George Friedman on Iran

George Friedman has an article at Stratfor on the prospects for a U. S. attack on Iran which I commend to your attention. The article covers a lot of the territory that I have at my place on the subject over the last three years or so and the territory that James has covered here in a concise, informed manner.

Mr. Kennan describes the objectives of such an attack as:

1. Eliminating Iran’s nuclear program.
2. Crippling Iran by hitting its internal infrastructure — political, industrial and military — ideally forcing regime change that would favor U.S. interests.
3. Using an attack — or threatening an attack — to change Iranian behavior in Iraq, Lebanon or other areas of the world.

Read the Friedman article.

Since The prospects for achieving the objectives laid out by Mr. Friedman using a precision bombing campaign are virtually nill and the prospects for mustering the political support for a significantly broader campaign to include attacks on Iran’s economic, military, and political infrastructure are even worse, why does talk about such attacks continue?

I think there are a number of reasons

  1. The Bush Administration’s continued saber-rattling.
  2. The continuing truculent attitude of the Iranian regime along with its support for rogue regimes and terrorist groups.
  3. The usefulness of an attack on Iran as an illustration of the heinousness of the Bush Administration by the administration’s domestic political opponents.

among them.

Recall that for every example of saber-rattling from the administration there have been at least three restatements of the administration’s commitment to using diplomacy and economic sanctions in dealing with Iran. When you combine that with the impracticality of attacking Iran as pointed out by Mr. Friedman, it strongly suggests to me that such an attack is extremely unlikely to take place during the waning days of the Bush Administration.

But criticizing such an attack will remain politically handy so I expect the ball to remain in the air.

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Dave Schuler
About Dave Schuler
Over the years Dave Schuler has worked as a martial arts instructor, a handyman, a musician, a cook, and a translator. He's owned his own company for the last thirty years and has a post-graduate degree in his field. He comes from a family of politicians, teachers, and vaudeville entertainers. All-in-all a pretty good preparation for blogging. He has contributed to OTB since November 2006 but mostly writes at his own blog, The Glittering Eye, which he started in March 2004.


  1. John Burgess says:

    The only attack on Iran that would have any chance of ‘success’ would be carpet bombing with nukes. As that’s rather unlikely to happen, I’m not sweating any immanent war with Iran.

  2. Dave Schuler says:

    Yep, that’s my take, too, John.

  3. yetanotherjohn says:

    The biggest vulnerability for Iran is their oil industry. Remove their ability to ship goods (we can destroy harbors), produce oil and refine gasoline would likely reduce their ability to communicate (phones, power stations, bridges, etc) and you can make life pretty tough. The problem is that the last twitches of the regime could be pretty horrific both inside and outside Iran. Further, a disruption of the Iranian oil supply would ripple through the world’s oil markets and push oil costs up. This would likely have a greater impact on US political positions than all the bellowing for or against an attack.

  4. Hal says:

    The usefulness of an attack on Iran as an illustration of the heinousness of the Bush Administration by the administration’s domestic political opponents.

    Um, doesn’t the administration, their surrogates, a slew of political writers and not to mention Giuliani’s advisors all call for the bombing of Iran on an almost daily basis? So, your number three seems to basically be a cheap shot at those who are understandably taking people who say they want to bomb Iran seriously and acting accordingly.

    I mean, am I misunderstanding you here? Are you really saying that those opposed to this insanity should just sit on the side lines and say “it’s never going to happen” and just keep mum? I mean, everything that has been said against a war with Iran was said against Iraq and you can see the result there. The attitude of “it’s insane, so it’ll never happened” is really just another form of “hope is my plan”, don’t you think?

  5. Anderson says:

    I hope Dave’s right, but “pursuit of policy contrary to self-interest” (as Barbara Tuchmann used to put it) has been a hallmark of this administration.

  6. Uncle Pinky says:

    so I expect the ball to remain in the air.

    So does everyone.

    Let us face it, if we wanted to turn Iran into an ashtray, we could. Ground forces are a bit stretched right now, but Air and Sea are damnably good. Frighteningly good.

    It is only “sabre-rattling” if you don’t have a sabre. The Iranians have a hilt, a scabard and two dried peas. That does not, necessarily, mean that you whack the little upstart proto-bully in the face with an axe, but a display of superior power might be in order. Like an “Indian Rub” for a nation that is tired of its history of contentiousnous and want’s to get karma points. Frankly, I’d back hard sanctions or an embargo before anything, but I’m not sitting in the Big Chair. It’s all Monday morning QB for me. And for you. Think about how much you hate telling people what to do. If you don’t viscerally hate it, well, well… ; Congrats it’s a politician!!

