OSP redux?

Mlk_sig_04_web One of you has written to suggest a thread about the "new" OSD Iran Desk.  I suggest you start by listening to Mary Louise Kelly’s piece on NPR.

Pat Lang


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24 Responses to OSP redux?

  1. John Howley says:

    Phyllis Bennis (IPS) described the following Iran scenario on DN! today:
    1. Bush recognizes he’s getting nowhere at UN Security Council and decides for unilateral action;
    2. US imposes naval blockade on Iranian ports (what about oil prices?);
    3. American people don’t understand that blockade is an act of war (well, maybe in Charleston, SC, they do), Iranians understand, accurately, that it is;
    4. Iran initiates “kinetic operations” in self defense; Bush poses as victim (“Why do they hate us?”) and launches massive attack on Iran.
    I’m not sure the entire scenario makes sense but the part about the U.S. public not recognizing a naval blockade as aggression sounds plausible.
    As we have learned, it’s all about marketing and presentation.
    And a bit of not so trivial trivia: Who was Time Magazine’s Man of the Year in 1951?
    Answer: Mohammad Mossadegh.

  2. Mac Nayeri says:

    DC and Tehran are natural allies – the problem is political, and so is the solution. But as with all things political, there are interests and counter interests. In both Tehran and DC, the forces against a breakthough are far from being defeated and still deeply effect policy. If there is a revolution in relations, then the implementation of broad US strategic objectives may be achieved.

  3. confusedponderer says:

    John in LA made a good point. The neo-cons and their Israeli cousins do insist on using military power to avoid political compromises – for hardcore neo-cons that’s the solution to the moral dilemma of dealing with evildoers in ways other than war (aka ‘appeasement’). They out-source the moral problem to the military branch – and give them absolution in advance: As the cause is just (as America’s causes always are), all casualties are justified. The rule applies for civilians and soldiers, both from the US and target countries.
    The neo-cons don’t have blood on their hands and sleeves, that’s just ink. They, in a sense, embody the banality of evil. When they demand war, and nothing less, they are oblivious to the human cost – ‘… we do what we gotta do, we are morally justified, and gee, things are messy …’ At least they all eagerly tell each other every day.
    It is unsurprising that they try to repeat the OPS trick. They are true to their playbook. After all, it worked so well. They try to repeat their cold war approach (‘their approach’ meaning confrontation, threat hyping etc.), by the book, on Iran, Russia, China. That they got away with it on Iraq, and can afford to re-try with Iran, sheds a bad light on the US audience – b is correct: I read that article by Rozen in May already. It was available on the internet ever since. Nobody cared. The American audience seems remarkably gullible.
    Iran is just not so strong as to completely rule out military options. They presumable want to try restore the image of US invincibility, corroded by Iraq dragging on with no end in sight. And the means they prefer is by beating up presumed minors like Iran (where they can show off the might of RMA), much like Israel unsuccessfully attempt versus Hezbollah.
    A pity Grenada is already taken – if not, they could claim Al Quaeda had established a foothold there and invade, win decisively against … whoever’s there, and declare victory, and that much cheaper than in Iran. They might hail it Operation “Spinning Fury”. If American’s bought that Nicaragua presented a dire threat to the US, not to mention Saddam’s ‘ties’ to Al Quaeda, they’ll buy that too. High time the realist take back the helm.

  4. BDF says:

    This report from the Century Foundation Report might be of interest to the readers here.
    The author of the paper:

  5. dan says:

    There’s no chance of a unilateral US naval blockade being imposed.
    Firstly, whilst the US public might be dim enough to accept that it’s not an act of war, the rest of the international community is going to see it for what it is. Iran could quite legitimately retaliate by blocking the Straits to non-neutral parties until everyone cries uncle and the US backs down. It’s also asking a lot of key US allies in the region such as Bahrain, Kuwait, Dubai and Qatar – which host US bases and naval installations. If they want to be neutral they have to lock the US military presence on their soil down. That’s going to be a lot of fun.
    Secondly, the US lacks the resources in theatre to accomplish this at present. It would require the deployment of a very large additional naval force to accomplish, and it would be highly problematic given that the force would need to transit the Straits.
    Thirdly, taking 2.5million bpd of Iranian oil of the international markets will send the oil price above $100 per barrel. Disruption or interdiction of other gulf oil supplies will collapse the global economy, including that of the US.
    Fourthly, blockading Iranian oil exports to China, India and others could also be construed as an act of war against Iran’s customers. Some of these are nuclear armed and it would be unwise to attack the vital national interests of third parties in this way. It would be the perfect moment for China to institute its own blockade of Taiwan.
    Fifthly, blockades require proximity – and in this case it requires proximity to the Iranian littoral and their anti-ship missiles. Losing large numbers of naval assets is a realistic outcome of the scenario – this might involve the defenestration of senior US officials at the hands of embittered naval families; whilst the prospect of Feith and Perle flying through the ether on their way to an appointment with a concrete surface might be appealing, the blood price wouldn’t be worth it.
    Whilst the US public has shown an admirable capacity for idiocy in recent years, this doesn’t really extend to the rest of the world. And whilst the US has a lot of military resources, these resources become redundant if the third-party basing, staging and support privileges get withdrawn. This is where all the military action/hostile intent scenarios with Iran falter – they cannot be sustained on the IR plane, but they are not achievable without substantial third-party support. The Bush administration has drawn too many cheques that it cannot meet already, and no responsible or intelligent government is going to give Bush any more rope for hair-brained military schemes – he’s gone in 2 years and there’s a chance that an adult will be back in charge.

