Warships, Warships Everywhere, and Many a Bomb to Drop

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Gulf Update

Looking down
from the captain’s deck some six stories high, the flight deck of
the USS Nimitz is an impressive sight indeed: 80 sleek warplanes
armed with bombs and missiles are poised for takeoff at any minute,
day or night. The sight of these planes coming and going from that
1,100-foot-long flight deck is almost beyond description. I can
attest to this, having sailed on the Nimitz 25 years ago
as a reporter for Mother Jones magazine.

Today, the
Nimitz is rapidly approaching the Persian Gulf, where it
will join two other U.S. aircraft carriers and the French carrier
Charles De Gaulle in the largest concentration of naval firepower
in the region since the launching of the U.S. invasion of Iraq four
years ago.

Why this concentration
now? Officially, the Nimitz is on its way to the Gulf to
replace the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, which is due to return
to the United States for crew leave and ship maintenance after months
on station. But the U.S. Central Command (Centcom), which exercises
command authority over all U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf area,
refuses to say when the Eisenhower will actually depart –
or even when the Nimitz will arrive.

For a time,
at least, the United States will have three carrier battle groups
in the region. The USS John C. Stennis is the third. Each
carrier is accompanied by a small flotilla of cruisers, destroyers,
submarines, and support vessels, many equipped with Tomahawk land-attack
cruise missiles (TLAMs). Minimally, this gives modern meaning to
the classic imperial term “gunboat diplomacy,” which makes it all
the stranger that the deployment of the Nimitz is covered
in our media, if at all, as the most minor of news stories. And
when the Nimitz sailed off into the Pacific last month on
its way to the Gulf, it simply disappeared off media radar screens
like some classic “lost patrol.”

Rest assured,
unlike us, the Iranians have noticed. After all, with the arrival
of the Nimitz battle group, the Bush administration will
be – for an unknown period of time – in an optimal position
to strike Iran with a punishing array of bombs and missiles should
the President decide to carry out his oft-repeated threat to eliminate
Iran’s nuclear program through military action. “All options,” as
the administration loves to say, remain ominously “on the table.”

negotiations to resolve the impasse with Iran over its pursuit of
uranium-enrichment technology – a possible first step to the
manufacture of nuclear weapons – continue at the United Nations
in New York and in various European capitals. So far, the Iranians
have refused to give any ground, claiming that their activities
are intended for peaceful uses only and so are permitted under the
nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), of which it is a signatory.
The United States has made vague promises of improved relations
if and when Iran terminates its nuclear program, but the full burden
of making initial concessions falls on Tehran.

Just this
weekend, a conference in Egypt, called by Iraqi officials to explore
regional approaches to stability in the region (with Iranian officials
expected to be in attendance), was being viewed in Washington as
yet another opportunity to pressure Tehran to be more submissive
to the West’s demands on a wide range of issues, including Iranian
support for Shiite militias in Iraq.

Bush keeps insisting that he would like to see these “diplomatic”
endeavors – as he describes them – succeed, but he has
yet to bring up a single proposal or incentive that might offer
any realistic prospect of eliciting a positive Iranian response.

And so, knowing
that his “diplomatic” efforts are almost certain to fail, Bush may
simply be waiting for the day when he can announce to the American
people that he has “tried everything”; that “his patience has run
out”; and that he can “no longer risk the security of the American
people” by “indulging in further fruitless negotiations,” thereby
allowing the Iranians “to proceed farther down the path of nuclear
bomb-making,” and so has taken the perilous but necessary step of
ordering American forces to conduct air and missile strikes on Iranian
nuclear facilities. At that point, the 80 planes aboard the Nimitz
– and those on the Eisenhower and the Stennis
as well – will be on their way to targets in Iran, along with
hundreds of TLAMs and a host of other weapons now being assembled
in the Gulf.

4, 2007

T. Klare is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire
College and author of Blood
and Oil: The Dangers and Consequences of America’s Growing Dependency
on Imported Petroleum

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