Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Get Real about Iran

Iran has announced that it will build 10 new nuclear facilities. Big deal.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says the facilities are necessary to meet the country's goal to one day generate up to 20,000 megawatt-hours of electricity per year, a grand ambition.

That program would require 500,000 centrifuges. Iran presently has 8,000, only half of which are currently producing reactor grade uranium. Experts predict the Iranians can’t get there from here, at least not any time soon.

“We’re looking at an extremely costly 20- or 30-year program, at best," says Gary Sick, a professor of Middle East studies at Columbia University who served on the National Security Council during Iran's 1979 revolution.

Ahmad Shirzad, an Iranian nuclear scientist who is often critical of his government, says Iran has neither the industrial ability to create 500,000 centrifuges nor the basic ingredients to operate them. He says the announcement was a "political decision to make an impression."

The announcement came in response to an International Atomic Energy Agency resolution that said Iran was bad, bad, bad for not exporting the majority of its reactor grade uranium to Russia and France. That was a bogus deal that Iran was wise to stiff-arm. France has screwed Iran on nuclear deals in the past.

No one wants to grant that Iran, like many countries, wants to improve its situation in the world, and that the prize, for them, is a nuclear energy program. To have nuclear weapons would be, for them, a death sentence. Both Israel and America would go snake spit and bomb them back to the Bronze Age.

The impasse revolves around demands by the west that Iran suspend its uranium enrichment program. That’s an outrageous demand, one that Iran says it will never accede to, and well it should not. Having a nuclear energy program that relies on other countries to provide your nuclear fuel is like not having a nuclear energy program at all.

The Iranians will stand their ground. They will not be bullied into giving up their “inalienable right,” as guaranteed in the UN Non-Proliferation Treaty, to refine their own uranium. So why bother pursuing that aim?

The hoopla over their “secret” enrichment facility at Qom, buried under a mountain, the one they revealed before we accused them of keeping it a secret, is not a big deal. As they explain, they wanted a back-up, bombproof facility in case the Israelis blow up their main facility in Nanantz, something the Iranians have ample reason to believe might happen.

To review the bidding, Iranians don’t have a nuclear weapons program. They have never invaded another country. Their conventional forces have limited capability. Their army has never deployed more than about ten miles from its border, and that was only during the eight-year war with Iraq when Saddam Hussein invaded them. Their navy is a coast guard and their air force is a junkyard. Their defense budget is less than one percent of ours. Iran is a pismire.

Iran’s president says unfortunate things; most of them, one strongly suspects, are for domestic Iranian and Muslim world consumption, the equivalent of “Bring ‘em on.” But the Iranian’s are, well, paper Persians. Their growl is much worse than their bite. They are, in fact, toothless.

Iran is part of the multi-tined Long War strategy that the Pentagon and its supporters are cramming up our noses. They’re digging their heels in on Iraq. Gen. Ray Odeirno has been making noises about how we need to keep 30,000 or so troops in Iraq until 2015 or so, and says the insurgency in Iraq may go on for another 15 or so years. So much for the “successful” surge.

Afghanistan, where it looks like we’re going to re-re-escalate in order to develop an exit plan, has become the Long War’s center of gravity. We’ve never seen the Pentagon and its confederates make such a media play to force a president to keep a war going indefinitely. MacArthur’s antics with Truman were tame in comparison.

Iran serves several purposes. It gives the Air Force and the Navy a reason to exist. We won’t bother to invade Iran; we’ll schwack it with air power. Iran is a convenient scapegoat. Whenever something goes wrong anywhere in the region, we blame it on Iran, even though we never have managed to prove any of our allegations. Most importantly, the Iranians give us a perfect excuse to maintain presence in the Middle East, so we can guard Israel from them and keep them from shutting down the Straight of Hormuz.

In all, Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan form our Long War trifecta.

I don’t propose that we turn our backs on Iran. There is a possibility that they someday will develop nuclear weapons behind everybody’s backs if we don’t keep an eye on them.

But the sound and fury we generate every time Iran jerks our chain is silly.

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes at Pen and Sword. Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books), a lampoon on America's rise to global dominance, is on sale now.


