Jul 31

(To read the rest of our series, “The Case Against War with Iran”, please click here.)

In second grade, Eric C and I went to war.

Our nemesis was “Big Joe”, the biggest kid in our grade. The issue wasn’t land rights or trade negotiations, but the finer points on handball and what properly constituted a legal “under-doggy”. (He accused us of cheating.) If someone had asked us (Eric and I) in second or third grade, “Will you ever be friends with Joe?” I would have said, “No, he is mean and he hates us.”

Two years ago, Big Joe was a groomsman in my wedding. What the hell happened?

In short, we found common ground. Our dad coached football at San Clemente High School--the high school Eric C, myself and Joe would attend in a few years--so we had that in common. And our dad had coached Big Joe’s older brother in wrestling and football. Another thing we had in common. All three of us loved football and knew how to play football, and we lived near each other too.

Noting all these points of similarity, in fourth grade, after a period of detente in which most major tensions had thawed, Joe said that we should go to a one of our dad’s football games sometime. So I invited him to join Eric C and myself to go to a junior varsity football game Thursday after school. (When Eric C saw Joe waiting with me, he was shocked. I told him Joe’s brother played football for our dad. He said, “Cool” and that was that.) We had a great afternoon on the sidelines, throwing footballs to each other and watching the game.

We became best friends after that.

Since this is a post about Iran, the trite next paragraph would say, “As bad as it seemed, some elementary school kids found common ground and become friends. So we don’t need to go to war with Iran.” That really is trite, but as the Clausewitzians would say, conflict is conflict; maybe we can find something valuable in this story.

As I wrote last week, I value unique solutions to the Iran problem, especially ones that break out of the stale triumvirate of diplomacy, sanctions or war. Bringing them up again doesn’t evolve the conversation. And none of them will likely work, as Bernard Finel mentioned in a post I linked to last month.

To solve the problem, America’s decision-makers need to (clichedly) think outside the box. Right now the “Iran box” has diplomacy on side one, sanctions on side two and war on side three. The fourth side of the box is “do nothing”. As long as policy makers, pundits, politicians and academics phrase the problem as, “How do we stop Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon?” we are stuck inside the box. Until we destroy this box, we will have the spectre of war looming over our relationships in the Middle East.

So let’s just reframe the question.

Like, “How can we rehabilitate our relationship with Iran?” Or, “How can we develop a positive and friendly diplomatic relationship with Iran?” Yes, friendly. In the 20th century, several countries with severe historical animosity gradually set aside their differences and created strong alliances. For example, virtually every country in Europe. (More on this in a follow up post.) It can happen again.

Like myself and Big Joe, America and Iran could find common ground on issues from oil to Afghanistan to Iraq to the Persian Gulf.

Next, American politicians who truly want peace should develop the domestic political support to change the relationship. Ideally, President Obama--backed by think tanks and opinion articles--would start a campaign to improve America’s relationship with Iran.

Then we commit to that relationship. That’s a much harder task, I know, but much easier than stopping a sworn enemy from developing nuclear weapons using only diplomacy, sanctions and the threat of war.

As children, Eric, Big Joe and I didn’t get along because we didn’t view the problem right. We argued over dodgeball and ignored the gigantic areas of common interest we had. If we had redefined the problem--how can we become friends?--the situation would have been solved much sooner.

We see the immediate counter to this analogy: war and international diplomacy are more complicated than kids fighting on a schoolyard. Yes, they are. At the same time, the principles are the same. Two sides disagree and start fighting. One of our goals at On V is to connect violence and war to larger philosophical concepts. Sometimes analogies--the old tool of philosophy--perfectly capture real world problems, which is why we have compared war to bar fights, globalization to curling, and counter-insurgency to brand management.

America desperately doesn’t need another war. And we don’t need a war to rehabilitate our relationship with Iran like it took with Germany and Japan during World War II. We just need the courage of both our citizens and politicians to stand up and say, as lame as it sounds:

Let’s restore diplomatic relations with Iran. Let’s become friends again.

