CHESTER HAS MOVED!: "Will Iran Be Next?"

Monday, November 15, 2004

"Will Iran Be Next?"

The cover story of the December issue of the Atlantic Monthly is entitled, “Will Iran Be Next? A Pentagon-Style War Game Shows Why Military Strikes Would Invite Disaster.” A better subtitle would be: “A TV News-Style Roundtable Discussion Shows Why Policy Isn’t Made in One Three-Hour Sitting.” James Fallows’ article describes a forum of policy wonks and former officials, sponsored by the Atlantic, who are seated in a room one morning, given few instructions on how to decide anything, and then recorded by videotape to ensure their egos can do the talking for them. The incoherent results are reprehensibly passed off as a mirror of “the most plausible, current, non-classified information.” (One very alert reader insists that this article is a CIA plant to throw the mullahs off. If only that were so!) The forum is that of a meeting of the Principals Committee, the most senior national security officials of the “next administration.” Here is mistake number one: by trying to include both Democratic and Republican viewpoints in their committee, the Atlantic has seriously watered down the decisions of a group comprised solely of either party’s officials. Waiting until the election results were clear would have made for a much more realistic forum to discuss the Iran dilemma. The next mistake is the assumption that Iran would defy the deadline set by the IAEA for satisfying its demands. This is no doubt a result of the vagaries of journalistic deadlines, but aside from the fact that this assumption has proven wrong (link), it ignores the possibility that Iran will both agree to IAEA demands and continue with its weapons program clandestinely – which is entirely possible and would require a wholly different set of considerations. The purpose of the war game is to “force attention on the three or four main issues the next President will have to face about Iran . . .” and this is rightly how to define the deliberations and product of a Principals Committee meeting. But the wargame unduly focuses their discussion on the use of force. Diplomacy, economic sanctions, CIA covert operations, are all left out of the discussion, though one must assume that a meeting of the Principals Committee is where the combined application of these other elements of national power would most likely be weighed and counterbalanced against each other. The limitations that this imposes will soon be clear. The participants in the wargame were: Sam Gardiner, a retired Air Force Colonel, with many years of experience in developing wargame and other simulation exercises, this time posing as National Security Advisor. David Kay, the former US weapons inspector, played the role of Director of Central Intelligence. Two different individuals play Secretary of State, Reuel Marc Gerecht, a former case officer in the CIA, meant to be the conservative, and Kenneth Pollack, a former CIA analyst, meant to be the liberal. Kenneth Bacon, a former Clinton administration official, played the White House Chief of Staff, and Michael Mazarr, a professor of national-security strategy at the National ar College, was the Secretary of Defense. In addition to these participants, there were three observers: Harvard University’s Graham Allison, Marine Colonel Thomas X. Hammes, and Army Major Donald Vandergriff, the three of whom are known for their expertise or innovative thinking in defense-related decision-making. Being only observers, they can be let off the hook for the results. So what happens when several once and future wonks gather to debate policy while being videotaped? As Steinbeck once wrote, it was "as spontaneous as peristalsis and as interesting as its result." In short, the "war game" had significant problems. Aside from the fundamental limitations above, the "game" suffered from no clear mechanism for detailed planning. There was no brainstorming session, no attempt to weigh one idea against another. Instead, a free-for-all took place. Consider for example: -The roleplaying nature of the game was "loose": "Sometimes the participants expressed their institutions' views; other times they stepped out of role and spoke for themselves." How is it possible for them to express institutional views when those institutions -- the State Department and the CIA for example -- are undergoing significant post-election upheaval? Is it not off the mark to say that the institutions whose views they were expected to express don't know what their views are yet? -The most critical of their product are the gamers themselves, noting for example, the lack of a red cell to figure out the options of the Iranians. Notes Fallows: "'Process' sounds dull, and even worse is 'government decision-making,' but these topics provoked the most impassioned comments from panelists and observers when they were interviewed after the war game." How ironic when they had no process to speak of themselves! Perhaps mirroring an actual military war game,but without the actual troop movements, would be a better way to untie this knot. Let us wade through the gobbledy-gook in this article and see what we can find. The assumptions of the planners/gamers: 1. All of our information leads us to believe that Iran will have nuclear weapons capabilities within three years. This information may not be everything though, and there could be factors we have no idea about that will speed the process. 