    The most promising thing I have seen is the willingness of Iranian students to protest. Doesn’t mean that the ME will get better any time soon, but it is somewhat encouraging. Now, if we could get our protesters over here to protest against a really, genuinally oppresive regime, I’d sleep better at night.

    P.S. I do not hold much of a brief for the zoomies, but they are doing their job and they hold the keys to the most awesome arsenal ever. So be nice.

    P.P.S. You may think that I’ve mispelled “sabre” but that is not so. I’m a foil man, myself, but have done enough sabre work to make that a pet peeve of mine. Fulll speed ahead and damn the OED.

  7. Leo says:

    Iran has 1 refinery. And it recently implented gas rationing, which caused riots as you recall. I agree that a war with Iran makes no sense, but an industrial accident would put a substantial strain on their economy.

  8. mannning says:

    Friedman uses an “either-or” logic to show the folly of various attack objectives, while at the same time agreeing that the US can achieve some of its objectives by air attack, namely:

    1.Destruction of key infrastructure complexes such as its one refinery, and miles of pipeline and pumping stations, and so forth.

    2.Destruction of Iran’s nuclear capabilities.

    3.Destruction of its military hardware, command and control, and communications capabilities.

    He cites the probable tightening of the population’s loyalty to the regime, and worldwide terrorist attacks against US targets as the most likely outcome of such attacks by us. He further cites that, in his opinion, the Iranians are many years away from having a deliverable nuclear weapon. (This is the reason not to stop them now? Oh! We should wait until they do have it! I see.)

    What seems to be missing is any consideration of future possibilities, especially Iran gaining nuclear weapons (perhaps much sooner than he is willing to concede!), and what that means in the Middle East. He tries to make delivery mechanisms a part of the equation, but he forgets the most simple of such systems, the small freighter, or the mules crossing borders undetected. Friedman seems to be betting Israel’s future on Iran being bellicose about destruction of Israel, but not actually carrying it out in the end. Considerate of him!

    I wonder what Israel thinks of his analysis?

  9. Hal says:

    Dude, Israel has over 200 nukes, and the missles, planes and submarines to deliver them. Not to mention that their military is about 6 generations beyond Iran’s.

    It’s called deterrence. Even if Iran manages to pull off your movie plot attack, they’d be incinerated the next minute – by Israel, not us.

    I gotta say that you guys have the conspiracy theory and whacked movie plot terrorist attack market all buttoned up.


  10. DC Loser says:

    I wonder what Israel thinks of his analysis?

    According to Ha’aretz :

    Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said a few months ago in a series of closed discussions that in her opinion that Iranian nuclear weapons do not pose an existential threat to Israel, Haaretz magazine reveals in an article on Livni to be published Friday.

    Livni also criticized the exaggerated use that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is making of the issue of the Iranian bomb, claiming that he is attempting to rally the public around him by playing on its most basic fears. Last week, former Mossad chief Ephraim Halevy said similar things about Iran.

  11. mannning says:

    We will know by the end of February, 2008, whether Iran will continue its nuclear activities or not. That is perhaps the latest time this administration could order an attack and be largely done with it prior to the elections. It is also perhaps sufficient time for Iran to figure out the relative payoffs for continuing or foregoing their nuclear ambitions. We will get one or the other.

    It is conceivable that Israel will attack Iran if they feel sufficiently threatened. They are not at all reluctant, as we have seen recently in Syria. In my opinion, if Israel does attack Iran, it will draw us into the fray whether we want it or not, since we have guaranteed Israel’s survival against Hamas, Hisbollah, Syria, and Iran. All of them would be up in arms if Israel attacks.

    For Israel, it only takes a few nuclear bombs to wipe out most of its population centers and industries, while Iran, a vastly larger nation, could survive more readily, and is a far more driven nation–willing to sacrifice much for the destruction of Israel. There is no MAD in this case; it is asymmetrically favorable to Iran. Even Friedman agrees with this in his analysis of the options.

    If you research the Israeli press and comments by senior people, you get a mix of opinions in their public declarations: some for, and some against a preemptive strike. What is clear from Sarkosy and Omert is that they will not allow Iran to have nuclear weapons: Bush has also stated the same thing.

    End of February, 08, give or take a week or so there will be a resolution.

  12. Hal says:

    Good commentary here which kind of gives support to discounting Dave’s “it’s all a political game” gimlet eyed commentary.

    I guess we can all just recycle the blog posts and comments. I’m sure it’ll be pretty much the same acts with the same players in the same parts.