Buying Time Might Be Too Expensive
Vol: 96 Issue: 28 Monday, September 28, 2009
According to US intelligence assessments, the greatest threat facing the United States today is not Russia. It s not China. It isn t even North Korea.
Instead, the US intelligence community s National Intelligence Strategy assessed Iran as America s greatest strategic threat.
“Iran poses an array of challenges to U.S. security objectives in the Middle East and beyond because of its nuclear and missile programs, support of terrorism, and provision of lethal aid to U.S. and coalition adversaries,” the document, released on Sept. 15 by the Office of the National Intelligence Director, said.
The national intelligence community consists of some 200,000 intelligence officers from all branches of US intelligence-gathering services. The document is put together as a kind of majority report, but is assembled by a team responsible to the National Intelligence Director s Office.
This is the same team of geniuses that reported in 2007 that Iran had ended its nuclear weapons program, cutting off the Bush administration s case against Iran at the knees.
After the brutal beating the Bush administration took for trying to get out ahead of the enemy in the Iraq War, it is unsurprising that they decided, back in 2007, to let the next administration handle it.
Now it s the next administration’s turn. And they are finding its a lot easier to talk about the last administration than to take any risks of its own.
A new report from the Bipartisan Policy Center says the Obama administration is dragging its feet while time is running out to deal with Iran while it is still conventionally possible.
The report released on Sept. 15 said Iran would need no more than seven weeks to produce enough highly-enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon.
“The Islamic republic will be able to produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon by 2010, leaving little time for the United States to prevent both a nuclear weapons-capable Islamic republic and an Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear facilities,” the report, titled “Meeting the Challenge: Time is Running Out,” said.
The report was signed by former Senators Daniel Coats and Charles Robb as well as [Ret.] Gen. Charles Ward. It called on the Obama administration to draft harsher sanctions and prepare for the prospect of military action against Iran in 2010.
The center, formed in 2007 to draft bipartisan policy recommendations to the White House, warned that Teheran was accelerating its air defense program in an effort to foil any attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
“The U.S. military is more than capable of launching a devastating strike against Iranian nuclear and military facilities,” the report said. “Only the credible threat of a U.S. military strike will make a peaceful resolution of the crisis possible.”
The report, an update over a study released in 2008, said Gulf Cooperation Council states have become increasingly alarmed over Iran’s nuclear weapons program. The panel said Obama must prepare to institute harsh sanctions against Iran by the end of September.
“We are alarmed by how much progress Iran has made toward obtaining nuclear weapons capability and remain skeptical about the sincerity of Iran’s new-found willingness to negotiate,” the authors said in a statement.
“We hope that the bipartisan strategy we propose can help guide our government to resolve this difficult and urgent national security challenge.”
The report warned of the prospect of an Israeli military strike on Iran unless the United States acts first. And Teheran’s effort to obtain the advanced S-300 air defense system from Russia, would provide Iran with a long-range air defense capability, unless the US acts before the systems become operational.
“Driving the timetable for U.S. action should be Iran’s accelerated nuclear progress, Israel’s perception of that progress, the possibility of Russia selling Iran its advanced S-300 anti-aircraft weapons system and the importance of U.S. credibility and strategic interests,” the report said.
“Should we fail to act decisively to curtail Iran’s nuclear program in the near-term, or if it appears likely that Iran is about to obtain game-changing military technology such as Russia s S-300 anti-aircraft system Israel, more likely than not, will act on its own.”
The report said the U.S. military could launch a punishing air campaign on Iran from neighboring Afghanistan. The center said the repercussion of such a U.S. attack would be much less than in 2008 when oil prices reached nearly $150 per barrel.
“The Pentagon can maintain tactical and even strategic surprise by bringing in troops and materiel to the region under the cover of Afghanistan,” the report said.
“Special Forces and intelligence personnel already in the region can easily move to protect key assets or perform covert operations. Conflict may reveal previously undetected Iranian facilities as Iranian forces move to protect them. Moreover, nuclear sites buried under mountains may survive sustained bombing, but their entrances and exits will not.”
“The Islamic republic is likely to have almost 9,000 operational centrifuges in place before the end of 2009 and could have up to 15,000 by 2010,” the report said.