2. There are two wild-card factors: Iran's involvement in Iraq and Israel's potential involvement with Iran. Using these two assumptions as starting points, the panel then proceeds to veto nearly every possible tool to affect the Iranian weapons program: An Israeli strike? The Israelis know they don't have the capability for that! They would have to hit every missile in addition to all the nuke sites! They won't risk a counterattack with chemical weapons! We should tell them to pipe down! Iran's influence on current US actions in Iraq? The Iranians can make it very difficult for us there if they want! The Iranians might provoke every Shi'ite to rise against us! It could get bloody! They then consider three military courses of action (COA) for the US to take against Iran: 1. "A punitive raid against key Revolutionary Guard units, to retaliate for Iranian actions elsewhere, most likely in Iraq." This is a truly baffling option. Weren't we discussing the Iranian nuclear program? How does attacking the Iranian military affect the development of Iran's nuclear weapons, except to force them to speed it up as much as possible? And what Iranian actions are we retaliating against? Do we already possess evidence of these actions? The inclusion of this option is inexplicable, unless one remembers that when planners are forced to come up with three options, one of them is usually called the "throwaway COA." 2. "A pre-emptive air strike on possible nuclear facilities;" Much more like it. Now we are talking. 3. "A 'regime change' operation involving the forcible removal of the mullahs government in Tehran." Certainly appears to be an option, though appearances can be deceiving. The panel then begins to pick apart each and every one of these three options. Their over-riding goal throughout this exercise is to eschew any and all risk. Striking the Iranian military? This is supposed to be a measured response to Iranian meddling in Iraq, "and a first step in laying the groundwork for the ultimate step of regime change." Here we see that this first option is nothing more than option three light. It cannot really be undertaken unless the US is willing to go all the way in removing the regime. The pre-emptive air strike? The US would attack 300 different sites involved in the development of nukes, chem or bio weapons, all in a matter of five days. An invasion of Iran? Meant to change the regime? Here the panel gets bogged down in details -- where will the feints be? What airfields will the invasion force use? Will it be light, with few divisions and lots of special forces? Or heavy, with many divisions and lots of special forces? Then, the panel mentions that the invading forces will avoid any stability operations. This is fascinating. Why would the panel assume that a US force would avoid stability operations, given our recent experience in Iraq? Fallows asks this of Gardiner: "How could the military dare suggest such a plan after the disastrous consequences of ignoring 'stability' responsibilities in Iraq? Even now, Gardiner said after the war game, the military sees post-conflict operations as peripheral to its duties. If these jobs need to be done, someone else must take responsibility for them." This is nothing short of alarming. First, the post-invasion instability in Iraq was not the fault of the US military. The fault for the lack of planning rests with poor interagency coordination. Stabilty operations must have an overt political goal -- in this case, establishing a government -- and while the removal of Saddam's regime was a rousing success, the quick and efficient installation of the next regimes -- the CPA and the Interim Government -- were a failure. Military planners are not to blame for this inaction -- civilian planners are. In fact, US military units, who were living in Iraq, and had quite a stake in not seeing instability, are to be commended for adapting to the situation and preventing further instability than occurred. Second, the idea that the military see post-conflict operations as peripheral to its duties is flat-out wrong. Marines for example, have been training for and conducting Miliary Operations Other than War or MOOTW -- what could also be called Small Wars -- for the better part of a century. And the military has moved to make postwar planning a priority in future conflicts as well. More about this fictional invasion of Iran: "Our objective is to be on the outskirts of Tehran in two weeks. The notion is we will not have a Battle of Tehran; we don't want to do that. We want to have a battle around the city. We want to bring our combat-power to the vicinity of Tehran and use Special Operations inside the capital. We have no intention of getting bogged down in stability operations in Iran afterwards." In other words, the war plan is a reproduction of the plan for the invasion of Iraq, but without the guts to take a city. And rather than admit the US did poorly in post-conflict planning in Iraq, and then try to improve on that, the plan avoids all post-conflict involvement whatsoever. This is a dangerous plan and the panel recognizes this and rejects it. Sitting on the outskirts of the capital and waiting for a miracle to occur and a regime to evaporate -- especially a totalitarian one -- is not a recipe for success. The article goes downhill from there, ending with these words: "After all of this effort, I am left with two simple sentences for policymakers," Sam Gardiner said of his exercise. "You have no military solution for the issues of Iran. And you have to make diplomacy work." Perhaps Mr. Fallows and his posse have no solutions, but The Adventures of Chester does. Before that though, let us examine some of the panel's assumptions which were not as obvious: 1. Any military action will reflect current thinking within the Pentagon. 2. The only way to stimulate a regime change is through military force. 3. The military has no stomach for stability operations (this one was obvious). 4. The buildup to an invasion cannot be disguised. 5. The US military is too overstretched for an invasion of Iran at this point in time. 6. If a pre-emptive strike only succeeded in delaying the Iranian program, they would sooner or later have weapons after all. Tomorrow, The Adventures of Chester will address each of these assumptions and offer an alternative analysis and course of action. As the week progresses, we'll examine each part of this alternative one bit at a time. Also later this week: China and Taiwan? Headed for disaster?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Chester, pretty OT but while you are at it, any opinion about Kurdistan, in all four countries (okay, that includes Iran), and what Turkey may get up to regarding Kirkuk?

