Iran War Drums Beating?

As previously noted, Admiral Mike Mullen told a gathering at the Atlantic Council that he fears the United States and its allies “will have to deal with Iran in the very near future.” That statement left a lot of room for strategic ambiguity. He removed a bit in a press briefing yesterday, Ann Scott Tyson reports.

The nation’s top military officer said today that the Pentagon is planning for “potential military courses of action” against Iran, criticizing what he called the Tehran government’s “increasingly lethal and malign influence” in Iraq. Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said a conflict with Iran would be “extremely stressing” but not impossible for U.S. forces, pointing specifically to reserve capabilities in the Navy and Air Force. “It would be a mistake to think that we are out of combat capability,” he said at a Pentagon news conference.

Given the presence of hostile capability among various actors with whom we have conflicting interests, one would hope we’re planning for all manner of military scenarios. And noting that we are doing so and that we have the capacity to carry it out (which is more than bluster if we’re merely talking about air strikes) contributes to the strategic ambiguity by making a big show of the stick so as to make the carrot look more enticing.

Still, Mullen made clear that he prefers a diplomatic solution to the tensions with Iran and does not foresee any imminent military action. “I have no expectations that we’re going to get into a conflict with Iran in the immediate future,” he said.

Tyson asserts that Mullen’s speeches are evidence of “a new rhetorical onslaught by the Bush administration against Iran.” She cites a speech at West Point by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates Monday (incidentally, the day of Mullen’s Atlantic Council address) in which he said war with Iran would be “disastrous on a number of levels. But the military option must be kept on the table given the destabilizing policies of the regime and the risks inherent in a future Iranian nuclear threat.”

Here again, though, the message could hardly be more clear: We don’t want war with Iran but we must settle the nuclear issue (and others) diplomatically to avoid that risk.

During the run-up to the Iraq and Afghanistan invasions, the demands set forth to avoid war involved enough loss of face for the other side that they were unlikely to be met. I don’t recall any administration official saying that military action would be “a disaster” for us. This simply doesn’t smell the same.

Bernard Finel argues that this heightened rhetoric is based on misguided premises.

The argument is that diplomacy only works when backed up by force, or that at the very least putting a little fright into the Iranian leadership (maintaining strategic ambiguity) is unambiguously a good idea. Well, it doesn’t and it isn’t.

Diplomacy does not always rely on implicit threats, and even when it does rely on threats, those threats need not be military. And strategic ambiguity is not particularly useful when it unquestionably strengthens extremist demagogues in Iran by seeming to support their rhetoric. Just like Chekov’s gun which if placed on the mantle in act one must be used by act three, placing the threat of force on the bargaining table also increases the likelihood it will be used. As a general rule, people don’t like to make concessions at the point of a gun, and any concessions they make under such circumstances will likely be overturned at the first opportune moment. There would undoubtedly be some emotional satisfaction in lashing out at Iran, but there is no coherent long-term strategy sustaining that course of action. As a wag once argued, “the only thing worse than a nuclear Iran is a nuclear Iran that we recently bombed.”

We learned to play the nuclear game during the Cold War and developed our theory of strategic deterrence around the idea of mutually assured destruction. We threatened to wipe the other guys off the face of the map if they launched a nuclear strike against us and left the option on the table to strike them first. This brinksmanship came dangerously close to being tested, most notably with the Cuban Missile Crisis, but it otherwise worked.

In the case of Iran, though, Finel is likely right. For one thing, the threat of military action is only effective if it’s credible. Given that it’s almost universally acknowledged that it would be virtually impossible to take out Iran’s nuclear facilities from the air and that a ground invasion would be a disaster, I’m not sure how credible the saber rattling is. Further, the Iranian regime is in a precarious situation, with plenty of domestic opposition and regional and international uncertainties. The last thing they want is the public humiliation of being backed into a corner by the Great Satan and flinching.

