1. Anonymous says:

    I also DO think the Bolton nomination is related to this. It is almost a guaranteed bet that we’ll be negotiating about Iran in the UNSC in the very near future. Bolton has been intractable in his hardline stance toward Iran. Don’t know whether that means we won’t go if we can somehow deny him the appointment. But I do think they’re related.

  2. Anonymous says:

    How will an Iran invasion be sold to the public? They can’t use the WMD rationale again… do you see other signs of this coming in the frames they’ve been setting up, or should I go on orange alert for staged terrorist attacks?

  3. Anonymous says:

    Please see Liberal Oasis today and Tom Dispatch archives (2005) for excellent background on the subjects of Iran, bases, mid-east oil, Caspian Sea area oil and African oil. these topics are highly interrelated.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Thank you, emptywheel, for what is the most thoughtful, comprehensive and original commetary on this subject that I’ve seen in one place on the blogosphere. What you lay out makes a great deal of sense.

    However, at the risk of seeming naive, or worse, conspiratorial, I think the U.S. will not attack Iran unless the goal really is to get the mullahs to unleash their well-honed worldwide terror network in retaliation. Such a move, which would, naturally, not be called retaliatory by the Administration’s propagandists, might be seen by the Bush Team as a great help in the losing struggle to keep the President’s poll numbers from reaching single digits.

    Of course, Cheney, et al., would love to take on the mullahs. The NeoImps themselves were divided on whether Iraq or Iran should be the first target, with the Michael Ledeen faction saying as early as 9/12 that Iran should be first. After the war in Iraq began, however, Ledeen fell back on the idea of regime change via support for the critics of the clerics, not an actual invasion.

    But despite Bush’s demand for blind loyalty from all his appointees, surely there remain some folks in intelligence and the Pentagon willing to speak sense in this matter.

    As we all know, an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities – whether carried out by U.S. forces or by Israel – is highly problematic because these are scattered throughout the country at 14 known sites and who knows how many unknown ones. Attacks on the Revolutionary Guards and Iranian industry would, obviously, be easier to mount. But Iran would undoubtedly strike back with terrorist attacks and quite likely with a clandestine war in Iraq. That U.S. advantage you cite – our ability to do in the air what we can’t do on the ground given limited, exhausted soldiers – would quickly dissolve under these circumstances. The very bad situation in Iraq would be made immeasurably worse. While turning the whole of Iraq (and Iran) into Fallujah is certainly a military option, and there are advocates for just such a course of action, the world reaction to such a move would, I think, amount to more than wordy objections. The U.S. could find itself fighting off economic sanctions by the EU, China, Russia, possibly even Japan and Canada. Or maybe these nations really are what the NeoImps claim, wimps, and they would allow the U.S. to do whatever it wished in Iran, unpunished.

    The details of an attack are also problematic. We’ve already left out a ground attack on Iran, a mountainous country four times as big as Iraq, with nearly three times the population and generals who would be unlikely to accept bribes to stand aside as Iraqi generals did.

    That leaves the air war. What kind of strike? Hit the Revolutonary Guard units? Hit the RG units and a few hundred other military sites, including the known nuclear facilities and Iran’s command-control-communications and air-defense sites? All this plus some special forces operations?

    No doubt in my mind that all this could be done quite successfully. It’s what our military does best. But while some in the Bush Administration – which may now be operating somewhat like a wounded badger – might, as you seem to argue, see such an attack as beneficial if only to divert attention from its multitude of problems on the domestic and foreign fronts, the ideologues wouldn’t get what they want – regime change in Tehran.

    An attack with cruise missiles, Stealth planes and special forces would no more bring down the mullahs than they brought down Saddam. Without a significant ground attack, the clerics would remain in power and might unite their disaffected citizens because the Great Satan did blow up a few targets and kill a lot of civilians.

    None of this is to say that such an attack won’t be launched anyway. Governments go ahead with unviable plans all the time – ours did it in Iraq. So my contrarian view that we will not attack could easily be proved wrong, and soon. I am, however, still of the view that, much as many in the Administration would like to blast Iran, the realists will win the argument against doing so.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Everyone says this, but I just can’t see it. Yes, we can bomb Iran until we run out of bombs. But what then? We can topple the regime, but we can’t dictate an outcome favorable to us. And the world will hate us even worse.

