Washington today is so riddled with intellectual dishonesty, you have to take what officials say with a large dose of salt. The statement "We have no plans to attack Iran" can mean nothing more than we haven’t made that decision yet or we don’t have plans to attack this week, but we do intend to attack by April.
The Pentagon, by the way, probably has had contingency plans for an attack for who knows how long. That’s part of its job. It probably has contingency plans to attack a lot of countries. The point is that the military plans, but the decisions are made by politicians.
If we do attempt to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities, it should provide a good test of Russia’s air defense system, a version of which the Russians have sold and installed in Iran. It will be interesting to see how well it works — though not, of course, for our pilots.
Given the enormous trouble Iraq and Afghanistan are giving us, it seems to me that it would be moronic to add an enemy of 70 million people to our list of unresolved military conflicts. An attack by America will, of course, cut the feet off of all Iranian reformers. Under attack, Iranians will rally around their leaders, just as human beings have been doing for centuries.
Another strategic problem worth worrying about is the Bush administration’s push to build and install an anti-ballistic missile system. The administration claims it is for defense against rogue states like Iran. The Russians and probably the Chinese see it differently.
They see the anti-ballistic system as a first-strike weapon. The system would be helpless against a launch of Russian missiles, but if a U.S. first strike could take out many of the Russian missiles, then the ABM system could so thin the surviving missiles that American officials might well be tempted to start a nuclear war. That’s why Russia is upset with plans to put components of the system in Eastern Europe.
Never forget that intelligent military planners must disregard intentions and concentrate on capabilities. Intentions can change in minutes; capabilities cannot. So, if the U.S. deploys an ABM system that provides the capability to launch a first strike, the Russian planners will have to consider that as a fact and react accordingly. It is an exceedingly dangerous ploy by the president, not to mention an enormously expensive one.
As for Iraq, keep in mind the ABCs of guerrilla warfare. If we do, in fact, deploy all those additional troops to Baghdad (and that’s not yet a certainty), the guerrillas will go to ground and simply wait us out or shift their attacks to other parts of the country. That’s how it’s always been when irregular forces are confronted by superior conventional power. Our own George Washington learned that lesson and became a master of retreating to prevent the British from destroying his army and the revolution.
Naturally, American officials will trumpet a great triumph and proclaim that the light at the end of the tunnel radiates from a glorious liberal democratic future for Iraq. That will be a load of horse apples. Iraq is so impoverished, so riddled by corruption and incompetence, so full of vicious sectarian strife, that the best the Iraqi people can hope for is a benign dictator.
Unfortunately, the Middle East produces oil, dates, olives and pistachio nuts in abundance, but has so far been mighty short of benign dictators. Well, we’ve been awfully short on smart leaders. Maybe the whole human race is in decline.
Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years.