Jul 30

(To read the rest of our series, “The Case Against War with Iran”, please click here.)

According to Israel and America, Iran isn’t just opposed to America’s interests in the Middle East. Iran isn’t just a rival power in a regional battle for hegemony. It turns out Iran is actually...

Evil! (Please read “evil” as if you were imitating Dr. Evil.)

I mean, Israel’s President Shimon Peres called their leaders evil, Isreali Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the Syria-Hezbollah-Iran nexus evil, and Iran was an inaugural member of President Bush’s Axis of Evil. But probably most importantly, Tucker Carlson has called Iran itself straight-up evil.

So let’s go to the tape, how evil is Iran, the nation Mitt Romney calls our, “most severe security threat”? Since we can’t define evil in a vacuum, let’s compare Iran to another not-so-random nation in the Middle East.

Consider the following two countries, asking yourself, which is more "evil"?

Both country A and B surreptitiously supported insurgents in Iraq.

Both country A and B surreptitiously support insurgents in Afghanistan.

Both Country A and B have access to vast amounts of oil and natural gas.

Country A is an monarchy with no democratic elections.

Country B is an Islamic republic that cannot elect its Supreme Leader, but elects its President and legislature, though vote rigging definitely occurs.

Country A enforces sharia law on its streets.

Country B does not.

Wealthy millionaires financially support Al Qaeda in Country A.

In Country B, none do.

17 of the 20 hijackers on 9/11 were from Country A.

0 were from Country B.

The last two comparisons should give it away: Country A is Saudi Arabia, Country B is Iran.

Comparing the two countries, I can’t help but ask, what is so bad about Iran that Saudi Arabia doesn’t already do? Iran crushed elections in 2009, but Saudi Arabia doesn’t even have elections to crush. Iran had “Neda” a symbol of oppressed Iranians, but Saudi Arabia doesn’t even let women drive. Iran’s military supports Hezbollah financially, but Saudi Arabia birthed Al Qaeda and wealthy Saudis currently support terrorist organizations. Not to mention, Saudi support for authoritarian governments like Bahrain, Qatar and Yemen encourage regional insurgents that eventually spawn international terrorism.

Yet Saudi Arabia supplies America with oil. Because of that and its friendly relationship with the U.S., it gets a pass and America might go to war with Iran. Would America go to war with Saudi Arabia if it developed nuclear weapons?

Some realist foreign policy academics have suggested that in a true recalculation of America’s interests around the globe, that Iran, not Saudi Arabia, would be the smarter choice for an American ally. This is a vital point to inform the debate over Iran, America and nuclear weapons. And tomorrow it will inform my solution to the Iran problem.

Jul 25

(To read the rest of our series, “The Case Against War with Iran”, please click here.)

I hate a lot of things about the debate over Iran’s nuclear program. I hate the exaggerations of Iran’s threat to America. I hate that no one mentions the costs of military intervention. But of all the things I hate about the debate, I hate one thing above all: the complete lack of unique solutions to the problem.

If pundits and politicians--specifically American Senators--are to be believed, America has three options with Iran: 1. Go to war. 2. Continue negotiations or 3. Sanctions. We--America/Israel/Europe/Iran--have way more options than that, and if we don’t, we need to find them.

Before our break, I did a post on “Unique Takes on War with Iran”. Today’s post is a more important sequel to that post--not just unique viewpoints, but unique solutions to the Iranian nuclear problem. And in the spirit of unique solutions, next week I plan to roll out my solution.
1. “Influencing Iran: A Fourth Way” on the Small Wars Journal

This Small Wars Journal article proposes a semi-non-violent or ”non-kinetic”--more aptly non-military--way to discourage Iran from pursuing nuclear weapons: degrade their electronics via cyber attacks so their society can barely function. I don’t think the U.S. has the capabilities to do this right now, and such an operation would backfire if Iran could trace it back to the U.S. Even if this can’t influence our debate on Iran, it does point to how warfare could look in the near future.