    If Iraq shows anything, it is that the US can’t occupy and hold territory. It is the Hundred Years’ War all over again. What good are Agincourt and Crecy if you can’t hold the territory? Iran is about the size of the US west of the Continental Divide. It is a BIG place. It has an estimated 68 million people, few of whom would be happy about such an attack, especially if there were large loss of life. I suppose we could do an amphibious landing from the Caspian Sea and get to Tehran rather quickly, but it ain’t a stroll up the Euphrates to get there from the Gulf.

    I realize you are talking about an attack by Navy and Air Force, not an invasion as such. But still–no one ever asks what happens next?

    I do think there are some insane people in the US Gov’t that want to invade Iran for the reasons you say. Bush may be one of them. But I think there is very deep dissension, even disarray, in the gov’t over this issue. Maybe that is why
    Bush had dinner with Powell–Colin’s last ditch attempt to stave off the complete destruction of the US military.

    One last point. I recall hearing during the Memorial Day concert (which I watched with my 92 year old mother) that in the Battle of Iwo Jima we had 250,000 men involved. To take one small island. It took over a month. Granted, the Japanese were dug in, heavily armed and desperate, but who thinks Iran is going to be easier than Iraq?

    This is really all too crazy for my poor mind to contemplate.

    BTW, I don’t think the housing bubble will pop. I think it will deflate slowly in some areas because it is unsustainable. But because of immigration, construction costs are very low, and will keep things going as long as interest rates remain low. But I think we have hit Peak Oil already. Slower growth will depress oil consumption. If we don’t attack Iran, some of the speculative premium may come out of oil and prices will go down. If we do, the price will go up, disruptions will be bad, and it is hard to see much upside materializing for the US.

  6. Anonymous says:

    But still–no one ever asks what happens next?

    This, I think, is the key, Mimikatz, and much of what I was trying to argue, however unpersuasively. Color me foolish, but I believe that many in the Administration have asked precisely that question and have come up with an answer they don’t like, which is, even if they can topple the current regime, they can’t guarantee an outcome favorable to U.S. or oligarchical interests. Perhaps more importantly, they can’t even be sure of toppling the regime, certainly not by means of an air attack, no matter how heavy-handed. Indeed, the more powerful, the more likely it would be to unite Iranians, much the same way that young people most disaffected with the mullahs are united around thinking Iran has a right to have nuclear weapons.

    Call it wishful thinking, but just because there is a lot of bluster right now in some circles about attacking Iran, I think it mostly is bluster, a bluff to get Tehran to back off its nuclear ambitions. Bluffs only work if your foe thinks you might carry out what you say you’re going to do. So a few overflights, a little special forces action and a lot of unrenounced loose talk by known fans of military action – including the vice president – helps make the bluff credible. That’s what I think we’re seeing right now.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Sorry, I don’t buy it, emptywheel. The math doesn’t quite work, and there’s no way that China and India and the EU3 would support an invasion of Iran. Airstrikes on nuclear facilities, maybe. More here on what signs to look for if there is going to be an attack. Tut-tutting about â€diplomacy has failed,†rapid criticism of Iran that happens so fast that there’s no time to seriously consider it, mushroom clouds, Israel destroyed, etc.

    I think Iran is going to get the bomb and life will go on. Eventually demographics will force political change on the country independent of what we do. Iranian kids want to get it on with each other without mullahs interfering.

  8. Anonymous says:

    I’m with Meteor Blades and Mimikatz here – I just don’t see how an attack on Iran is viable. We can blow some stuff up, but nothing that’s going to lay any really serious hurt on Iran. And the Iranians could retaliate – effectively – by making our situation in Iraq even more miserable than it is, by using their connections among the Iraqi Shias.

    Yeah, yeah, I know – we’re all benighted members of the reality-based community, and just don’t grok the triumph of the will. But I think the uniformed military leadership would push back very hard on this one.

    One thing I specifically disagree with here is the Bolton connection. Even by demented neocon standards, it’s truly, desperately implausible to think that someone like Bolton could HELP make the case in the Security Council for an attack on Iran. I can’t see Bolton as anything but flipping the bird at the UN.