There has to be a quiet, back door means of carrying on negotiations, even multi-laterally, to create a settlement acceptable to all. The Iranian regime doesn’t need nuclear weapons but they do need security guarantees and sustainable long term energy. Beyond that, I don’t have much of a sense of how the deal would be put together and what it would look like. But I’m pretty sure it won’t be settled through the threat or use of arms.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. my_email_is_not_real says:

    >> Please use the “LINK” button atop the comment box or otherwise insert HTML tags around links to other pages rather than just pasting in a URL. Doing the latter reformats the page if the URL is long, since it will not break.


    Why not change the css of the page so long urls are hidden since the overflow is hidden?

  2. DL says:

    The question is which USA city is going to play the role of “Pearl Harbor” to the Jihadist’s version of Tora Tora, Tora?

  3. Beldar says:

    Finel is a fool.

    Ask Saddam Hussein, or his sons, or any senior member of the Iraqi Ba’athist Party, how happy they are about their own diplomacy, which consisted of not believing that America would act.

    The Iranians are not that stupid. That is, actually, the most encouraging element of the current situation.

    Preemptive strike time: Early to mid-December 2008. This won’t be telegraphed, though, more than a few days in advance, and not until after the election.

  4. Dave Schuler says:

    I’m not so sure that Finel is right. Diplomacy must have some basis. That basis can be mutual interests or, as Napoleon noted, fear of loss or hope of gain.

    There are several problems that we have in negotiating with Iran. One is a widely held but, I think, incorrect view that we have no mutual interests with the Iranians. Another is a lack of willingness on our part to offer the Iranians anything they want.

    That leaves saber-rattling and that’s the device that we’ve been using from time to time against Iran. The problem is that the Iranians don’t believe us.

    They don’t believe (correctly, I think) that we’ll be able to get any more stringent economic sanctions from the UNSC for the foreseeable future. And they don’t believe that we’ll attack them.

    Beldar thinks otherwise.

    This might be a good time to revisit the argument to invade Iran. It was made more than two years ago and most of the premises of the argument have proven to be wrong. At the time I tried to elicit bets on this. I could have won some serious jack if they’d taken me up on it.

    The tactical and strategic reasons for not attacking Iran are:

    1. We can’t be certain of eliminating whatever nuclear weapons development program Iran has with a bombing campaign with anything short of massive widespread destruction. Note that most Iranian nuclear research facilities are located in their cities.

    2. We can be pretty certain that a bombing campaign will result in a rally ’round effect, bolstering the present regime. That would be counter-productive.

    3. Our forces in Iraq are vulnerable to conventional and non-conventional retaliation by Iran.

    4. The counter-arguments for using the forces we’ve already got in Iraq to invade Iran are pretty much the same as those against bringing them home. Who’ll be minding the store?

    I don’t see how President Bush would avoid impeachment if we were to attack Iran. Heck, I don’t see how he’d escape being convicted of something or other and jailed.

    Short of something extremely stupid on the part of the Iranians, tain’t gonna happen.

  5. Beldar says:

    Q: From the American point of view, what has been the most conspicuous success in American-Iranian relations since the Iranian Revolution?

    A: The release of the hostages seized at the American embassy.

    Q: What other event corresponded with that one, literally within a matter of hours?

    A: The inauguration of Ronald Reagan as POTUS in January 1981, as part of which he became Commander in Chief of all U.S. armed forces and was handed the “football” containing America’s nuclear strike codes.

    Q: Any other significant instances of the Iranians blinking since then?

    A: Apparently they paused some of their nuclear program in 2003.

    Q: What did that correspond to?

    A: The toppling of Saddam Hussein, next door. See also Col. Khadafi, no longer a threat outside his own borders but still in power there, who decided in 2003 not to risk the possibility that his “loyal constituents” might not patriotically rally to his cause if the Americans decided to focus next on his WMD-seeking regime after Saddam’s.

  6. Beldar says:

    A few more counter-points, re the strategic position Iran currently occupies:

    At of this moment, certainly continuing through late January 2009, most of the military might of the world’s only remaining superpower is presently situated in the two countries with which Iran shares its longest borders: Iraq and Afghanistan.

