Keep Your Eyes On Iran
I know that many of us are focused on a variety of stories at this time, ranging from the Ned Lamont story in Connecticut to the ongoing NSA/Michael Hayden storylines. All of these deserve attention. But a larger story is moving along towards a trigger point where this administration will fully become an outlaw regime: the possibility of an attack against Iran sometime before the midterm election.
I have been conversing lately with retired Air Force Colonel Sam Gardiner, whom I have been in contact with since his groundbreaking study on how the White House sold the Iraq war to the nation. You will recall that Gardiner moderated an Atlantic Monthly war game exercise targeting Iran for their December 2004 edition, so he knows what indicators to look for in gauging not if, but when the Bush Administration is ready to strike against Iran. In a previous piece, I passed along the four step sequence that Gardiner predicts will be followed in any Bush Administration attack against Iran.
I followed up on that recent post with another email exchange with Gardiner to get his updated assessment of the likelihood of an attack, and when, as well as the Administration’s grasp, or lack of, the consequences of such an attack. I also exchanged emails with Professor Juan Cole to get a sense of what he thought the reaction would be inside Iraq to an attack by the United States against Iran.
I started my discussion yesterday with Gardiner after reading a story in the Los Angeles Times which indicated that the administration (mentioning Robert Joseph of the "16 words" infamy) was taking steps to contain the Iranian nuclear program, including the offer of missile defense systems and umbrellas to Iran’s neighbors, and I surmised that this may indicate that despite the rhetoric, the Bush Administration may be trying to scare the Iranians back to the table and are setting in place a containment strategy. Gardiner disagreed.
I don't give much weight to the argument that the US is trying to pressure the Iranians back to the table or even to stop enrichment. The evidence is overwhelming. The United States has picked regime change as policy. With that objective the Administration has no interest in having Iran comply with the UN or IAEA pressures.
The discussion with the states of the region on (containment) security are for a longer term objective. The countries that Joseph visited are very nervous about a US strike and the consequences for internal stability. Missile defense would have the objective of population-calming. They would want to have additional air and missile defense capabilities in place when a strike takes place. My guess is that we will deploy some number of Aegis Cruisers into the Gulf to provide the protection. That could have been the discussion.
I told Gardiner that from his remarks, it appeared that getting such systems into place would take months, and that we would not proceed with any attack until those countries were satisfied that a sufficient umbrella against an Iranian retaliatory strike was in place. I also said that Saudi Arabia of all countries would be concerned about any such attack. Gardiner reminded me that the carrier battle groups sailed to the gulf already with the Aegis cruisers, and that a missile defense system would be in place when those battle groups took up their positions upon arrival in the Middle East.
(The) Saudis would have a major heartburn (over any attack by America). I think they will ask the United States for two things if we talk to them before a strike. First, they would want augmentation of their own missile defense capabilities. That would come from the cruisers. Second, they would want the US to assure them the Gulf would remain open. That would be done by striking the Iranian military capabilities that guard the Gulf and in providing escorts for tankers as they leave the Gulf after the strike.
Gardiner also said that the Israelis have been pressuring the Bush Administration to launch an attack against Iran for almost a year.
I'm told that last week the Israelis were to have made a judgment on whether or not Iran had "passed the point of no return" on its nuclear program. Watch very carefully what Olmert and the President say after their meeting here in Washington on Tuesday. That will tell us a great deal.
Gardiner continued this morning:
I said we should watch the Olmert visit. We are beginning to see where it will go. Here is the report of a CNN interview:
"Iran is just a few months from acquiring the technological know-how that will allow it to build a nuclear bomb, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was quoted as saying Sunday in the transcript of an interview he gave to CNN."
That is important because in President Bush's last three press conferences he has said that Iran can't be permitted to have a nuclear weapon, and the he added, OR THE KNOWLEDGE TO PRODUCE ONE. This is a very serious indicator of the immediate future.
Sure enough, as Gardiner said, note the replay of the "mushroom cloud" scare tactic that the administration rolled out to sell us the Iraq invasion. Wolf Blitzer indicated today Israeli Prime Minister Olmert told him in an interview Thursday that Iran will have the technology to make a nuclear weapon in a matter of months, not years. Of course Olmert did not indicate where he got this assessment or the proof to back it up, especially as it flies in the face of what our intelligence community and the IAEA have told us up until now. It is also not clear how the Israelis, who would have a lot to gain by America taking action against Iran, obtained their information or how credible it is. And to sell his point, Olmert managed to raise the Holocaust as a reason to deal with Iran now, an analogy we will hear more and more from this point on. So from Gardiner’s perspective, we have already set in place the predicates for action: the positioning of assets and the establishment of a questionable imminent threat determination.
I asked Gardiner if he thought there was a gross underestimation by both the United States and Israel of the reaction in the region from an attack on Iran, given that there is no evidence yet that Iran has violated the NPT, and that any such attack will be without UN sanction, since the Security Council will not be able to pass a resolution without Russia and China’s support.
I think there is a very serious lack of appreciation of the consequences on the part of many countries. Sure, Iran will respond with attacks on Israel. More important, I think there will be a general rage in the region that will be of many magnitudes of the reaction to the Danish cartoons.
For specifics on what would happen inside Iraq, and what the United States should be doing inside Iraq in advance of any such attack next door, I asked Professor Cole for his assessment.
I wouldn't attack Iran by air unless I had tried at least to secure the Iraqi border against IRGC infiltration in the aftermath. So I should have thought some troop movements to the east would also be a signal.
What does Cole predict inside Iraq in the aftermath of an attack next door?
I think it is very risky for Bush to do this, since it could blow up southern Iraq and I know that the British would be furious because their 8,000 troops would face the brunt of the reaction.
An American attack on Iran would primarily provoke the Sadrists and SCIRI. Badr would almost certainly turn against the US and British troops big-time, and Muqtada would bring hundreds of thousands into the streets and try to hook up with the Salafi Sunnis to force the US out.
Major, major turmoil.
With these indicators starting to emerge, I asked both Cole and Gardiner the big question: when did they think an attack would occur?
If you get a lot of US troops killed as a result in Iraq and the country falls into further chaos, that wouldn't exactly help the Republicans in the congressional races.
My own guess is that Karl Rove would advise them to put it off until November 6, the way they did the Fallujah campaign in 04.
Gardiner’s assessment was different and more alarming.
I would stay the probability of a strike before the elections is 80 to 90%.
Gardiner is not saying that an attack is imminent, only that as we see indicators pile up in the coming weeks and months, it is more clear that something may happen prior to November.
We know that Bush and Olmert are meeting this Tuesday, and you don’t have to be a psychic to guess what they’ll be talking about. The Security Council is meeting Wednesday to finish work on a resolution calling for the Iranians to suspend enrichment activities while negotiations continue, something that the Iranians have already rejected as violating their rights under the NPT. We also suspect that neither the Russians nor the Chinese will support a Security Council resolution that can be enforced through military action. So it is very possible that the diplomatic avenue will be closed in Bush’s mind by the end of this week.
The carrier battle groups arrive in the region shortly after that.