    Having said all this, Emptywheel has touched on something broader that I’ve been thinking about lately – the neocons have a strikingly pessimistic view of American prospects in the world. They have made it something of a self-fulfilling prophesy, true, but their whole mind set seems to be one in which, besides having their heads up their collective ass, they have their heads in the late 1970s, with the US as pitiful helpless giant, the â€correlation of forces†against us and getting worse, and a desperate imperial gamble the only hope of staving off otherwise-inevitable decline.

    – Rick Robinso

  9. Anonymous says:

    All analysis aside, there is one huge obstacle to an invasion of Iran: we do not have the troops. I’m not saying it wasn’t in the long-term neocon plan, and I’m not saying there aren’t neocons in office drooling at the possibility, but that doesn’t get us over the fact that we do not have the boots on the ground. 140,000 in Iraq, 20,000 in Afghanistan plus our other worldwide commitments means we’re fresh out.

    Unless someone knows something I don’t, which is entirely possible.

  10. Anonymous says:

    If you really thing that we’re going to attack Iraq, then you should get ready for another 9/11 to precede it. That’s the only way they’ll be able to reinstate the draft, which is a must-have toy for Ol’ Man Rummy, even if the only thing they think they want to do is bomb Iran into submission. Total war. I can’t believe these people are running our country.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Al-Fubar, I have loved your name since the old days at DailyKos.

    You are right to point to the pessimism about America’s chances that this points to. but I think that is particularly characteristic of Cheney, who has a dark view of human nature and the world generally, and is a control freak to boot. Wolfowitz always seemed to have a rather sunny outlook, dreamy, almost, especially about the outcome of our meddling in the Middle East. Feith is just wierd, based on the New Yorker profile. Perle is more of the dark type. Don’t know enough about the others.

    But they are a strange amalgam of idealism and stark, Hobbesian pessimism.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Cheney might believe that the vicious violent divisions of the late 60s were good for the GOP.
    We attack Iran, lose a division in Iraq in a few weeks, the world attempts sanctions on us, and America blows up into civil war. This might be the plan.

    And SS does not get â€reformed†without an economic collapse. An attack on Iran could precipate that, and the Senate faced with 2 trillion a year in deficits and no possibility of simple tax increases passes both Bush’s SS and a VAT or sales tax. They will find the Democrats to go along.

    (This, and the preceding post on Reid and the Senate, is turning this place into one of my favorite blogs. Good work.)

  13. Anonymous says:

    Many comments:

    MB

    My response above was written in the voice of someone taking the neocons at their word, believing they can do what they intend. But I DO think the neocons are dangerously underestimating the mullahs. Not least because I think they’re underestimating their intelligence (if it’s true the mullahs skunked us with Chalabi, we clearly don’t have the capability to judge them. Most importantly, we have no real information about what AQKhan dealt, beyond the fact that we know he was kind of dealing to Iran. The mullahs sound pretty damn confident. Who’s to say they don’t ALREADY have the bomb, borrowed from Pakistan??

    Also, I’ll suggest, again, that the point isn’t (and never was) Iran’s nukes. Not at all. The point is to ensure that Iran is led by someone compliant with US wishes. So our ability to take out Iran’s nukes is really beside the point.

    Realists winning.

    As to the battle between the neocons and the realists, I do realize there is a faction trying to prevent this catastrophe. I think Laura Rosen captures nicely the angst of someone watching the battle between realists and neocons take place–and knowing we’re pretty helpless to influence that disagreement. Which is all I’ll say. I know of no way to try to make the realists’ case stronger. I hope they win. But I have no rational reason (besides the WTO agreement) to believe they might.

    Mimikatz

    The whole time I was writing this, I was thinking, â€yeah, the neocons believe this is a fact, written in stone, but have the asked, what happens next? After you bomb the bejesus out of Iran, how do you turn that into a hegemonic advantage? I can’t really figure that either. But it’s pretty clear they’re not ASKING these question. They certainly didn’t ask it about Iraq, when we were all asking it. I think they just believe that, if they can play on a field of military superiority, it won’t matter. Didn’t you notice our cakewalk to Iraq???

    praktike

    First, I should recognize you’re the one who IS working with more knowledgeable sources. So I do respect your opinion. Particularly the notion that China and India won’t stand for it. And Russia. Russia in particular.