    Other countries with which Iran shares borders include Turkey (a NATO ally, home to U.S. bases that might not be available for use against Iran, but a country that historically has been no friend of Iran); Armenia (a new American friend actively cooperating with NATO); Azerbaijan (another former Soviet satellite that’s been as friendly to America as it can without overly threatening Russia); Turkmenistan (ditto); and Pakistan (another American ally, from which, like Turkey, the best the Iranians could hope for would be neutrality). At will, the American Navy would absolutely rule Iran’s southern coasts along the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf. And by God, it wouldn’t surprise me if the U.S. Marines couldn’t find some way into the Caspian Sea to the north.

    Its most recent shooting war opponent, Iraq, is governed by a U.S. blessed coalition flushed with justifiable pride after its brand new army humiliated Iran’s paramilitary proxy, the Mahdi Army.

    Iran’s entire supply of refined gasoline comes from its one refinery and from imports, both of which one U.S. carrier group could shut down without breaking a sweat.

  7. John Samford says:

    What the cowards of the left are overlooking is that negotiations with Iran are futile. Just like N. Korea, any agreements reached will be breached at the first opportunity. The Mullaharacy has a history of breaking treaties.
    Breaking the NPT is how we got here in the first place, a fact the cowardly left refuses to face.
    Any nation/state has the sovereign right to build nuclear weapons. Most don’t have the money, knowledge or resources to use nuclear power.
    The NPT is a treaty that gives Nations access to the knowledge, resources and money needed to go nuclear. In return those nations agree to certain safeguards designed to prevent the building of atomic bombs. One of those safeguards is an inspection regime by the UN. Iran has violated that treaty by taking the knowledge and not allowing the inspections.

    What makes the clueless morons advocating another agreement think that the new agreement will work any better then the old one?

    AS far as the military option, the USA has more then enough combat power to send in ground troops to do site inspections.
    It won’t be another Iraq because Iran is NOT Iraq and the current crop of military commanders is much better then the ’05 group.
    Politically, President Bush has 90 days from the first bomb dropping. As long as the military commanders know that and are good with it, we will be OK.
    With air supremacy, a 4 or 5 division Corp is more then capable of defeating the entire Iranian army.
    It won’t even be close. It’s technology that counts, not the number of ill armed conscripts. Iran has no modern technology, all their kit is late Cold war stuff.
    Kill the officers, the conscripts will go home then it’s a Thunder Run in Tehran. Grab the Mullahs and turn them over to the students. Grab the nukes and it’s Miller Time.
    DON’T stick around and play nursemaid to the Iranians. They don’t need it and would resent it. Leave them alone and they will figure out what works for Iran. Iranians are a smart people that already have the ouline of democracy. Get the Mullah’s thugs off their backs and they will be fine.

  8. Belder: No, you missed my point. My point is that Iranians would take us seriously, which fundamentally strengthens the hands of the nutballs in Iran who want a confrontation with the U.S. to solidify their domestic position.

    Dave: Yes, diplomacy needs to be backed up by something, but that “something” is not always military.

    John: (a) We don’t have 4-5 division to spare. If you think we do… name them. (b) no one denies we can take down the Iranian regime if we so choose… but then what? You want to occupy it?

    Belder again: I’d say the high points of U.S.-Iranian relations were (a) spontaneous demonstrations in sympathy with the U.S. after 9/11 and (b) their quiet support for our anti-Taliban operations in Afghanistan after 9/11. People forget, but prior to Ahmadinejad’s wackiness there was a definite improvement in U.S.-Iranian relations.

  9. Dave Schuler says:

    Beldar, you’re arguing grand strategy. I’m talking logistics, tactics, and strategy. This is more on the money:

    Iran’s entire supply of refined gasoline comes from its one refinery and from imports, both of which one U.S. carrier group could shut down without breaking a sweat.

    What do you think the response from the Iranian regime and from the Iranian people to that would be?

  10. Cernig says:

    Shorter Beldar: They only understand force, it’d be a cakewalk, we’d be greeted as liberators.