With such a centrifuge fleet, Iran could produce enough highly-enriched uranium for a nuclear bomb in seven weeks at the latest, the report said.
Whether or not the Obama administration will take the report seriously is an entirely different question. The memo from General McChrystal to the White House said that without an additional 30,000 troops, the US would lose the war against the Taliban and lose Afghanistan.
Faced with this dire prospect, the administration decided to conduct a comprehensive review of the war in Afghanistan.
The strategy review is expected to be completed in a couple of weeks and will be followed by a decision. It is worth noting that President Obama has not actually spoken to General McChrystal personally in 70 days.
But he s given 120 speeches about health care.
Secretary of Defense Bob Gates told CNN on Sunday that there is no military option that does anything more than buy time against Iran. If I m understanding it right, the US Secretary of Defense has just pronounced our doom.
If Iran gets a nuclear weapon, Iran will use that nuclear weapon. If there is no way to prevent Iran from eventually obtaining a nuclear weapon, then nuclear war is therefore inevitable.
Obama may be prepared for the US to live with a nuclear Iran. And just for the sake of argument, let s say that Israel can be convinced to stand down and let the US take the lead.
If Iran gets the Bomb, then Egypt will have to. So will Saudi Arabia. And not everybody will be happy if the Egyptians or Saudis have the Bomb, so they will have to get their own. There is no way to prevent the rest of the Arab Middle East from arming themselves against a nuclear Persia. It is a Catch-22.
Washington has to convince Tehran that this time, it really, really, really means business and that the line in the sand is real. Especially in light of the disclosure of Iran s newly-revealed parallel nuclear facility near Qom.
At the same time, Obama has to convince Israel to allow sanctions to work. It is no easy thing to convince Israel to bet its national life on the efficacy of UN sanctions.
Striking Iran will be no cake-walk, even though Saddam s Iraq was able to beat the Iranians to a standstill during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War. Military efforts against Iran present profound difficulties. They begin with the costs of an Iranian reprisal following these strikes.
Closing the Straits of Hormuz could short-circuit whatever economic recovery progress is being made globally. Iran claims to have sleeper-cells buried in deep cover inside the United States for use as reprisal squads.
Iran s tentacles are spread deep and wide. It has forces in place from Beirut to Kabul. Whatever damage might be inflicted on Iran won t be enough to stop Hezbollah or Hamas from retaliating, either against Israel or against US interests in the region.
Iran seems determined to provoke an attack.
Over the weekend, it test-fired upgraded versions of the Shehab-3 and Sajjil missiles, both of which have sufficient range to strike Israel and could be modified, if not modified already, to deliver a nuclear payload.
Iran doesn t seem to have an end-game, like, say the North Koreans do. Pyongyang developed its nuclear program for use in blackmailing the West into paying them not to continue development and enrichment.
Pyongyang doesn t want to have to use its weapons once they re gone, they re gone. As would be Pyongyang within a matter of minutes after their launch.
Iran s end-game appears to be war. It doesn t want to discuss concessions. It isn t interested in trading its nuclear program for the lifting of sanctions. Iran doesn t want improved relations with the West.
It appears that Ahmadinejad and the rest of the mad mullahs end-game is war. There is no effort to curtail Ahmadinejad s threats against Israel by the clerics that allegedly run things in Iran. Ahmadinejad s rants appear to have the full blessing of the ruling elite.
They appear unconcerned, or at least, at peace with, the idea that Ahmadinejad believes it is his destiny to start the war of the Mahdi, the 12th Imam who will return to ride at the head of a vast Islamic army of conquest.
Ahmadinejad believes Mahdi Army will ultimately defeat the infidel world and usher in a period of Islamic peace and tranquility a kind of Islamic Millennial Kingdom while Ahmadinejad and his cronies go straight to Paradise.
But to get there, they have to start a global conflagration impressive enough to summon him from his ‘occultative’ state.
In essence, what is confronting the West is the dilemma facing military commanders in the field, but on a much grander scale. The difficulty with negotiating with suicide bombers is that there is nothing to negotiate.
If they win, they die. If they lose, they die. When the object is to die fighting, there is little more that can be done except accommodate them.
In such a case, it s generally best not to leave the details up to the suicide bomber.