Apr 06

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

Yesterday, I laid out a fairly complimentary description of one of Iran’s navies, the IRGC Navy. I made it clear, they cannot beat the U.S. Navy in a straight up fight, but they could possibly sink a ship.

I ignored one obvious component, has the U.S. Navy studied the IRGC Navy?

Of course they have. The Office of Naval Intelligence wrote the key paper used by almost every resource I read--and I used it too. When questioned before congress, Admiral Jonathan Greenert, Chief of Naval Operations, the top Navy officer, specifically described the “counter-swarm” capabilities the Navy has deployed to the gulf to discourage an Iranian counter-attack.

So I didn’t write anything the U.S. Navy hasn’t studied. Of course, this same Navy designed the Littoral Combat Ship almost specifically for the Persian Gulf, and, well, instead of the dozens we should have, the U.S. Navy has two. Even though U.S. naval forces have patrolled the gulf since the Shah fell, multiple intelligence estimates have declared Iran one of the major U.S. threats, and President Bush put Iran and Iraq into the “axis of evil”, instead of getting lighter and smaller, the U.S. Navy has gotten bigger and heavier, unprepared for sea war in the Persian Gulf. That doesn’t sound like a navy prepared for “asymmetric naval guerrilla warfare”.
Some critics have also pointed out that Millennium Challenge 2002 showed the danger of allowing the enemy the element of surprise and that, now, the U.S. Navy will not let small boats approach it. Except, according to The Weekly Standard, they do:

"In the last few months, Iranian boats have retreated only when U.S. vessels have fired warning shots. While the Pentagon does not publicize such incidents, sailors say there are now near daily occurrences. The proximity of the Iranian boats means that, should any be intent on a suicide plot, American sailors would likely lose their lives."

Anthony Cordesman concurs, Iranian small boats, “give Iran the ability to strike at larger conventional forces with little, if any warning.” So the U.S. Navy knows its weaknesses, but it still might not be able to stop the IRGC Navy.

I want to end the IPB for each domain of warfare (sea, air, proxy war in Afghanistan, and asymmetric--terrorism and ballistic missiles), with a list of some of the possible courses of action available to Iran, and how they could play out. Today’s post lays out the naval war courses of actions available to the two Iranian navies, the IRGC Navy and the Islamic Republic of Iran Navy.

The Enemy Courses of Action, Naval Edition:

Best Case: Iran doesn’t attack back. Or the initial U.S. attack wipes out all hope of counter-attack. Unlikely.

Second Best Case: Iran learned nothing from 1998 and attacks America conventionally. The U.S. Navy defeats Iran conventionally again. Or its swarming attacks have no effect, either because of luck or the US Navy’s preparation. Iran loses thousands of sailors.

Worst Case: Millennium Challenge 2002 in real terms.

Most Likely (my opinion): The U.S. loses at least one capital ship--either through mines, torpedoes, mini-submarines, or anti-ship cruise missiles with damage to multiple other ships. The rescue mission would then become a target of increased Iranian aggression. (Technically, this is the same course of action as above, just differing in degrees of success.)

Suicide Attacks Option: The IRGC recruits fanatics or die-hards to drive multiple suicide ships into U.S. capital ships. The IRGC recently acquired speedboats which could work perfectly for this tactic, and could probably avoid U.S. Navy counter-fire, designed for missiles.

The Escalation Option: Iran chooses to mine the Straits of Hormuz, requiring a costly American-led mine clearing operation. Depending on the state of the war to this point, Iran could choose to re-engage with swarming tactics aimed at U.S. capital ships.

Most Surprising Option: The Islamic Republic of Iran Navy somehow uses a submarine or mini-submarine to attack a U.S. ship in the Gulf of Oman. Essentially, this means the Iranian Navy would score a conventional victory, which would stun me.

If Iran chooses the worst case or suicide attack options, and successfully sinks a large, U.S. capital ship, Iran could conceivably inflict as many casualties on the U.S. as it has suffered since 9/11 in a single day.

That’s why Iran’s naval options terrify me.

Apr 04

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

My father often told me, “Generals always fight the last war.” And he’d give examples, from General Montgomery steadfastly avoiding frontal charges in World War II because of his experience with trench warfare in World War I to generals in the Civil War marching their troops in lines.

This aphorism doesn’t apply to every war. When it does, though, it applies in a big way.

Before I start my “Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield” with Iran’s naval options, I need to make a larger comment on disruptive technological change. So permit me a little license as I dive surface-deep into the history of American naval warfare as it relates to the saying that opened this post.

We start at the civil war, when the entire world learned that iron ships and heavy artillery would now rule the waters. Before that war, proponents of wooden ships controlled the world’s navies.
Through the next few wars, the Spanish-American and World War I, iron battleships dominated the seas, adapting technology as needed. This included rifled barrels on their guns, adding coal and then gasoline-fired engines. The Germans perfected the U-boat, or submarine, but it didn’t prove decisive in World War I.

The next change would. Prior to World War II, combatants on all sides generally considered battleships the key to victory at sea--as they had since the Civil War. As a result, with some simplification for readability, the Japanese attacked U.S. battleships during Pearl Harbor hoping to knock them out of the war in the Pacific, while leaving American aircraft carriers generally unharmed.

