Oh good. I see that Senator Lindsey Graham wants to attack Iran. The US, he says, should "sink their navy, destroy their air force and deliver a decisive blow to the Revolutionary Guard."
Senator Graham has the brains of a tapeworm, making him eminently qualified for the senate. Tapeworms, I note, do not have brains. It is characteristic of warlike innocents, to include the Pentagon, to believe that if you destroy navies and air forces, you win wars. This worked well in Vietnam, you will recall, and as soon as we destroy the Taliban’s navy, Afghanistan will be a cakewalk.
Now, I understand that practicality and realism are alien concepts in American politics, to be approached with trepidation, but maybe, just once, we should think before sticking our private parts into a wood-chipper. Just once. I do not propose consistent rationality, forethought, or intelligent behavior. I profoundly respect my country’s traditions.
However, folk wisdom from West Virginia: Before you say, “I can whip any man in the bar!” it is well to scout the bar.
Note that the United States cannot defeat Iran militarily, short of using nuclear weapons. It is easy to start a war. Finishing one is harder. I could punch out Mike Tyson. Things thereafter might not go as well as hoped.
Some will find the thought of American martial incapacity outrageous. Can’t beat Iran? Buncha towel monkeys? Among grrr-bowwow-woof patriots, there exists a heady delusion of American potency, that the US has “the greatest military power the world has ever seen.” Ah. And when did it last win a war? In Afghanistan, for ten years the gloriousest military ever known, the expensivist, and whoosh-bangiest, hasn’t managed to defeat a bunch of pissed-off illiterates with AKs and RPGs.
At this point Lindsey of Persia will doubtless allude to the wonders of air power, of “precision-guided weapons,” of smart bombs that presumably read Kant on the way down. Those pitiable Iranians would have no hope of stopping our mighty bombers. True.
Implicit in this Thomistic fantasy (Clancy, I mean, not Aquinas) is that Iran wouldn’t, couldn’t, wouldn’t dare fight back without a navy, etc. Lindsey had better be very sure that Iran couldn’t block the Strait of Hormuz in retaliation. Enough of the world’s petroleum comes from the Gulf that the price would rise drastically if the Straits were blocked. Some economies would simply stop.
How many supertankers going up in flames would be tolerated before operators of tankers refused to risk it?
Iran recently began serial production of the Nasr 1, an anti-ship cruise missile. Tankers are thin-skinned and highly flammable. The Nasr 1 can be fired from the back of a truck. Trucks by their nature are mobile. They are easy to hide.
The Air Force, to include Naval Air, may be confident that it can destroy all of Iran’s missiles. The Air Force always believes that air power can do anything and everything — make coffee, win at marbles, everything. After all, don’t its airplanes say “Vrooom!” and “Swoosh!”? Don’t cockpits have lots of portentous buttons and spiffy little screens? Unfortunately the Air Force is regularly wrong.
In fact the entire military is regularly wrong about the ease and duration of its adventures. For example, it had no idea that Viet Nam would turn into an endless war ending in defeat (if that makes sense). Iraq notoriously was going to be a walk in the park. That the war on Afghanistan would last ten years with a distinct possibility of defeat…this never occurred to the soldiers.
It is barely conceivable that the Five-Sided Wind Box could do what Field Marshal Graham thinks it could do. The unexpected is always a possibility. But, the stakes being what they would be in Hormuz, hoo-boy….
Another possibility is that Israel will attack Iran, as it has threatened. I would like to think that even Bibi Nut-and-Yahoo has better sense but, it the US can produce gibbering wingnuts, why not Israel? The practical effects of an Israeli attack would be indistinguishable from those of an American attack: America would have to solve the problem. Which it probably couldn’t. Israel can bomb Iran’s nuclear codpieces, but it can’t defeat Iran. And if the Strait were blocked after an Israeli attack, the entire globe would holler, “Israel did it!” which would be true.
The distance from “Israel did it” to “The Jews did it,” though logically great, is emotionally short. People think in collective terms. Remember that after some Saudis dropped the Towers, the alleged war on terror morphed almost instantly into intense hostility for Moslems. It doesn’t make sense, but what has that got to do with anything?
I know a lot of Jews, who are all over the place politically and intellectually. They have in common a complete lack of resemblance to the scheming, hand-rubbing, heh-heh-heh Jews of Neo-nazi imagination. Few sacrifice Christian children (a temptation strongest, I can attest, among Christian parents). But…people think collectively.
Congress doesn’t support Israel because it likes Israel, but from political expediency. If the wind blows the other way, so will Congress. Gasoline at twelve dollars is a lot of wind in a commuting country.
Things worsen for America, yet we really don’t know where the country is going or how it will react. The last domestic catastrophe was the Great Depression, when America was a very different place. How bad can things get, economically, politically, internationally? How does a pampered population incapable of planting a garden respond to genuinely hard times? “It can’t happen here,” one hears. What can’t? I suspect that all sorts of things could happen, given sufficiently hard times.
The United States is today an edgy, unhappy country, sliding toward poverty, increasingly dictatorial, inchoately angry, hostile to blacks, the French, Mexicans, Moslems and, creepingly, the Chinese. (Jews, perhaps to their surprise, don’t make the enemies list.) Americans don’t do cosmopolitan. The federal pressure for diversity exists because otherwise no one would associate with anyone else. The Persian Gulf is one of few places that plausibly might wreck the industrial world. There would have to be someone to blame. And Israel can’t survive without American support.
Maybe I’m crazy. But if I were an Israeli, I’d find a nice café on Diesengoff and enjoy a double cappuccino, watch the girls, and keep my bombs in my pocket. Let somebody else take the fall.
Fred Reed is author of Nekkid in Austin: Drop Your Inner Child Down a Well and A Brass Pole in Bangkok: A Thing I Aspire to Be. His latest book is Curmudgeing Through Paradise: Reports from a Fractal Dung Beetle. Visit his blog.