A strategic thinker who called all the correct diplomatic and military plays preceding Operation Iraqi Freedom now sees diplomatic failure and air strikes against Iran's nuclear facilities. The war on Iran, he says, started a year ago when the U.S. began conducting secret recon missions inside Iran.
Sam Gardiner, 67, has taught strategy at the National War College, Air War College and Naval War College. The retired Air Force colonel recently published as a Century Foundation Report "The End of the 'Summer of Diplomacy': Assessing the U.S. Military Option on Iran."
President Bush and his national security council believe seven "key truths" that eliminate all but the military option, according to Mr. Gardiner, who adds his own comments:
(1) Iran is developing weapons of mass destruction -- "that is most likely true."
(2) Iran is ignoring the international community -- "true."
(3) Iran supports Hezbollah and terrorism -- "true."
(4) Iran is increasingly inserting itself in Iraq and beginning to get involved in Afghanistan -- "true."
(5) The people of Iran want a regime change -- "most likely an exaggeration."
(6) Sanctions won't work -- "most likely true."
(7) You cannot negotiate with these people -- "not proven."
Mr. Gardiner says when Bush "Iraqs" Iran, air strikes will not be limited to the country's widely scattered nuclear facilities, but will also include military air bases (some of them only 15 minutes flying time from Baghdad); air defense command and control; terrorist training camps; chemical facilities, medium-range ballistic missiles; Gulf-threatening assets; submarines; anti-ship missiles, naval ships, including small, fast minelayers. He reckons "an attack of relatively high certainty on nuclear targets would require 400 aim points... 75 of these would require penetrating weapons." Air target planners believe this can be done after five nights of bombing.
Vice President Dick Cheney's is convinced "if there is even a 1 percent chance of a country passing WMD to a terrorist, the U.S. must act," Mr. Gardiner writes, which means, "The Bush administration finds itself obliged to reject nonmilitary options." Israeli pressure on Mr. Bush to act before he leaves the White House is also part of the equation, he argues. But the president has a larger agenda than simply retarding Iran's nuclear ambitions.
Iran's interference in Iraq is a major source of concern. It continues to supply weapons, funding and training to insurgents as well as militia armies in Iraq. Those who advocate attacking Iran say this justifies U.S. retaliation. But Israel and the Bush administration agree they cannot allow Iran to acquire the knowledge to make a nuclear weapon and that Iran is near "the point of no return."
"The case against [Iran's] regime is so forceful, and so multifaceted," Mr. Gardiner points out, "that it becomes clear the goal is not simply to do away with the regime's enrichment program... but to do away with the regime itself."
President Bush, writes Mr. Gardiner, sees himself like Winston Churchill standing against the appeasers, "believes the world will only appreciate him after he leaves office, talks about the Middle East in messianic terms, and is said to have told those close to him that he has got to attack Iran because even if a Republican succeeds him... he will not have the same freedom of action that Bush enjoys."
Mr. Gardiner reminds us air planners almost always fall short of promises -- e.g., World War II, Korea, Vietnam and more recently Israeli air attacks on Hezbollah. "No serious expert on Iran believes the argument about enabling a regime change," he says, and "it is far more likely such strikes would strengthen the clerical leadership and turn the U.S. into Iran's permanent enemy." Which is what President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad prays for five times a day.
Iran's retaliatory capabilities are both regional and global. Hezbollah is the primary line of counterattack with terrorist assets in Europe, Canada, the U.S. and Latin America. Iraqi militia leader Muqtada al-Sadr has said publicly U.S. forces would be targeted if Iran were attacked. Sheik al-Sadr also controls the large 140,000-strong Facilities Protection Service forces that guard oil pipelines and other strategic objectives.
No sooner does the first U.S. bomb impact in Iran, mines will be sown in the Strait of Hormuz through which 40 percent of the world's oil consumption passes daily. Iran also has sleeper cells among Shi'ite workers in Saudi Arabia's eastern oil fields. Oil would quickly skyrocket to $200 a barrel. With prices surging to this level, concludes Mr. Gardiner, a "global synchronized recession, intensified by the existing U.S. trade and fiscal imbalances" would soon follow.
Syria and Iran signed a mutual defense agreement June 15 under which Syrian forces would be involved if Iran were attacked. Such a crisis could quickly escalate into a regional war.
Unlike the six months' preparations for Operation Desert Field and the deployments that preceded Iraqi Freedom, the Iran buildup will "not be a major CNN event." They will take place below the media's radar screen, such as moving Air Force tankers to staging bases and additional Navy assets to the region. "We can expect the number of administration references to Iran to significantly increase," Mr. Gardiner wrote, with three principal themes -- Iran's nuclear program, terrorism, the threat to Israel's existence, and the Iran-al Qaeda link.
Congressional approval? When Democratic members of Congress offered an amendment to the Defense bill in June that would have required the president to get authorization before taking military action, the amendment failed. A strike on Iran, as seen by the White House, has already been authorized. It's part of the global war on terrorism. So the strike on Iran could be ordered any time in the next two years.
Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large of The Washington Times and of United Press International.