thanks for the insight!

November 16, 2004 at 12:14 AM  
Blogger Paul13 said...

Usually I agree with your views, but if the situation really gets to a military confrontation there is no reason why the Revolutionary Guards should be left aside. As regime change probably wouldn't be done with an all-out invasion there might be a decapitation strike and in such a case the Guards as one of the main regime assets should be on the list next to the political leadership - and if it's only to show the people that the regime is going to lose.

November 16, 2004 at 12:51 AM  
Blogger Rory B. Bellows said...

I still wonder where 10th Special Forces Group went off to.

November 16, 2004 at 1:25 AM  
Blogger coldoc said...

New "lurker" here. I greatly appreciate and enjoy this blog!

I seem to recall an armed group of Iranian ex-pats in the KUT area that were discovered during the initial invasion of Iraq. They were quite hostile to the current Iranian regime, Communists, and tolerated/encouraged/armed by Saddam. They had some impressive arms including heavy artillary, I think. They were quietly & peacefully disarmed as I recall. Anyway, I assume these people are still there. I wonder how they would play in the scheme of things?

November 16, 2004 at 3:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think we should hang a left at Bagdad and have a go at Syria first, rather than going right into Iran. According to many sources, Saddam's WMD are there. Also, in my opinion, Syria's Bathists, with their active support of terrorists and Iraqi insurgents, are every bit as dangerous to us and our troops as Iran's mullahs.

If we succeeded in defanging Syria, the Iran problem might become easier to handle. Our credibility as a fighter of terrorism would increase dramatically. At the very least, our willingness to take on other military challenges would not be lost on the mullahs. I suspect every time we speak to them, we would have their full attention.

November 16, 2004 at 7:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Diplomacy and sanctions by the U.S. are of limited utility against Iran since the country is already heavily embargoed. There's also the possibility that Iran would do as NK did and simply promise to stop their program operating while they continue it underground.

Regime change is the only way to achieve confidence that the nuclear program is ended. The ongoing occupation of Iraq makes an Iraq-style invasion a non-starter until we can drop troop levels, and that's not likely to happen over at least the next 2-3 years. We have to assume that an insurgency will have to be fought in post-invasion Iran, so that makes a covert attempt to replace the regime the only near-future possibility. The probablity that a covert operation to change the regime would work is . . . well, that's a tough question to answer, isn't it?

In short, like NK, Iran is a tough strategic nut to crack. I'm not surprised the wargamers were having difficulty with it.

November 16, 2004 at 7:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think that Bush't comments re Iran's nuclear ambitions make it pretty clear that there will be direct action in Iran within the next couple of years.