    But I think that’s part of the gamble, right? You can retain hegemony over these folks if you can pull this off. If you can’t, then you will be licking Chinese boots in the near future. I could be wrong, but I don’t think Cheney is the boot-licker type. So I assume, even though the strategic disincentives are obvious, that he will push it nevertheless.

    Al-Fubar

    I don’t think Bolton is intended to facilitate UN negotiations. On the contrary, I think he is intended to provide a rationale for our â€allies†to negotiate in some other forum. When we lost the Cancun round, we took our toys and went home and said we’ll only negotiate with folks who play according to our rules. I suspect Bolton is there to do something similar at the UN.

    Mimikatz again

    The most delicious irony you point out? Yes, oil would be cheaper if we’d stop fighting over it. It’d be a nice way to bridge the peak. But I think Dick Cheney has already assessed his chances and figured he’d be better of fighting over it…Egads.

    Everyone

    Thank you for the intelligent conversation on this. I’d like to agree with you all, that we’re not going to invade because sanity will rule out. But what no one has answered, yet, is how we address the bigger questions? How do we retain hegemony given what will happen with the oil and currency markets in the very near future? How will the elite making the decisions retain their power and way of life if they don’t push to retain their power?

    I guess I’d like to believe you. But I have yet to hear of a plausible scenario where the Republicans oversee the decline of US power without trying to do something (however stupid) to stop that decline.

  14. Anonymous says:

    From the news I just became aware of (like 5 minutes ago), there is a possibility that you may be overestimating things.

    The news is that Air Combat Command has announced today that they have cut training hours by 60% throughout the command, so that those hours can be transferred to combat operations to cover the extended flight operations of the USAF over Iraq and Afghanistan.

    This is important.

    I don’t know how many of you are pilots, but I am, and I can tell you this: flying is like playing the piano – the more you practice, the better you get. You need to maintain a certain momentum, a certain minimum of participation, so that skills don’t rust over. A â€for instance†is like when I got my instrument rating – the government announced that GI Bill flight training was going to end in 90 days, so I went and got the last of my benefits. I was flying 3-4 hours/day for those 90 days, and after about two weeks of this, my flying skills were about 200% better than they had been.

    For people who are flying military airplanes – the most complex airplanes there are – the absolute minimum of flight time necessary just to maintain skills without them dropping is 200 flying hours/year. I’m talking here of training hours. You have to have these training hours so that you make the most of your combat hours and don’t end up as a casualty. You can’t make up for a lack of training by more operational flying.

    Just because there haven’t been as many folks in Air Force and Navy Blue coming home in boxes as there have been folks in Army and Marine Green doesn’t mean that the air forces are not stretched to the limit, too. A high rate of combat ops takes its toll on flyers just like it does on grunts.

    The fact that the Air Force now has to â€eat its young†is as bad as the fact the Army had to turn the OpFor trainers into a combat unit. When you do these things, like reducing training ops, you reduce future capability so you can â€put out the fires†today.

    Iran is going to turn out to be â€a bridge too far.†As someone who has a great deal of personal respect for the folks in uniform, a fair number of whom are not just â€strange names†to me, the thought of these excellent people being sacrificed this way by these scummy goddamned chickenhawks makes me just mad as hell.

  15. Anonymous says:

    TCinLA

    Thanks for the perpective. I was perhaps too glib when I said the Air Force and Navy had had it easy.

    But I still wonder. If they’re willing to eat their young, does that say they have SUCH a sense of urgency that they’ll be willing to do something stupid? Are they willing to sacrifice the pilots they’ll need in 4 years because they figure it’s make or break right now?

    I don’t know the answer to that. But I definitely feel like they keep eating their young. Either they see a very short window they need to survive to make it good (eat their young now in the anticipation of a 10 year peace window), or they’re even dumper than I think.

  16. Anonymous says:

    And I probably shouldn’t type the word â€dumber†â€duumper.†Although it is growing on me.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Oh, I have no difficulty agreeing with you that the morons at the top will make the dumber decision, since that’s all they’ve done since they got into office.

    What I am saying is, the military services are doing as told, but that has not relationship with their ability to achieve what they are tasked with.