  6. Jesus Reyes says:

    It really goes back to the CPD and Team B in 1976. The tactics never change. Since Putin has loosed his leash Russia is being re-targeted.

  7. John Shreffler says:

    This doesn’t seem to be a drill. Larisa Alexandrovna at Raw Story has a story just up to the effect that the Joint Chiefs and their staff are doing “branches and sequels” contingency planning. You’d know better than I would what all this means.
    Apparently a plan has gone up to the White House, been approved and they’re now working on the “what ifs” flowing from the plan. There’s nothing about LOC protection for the Iraq garrison that I can see in the Raw Story article. Those truck drivers you wrote about for the CSM last July are in the cold, as near as I can see.
    John Shreffler

  8. dave says:

    The link to Ret. Col. Sam Gardiner’s paper on Iran is too long. It should end with:
    I’ll second the recommendation.

  9. John Howley says:

    Thanks for your thoughtful response. I presume your comments hold for the cover story from Time which I have not read in its entirety. Starts like this:
    Posted Sunday, Sep. 17, 2006
    “The first message was routine enough: a “Prepare to Deploy” order sent through naval communications channels to a submarine, an Aegis-class cruiser, two minesweepers and two mine hunters. The orders didn’t actually command the ships out of port; they just said to be ready to move by Oct. 1. But inside the Navy those messages generated more buzz than usual last week when a second request, from the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO), asked for fresh eyes on long-standing U.S. plans to blockade two Iranian oil ports on the Persian Gulf…”

  10. ali says:

    Doug is dense in an embarrassing Enron executive kind of way. That Feith still thinks the amateur night antics of the OSP had any merit suggests both strategic autism and amazing chutzpah.
    The Pentagon used to shelter a better grade of idiot; physically brave men with a dangerous glint in their eye and the brain of a psychotic chipmunk, men like Ollie North. Such folk are useful and fitting ornaments for any great military institution.
    The OSP: not the best and brightest but surely fools.

  11. TR Stone says:

    Col. Lang;
    Col. Lang;
    Would you please comment on Gen. Abizad’s appearance on the News Hour (9/20/06) and Col. Gardiner’s paper (http://www.tcf.org/publications/internationalaffairs/gardiner_summer_diplomacy.pdf).
    Gen Abizad’s body language did not lend confidence to his comments, that seemed disconnected to what the news shows. Col. Gardiner’s paper is chilling is this is how the Iran conflict plays out

  12. walrus says:

    Col. Lang
    I really enjoy this site because it contains comments by people who thrive on fact and rationality.
    I would like to point out however, that any discussion on what could happen to Iran, Iraq or elsewhere has to start from the premise that the Bush Administration is not rational. Not even slightly rational.
    This is why America is now in mortal danger. It’s not Iran that is the problem. The problem is that we are being lead (if you can call it that) by people who do not understand the real cause of the fall of countries and empires – suicidal statecraft.
    To put it another way, Bush likes to think he is Churchill, in reality, any competent study will show he is much closer to King Wilhelm II in both temperament and outlook.
    What the Neo Cons are trying to do with the “project for the New American Century”, which they sold so successfully to the Republican party is actually to recreate the “Old” American Century”, in which we spent a lot on arms to fight Germany and Russia, and inconvenient matters like health care, global warming, poverty and inequality simply didn’t exist in comparison.
    The trouble with this idea is that you cannot relive the past. You get today’s reality whether you like it or not – and its different. It’s not sensible to look backwards as you are trying to march forward, but that’s what Bush is intent on doing. Just listen to his speeches and his associates.
    By the way, Rep. Rangel has just blasted Chavez on the basis that his U.N. speech was an “insult” to Bush and by implication to Americans “because it was made on American soil”. Where is there any clear thinking on what the U.N. is?