What form they may take are beyond me. The strategy may fall anywhere between direct targetting of the mullahs or targetted strikes at their military/weapons establishment. I doubt that we'll invest any serious assets in assisting domestic resistance. Given our poor track record of success and the aftermaths of covertly fomenting revolutions back in the cold war, not to mention the time constraints existing in light of the Iranian's race to develop nukes, there just isn't room for that kind of subtlety.

The Iranian declaration to "suspend" enrichment is neither here nor there; no mechanism for inspections or disclosure was mentioned. And the intent is clearly political - just a tactical move to give the euroes and MSM to something to work with.

Saudi Wahabbism is the philosophical mainspring of jihadism but Iran is clearly corporate headquarters for the execution of the movement or at least uses the spiritual tenets to sustain itself. Bush has four years in which to accomplish meaningful progress in the war and removing the largest and most dangerous state sponsor of terror will be a priority. I reckon he will move on Iran soon enough to allow a reasonable period of post-regime work to be done before the next elections, which might possibly return Democrats to power and thus give the enemy a breathing space.

The punditry and political crowd is investing quite a bit of "how can we do this?" and ignoring the fact that we must act. Sooner rather than later, too.

Whatever course Bush decides on I believe the second we cross to active combat in Iran the Chinese, or their surrogates the North Koreans, will probably act to divide our resources.

We live in interesting times.

November 16, 2004 at 8:29 AM  
Blogger carlee said...

This weeks USNews is focused on Iran's actions in Iraq:

The Baghdad files: A trove of secret intelligence reports spells out in chilling detail how Iraq's dangerous next-door neighbor is aiding the anti-U.S. insurgency there

November 16, 2004 at 8:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting. Perhaps we will be faced with the choice of letting Iran have nuclear weapons or using them on Iran before they get them. Not a happy dilemma. In that case, cold hard political realism says let them get a bomb, and when they threaten to use it to get their way, or actually use it on Israel, permanently eliminated Iran as a threat to world peace or as a source of anything other than radioactive caviar and oil.

November 16, 2004 at 8:53 AM  
Blogger someone said...

David Frum suggests an oil blockade.

November 16, 2004 at 9:18 AM  
Blogger OldFan said...

The fact that this collection of "wannabe's" and "has-beens" could not come up with a bold, dynamic warplan comes as no surprise to me, especially as their inital assumptions betray an essentially defeatist and negative attitude: they do not WANT to succeeed.

I have written an OPLAN or two [and own EVERY Tom Clancy book], so let me offer a neat little operational scenario that combines stregic & political offense with tactical defense [call it "Operation Belasarius"]:

1) Small tems of special operations troops are inserted into the areas deemed to be most opposed to the current regime. These are declared to be "free zones" on live TV.

2) Massive air support is lined up [the Iranian Air force has a lifespan measured in minutes, so they are not really part of the equation] at those three huge airfields we own in Iraq [remember H1, H2, H3?].

3) Clever use is made of the traitorous MSM:

- - - Selected rebel locations are revealed in detail to the Iranians by 'accidental leaks to the press'.

- - - US Military sources are quoted boasting of the 'hopelessly inferior' Iranian Revolutionary Forces, whose 'innate cultural iferiority' will be demonstrated yet again.

- - - Miltary pundits rail at the 'gross overreach' and 'insane riskiness' of the entire operation, citing 'massive shortages of tanker and logistic transport assets'. Everybody but FOX News thinks this is a 'doomed effort instiqated by those damned neocons!'

- - - Female soldiers are included in SF teams for the 'first' time [actually, this has already happened] and are "ambush" interviewed and quoted as saying 'we have nothing to fear, these bozos are dead meat for even a few Americans.'

4) Enraged beyond all reason and seeing the tantalizing vison of inflicting a devastating defeat on the forces of the Great Satan by an Islamic army, the Revolutionary Guards eagerly hurl themselves into battle against the 'rebel towns', confident of victory.

5) In the face of Total Information Dominance, they disintegrate under a hail of GPS bombs, while the news is filled with heroic stands by SF teams and their "ragged, determined bands of Iranain patriots". Jerry Bruckheimer is called in to direct the action sequences.