    Beyond that, an air war against Iran is not going to work. Whatever facilities they have are likely nuclear-survivable – and if BushCo used nukes it would end up with the world against us, and the dollar trashed for the euro, with China and several other countries selling off their Treasuries. They wouldn’t even have to curl one finger around one trigger to clobber us.

    My ancestors founded this country before it was a country. My 6-times-great grandfather was â€present at the creation†when we became a county. Two of my great-great-grandfathers took part in the battle that saved us as a country. We as a family have never been less than completely involved to the maximum we could be in making this country what it claims to be.

    Which is why it pains me so much to say that whatever bad happens to us under BushCo is deserved. There have always been two Americas, the one my family fought for, and the one the unreconstructed Confederate traitors now running GOP Inc. believe in. That one needs to not only be defeated, but to be killed, like old bad Germany was killed in 1945 (with considerable input from many â€good Germans†who had emigrated to America and produced the childtren who would form the basis of the army that defeated the â€bad†Germany).

    I only hope that in the process the opporunity is presented for us small mammals to survive the destructionm of the dinosaurs in order to rebuild what was once hoped for.

  18. Anonymous says:

    On second thought, this is interesting

    This article reads like a lot of articles published in the lead up to the Iraq war, usually liberally quoting Ahmad Chalabi. (And this one is ALSO in the New York times–good to see it hasn’t gotten out of the habit of serving as the shill for foreign interests trying to drum up a war; although I’m a little surprised and disappointed to see Doug Jehl involved in this.) It seems to me the anonymous Israeli sources might want to drum up some more belligerence against Syria:

    The Israeli military officials said they interpreted the launchings as a gesture of defiance to the United States and the United Nations by the Syrian president, Bashir al-Assad, who has been pushed in a humiliating fashion to remove Syrian troops from Lebanon since the assassination of the anti-Syrian politician, Rafik Hariri.

    â€This is really putting your fingers in the eyes of the Americans, saying, ’I’m not dancing to your flute,’ †a senior Israeli military official said. â€The tests are probably needed for the missile project, but this is Bashir taking a risk here and sending a message.â€

    If I’m right, and this is an attempt to use the paper of record to generate some anti-Syria bloodthirst, it might suggest the Administration is backing off plans to go after Syria (I’ve always assumed an attack on Iran would get tied to an attack on Syria pretty quickly, not least because they’ve got a mutual defense agreement). So maybe someone IS getting more realistic about the prospects for a successful war in the Middle East.

  19. Anonymous says:

    Memikatz said â€What good are Agincourt and Crecy if you can’t hold the territory?â€. The pattern the neocons are looking at is 1066, not the Hundred Years War. They believe that if we are simply sufficiently ruthless, we can win by eventually wearing down our opposition. As I said from the beginning (3 years ago), the strategy of invading west Asia only makes sense if we are going to become _truly_ Imperial in the scope of our evil. Decimation WORKS. It reduced proud peoples like the Saxons, and it could reduce the Iranians. All we have to do is surrender our conscience.

  20. Anonymous says:

    Yes, but the Normans SETTLED England. They brought people over to actually live in and run the country. It was more than an occupation, it was a real conquest of the country.

    Despite James Fallows’ 2002 Atlantic article about how Iraq would become the 51st state if we invaded, I really don’t think we invaded to find new territory to settle in. Ergo we can’t hold it.

    The Syrian news was interesting. Is it Israel trying to remind the US that they are still in danger (or think they are) from their neighbors as BushCo gets cold feet?

    I think the short window that BushCo sees is the one that is going to be slammed shut on their departing fingers on January 20, 2009.

  21. Anonymous says:

    Only comment I can make is that if they do it, there’s not going to be any warmup like Iraq. Only slim chance that airstrikes alone will work is if it’s a total surprise. They’ll just send in the planes on some Friday.

  22. Anonymous says:

    â€How will an Iran invasion be sold to the public? They can’t use the WMD rationale again… do you see other signs of this coming in the frames they’ve been setting up, or should I go on orange alert for staged terrorist attacks?â€

    Why couldn’t they â€use the WMD rationale againâ€? Is there any doubt at all that the mullahs are working on nuclear weapons and have a good chance of finishing them if they aren’t stopped?