  13. confusedponderer says:

    Interesting comment by ret. wargamer, Col. Gardiner:
    “There are many within the US State Department who believe we should be negotiating with Iran. That’s interesting but irrelevant. What is relevant when we’re talking about military options is the position of those who will make the decision inside the US Government. I think those who will make the decision hold seven truths:
    • Iran is developing weapons of mass destruction…that’s most likely true.
    • Iran is ignoring the international community…true
    • Iran supports terrorism…true
    • Iran is increasingly inserting itself in Iraq and beginning to be involved in
    • The people of Iran want a regime change…most likely an exaggeration.
    • Sanctions are not going to work…most likely true.
    • You can’t negotiate with those people…not proven.
    If you accept these Big Seven as truth, you can understand why the
    Administration is very close to being left with only the military option.
    Finally Policymakers who begin with the seven “truths” of the situation can easily move down a path that that leaves the military option the only one on the table. The route of the path has a degree of inevitability. The policymakers would say the “Iranians are forcing me to go in this direction.” The painful irony is these policymakers are forcing themselves.
    At the end of the path, will the issues with Iran be eliminated? No. Will the region be better off? No. When I finished the wargame for the Atlantic Monthly, I summarized what I had learned in the process. “After all the effort, I am left with two simple sentences for policymakers. You have no military solution for the issues of Iran. And you have to make diplomacy work.” I have not changed my mind. When US policymakers say the military option is on the table. I don’t think it’s rhetoric. I don’t believe US policymakers understand the military option won’t work.”

  14. arbogast says:

    Iran’s President seems pretty confident and relaxed.
    And why shouldn’t he be?
    He has successfully defeated the US in Iraq with nearly 3,000 American dead and 10 times that number with crippling wounds.
    He has defeated Israel badly in Lebanon, as well as, I am sure, counting on Israel’s ridiculous bombing response to turn Middle East opinion against the US and Israel.
    Is he worried about a US bombing campaign/invasion of his own country?
    Well, seeing he was elected by George Bush (whose fiery rhetoric prior to the election ensured his victory), I would say not.
    He knows that the US does not have the boots to invade his country, even if, through some miracle, it could convince its allies of the wisdom of such an adventure. A bombing campaign? Lebanon raised to the fourth power.
    So, where does that leave us?
    Well, if you’re a neocon, I suggest you confine your reading to the columns of Charles Krauthammer.
    If you’re not, contribute money to Democratic candidates for Congress and the Senate.
    I enjoyed the Walrus’ comment. I would add to it that, historically, what is happening now in the Middle East is the break up of the American Empire. Our satrapies Iraq, Egypt, Pakistan, Jordan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, etc. are gradually separating from us, some faster than others. The lunatic Zionists in charge of our government are accelerating this process greatly.

  15. confusedponderer says:

    TR Stone, just saw you posted a link to the article already …

  16. Michael Murry says:

    How depressing. For some reason, I keep remembering that fateful day back in the late 1970s when I arrived for work in the morning and — passing by a newpaper rack — happened to check out the blaring headlines that screamed about an abortive air-force/army-special-forces screw up in the Iranian desert trying to rescue some American hostages. I think President Carter effectively lost his job that day because of what later became derisively known as The Jimmy Carter Desert Classic.
    I also remember the day President Clinton sent a bomber off towards Yugoslavia armed with target coordinates supplied by our very own CIA (George “slam dunk” Tenet?) Things got really nasty there for a bit when the Chinese took violent exception to having their Belgrade embassy blown up.
    Somehow I want to vomit at the thought that “military plans” involving Iran have somehow made their way once again into another White House; only this time one staffed and occupied not by a former Navy nuclear engineer or Rhodes Scholar but by the “second rate ad men” who planned our two currently unaccomplished missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
    “Don’t worry,” said the commander of French artillery at Dien Bien Phu. “The Vietnamese couldn’t possibly get big guns up those mountains that surround us on all sides. And even if they could, they wouldn’t know how to use them.” I think this man later committed suicide just before the rest of his defeated command surrendered.
    We lost the Lexington at Coral Sea and the Yorktown at Midway, and the Japanese sank these carriers using only propeller-driven planes and bombs that people would laugh at today. I don’t think anyone should laugh at the Iranians and then send an aircraft carrier battle group to blockade their shores. Especially since the Chinese and the Russians have every reason to protect their significant interests in Iran by supplying the Iranians with anything and everything they need to sink ships and shoot down planes.
    (Or perhaps the Chinese will just start selling off some of our treasury bonds. That might make the proper point in the proper quarters.)
    Anyway, someone needs to lock the door to Dick Cheney’s bunker crypt with him and George W. Bush inside — and not let either of them out until February of 2009. These demented fools have already gotten far too many good and innocent people killed for nothing but their own pathetic partisan political profit.

  17. arbogast says:

    I wonder if any of the Iranians read English?
    The most that Don and Dick and George can do is a one-off bombing of Iran. And we have seen in the Spanish Civil War, sorry, the war in Lebanon how effective that will be.
    We should all chip in and buy George a framed, oil portrait of Custer to put in the Oval Office.