6) We settle in for a long campaign of insurgency support, Iranian army defections and "government in exile" capers while we stand off repeated assaults and raise a "Freee Persian Army", an extremely romantic organization with a devastating lovely & articulate female commander [Catherine Bell from JAG would be perfect! and she is Persian!] that the news cameras cannot keep away from.

This strategy does require risk-taking, boldness and good agitprop /infowar, but already have 2 out of three of these things.

November 16, 2004 at 10:00 AM  
Blogger Michael said...

Great post, Chester. I'm glad to see someone rebut that ridiculous article.

I am appalled at how pathetically weak the American people have become. Dr. Leonard Peikoff points out the following: On a single day in 1945, General Curtis Lemay unleashed 325 B-29 Super Stratofortress strategic bombers on Tokyo. Their bombs killed 80,000 civilians, destroyed over 270,000 buildings and left over 1,000,000 Japanese homeless. That was a single attack, a single raid. THAT was war.

Today, we whimper over the death of one terrorist who was shot a few extra times to make sure he was dead.

The solution to Iran is simple. Bomb them into complete, utter, total oblivion. We have the power and we should use it.

Civilian casualties in war are the moral responsibility of the aggressor, and that, in this case, is clearly Iran. Her officials openly support terrorists and call for the destruction of America. Every day.

The purpose of our military is to defend Americans, not minimize casualties on the other side. It is time to wipe Iran from the face of the earth, before they have a chance to do it to us.

November 16, 2004 at 10:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post. It's scary these wonks could be so clueless. Can't wait for your follow up.

November 16, 2004 at 10:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think we need to accept the reality that Iran is going to join the nuclear club.

The only long term solution is regime change. We need to create an Iranian version of the 'Contras.' If 80% of the population is opposed to the Mullahs recruits should be easy to come by. Set up bases in western Iran that we can supply via air or Iraq, set up a government in exile and start pressuring the regime.

The short term benefit will be to divert Iran to preserving their power rather than supporting the insurgency in Iraq. We can protect the 'freedom fighters' with air power.

The downside of any long term approach is on our side - how long will it take? A Clinton or new liberal president would probably sell out the 'freedom fighters' to achieve a diplomatic solution.

November 16, 2004 at 10:48 AM  
Blogger PureData said...

The big fly in the ointment are all the ballistic missiles Iran has. They have CEPs of a hundred yards and they have quite a few launchers. Iran also has modern Russian SAMs. There are also a lot of Russian technicians in Iran.

Not saying this is insurmountable.

The better course of action is to goad Iran into an escalation via embargos and/or feeding the regime leaders information that makes them go bonkers. Let them make the big mistakes.

Iraq won the Iran-Iraq war by going manueverist on the Iranians in 1988. In five short months, Iraq won back all it had lost to Iran and captured hundreds of thousands of Iranians.

We have Iran between Iraq and Afghanistan. And Kuwait hates Iranians. The Iranians are scared to death and know we can whack them good.

They also have a divided government that is controlled by hard liners but there is an entire generation of moderates who have been marginalized but with governing experience who would step in plus an uncowed population that would support them. Iran is in relatively good shape infrastructure-wise and social network wise. And they have held elections, ableit rigged many times. And until a few years ago, had a somewhat free press.

In many ways, Iran would be a much, much easier nut than Iran or Syria.

How it could be done:

1. Segment the political and military leadership by effectiveness and policy views. Determine the networks among these nodes.

2. Develop a model for decision making process in these nodes. Test by feeding data.

3. Attack the mental condition of the hard-core and effective leaders with rapdily escalating information that strikes at their deepest fears. The idea here is to make them go mad with their fears. Ie, concoct whole chat sessions and emails about coups, insurgencies, US agents, feed their radars with falsies, etc.

4. Empower the moderate effectives the same way.

5. Model the general population the same way and attack the same way.

6. Develop insurgencies in the population. Use them ONLY for intel gathering.

7. Get Russia to sign on to regime change and have them help us.

8. Develop and test a mass, very fast takedown of Iranian missile sites plus a robust boost-phase and point defense system to get the rest of the missiles. Build this capability over time.

I dont know where to go from here, but its a start.

November 16, 2004 at 3:54 PM  
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