    Regards, C

  11. Jacques says:

    We should take the lead of France on this one, just like John Kerry said in 2004, and the French are scared s***less about Iran obtaining nuclear weapons and delivery capability within reach of Southern Europe, despite its economic ties to Iran. If you lefties read your foreign press and understand the nuances like you are so proud of claiming, you would realize France and Germany too ares taking the lead on the charges against Iran. When even the Russians and Chinese. with there cozy ties to Iran and use of Iran as a bargaining chip against the West, agree in the Security Council, albeit with much watered down resolutions that Iran needs to come clean about its nuclear programs, the nuances hit you over the head like a ton of bricks.

  12. Andrew says:

    As we speak, combat jets are circling over me (in the inner city), shaking buildings, going in circles, about to pop my ear drums. I couldn’t help but think, what if I were Iraqi, with the Americans doing this to intimidate me, and on top of that I have no electricity and no running water. We came in and blew Everything Up. AND there is now a civil war.
    I’m pretty sure I would not like Americans either. Easy recruitment.
    How is this not obvious?

  13. Sam says:

    This was a well reasoned argument. And it is exactly wrong.

    How many times do we need to be shown that the Mullahs are not going to back down under any circumstances? Talking to them is jst a stalling tactic for them. Sanctions wont work because our “alllies” and the UN will never make them onerous enough to have an effect and there will always be nations still willing to deal. Also, the UN has already shown they arte incapable of running such an operation.

    It’s time to face up to the facts. Iran will not be stopped without sustained military action. I don’t like it; it’s horrible to contemplate but it is also the only way left.

    A choice has to be made if accepting a nuclear terror state in the heart of the mideast and all the consequences of that is better than war to stop it and the consequences of that.

    I vote war.

  14. Andrew says:


    How can you possibly say negotiations or diplomatic measures will certainly not work when we our currently stuck with the Bush administration who would not know, understand, or really make a solid effort at effective negotiations or diplomatic measures.

    Creative thinging and Real effort solves most problems. We do not have a problem solver in the White House. That is problem #1.

  15. davod says:

    “There are several problems that we have in negotiating with Iran. One is a widely held but, I think, incorrect view that we have no mutual interests with the Iranians. Another is a lack of willingness on our part to offer the Iranians anything they want.”

    So it is our fault. The Europeans have been talking with Iran for a number of years. Even the non-confrontational, bend over backwards to give praise in the face of bullshit responses, Europeans realize Iran is negotiating in Bad faith. It is the Europeans who are pushing for extra sanctions on Iran.

    As far as Mullins goes. For to long the Military hierarchy has taken to opining on the way forward. It should not be the military leaderships role to involve itself in what are essentially political questions. That’s what the Secretery is for.

    This is why Petraeus did not testify before Congress by himself. Ambassador Crocker was there to respond to other than military questions.

  16. TheEnforcer says:

    The U.S. cannot reason with unreasonable people.

    The Iranians are unreasonable people.

  17. Dan R. says:

    “War drums beating with Iran”?

    Good. It’s about damn time. Iran is the head of the snake when it comes to worldwide terrorism and they’ve been providing the weaponry, money and training that’s been killing our sons & daughters in Iraq for years now.

    Time to drop the hammer.

  18. Dave Schuler says:

    So it is our fault.

    Fault? I don’t see any fault in it. We want something. The Iranians seem pretty satisfied with things as they are developing. If we want to change that doesn’t that mean it’s our move? No fault involved. Merely self-interest.

  19. Beldar says:

    Mr. Finel, as for the spontaneous U.S. sympathy demonstrations in Iran after 9/11: Yes, I stopped worrying at all about North Korea after they politely applauded, and then declined to murder, all of the members of the New York Philharmonic and then allowed them to return home. A new high in U.S.-North Korean relations! All is now well there. I had forgotten what close friends the Iranian government has been to the United States ever since 9/11, especially by so graciously training and supplying terrorists with the specific mission of planting more and better IEDs and rockets than the Iraqi or al Qaeda forces could manage on their own.

    Sir, with due respect, your naïveté is breathtaking, almost delightfully quaint, and far more likely to ultimately result in a shooting war than anything I’ve proposed.

    In pointing out Iran’s current strategic military weaknesses, I meant to emphasize how Iran ought to feel: Utterly alone and friendless — except for Nancy Pelosi and other anti-American westerners; indeed, it is such useful fools upon whose graces Iran must be relying.