    â€However, at the risk of seeming naive, or worse, conspiratorial, I think the U.S. will not attack Iran unless the goal really is to get the mullahs to unleash their well-honed worldwide terror network in retaliation. Such a move, which would, naturally, not be called retaliatory by the Administration’s propagandists, might be seen by the Bush Team as a great help in the losing struggle to keep the President’s poll numbers from reaching single digits.â€

    Letting the Iranians get nukes practically guarantees that their well-honed worldwide terror network will strike us and kill as many Americans as they think they can get away with without provoking a nuclear exchange. They’re immune from conventional invasion once they have the bomb, why on Earth wouldn’t they strike?

    You know, it’s weird how people can come up with all sorts of predictions of Bush and Rove and Cheney killing people and blowing stuff up and performing acts of sheer evil and stupidity just for the fun of it, but dismiss out of hand the idea that the Iranian mullahs will gladly kill Americans whenever they think they can get away with it. How do people end up thinking that American politicians are more evil and reckless than Muslim fanatics?

    â€I guess I’d like to believe you. But I have yet to hear of a plausible scenario where the Republicans oversee the decline of US power without trying to do something (however stupid) to stop that decline.â€

    Well, they could do something smart like deregulate the crap out of nuclear power and let thousands of plants go up. Hell, if they talk about all the CO2 that today’s coal plants are putting in the air, the Democrats might even go along with it. Problem solved.

    â€There have always been two Americas, the one my family fought for, and the one the unreconstructed Confederate traitors now running GOP Inc. believe in.â€

    You mean the ones that, along with fighting for slavery (rather than invading countries ruled by nasty dictators and setting up real participatory democracies) kept talking about how northern industrialists, laissez-faire capitalists, and corporations were the work of the devil and a threat to Southern values?

  23. Anonymous says:

    >METEROR: â€Without a significant ground attack,
    the clerics would remain in power and might
    unite their disaffected citizens because the Great
    Satan did blow up a few targets and kill
    a lot of civilians.

    Yes we need some reality check here. All this talk about what that Necons want has been mooted by the military reality we face. If we started a fight with Iran the first thing that they would do would be to use land-based Silkworm anti-ship missiles and their navel forces (including small fast mine laying craft) to close the Strait of Hormuz. This would not only send oil prices through the roof by blocking the lions share of Saudi Arabia oil exports, but would also make it impossible to resupply out forces and contractors in Iraq and Kuwait by sea.

    Then Iran would send ’volunteers’ to help their Shia brethren in southern Iraq with an emphasis on cutting off the land rout from Kuwait to central Iraq. Then they would move forces to some hard to reach (for us) front on the Iranian boarder. For example the oil rich area of Khanaqin is a place on the road from Baghdad to Tehran and has in the past been contested between Iran and Iraq (though probably only Iran still has officers who are veterans of the fighting in that area). At about this point we would be in a situation where we were not looking at controlling both Iran and Iraq but at Iran and a Shia client state controlling as much oil as Saudi Arabia.

    >METEROR: â€I am, however, still of the view that,
    much as many in the Administration would like
    to blast Iran, the realists will win the argument against doing so.â€

    The â€realists†in this case being the American military. I think that people in the Pentagon are simply not going to let themselves be placed in a position like this. I know, I know, we have a deep tradition of civilian control in our military, but I think that they would do whatever was necessary to prevent such a reckless courting of real military disaster.
    And if Cheney, Rummy and Bush tried really hard to push them to risk such a situation, I think the generals would probably be just as able as the FBI once was to give voice to its own ’deep throat’ and start leaking stuff about the planning for the Iraqi invasion that would make the Downing Street memo seem like nothing. They know where the bones are buried on that and so I think Bush is in no position to push them around.

    An invasion of Iran it not going to happen. The only real question is, if things start to go really bad, so bad that Iraq shows signs of splitting up, would Iran decided to grab a few of the pieces? And if they did what would we dare do about it? See my comment in the Kos thread you cite above where I speculate that we may have defensive concerns in the Khanaqin area rather than offensive ones. If Iran got nasty that area could be a big problem.

  24. Anonymous says:

    On edit: The link above didn’t work.
    See my comment in the Kos thread above where I speculate that we may have defensive concerns in the Khanaqin area rather than offensive ones.  If Iran got nasty that area could be a big problem.