By William M. Arkin | March 14, 2008; 10:05 AM ET
From the Washington Post Website
There are a couple of military adages -- "An Army marches on its stomach" and "Amateurs talk about tactics, but professionals study logistics" -- that should adequately explain why the United States is not headed for war with Iran. There is no actual preparation for such a war going on. Moreover, the U.S. military is not in a position to carry off such an operation.
But then, we live in a world of "shock and awe," where long-range air and missile strikes suggest the ability to use force without the commitment of boots on the ground. When Iran war junkies make their case for some kind of "October surprise," they usually cite the need for preemption and say an attack can be unleashed by President Bush and Vice President Cheney with the mere push of a button.
An article on the U.S. News and World Report website -- "6 Signs the U.S. May Be Headed for War in Iran" -- is rocketing around the Internet as speculation grows that the resignation of Adm. William Fallon makes war with Iran more likely. But as I have written, the U.S. military high command sees any such conflict as a practical impossibility. Here are six signs we are not headed for war in Iran.
1. Fallon's resignation: Fallon may have been at odds with the Bush administration over how belligerent to be with Iran, but as I've written previously, in addition to his speaking out of turn to the news media -- a hanging offense even in the era of Robert Gates -- he found himself in an impossible position vis a vis Iraq in terms of running his theater. The demands of the Iraq war are paramount to the Bush administration and central to American politics, as I wrote yesterday. But more important, the U.S. military high command recognizes that it has to "win" in Iraq. I find it hilarious that some of those who argued a year ago that Fallon's appointment proved that the U.S. was headed for war with Iran are now arguing that his departure means exactly the same thing.
2. Contingency plans: Iran war junkies say that the United States has "plans" for war with Iran and has sharpened those plans. Over the past two years, there has been much speculation about air strikes against weapons of mass destruction targets in Iran, about Fifth Fleet movements indicating imminent war, about improving Iranian air defenses making the timing right now, about Israel's intentions. And yet at each point, nothing happens. Indeed, the U.S. has developed contingency plans for Iran just in case Iran does something -- but these plans are just that: for responding to something Iran does. They are not plans for preemptive war.
3. The military just follows orders: The one aspect of Fallon's resignation that could be seen to affirm intention on the part of the Bush administration to go to war is the widespread rumor in Pentagon circles that the admiral made it clear that if the White House ordered an unprovoked strike on Iran, he would quit. But this logic falls on its face. Fallon knew exactly what Iranian provocations might trigger military actions (he wrote the war plans) and in the end had to leave because, first, he was out of step with the Bush administration on Iraq, and second, he spoke out of school -- the cardinal sin.
What does this have to do with the rest of the brass following orders? It makes the assumption that there are dozens if not hundreds of generals and admirals on active duty who would merely follow orders to do something that has no logic and no feasibility of success. The truth is the opposite: the creation of those contingency plans, the last two years of "debate" about Iran, and the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are proof that the military recognizes that "then what" is the reality for the professionals. If these guys have learned anything from Iraq and the Rumsfeld era, it is that "then what" is their mission.
4. Bush and Cheney: The president's December swing through the Middle East and Gulf region and Cheney's impending trip are being seen by some as part of the arm-twisting of base access and support for war with Iran. But no one wants war. From the most hawkish Kuwaitis to the mostly Shiite Bahrainians to the lily-livered Saudis, everyone in the region trades and works closely with Iran, and if anything has a closer affinity for Iran as a result of the seeming threats of war. Besides, "war" with Iran is not some economic boon for these nations; it would likely mean severe disruption of oil flow.
5. Israel: Many speculate that Israel's air strike deep into Syria last year was a warning to Tehran. The assassination of a senior Hezbollah commander in Damascus is similarly seen as proof of Israeli preparations. But Israel follows the same laws of physics as the United States: It has its own logistical realities, which include the need for any strike of consequence to fly over Iraqi airspace -- that is, over the American military, which would be the immediate target of Iranian retaliation. Israel is as bogged down in Gaza and the north as the U.S. is in Iraq and Afghanistan. Israel doesn't have a provocation that would trigger actual action.
Finally, Israel has Cheney -- who, if the war junkies are right, is planning to attack Iran anyhow. Fallon's resignation, then, would indicate Cheney's victory, which would mean that the Israelis don't have to strike Iran.
6. Iran: Iran continues to advance its uranium enrichment and defy the international community despite sanctions. The Iranians assert the work is to produce nuclear fuel for electrical power, not weapons, an argument the war junkies don;t necessarily accept. But even most Iran war junkies admit that the U.S. doesn't yet have a reason take unilateral action to "stop" Iran from going nuclear. Which brings us back to contingency plans, and using the threat of war as diplomacy. Yes, it is a tricky balancing act, and one the Bush administration has demonstrated it is not good at, but it is also a balancing act that the next president is likely to follow as well.
So: Is the U.S. headed for war with Iran? It depends on what the meaning of "headed for war" is. If Iran makes a grave error in judgment, if diplomacy fails, if Iran is intent on developing nuclear weapons in defiance of the international community -- then yes, we may be "headed for war." But headed for war because of Fallon's resignation, and before the November election? That's nonsense.
The major flaw here is to suppose that Bush and Cherey are rational actors. They are not. 311 days before we are safe from this duo or 311 days before John McCain builds up the military to attack Iran.