    And I’m not arguing, at present, for a ground invasion and occupation. Look at a topographical map; Iran is as mountainous as Iraq is flat, and the notion of American armored divisions racing to Tehran is not a realistic one.

    The current Iranian regime, or elements of it (for it is not so monolithically centered around one psychopathic individual, as was the case with Saddam), want to (1) survive with (2) as much power as it can acquire. It’s reason (2) that’s prompting their nuclear ambitions to begin with, but it’s definitely subordinate to reason (1).

    If — but only if — the Iranians are persuaded that America is about to effect regime change, then at that point it will abandon its nuclear ambitions.

    As part of that, it will have to agree to a level of international supervision and inspections that will leave its conventional military power more or less intact. But there will be a keen loss of face, inevitably, and a tendency for the Iranians to wait until they detect a lack of seriousness in continued western enforcement enthusiasm, at which point they will be sorely tempted to again do like Saddam and throw out the inspectors. I acknowledge that this is a temporary solution; it’s nevertheless the optimum solution for now.

    And we need not do a ground invasion to effect Iranian regime change, as its ruling regime should well understand. We blow up its refinery and seal off refined petroleum imports; the current regime will not last six weeks after that before it’s toppled from within.

    Yes, the Iranians can motivate tens of thousands of teenagers to attack with fixed bayonets, which will work rather less well at the Iran-Iraq borders now than it did even in the 1980s. It can’t get them there without gasoline, however. And other than by conscripting them and sending them into battle, the mullahs have never been as psychotically willing to kill entire segments of their own population as Saddam was. Again, because of the lack of one super-paranoid and highly effective (at self-preservation) military dictator, the current regime can’t engage in the continuing bloodbath that would be necessary to retain power in the face of an internal shutdown of the entire country after the shutdown of the country’s entire refined petrol supply.

    I have enormous respect for Dr. Joyner’s analytic skills, but I differ with him on almost his entire concluding paragraph:

    There has to be a quiet, back door means of carrying on negotiations, even multi-laterally, to create a settlement acceptable to all. The Iranian regime doesn’t need nuclear weapons but they do need security guarantees and sustainable long term energy. Beyond that, I don’t have much of a sense of how the deal would be put together and what it would look like. But I’m pretty sure it won’t be settled through the threat or use of arms.

    Quiet and back-door, and multi-lateral (especially with our new-found French allies), is well and good. Security guarantees are fine, but I don’t think Iran has any genuine fear of being attacked by any neighbor or any other world power except on account of its nuclear ambitions. Likewise, apart from their refined gasoline insecurity, the Iranians are not otherwise likely to run out of energy resources, sitting as they are on one of the world’s remaining carbon fuel bonanzas. Very intrusive on-the-ground inspections will have to be part of the solution, with prescribed trip-wires that will trigger disastrous economic and military results if Iran violates those agreements — much stronger than ever accepted by either Saddam (after the first Gulf War) or North Korea (after Clinton supposedly tamed them, hah!). But most of all, I am entirely certain — and both ancient and modern history of Iran and the region unequivocally teach — that nothing will be settled without the threat or use of arms. And right now, the Iranians, like roughly half of America, are waiting for time to expire on the Bush-43 Administration — which, ironically for them, makes between now and next January the very best time for the Bush-43 Administration to threaten to act, and to prepare to act, precipitously.

  20. mannning says:

    A few comments to add to Beldar’s thesis:

    1) There is little need to race to Tehran. Merely grabbing the Western oilfields and putting the refinery out, plus occupying the coast will do just fine. This has the added plus that we would need less troops, and fight on terrain more suitable for our forces. We then threaten to attack their nuclear weapons sites wherever they are unless they capitulate.
    2) The Iranians would, in my opinion not come out to fight us in a full up battle, simply because they realize that it would be a disaster. They would use the terrain to form a defensive line, and harass us where they could, but no large engagements. The lessons of Iraq are very clear in their minds.
    3) Adm. Mullen stated his position that we do have the power we need to bring such a scenario off. I do not believe he is talking through his hat. We can certainly gain air supremacy quickly.
    4) You don’t know devious until you experience the Iranian mind. To the contrary of those who believe our invasion would solidify the nation behind the mullahs, if we executed this limited invasion with the clear statement of our sole purpose is to ensure no nuclear weapons and not to wipe out their cities, it would give the insurgent forces in Iran a huge chance to come forward and be counted. If this happens, we should give them all the support they can take.
    5) The first big problem I see is terrorist attacks wherever the Iranians have the capability against US interests.
    6) The second big problem is Russia. Can they be neutralized? Hard for me to say.