2. “Using Religion to Restrain Iran’s Nuclear Program” on Stephen Walt’s Blog

Nina Tannenwald writes that the U.S. should harness, “moral and religious norms as a source of nuclear restraint”. If the U.S. could use religion (ironically someone else’s religion) to prevent war, I am all for that. (Ironic, to clarify, because America’s primary religion, Christianity, barely constrains America from starting wars. The more religiously minded politicians in America--being blunt, conservatives--openly advocate war.)

3. “Five Tips for Obama on Nuclear Negotiation with Iran” on Time

In this article, Trita Parsi gives five “lessons” to help U.S. diplomacy with Iran, and they all make sense. American negotiators should especially heed lesson number two to, “Broaden the agenda beyond the nuclear program”. We need a dialogue with Iran on as many fronts involving as many people as possible. The more connections we can make with Iran, the less chance we will blunder into a war. However, Parsi’s first point is as correct as it is impossible to implement, “Don’t allow the domestic politics to define your strategy”. So yes, this solution is basically “continue diplomacy”, but it is a much more expansive diplomacy than the U.S. has so far pursued.

4. “Where Congress Can Draw the Line” on The Atlantic

James Fallows makes a plea in this article (whose date I can’t find, but I believe it comes from the late Bush administration) that the U.S. Congress could stop war with Iran if it specifically passed a resolution forbidding war with Iran. His advice is as timely now as it was then, but it will never happen with the current Republican congress. In fact, most recent resolutions on Iran have gone in a completely opposite direction, making war more likely, not less.

5. “Preventing a War: What You Can Do” on Stephen Walt’s Blog

Stephen Walt--who I keep linking to in my Iran posts because we completely agree on this issue--has a simple, and not very novel solution: sign an online petition. I don’t think it will work, but if politicians do listen to voters, maybe it has a chance. Unfortunately, too many Americans want war with Iran, a different issue.

6. “Why Iran Should Get The Bomb” by Kenneth N. Waltz on Foreign Affairs

Always willing to push the envelope, Kenneth Waltz’s most recent Foreign Affairs comment certainly fits the bill. I love this “solution” because it wildly redefines the problem. For Waltz, power “begs to be balanced”, so a nuclear Israel threatening the rest of the Middle East is a much bigger problem than a beleaguered Iran trying to get a nuclear weapon. While personally, I think the world needs to move towards the goals of the Global Zero campaign (more in a future post), at least Waltz is trying to avert another disastrous war in the Middle East that probably won’t even solve the problem.

Jul 23

(To read the rest of our series on Band of Brothers, please click here.)

After re-watching the Band of Brothers episode “Day of Days”, I have renewed admiration for the paratroopers scattered throughout Normandy on D-Day. Lost and without contact with their higher headquarters, the airborne soldiers found ways to help beat the Axis powers.

According to legend--and the miniseries--the paratroopers of the 101st (and probably the 82nd, but they didn’t make it in Band of Brothers) took it upon themselves to “seize the initiative”. Thanks to their intensive preparation (Thanks Lt. Sobel!), paratroopers, literally scattered to the four winds, joined up with any fellow soldiers they could find to fend off the German counter-attack. Whoever held the highest rank took charge, and Little Groups of Paratroopers (acronym alert, LGOPs!) headed off into the night to seize bridges, attack German patrols, and generally wreak havoc behind enemy lines.

For the soldiers of Easy Company--as shown in the episode “Day of Days”--this meant that Lieutenant Winters and the few men he could round up ambushed a German convoy. The next day, he, Lieutenant Buck Compton--a UCLA graduate, which explains the skill, bravery and all around greatness of this soldier--and the remaining scraps of Easy Company attacked and destroyed a German artillery battery.