  1. It seems that during my entire life time, born in 1947, America has always had some "bad guy" of some sort that "we" have to guard against or fight outright.
    For some reason or other America cannot get along with the rest of the world. "We" seem to need a bad guy or three. One reason of course, to keep dumping obscene amounts of money over to the five sided palace of death and destruction.
    Iran has been a very convenient "bad guy" since their revolution and the take over of our embassy. That was an act that America will never forgive of course.
    We sure need to get back to the founders ideas of fair trade and friendship with all nations and entangling alliances with none.
    Just my 2 cents worth.
    semper fi

  2. Ahead of the grand announcement tonight, this appeared on the CTV site this morning.

    NATO changes Canadian area of responsibility in Kandahar

    "NATO commanders are putting the Canadian Forces in charge of the Arghandab district, north of Kandahar city, a region where U.S. troops have sustained heavy casualties since being assigned there earlier this year."

    It sounds like they're putting Canadian soldiers there to get slaughtered.

    The Globe and Mail had this to say:

    "With American forces under Canadian command taking over several regions north and west of Kandahar City, Canadian troops will have a much smaller zone of focus, just one-tenth of what it was in March, according to Gen. Hodges.

    That corresponds with Gen. Stanley McChrystal's counter-insurgency strategy that urges coalition troops to focus on small areas of high population density..."

    Now I am worried. Anthropologist David Price had this to say about Montgomery "Better Killing through Anthropology" McFate, who largely lifted other anthropologists' work without permission or attribution for Petraeus' COIN manual. He's slso worried about the stuff in the new advisory manual for Special Forces.

    "Because counterinsurgency has become the Obama administration’s alchemical solution for the problems of Iraq and Afghanistan...[S]imple notions of mechanical, disarticulated representations of culture can be found in the Army’s new Counterinsurgency Field Manual, in which particular forms of anthropological theory were selected not because they “work” or are intellectually cohesive but because they offer the promise of “managing” the complexities of culture, as if increased sensitivities, greater knowledge, panoptical legibility could be used in a linear fashion to engineer domination."

    "...[W]ithin the military, the COIN Team is not alone in this folly: I’ve just finished a critique of the recently leaked Special Forces Advisor Guide (TC-31-73), and found a widespread adoption of dated anthropological notions of culture and personality theories, being selected and used to produce essentialized reductions of entire continents as having a limited set of uniform cultural traits."

    In other words, their ideas are outdated, overgeneralized, unworkable and dangerous to base a strategy on.


    As for pismires, Jeff, I thought I recognized the term from Chaucer

    "He is as crabbed as an old pismire,
    Though he has everything he can desire.
    -The Summoner's Tale

    But what if it's this kind?

    "In the isle also of this Taprobane be great hills of gold, that pismires keep full diligently. And they fine the pured gold, and cast away the un-pured. And these pismires be great as hounds, so that no man dare come to those hills for the pismires would assail them and devour them anon."
    -The Travails of Sir John Mandeville

    Sorry. Just being a smartass, and a longwinded one at that. Things seem to be connecting up like a web today. Every item has tendrils to ten others.

    How's your flu (or rather, how are you with the flu)? I'm sure the virus is doing just fine.

  3. It would be interesting to know how many officers in the military think the way you do. I believe Zinni, Fallon and Shenseki were more or less shown the door for thinking similarly. One thing the military does seem to do well is eliminate the creative thinking required to avoid the use of force.

  4. Jeff; imo, you are one short in your trifecta. Pakistan.

    This obsession that the Neocons, and the Zionists, have about Iran is beyond me. They seem to be using it as a back up fuse for the region. Just in case they ever choose to go all out.Who has Iran attacked? Who has Iran threatened to attack? Iran has signed the NPT, Israel has not.

  5. Another great discussion, gang. Thanks.


  6. PS,

    Fil, thanks for asking about my swine flu flu. It's a persistent bugger, I'll tell you that. The bummer about flu is there's not much you can do about it once you have it but rest and ride it out.


  7. Anonymous3:48 PM

    If the Iranians develop a nuclear weapon so what. Why would that be anything at all to be concerned about. The idea that they would use one unless they were attacked is just plain stupid. They sure as hell are not going to bomb Israel with one. Such an attack would kill huge numbers of Muslims.
    If we are going to speak the truth we should speak the complete truth and not hold something back in order to keep some credibility with the establishment or with potential voters.
    Jeff, I do not imagine that you are running for office anytime soon. Therefor it is not necessary to say that it is the Iranians that the US has to keep an eye on. The only people that the US military needs to keep an eye on is its own leadership.
    Curt Kastens

  8. Scott Ritter isn't running for anything either, but he also says Iran needs watching, his rationale being that the world doesn't need anymore nuclear weapons, period. It's hard to disagree with that. As American power wanes, though, it's likely that the countries doing the watching will be in Europe and Asia. Which is just as it should be.