  21. Tom W. says:

    Given that it’s almost universally acknowledged that it would be virtually impossible to take out Iran’s nuclear facilities from the air…

    I wouldn’t be too sure of that. For one thing, the B-2 stealth bomber may already have been fitted with racks to carry 30,000-lb. massive ordnance penetrator (MOPs) each. We know about the MOP, but there are likely other weapons we don’t know about. The BLU-118/B thermobaric bomb first used in Afghanistan in 2002 was designed, tested, and deployed in about a month. We’ve had years to build new weapons to take out underground facilities.

    If you go back to every conflict we’ve fought since Vietnam, the press always predicts that the mission will be impossible and the weapons won’t work. For example, before Desert Storm “experts” said the Abrams tank and Bradley fighting vehicle would fail in the desert. Duh.

    I’d be willing to bet anything that we have the capability to take out Iran’s nuclear facilities from the air, using bombers, cruise missiles, and submarines. I’m sure we know much more about their locations and vulnerabilities than we’re letting on.

  22. Tom W. says:

    I mean to write “two massive ordnance penetrators (MOPs) each.”

  23. John Samford says:

    ohn: (a) We don’t have 4-5 division to spare. If you think we do… name them. (b) no one denies we can take down the Iranian regime if we so choose… but then what? You want to occupy it?

    1st Tanks, 3rd and 4th infantry, 24th Mech, 101st Airborne and the Marines could put together one.
    That is 6 total and with 500+ combat aircraft to do the serious stuff, No nation on earth could stop them.
    That story about the US Military being over stretched is a bunch of hogwash. It is a lie put forth by Military flag officers who don’t want to be exposed as inept and incompetent.
    The USA has one of the worst systems for producing flag officers. That is why we have so many Clarks Caseys and Westmorelands and so few good generals.
    Those incompetent Generals want to stay in Korea, Germany and other places where they don’t have to worry about being exposed.
    They are political generals, what Hack callled ‘perfumed princes’.
    The fact that these generals are ignoring the basic principal of war, which is concentration of force (or mass). That means you put your strength where it is needed. Exactly why does the USA need troops in Korea or Germany? No, we have more then enough troops, they are just in the wrong place. The Pentagon has something like 65,000 right here. That relic of the Cold war is completely useless in the type of war we face today. Worse then useless, it is a handicap.
    If you had read all of my post you would have seen that I think occupation would be both unnecessary and counter-productive.
    Kill the generals so the conscripts can go home, kill the Mullahs thugs so the citizens can take over. Grab the nukes, the mullahs, then turn them over to the students.
    Then we leave. The Iranians can handle the nation building part on their own. With 5500 years of recorded history, they have a LOT more experience at nation building then the slightly over 200 years old USA does.

  24. Jim Rockford says:

    For Mr. Finel it is always 1972, and Nixon is meeting Brezhnev.

    Newsflash: Iran is not the USSR under Leonid Brezhnev. Negotiations are futile and useless, and have been proven futile and useless (see Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan Iran-Contra, Lebanon Hostages, Bill Clinton and Khobar Towers).

    The reason negotiations are futile and useless, and always will be, is that Iranian society is tribal, fractured, with competing power centers that as in 1979-80 can kill any deal made by other power centers, and will do so to gain power at expense of others. Off the top of my head there is Khameni, his buddies in and around Qom, the IRGC, Qods Force, Ahmadinejad, the fixers around Rafsanjani, the Khatami “reformers” and so on. All jockeying against each other, no real “Supreme Authority” and no hierarchical, top down, leadership.

