Sunday, October 07, 2007

Neo-connecting the Dots to Iran (Part V)

As parts I through IV of "Neo-connecting the Dots to Iran" discussed, Congress can't really stop Mr. Bush from attacking Iran if that's what he really wants to do, and before any legal action against Bush reaches the Supreme Court, what's left of humanity may be living in mine shafts. The major media have proven wholly incapable of acting as a power balancing fourth estate. Can it really be that the only institution that can keep America from committing yet another devastating misapplication of military force is the military itself?

According to historian and journalist Gareth Porter, Admiral William Fallon, head of United States Central Command, has "privately vowed that there would be no war against Iran on his watch, implying that he would quit rather than accept such a policy." I'm willing to accept that Fallon would quit rather than carry out orders he considers contrary to the interests of the United States, but I'm not sure that would influence Mr. Bush's decision making. What's more, I'm no happier with the idea that we need an admiral like Fallon to keep us out of a stupid war with Iran than I am with a general like David Petraeus keeping us in a stupid war in Iraq, but that's the sort of thing that happens when your nation gets overtaken by militarism.

Wild Purple Yonder

These days, virtually all U.S. combat operations are "purple," a term used to denote joint force endeavors among the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and (sometimes) the Coast Guard. The realities of our current wars, however, dictate that any action against Iran will be more blue (Navy and Air Force) than red (Army and Marine Corps), and Pentagon politics suggest that it will be more light blue than navy blue.

As Seymour Hersh points out in a recent in a recent article in the The New Yorker, "What had been presented primarily as a counter-proliferation mission has been reconceived as counterterrorism," and now, "the emphasis is on 'surgical' strikes on Revolutionary Guard Corps facilities in Tehran and elsewhere, which, the Administration claims, have been the source of attacks on Americans in Iraq."

This "surgical strike" talk is just the sort of thing the U.S. Air Force loves to hear, especially at a time when the land-centric nature of America's wars has pushed the junior service even further into the realm of irrelevance. Surgical strike is the kind of combat the Air Force does best, and that it is best at. The Air Force has worked a long, long time to get so good at surgical strike.

Back in the bad old days, Colonel Hogan and the gang flew thousands and thousands of missions to hit one lousy factory. Half of them got shot down and spent the rest of the war pursuing comical misadventures in Stalags throughout Germany. Today, the Air Force can whack that factory with a single stealthy bomber (the Navy can do it a lot cheaper and more safely with cruise missiles launched from ships that never steam in harm's way, but the Air Force doesn't like to talk about that too much). The bottom line, though, is that the Air Force can whack a lot of stuff with very few (though devilishly expensive) airplanes at a combat loss risk that's zeroing in on zero. B-2 pilots can kiss their spouses goodbye in the morning, fly from Missouri to wherever business takes them that day, and be home that night in time to tuck the kids in.

And boy, when it comes to air superiority, the U.S. owns the skies. The only way an American pilot can get killed in combat is by accident, almost. Nobody can shoot down one of our fighter pilots unless it's one of our other fighter pilots, and that could only happen if the other fighter pilot made a mistake. So far, the only mistake remotely like that our fighter pilots have made was when two of them shot down two of our own helicopters, and you can't really count that, can you? I mean, c'mon. Helicopters. Fighters. Different animals, you know?

One of our F-16 pilots got himself shot down by anti-aircraft artillery over Bosnia, but his plane wasn't stealthy, so that doesn't really count either. The F-117 that got shot down a couple years later over Kosovo was stealthy, but that was old stealth, not the new stealth like the kind we have in the B-2, so take that one right off the list too.

What are the odds of a B-2 getting shot down in a combat mission over Iran? Wafer thin. I'm not saying it could never happen. I mean, there was that one instance where a B-2 went down in a training mission over Nevada, but that was in the movie Broken Arrow, so that one definitely doesn't count.

But, yeah, accidents can happen. Things break. Weather gets bad. Pilots make mistakes. Bad guys get lucky. I'd sure hate to see us lose a B-2 bomber over Iran. The Air Force would have to bar them from flying combat missions, and then what good would they be? And we'd be deluged with non-stop footage of the little boy in his flight suit jammies, clinging to his bedtime book, waiting for Daddy to come home from the war and read him a story. There's also a pretty good chance we might have to watch Daddy get dragged naked through the streets of Tehran, because his Iranian captors might not be nearly so jolly as Colonel Klink and Sergeant Schultz were.

That sort of possibility doesn't phase the Air Force, though. We'll bomb that bridge when we come to it, that's their motto. The problem is that when it comes time to bomb the bridge, they may not hit it, or it may turn out to be the wrong bridge, or we might find out in retrospect that bombing bridges wasn't what we really needed to do after all.

Here's something to keep in mind about the promise of "surgical strikes" on Iran and the people making that promise. The 9/11 attacks were, in essence, fourth generation warfare air raids. America's vaunted air power, as exemplified by the United States Air Force, did not defend us from them not did it deter them.

So don't expect that a handful of flyboys and girls can make things all better with Iran in the course of a business day.

Next: Tooth fairies, free lunches and surgical strikes


Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at Pen and Sword and ePluribus. Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books, ISBN: 9781601640192) will be available March 1, 2008.


  1. Anonymous10:15 PM

    This is just plain scary.

  2. "That sort of possibility doesn't phase the Air Force, though."

    I hate to be a nuisance, I really do, but the AF isn't in charge. And would it advocate for this if it were?

    Iran wasn't in the plan from the beginning. And now?

    The biggest question is "then what?"
    No matter what overt action you take, how are you going to sew it up?

    We can't.

    You are talking about starting a war that we can't finish.

    Is the AF oblivious to this? I don't think so.

  3. Anonymous2:33 PM

    The other problem with Air Force "surgical strikes" is that they are not always so surgical. Being based on intel that's not always accurate, and using weapons systems that are pretty damn good but not 100 effective/accurate. Bombing with automation is better than bombing with an old Norden Bombsight, except when you miss. And every miss will be well publicized within seconds, and used against us and any allies stupid enough to line up with The Boy King in another Most Excellent Middleeastern Adventure.

    Another thing that the failed 1600 Crew (and the anemic 4th estate) seem to not want to ever discuss when whining about an Irani Nuke is that not only does that bring Iran in the elite Nuclear Club, but also brings them into the not-so-actually-defunct "Mutually Assured Destruction" club. I don't believe that club was ever actuall disbanded "when the wall fell". The cold war might have ended, but no one tossed SIOP in the shitter, just rewrote it and gave it a new acronym.

    A "Nuclear Iran" would be held responsible for the consequences of the deployment of any of their weapons, and no one the world would protest for one lousy second a nuclear or conventional counter reponse to such a deployment. But in advancing the Nuclear Atomic Boogeyman, that argument is conveniently forgotten.

    Just sayin'.

  4. Anonymous1:28 PM

    Commander Huber - Regarding possible consequences to American forces in an attack on Iran could your comment on the Millenium Challenge 2002 war games?