    The next thirty years in the Middle East will be interesting, to say the least. As the price of oil rises with increasing scarcity, Iran will likely become a very wealthy nation (for as long as it can remain a net exporter, anyway). It's navy and air force may not always be junkyards, and they will be increasingly able to afford to buy the shiny toys that go boom. It is, of course, this increase in Iran's regional power that the Israelis secretly fear, not any existential threat from nuclear weapons.

    A Western attack on Iran is probably inevitable, but it is far more likely that it will take the form of an attack on Iran's oil production infrastructure (The loony right in this country has already suggested exactly this approach). It will happen when the hammer has already fallen on America and her extreme oil dependence (see the novel Down to a Sunless Sea for an engaging fictional account of such a collapse) and the Israelis have nothing to lose in driving the oil price skyward.

  9. Anonymous4:32 AM

    JP White,
    It is true the world does not need more nuclear weapons. It just needs to redistribute those that it already has.
    The US, Russia and Israel need far far fewer than what they already have and Iran and other targets of big power aggression, need to have some of those weapons in order to make the world a more peaceful place.
    Curt Kastens

  10. "But as we end the war in Iraq and transition to Afghan responsibility, we must rebuild our strength here at home. Our prosperity provides a foundation for our power. It pays for our military. It underwrites our diplomacy. It taps the potential of our people, and allows investment in new industry. And it will allow us to compete in this century as successfully as we did in the last. That is why our troop commitment in Afghanistan cannot be open-ended - because the nation that I am most interested in building is our own."

    This is what most interested me, in Obama's speech last night.

    A modern President finally told the military -- that from this administratiion -- there is no blank check from the American taxpayer.

    "the nation I am most interested in building--- is our own"

    About damned time -- somebody at minimum -- said the words.

    I was skeptical -- and I don't know that I'm sold on what is going to happen --- more troops to foreign soil --- more loss of our people -- and treasure --

    but maybe... there is light at the end of the tunnel.

    I hope so.

  11. Curt,

    I agree that a small state's possession of nuclear weapons can have a definite influence on a larger power's willingness to attack (anybody remember when North Korea was a charter member of the Axis of Evil?). I'm more than a little dubious, however, about their usefulness to Iran.

    If the Israelis had positive knowledge of an Iranian nuclear arsenal, it seems to me that, far from deterring possible aggression, such knowledge might push them over the edge into open warfare (and knowing us, we'd probably be there to give them a helpful shove).

  12. Also, let's get real about Obama.

  13. Anonymous5:41 PM

    I would not worry about Israel going over the edge. Israel is totally dependent on the US to wage war. I do not even think it is fair to think of Israel as an independent nation. The would not even say booo with out US approval. I think that there has been a lot of clever disinformation planted in our society, including the attack on the USS Liberty to disguise that relationship.
    If Iran had nukes how would that drive Israel over the edge. If they attacked they would greatly increase the chance that one of those nukes would reach its target.
    All that talk about Ahmadinejad claiming in wanted to wipe Israel out was pure BS many independent translators have blew the whistle on the foul play. Furthermore the Israelis hold many Muslim hostages and the Iranians also have some 10 or 20,000 Jewish hostages. I am refering to the Iranians who practice the Jewish religion. With or without a nuclear weapon
    Iran will never be able to militarily threaten even the Gulf states let alone the Arab world with a credible offensive threat.
    When the Iranians say that they would view any attack on them by Israel as an attack by the US they are absolutely 125% correct.

    By the way for the purposes of full disclosure I should say that I receive significant financial payments from both Iran's Supreme Leader Khameni and from some of his opponents who I should not at this time name. I am Iran's most potent offensive weapon system.
    My NATO AFNORTH ID Number is 122234. It expires on the 6th of February 2011. Therefore it should be clear to anyone who is not insane that Iran does not represent a threat to anyone. It does in fact share a common opponent with the US that the US government claims to be very concerned about. But who would you ever hear that from.
    By the way JPWhite I mention my connection to NATO not to make you think that I have access to any classified material about this subject. But I will not deny that I am more qualified to lead the US military than all the Generals of that military put together. There is not one of them that has demonstrated that he or she is worthy of even being in charge of a kindergarten. God I know that sounds as arrogant as hell but perhaps I could make it less so by saying that there are many many people more qualified to lead the US military than those who are actually in charge. I bet even my dog could do a better job. How many dogs do you know that can learn new tricks?
    Curt Kastens
    I am not sure that my first attempt to post these comments worked. I got no confirmation and did not see it appear,