    Strike a deal with Brezhnev, he’d keep it. He’d kill who he had to in his own country to keep it, and was an old man wanting to enjoy his wealth and power, averse to risk.

    Iran is filled with lean and hungry men who have ambition and a tremendous appetite for risk.

    I’m sure we’ll wave a piece of paper that signals “peace in our time” and lose DC or NYC or both or maybe more. Iran will point to Pakistan who will point in turn to North Korea who in turn will point to Iran. We’ll do nothing. Lose more cities.

    Then eventually in survival mode have to wipe them ALL out.

    Thanks Mr. Finel! Your insistence that it’s always 1972, and it’s always Nixon negotiating with Brezhnev guarantees this future.

    We ought to “negotiate” with Iran by doing things that make the power centers poor. Hit a gasoline refinery. Pump up aid to Azeri and Baluchi and Arab separatists/terrorists (we owe them anyway for 1979-80, Khobar Towers, Beirut 1983, and their killing our guys in Iraq). Since 1979 the Iranians have made it a point that there are “no rules” so they can hardly whinge about it now. Maybe bomb a few factories, malls, what have you belonging to the IRGC or Khameni. Sink the Iranian Navy.

    War? That’s not war. That’s merely tit-for-tat. To get their attention that it could always get worse. It’s practically required after 30 years of appeasement and abasement by both Parties in Washington.

  25. chuckiechan says:

    I think the easy way to send a message is to stop the flow of arms into Iraq. For example, the latest cache of RPG’s. Take out the factory that made them.

    Things like that. Sabatoge and sink one important ship of their rusty navy in harbor. Piece of cake – hard to trace.

    We don’t need to go all out just yet.

  26. Fen says:

    Yes, diplomacy needs to be backed up by something, but that “something” is not always military.

    Can you elaborate? Provide examples of that “something”? Because the exercise of soft power diplomacy is worthless if not backed by the threat of force.

    And we’ve already given Iran a blueprint to follow: 12 years and 14 feckless UN resolutions… an American public that loses its will after 6 months… the recent Carter-Hamas fiasco.

    Iran’s strategy will be simple: Delay. Delay. Delay.

  27. Moronophobe says:

    There are some excellent ideas and exchanges here. For all of you guys who feel that we do not need to “go all out,” the US Military doesn’t play that. They go to win and win big. With that said, I would predict that all weapons production capability, Iranian military including Navy, and nuke facilities would be vaporized–that and oil refining capability. The US military deals in absolutes. We would prep for retaliation, but there would be little direct retaliation. Terrorism would go through the roof.

    One concern I have is that NoKo has given them some nuke material. I dirty bomb in NYC is still an issue.

  28. Aaron says:

    We have already told the Iranians that if they freeze their nuclear program, even temporarily, we will enter into talks with them. We have already set up the E-3 (UK, Germany, France) to have talks with them that include all manner of economic goodies. We strongly hinted that if the E-3 made progress, we would join those talks as a party.

    There has not been any positive reaction from the Iranians. So, I’d say your theory (and Finels) has been proved wrong in this instance. Unless you can come up with some evidence to dispute the facts.

    p.s. Iran can also look to Libya and N. Korea to see that America actually does negotiate in good faith, so that also blows that theory out of the water.

  29. davod says:

    “And other than by conscripting them and sending them into battle, the mullahs have never been as psychotically willing to kill entire segments of their own population as Saddam was.”

    I seem to recall reading that, during the Iraq/Iran war, the Mullahs sent battalions of unarmed teens, as mine detectors and bullet absorbers, ahead of its troops. Then again, this may just have been Iraqi propaganda.

    Just taking the coastal areas might be problematical. The Iranian coastline stretches for 2440 Kilometers.

    WRT to the US military high command. I agree that the generals you refer to do seem to spend more of their time fighting for the status quo rather than how best to utilize available resources. In the final analysis they do what they are told or retire.

    With Westmorland we seem to forget he won the 1968 Tet Offensive. He was also doing quite a bit of the tactics later attributed to his replacements.

  30. Marcus says:

    I can tell you this; my Marine unit was wargaming the seizure of Bandar Abbas in 1981.

