Monday, April 17, 2006

Opinion: Robert Schlesinger: We Could Bomb Iran in 12 Hours ... and other fun facts from today's papers

Yahoo News:

Sun Apr 16, 1:19 PM ET

How close are we to bombing Iran? From order to boom, the timeline could be as short as 12 hours, according to William Arkin in the Outlook section of today's Washington Post.

It's one of two Iran-related must-reads in today's papers, the other being a NY Times op-ed on why bombing Iran could lead to something that bears an awful resemblance to World War Three. Arkin, who has top-notch military sources, writes in some detail about the state and nature of planning for attacks on Iran.

If you liked Seymour Hersh in The New Yorker, you re going to love this piece in the Post. Arkin, who blogs about national security for the Post, goes into how the different branches of the military have been planning for an attack on Iran, from "forcible entry" by the Marines to the Army dealing with Iranian missiles, to strike targeting by the Air Force to the Navy figuring out how to keep the Strait of Hormuz (think of it as the oil faucet) open. Click here for the whole piece.

And Arkin makes an interesting and compelling argument about why it's important that this stuff be public:

President Bush dismissed news reports that his administration has been working on contingency plans for war -- particularly talk of the possibility of using tactical nuclear weapons against Tehran -- as "wild speculation." Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld chimed in, calling it "fantasyland." He declared to reporters that "it just isn't useful" to talk about contingency planning. But the secretary is wrong.

It's important to talk about war planning that's real. And it is for Iran. In early 2003, even as U.S. forces were on the brink of war with Iraq, the Army had already begun conducting an analysis for a full-scale war with Iran. The analysis, called TIRANNT, for "theater Iran near term," was coupled with a mock scenario for a Marine Corps invasion and a simulation of the Iranian missile force. U.S. and British planners conducted a Caspian Sea war game around the same time. And Bush directed the U.S. Strategic Command to draw up a global strike war plan for an attack against Iranian weapons of mass destruction. All of this will ultimately feed into a new war plan for "major combat operations" against Iran that military sources confirm now exists in draft form.

None of this activity has been disclosed by the U.S. military, and when I wrote about Iran contingency planning last week on The Washington Post Web site, the Pentagon stuck to its dogged position that "we don't discuss war plans." But it should.

The diplomatic effort directed at Iran would be mightily enhanced if that country understood that the United States is so serious about deterring the Iranian quest for nuclear weapons that it would be willing to go to war to stop that quest from reaching fruition.

Iran needs to know -- and even more important, the American public needs to know -- that no matter how many experts talk about difficult-to-find targets or the catastrophe that could unfold if war comes, military planners are already working hard to minimize the risks of any military operation. This is the very essence of contingency planning.

It is a Dr. Strangelove argument: What's the point of having a doomsday device -- or in this case scenario -- if you do not tell the world about it?

And doomsday it could well be, according to Richard Clarke and Steven Simon, a pair of top Clinton-era counter-terrorism officials who write on Iran in the Times' Week in Review section. They recall that after the Iranian-arranged bombing of Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, the administration debated how to react.

At that point, the Clinton administration and the Pentagon considered a bombing campaign. But after long debate, the highest levels of the military could not forecast a way in which things would end favorably for the United States. There is s similar situation today. If we bomb Iran, they'll respond, possibly by sinking tankers or trying to shut down the Strait of Hormuz, but more likely by using its global terror network, which is much more -- what's the word? -- real than Saddam's:

Iran could use its terrorist network to strike American targets around the world, including inside the United States. Iran has forces at its command that are far superior to anything Al Qaeda was ever able to field. The Lebanese terrorist organization Hezbollah has a global reach, and has served in the past as an instrument of Iran. We might hope that Hezbollah, now a political party, would decide that it has too much to lose by joining a war against the United States. But this would be a dangerous bet. So. We bomb. They retaliate. We escalate?

Forget defining a civil war. How many countries does it take to make a world war?

(And: Lest we pretend that this is clear-cut, what's the alternative? Is everyone comfortable with a nuclear-armed Iran in 10 years?)


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