After D-Day, the legend of LGOPs spread through the active-duty Army...at least the airborne part. As I was told many times in vaguely doctrinal terms, the chaos of so many soldiers taking down so many objectives bewildered the Germans and kept their focus off the impending beach invasion.

If only.

In our 2011 prediction audit, I claimed that leaving the Army didn’t really free me (Michael C) to speak my mind the way I thought I would. Well, today I will take on a topic sacred in my previous battalion, the 2nd of the 503rd, (which remains the greatest combat force to ever walk the earth): the efficacy of airborne operations.

Specifically, the effectiveness of “Little Groups of Paratroopers” or LGOPs.

As a former paratrooper, I had ample time to ponder the wisdom and effectiveness of jumping into combat out of an airplane, especially as we waited hours at a time for our C-130s to arrive. Mostly, I asked fellow officers what a modern airborne operation would look like. If they didn’t discuss the utter boredom of the 173rd jumping into Iraq (a topic I also won’t touch here), they described the Battle of Normandy. Specifically, a bunch of lost paratroopers wandering around France. You know, LGOPs.

But the idea of lost paratroopers stalking enemy territory for trouble makes no sense according to the principles of warfare. Army doctrine names nine principles of warfare: objective, offensive, mass, economy of force, maneuver, unity of command, security, surprise and simplicity (variously written as some anagram of MOOSEMUS).

On the one hand, LGOPs fit some of the principles of warfare. They surprise the enemy. Small unit leaders with knowledge of the larger operation--as happened on D-day--can also apply the commander’s will across a broad swath of terrain.

On the much larger other hand, LGOPs don’t simplify the plan, they drastically complicate it. By spreading out the force--in a haphazard way--many objectives don’t get seized. During Normandy, unity of command evaporated. Many of the LGOPs, before they formed up, lacked any type of security, vulnerable to German armor or heavy weapons. It was also near impossible to maneuver or plan an offensive with troops spread so far apart. LGOPs make little sense according to the principles of war.

Or look at it from the perspective of Robert Leonhard’s “physics of battle” as he describes in The Art of Maneuver. He applies inertia, speed, mass, force, momentum and acceleration to warfare. LGOPs make even less sense using this model. A unit of light infantrymen spread across miles or kilometers lacks any momentum, acceleration or power. Indeed, a massed German quick reaction force, of armor or mounted infantrymen, could have obliterated the spread out and defenseless (to armor) airborne soldiers. Thankfully, Hitler specifically decided against this course of action, and LGOPs went down in military lore as the greatest invention since the reflector belt.

More than anything else, LGOPs cannot mass effectively at the decisive point, a basic military strategy advocated by Clausewitz to Sun Tzu to modern doctrine, like Leonhard or the Army’s principles of war. So no matter what or whose system you use, LGOPs fail the doctrinal test.

One other simple reason, though, should encourage the U.S. military to forget LGOPs: we can’t stand the losses. Nowadays, the US military immediately evacuates every injured soldier. In an airborne invasion of an active war zone, the U.S. Army can expect to lose hundreds or thousands of soldiers on the initial jump. Not wounded either. Dead. Frankly, I cannot envision a scenario where the America needs to start sending thousands of men to die in hours, but hasn’t first started carpet bombing or slinging nuclear weapons. And airborne operations make even less sense since the invention of helicopters, another topic for another day.

The generals in World War II knew this problem as well as any one. That’s why in the course of series and the war, Easy Company parachuted into battle exactly twice. They spend the rest of the series maneuvering, defending and fighting like regular light infantry. It’s just more effective.

Jul 02

As we do twice a year, Eric C and I will be taking a break from posting for the next two weeks. We have a series of weddings, bachelor parties, birthday celebrations in the meantime, so we need a quick recharge of our batteris.

When we come back we will continue  our series against the war with Iran and on Band of Brothers, plus a bunch of other great new ideas. So enjoy the break--we certainly will--and we'll see you in a couple of weeks.