    Read into that what you will.


  31. Bithead says:

    We learned to play the nuclear game during the Cold War and developed our theory of strategic deterrence around the idea of mutually assured destruction. We threatened to wipe the other guys off the face of the map if they launched a nuclear strike against us and left the option on the table to strike them first. This brinksmanship came dangerously close to being tested, most notably with the Cuban Missile Crisis, but it otherwise worked.

    Only one problem with that idea. The Soviets, for all their stupidity, did not suffer from a suicide-bomber mentality, that they were all going to be rewarded in heaven for killing infidels. Consider that Iran is working toward Nuclear weapons capability, despite having no rockets that can get such a weapon far enough downwind to prevent radiation problems for it’s own territory. Surely, a suicidal attitude, and one vastly different from anything we faced during the cold war.

    The kind of war we have fought so far in Iraq and Afghanistan should, if nothing else, be solid enough indication that strategies we’ve used in the past will simply not work, or worse, will work to our the advantage of our enemy.

    It seems clear that Iran is the central supporter of terrorist activities and unrest in the region. It doesn’t take a great deal of thought to determine our next course of action. 20 years gone, now, such evidence as I’ve posted here alone would have resulted, rightly, in a military response against Tehran which would make ‘shock and awe’ look like a tea party. We delay such response now, at our own peril, I think. The centrifuges, after all, continue to spin in the underground facility in Iran.

  32. mannning says:

    The important coastal areas are Khuzestan (oil); Hormozuan (commands the Hormuz Strait, and the city of Bandar Abbas, a port); and perhaps the city of Shiraz (industry).

    The rest of the country is largely unpalatable. So this invasion would be mainly economic and symbolic. It would be easily withdrawn as well.

  33. paul a'barge says:

    There has to be a quiet, back door means of carrying on negotiations, even multi-laterally, to create a settlement acceptable to all.


    That’s what Neville Chamberlain said. Don’t you mutts ever learn?

    Grow a pair.

  34. Fen says:

    Of dear Neville, Manchester said something close to: “one imagines Chamberlain sitting across the diplomatic table from Satan, crossing off his checklists… when a realization darkens his countenance – he’s just traded away his soul for the promise of future negotiations.”

    Carter just tried the back door with Iran’s proxy. How did that work out?

  35. mannning says:

    We need leadership, true and decisive leadership, to navigate the Iranian situation. The smart Iranians have been playing us for years, and have more recently added the EU, specifically the UK, Germany and France, to their scalp belt. They have played on our collective reluctance to go to war with them, or even to make really hostile gestures towards their regime. Iranians are canny negotiators, and are quite well-up on our pacifist-driven political atmospheres in the West.

    They guage our public to be tired of the Iraqi war, and highly reluctant to initiate yet another such effort. This gives them a huge advantage in talk-talk, since the worst won’t happen, war-war, if they maintain their current positions.

    So, there is no progress in talks to be had, without significantly more military muscle being shown in their region. The list of gimmies from the West grows in their favor. More talk-talk means more gimmies, and more time to achieve nuclear capability. As the time passes, more pacifists try to convince us that the Iranians having nukes isn’t so bad after all. This thought further emboldens the Iranians.

    The only leaders that have the gumption to face this situation and do what is needed are Bush and McCain. I shudder to think what the world may come to if either Obama or Clinton gain the White House.

    Buglar, sound the retreat!

  36. Ragnell says:

    What if the administration’s purpose is not an attempt to bluff Iran(an unlikely success)—but rather, to give an advance warning to the American public that certain military actions may be forthcoming? It takes time for a population to process the idea of this future possibility. No advance notice would be a bad idea.

    Holding a press conference during such an action should receive a better reception if the nation was given advance notice and the time to consider the possibility that the government is giving serious consideration to taking these steps.

    Especially if such information made us aware that the administration is not blindly charging forth without ensuring there is no other workable option. Given our present environment, this concern will be front and center.

    These types of articles could be a way to indirectly talk to the nation about all the options on the table.

    Knowing the opposition that would come from Pelosi and crew; gaining a national consensus would help.