Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Middle East Miasma

Robin Wright and Peter Baker of the Washington Post report that the White House and the Pentagon are split over the proper "way forward" in Iraq. White House officials want to pursue the surge option of sending 15,000 to 30,000 additional troops to Iraq for six to eight months. The Joint Chiefs of Staff aren't sold on the idea.

The Joint Chiefs fear two unfavorable consequences to a temporary build up. On one hand, more U.S. troops in country will provide more targets for insurgents and may attract more foreign jihadists into Iraq to join in the fight. On the other hand, armed militias presently in Iraq may simply melt back into society and wait for the surge to end, then retake the streets of Baghdad and other cities. Either scenario is likely, and either would lead to negative consequences for the U.S. effort in Iraq.

If internal and foreign militants decide to fight the surged force, they won't do so in a way that produces a decisive, all or nothing battle that they know they can't win. They've been too strategically and tactically cunning to date to expect that they might suddenly turn stupid.

If the fighters all fade into the woodwork, our surge troops will twiddle their thumbs until somebody decides to bring them home, and when the militants swarm back into the streets, it will be too late to bring the surge forces back to fight them.

In either case, our already "stretched thin" force will be stretched even thinner, and will at best have accomplished little or nothing to improve things in Iraq.

One might argue that on the off chance that all the fighters take the option to run off and hide for six months or so, that would give Iraq's disparate political factions time to resolve their differences. But experience has shown that the more time we give the factions time to resolve their differences, the more time they spend not resolving them.

Locked in a Fail Safe

We cannot defeat the "enemy" in this war through military force. That's not our military's fault. Guerilla warriors win by refusing to offer decisive battle to superior forces, and from what we've seen of our adversaries in this conflict, they know how to conduct guerilla warfare as well as anyone ever has.

We can't use military might to force a political solution in Iraq because we the political allegiances resemble a Mobius strip. We're allied with Shia Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki who is allied with Shia cleric and militia leader Muqtada al-Sadr who considers us the enemy. Al-Sadr is also the enemy of the Sunni militias and political elements whom our friends the Saudis support. Our Sunni Saudi Arab friends are the enemy of our Shia Persian enemy Iran, which is friendly with our Arab Shia friend al-Maliki and our Arab Shia enemy al-Sadr. We can't pick a side to fight with without making enemies of our friends, and our ability to conduct diplomacy is so atrophied at this point that we'll never make friends of our enemies (who, by the way, understand the size of the Gordian knot we've tangled ourselves into and are howling like hyenas about it).

Thus it is that the Bush administration has rendered the instruments of power of the mightiest nation in history impotent.

Speaking of Impotent

CBS News reports that:
…adding a second aircraft carrier to the one already in the Gulf is being proposed as a response to what U.S. officials view as an increasingly provocative Iranian leadership…

…Military officers say the build-up would take place after the first of the year, not with the aim of actually attacking Iran, but strictly as a deterrent.

Retired General and MSNBC analyst Barry McCaffery says this naval buildup will scare our allies more that it will scare the Iranians, and he's right. Two carriers can't provide enough airpower to destroy Iran's nuclear capabilities, and any naval shooting match would result in another military embarrassment for the U.S.--Iran can do a lot more damage to an aircraft carrier than an aircraft carrier can do to Iran.

How anybody in the Pentagon can say with a straight face that presence with no plausible threat of offensive action could possibly constitute a "deterrent" goes beyond the logical limits of my military mind--until, of course, I remember that the guys who proposed this deterrent measure were Admirals, who are so desperate to remain relevant to the overall security picture at this point that they'll promise anything that might help justify maintaining their service's share of the military budget.

The next thing I expect to hear out of the Pentagon is a proposal from the Air Force to sponsor an air show in Tehran that features a flight demonstration by the Thunderbirds, a static display of a B-2 bomber, and free flight suit squadron patches for all our Persian friends.

Come to think of it--throwing an air show in Tehran might be the most rational foreign policy move we could make at this point.


Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at ePluribus Media and Pen and Sword.


  1. Anonymous6:28 PM

    Great post, thanks. Don't know if you've seen these three short videos from Iraq yet or not, but both show the US Military engaging in some very dubious actions. I have them up on my site at www.minor-ripper.blogspot.com

  2. I'll check them out, Ripper. Thanks.

  3. As a former grunt in the Infantry I felt that I had to stop by and say that I enjoy your writing. I usually follow it over at ePluribusMedia.

    Keep up the good work!

  4. "...second aircraft carrier to the one already in the Gulf is being proposed as a response to what U.S. officials view as an increasingly provocative Iranian leadership…"

    That "provocative Iranian leadership being....?

    I wonder if they mean the wave of reformers elected by the citizenry?

  5. CM,

    Thanks for the nice words, and for stopping by here and posting.


    Whatever they say means whatever they want it to mean.

  6. Anonymous7:08 PM

    I may be being a bit of stickler if I note that the Shah's daddy had Stalin to his north, and the British to his east, with their occasional aerial ministrations of gas, and also in his west and south. As the old saying goes, my enemy's enemy is my friend, and he took a shine to the Germans, with their now disgraced leadership. Initially the thinking was that "he's a downright moron, but he'll have grownup supervision."

    One day in 1935, he up and announced that henceforth his country would be known as "Iran," and his subjects as "Iranians," hoping that the paucity of blue-eyed blond Iranians notwithstanding, this would establish some sort of spiritual bond with those devotees of "aryan" claptrap.

    The British didn't like this, and summarily deported him to some farm in South Africa where he eventually died. To make sure that nobody got any ideas, they split Iran with the Sovs until the end of the war. To be even surer, Churchill insisted that "Iran" be refered to as "Persia" by all servants of His Majesty's Government.

    The Shah was something like 19 when the British recalled him from his Swiss boarding school and informed him that he was to be Shah. When the Iranians elected a leader who was a bit of a drama queen, but, perhaps legitimately, felt that the Iranians deserved to make more money off of their oil than a British government owned oil company, the British asked the USG to depose their leader, and after this happened, the Shah was duly persuaded to let himself be flown back to Iran, and keep the world safe from Communism.

    Eamon de Valera was a decent politician but a lousy economist. One thing he knew was that any time he messed up, picking a fight with the British would get him out of his hole. I can't but suspect that something similar is going on in Iran.

    Whatever the Iranians may think of their leadership, I'm sure that it's close to home free any time it can get Tony Blair's dander up.

    When the Bush administration deems the Iranian regime "increasingly provocative," and retaliates with ineffectual countermeasures, it is making it manifest that it too is in a hole, but can't help but dig further.