built one and he's just getting us ready for its debut. Still though, best to discount this, and assume we don't have anything like it. [Whatever happened to the AGM-154A Joint Standoff Weapon (JSOW)? Perhaps someone out there could answer. Still not a total solution though.] One reader pointed out that Iran has an elected government, and that it is just undermined by the religious clerics. We could remove the religous aspects of the government and let the elected government remain. This could be one way to skin this cat, but what is happening to the nuke sites and materials while we're doing it? And would a new Iranian government composed of many of the same folks totally give up nuke development? This option would have to be employed with others. Good point though. Some final thoughts, not in reaction to any particular readers comments, but inspired by them: In Iraq, there were Sensitive Site Exploration teams, whose job was to occupy and examine all manner of suspected Iraqi WMD facilities. But they were too little too late. Perhaps if they had had both strategic and tactical surprise, they would have found more. As it was, whatever had been there had been moved by the time they arrived. Sure there was some evidence of a weapons program, but all the sexy headline-making stuff was gone. I think the keys pieces to this puzzle are going to be the answers to three questions: What facilities of the nuclear program need just plain old destruction? That is, once hit, they are useless. What are the key components of the program that cannot be allowed to be moved elsewhere or slipped into the hands of another country or a terrorist group? Where are these components? Like enriched uranium? Seems that these will need more than just bombing -- they'll need to be physically captured, and possibly transported back to the US for safeguarding. Can the US act with strategic surprise? If our blow is telegraphed, the Iranians will have time to mitigate the effects of our strike by moving equipment, possibly giving nuclear materials to terrorists, or to have an on-call counterattack with their cruise missiles at the ready, etc. So, it seems whatever the US is to do must be done with little or no warning to keep the Iranians off balance. Strategic surprise is incredibly difficult in a democracy . . . and as I've said before, when it comes to large-scale troop movements, you cannot hide the logistics . . . Completely thinking out loud now . . . If our goal is to bomb 300-500 targets over a period of a week, you could precede that campaign by seizing the three or four top-priority sites, where the nuclear material is, with a relatively small number of US troops -- a MEU or two, a large special forces footprint and maybe the ready brigade of the 82nd Airborne. I bet security at the various sites is not that great. Underground sites would be more difficult to seize . . . a troop size that small would have to be in and out pretty fast too, and have massive air cover in addition to the bombing campaign . . . Part V will be later this week. Comment away!