NBC-TV's "Meet the Press" this past Sunday began the war talk of August. It's not quite the guns of August, 1914, but it ain't beanbag, either.
When "Meet the Press" asked Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen if the Pentagon had a plan for attacking Iran, Mullen replied, "We do." He added, "Military actions have been on the table and remain on the table."
Mullen tempered his response by emphasizing an attack is always an "option." Mullen kept his hypothetical saber stroke in a diplomatic sheath by emphasizing the U.S. regards military action to destroy Iranian nuclear capabilities as an "option."
Mentioning the overt war option lit a Beltway firestorm, but his tough statement is one of many made by Obama administration officials since January of this year. Rumors of covert options designed to damage the Iranian nuclear program have made the rounds for several years. CIA Director Leon Panetta, in late June, appeared on ABC's "This Week" and carefully hinted at covert war options.
Panetta was asked about Obama administration intimations that Iran had encountered "technical troubles" in its nuclear program. Were Iranians lousy bomb-builders, or was sabotage involved?
Panetta replied: "... I can't speak to obviously intelligence operations, and I won't. It's enough to say that, clearly, they have had problems. There are problems with regards to their ability to develop enrichment ... ."
In that same interview, Panetta siad that sanctions would "probably not" deter Iran's nuclear ambitions. Mullen's and Panetta's responses are links in a political gambit involving negotiations, economic sanctions, covert operations and (potentially) war.
Iranians know this. Yadollah Javani, identified as the political deputy of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), immediately responded to Mullen. In an official statement, Javani said Iran has prepared "a crushing plan to respond to any possible aggression of the U.S. or the Zionist regime of Israel." Javani dismissed Mullen's statement as a "psychological operation."
He's right -- it was. And his response is also calculated, as are the violent threats issued by Iran's Lebanese (Hezbollah) and Palestinian (Hamas) proxies.
Javani is also recycling radical bombast. This past February, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad vowed to deal "a telling blow against global arrogance." The blow proved to be hot air, but he got domestic political traction, which was his aim.
The Iranian domestic front is a key battleground in any comprehensive plan to stymie the mullahs' nuclear quest, for Iranian dissidents are the mullahs' biggest problem. When Iranian dissidents began demonstrating in the wake of the fraudulent June 2009 elections, the Obama administration failed to support them. That was a huge mistake, for promoting democracy is a powerful diplomatic tool. Has this mistake been corrected? If President Barack Obama is serious about ending the nuclear threat posed by the Khomeinists, it must be.
Over the last five years, numerous plans for attacking Iranian nuclear facilities have surfaced in the press. One identified around two-dozen Iranian nuclear-related targets. Another recommended destroying IRGC facilities -- IRGC military thugs keep the mullahs in power. Other plans identified only six or seven truly critical nuclear facilities.
The claim is destroying these sites would seriously disrupt the bomb project. A "simultaneous strategic bombing strike" on the facilities is one U.S. attack option. In a short time frame, aircraft, cruise missiles and perhaps ballistic missiles with conventional warheads would deliver hundreds of precision weapons, hitting nuclear targets and air defense sites. Follow-up raids could continue for weeks. Special operations commandos would enter Iran, collecting intelligence, providing target data and possibly attacking very high-value targets.
A successful attack could disrupt the mullahs' nuclear quest for a decade, especially if key regime personnel and technicians die in the raids. However, the regime -- if it survives -- might counterattack in Iraq, strike an Arab Persian Gulf state, attack Israel or launch terrorist attacks in the U.S.
Note the key phrase "if it survives." A comprehensive military-political operation to end the nuclear threat must have as its ultimate goal ending the Khomeinist regime. That means encouraging Iranian dissidents and helping them prepare to take control of a new, democratic Iranian government.
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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