  18. arbogast says:

    I’m getting long-winded. I will stop.
    Billmon’s analysis, I believe, is correct.
    Tactical nuclear weapons are the US’ only option.
    But that would do only one thing: overturn every American Satrapy in the Middle East at a stroke. Egypt, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, etc. would go by the boards instantly. Just as an example, as I have mentioned before, imagine tens of thousands of Iranian refugees pouring over the border to Pakistan with radiation burns.
    Oil would not cost more; it would be unobtainable. Well, there’s always Argentina. Not.
    A tactical nuclear strike would change the world overnight. That change may very well be what the Iranians are seeking.

  19. dan says:

    What the Time article doesn’t tell us is how old those plans are, what objective circumstances regarding global supply and demand are assumed in those plans, whether the economic consequences of supply disruption are factored in, what the price assumptions are, whether the blockade plans assume a legal mandate for such action, what the mitigation options for Iran’s customers are and what the reaction to such an act is likely to be, both from Iran and from the wider world. I doubt that the Chinese are going to be happy about the US interfering in its oil supply contracts with Iran for example – it’s an act of war and it has serious consequences; what happens if they try to stop a Chinese tanker from departing with its cargo for example. Legally, it’s piracy, and any US officials/mariners involved in such an operation open themselves up to prosecution in a number of jurisdictions for doing this.
    It’s quite possible that they’ve dusted off the plans, looked at them and thought “oh shit, we can’t actually do this”.
    The US doesn’t have the capacity to pump 2.5 million bpd from the SPR to mitigate lost supplies for a sustained period, and no third party is going to trust the Bush administration to do this.
    What I also don’t really understand is why minesweepers and minehunters would be relevant for a commercial shipping blockade operation – they’re a defensive measure against an attack option. Whilst the prepare to deploy order is interesting, it doesn’t become meaningful until it is actualised and the deployment goes to the Persian Gulf, not somewhere else.
    When Mossadeq nationalised Iranian oil in 1951 he had to contend with the problem of only having a few Western customers, who then stopped buying Iranian oil ( this wasn’t a problem at the time as supply exceeded demand by a comfortable margin, with the US being the global swing producer ). Iran today has a diversified portfolio of customers for its oil in Europe and Asia, and the supply-demand margins have shrunk to below the level of Iranian exports. Whilst the Bush administration could attempt a thoroughly illegal blockade it would have to contend with the rest of the world ( ok, maybe not Israel and Micronesia ) being in opposition to this, and it would have to contend with the consequences of enforcing a blockade against commercial ships belonging to third party countries who could legitimately construe any attempt at interdiction to be an act of war or an act of piracy against them.

  20. arbogast says:

    Last post in this cycle.
    It occurs to me that if I were the Iranians, I would have had an agent go up to one of the American Special Forces currently in Iran and say, “Look, I’d like to save the US some money. How would you like a guided tour of one of our enrichment facilities? Bring your GPS. That way you don’t have to take a lot of notes.”
    I would then have had the agent lead the Special Forces guy to the center of Esfahan, for example, a city of over 4,000,000 people. In the center of the city, they would get into an elevator that descended, say, 500 meters underground to a hardened site containing enrichment facilities.
    I would have had the agent then say, “Look, we believe that with your best tactical nuclear weapons you can just take this place out. But we aren’t sure. We encourage you to try it, so that we have a better idea of your capabilities.”
    End of tour. Probably pay for the Special Forces guy’s lunch too. Let him take some pictures of the neighborhood.
    Four million people.

  21. parvati_roma says:

    “Fourthly, blockading Iranian oil exports to China, India and others could also be construed as an act of war against Iran’s customers.”
    Noting that although 60% of Iran’s oil goes to Asia, 40% goes to Europe – Iran’s top trading partners being Italy and Germany.
    See also PINR analysis – “Washington’s Hard Line on Iraq May Cause a New Transatlantic Rift”

  22. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Here is what I do not understand:
    Institutionally, why is it that Defense Department has taken it upon itself to formulate policy? What role, if any, does then State Department has in formulating policy? And why is this not fought tooth and nail by various bureaucracies?

  23. confusedponderer says:

    it has done so as a result of neo-cons outmaneuvering State. In a nutshell, it’s just the consequence of the power behind the Pentagon in terms of money and political backing.
    With Rumsfeld damaged, it is Cheney’s backing that’s making it possible. The neo-con politicos at the Pentagon run circles around a weak secretary of state. In the utter absence of effective opposition they have taken over the policymaking role. The so-called WGOT has given them additional legitimation – in war it sounds natural that defense makes defense policy, right?
    Iirc policy planning came into the Pentagon as soon as Bush took office. They only gathered speed after 911, the groundwork was done at that time.
    Cheney’s backing aside, Bush, the great Decideris tolerating it, too, if we generously assume he’s aware of it.

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