Aircraft carriers would go on to win the war. They constituted a paradigm shift in warfare; a disruptive technological change the U.S. ultimately used to overwhelm and crush Axis forces.

This brings us to the most stable period of U.S. naval operations of our history. Despite fielding the largest or second largest navy in the world since the Korean War, the U.S. has only fought a handful of major naval engagements. Each of these engagements pales in comparison to any battle during WWII. (To give you an idea, the Gulf of Tonkin crisis and an accidental attack by Israel’s navy qualify as major military engagements.)

Why did I just spend 300 words on naval history? To show that, despite some changes, America has a navy--an untested navy--based on naval principles from World War II. The idea of an aircraft carrier battle-group, with its gigantic aircraft carrier at center, came out of World War II.

Has the day of the aircraft carrier come and gone? And if it had, how would we know? Only the crucible of war can prove military technology is outdated, and the U.S. Navy hasn’t faced that test. At most, the American navy has swatted away all of the technologically-bereft up and comers who tried to fight us conventionally.

If one single invention, manned flight, transformed warfare at sea, what has the digital age done? Since World War II, the world went through its most creative and innovative technological period ever, inventing computers, missiles, guided missiles, the transistor, nuclear power, satellites and countless smaller innoventions, and drastically perfecting everything (radios and wireless communication especially) from before. (Yes, rockets existed in World War II, but the post-war arms race transformed them into something entirely different, like the difference between monkeys and humans.)

Can/Have those inventions transformed war at sea and the U.S. Navy doesn’t even know about it?

I can’t prove it has, but two wargames (H/T to On V fav Malcolm Gladwell.) should give all sailors and navy watchers at least a pinch of doubt about America’s purchasing decisions during the last fifty years.

In the first example, from the appropriately titled article, “How David Beats Goliath”, a computer scientist, Doug Lenat, competed in a simulated naval war game. Instead of designing his own fleet, though, he fed the rules of the competition to a computer program to see what type of fleet it recommended. Instead of big, traditional, slow, well defended ships, his navy had scores and scores of small, lightly defended ships with gigantic weapons. He won the simulated battles in a landslide. He did it again the next year too.
Yet that example has the rightful air of surreality about it compared to my next example: General Paul Van Riper’s legendary victory in Millennium Challenge 2002. I first read about it in Gladwell’s book, Blink, but multiple articles covered it. While Gladwell used Riper to discuss making split second decisions, I find it hard to look past how Riper’s small boats, cruise missiles and torpedoes swarmed and sank dozens of U.S. ships.
Reading these two simulations, I worry: have we missed any other disruptive technological changes?
Has the guided missile--whether sea launched, land launched, or torpedo--replaced aircraft carriers, battleships and missile frigates? Is smaller and more maneuverable better? Will swarms beat giants?

Most importantly, does Iran know any of this?

That brings me back to my naval history: the largest naval operation since World War II occurred in the Persian/Arabian Gulf in 1988, during the last year of the Iran and Iraq war. Called Operation Praying Mantis, I hadn’t even heard of it until I started researching war with Iran, and most Americans have forgotten it too. In this naval battle, U.S. military warships completely obliterated Iran’s conventional navy. If Iran paid attention, it would have learned a lesson: fight conventionally and you will lose, while inflicting hardly any casualties on the Americans.

I believe Iran learned the lesson of that battle, and this makes them very dangerous.

Tomorrow I will explain why.

Mar 29

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

In Charles Krauthammer’s world, if Iran obtains a nuclear weapon, it will hang a “sword of Damocles over Israel”, threatening it with “a second holocaust” and “annihilation”.

When it comes to war with Iran--which, to clarify, we mean something as small as a limited air strike to something as large as a full-on invasion--proponents for war with Iran clarify the threat: nuclear armageddon. However, when it comes to the costs of such a war, they muddle their words more than Obi Wan Kenobi trying to claim Darth Vader murdered Anakin Skywalker. (Which is true, from a certain point of view.)

For example, take Matthew Kroenig’s defense of his Foreign Affairs article on Stephen Walt’s blog:

"I was also surprised that Walt accused me of glossing over the risks of a military campaign. As other readers of the article know, I fully engage with the many negative consequences of military action, including possible Iranian missile and terror attacks against U.S. bases, ships, and allies in the region..."

A teacher once told me that you win a debate by defining the terms. In this case, frame the war with Iran as a possible nuclear holocaust while ignoring the very real threat to US and Israeli troops by using phrases like “many negative consequences”. More importantly, under no circumstance actually put numbers to any possible military operation. Kroenig, Krauthammer, et al understand this. They mention “Iran missile and terror attacks” without clarifying those could mean hundreds or thousands of dead Americans, Israelis, Iranians and Arabs, soldiers and civilians.

As we wrote last Thursday, the American people favor war with Iran. If pundits, politicians and academics specified the costs of war, I believe its support would plummet. With the war drums beating louder, why don’t pollsters ask Americans what price they will pay to prevent a nuclear armed Iran?

Pollsters usually frame this question straight up, “Do you support military intervention in Iran?” I say we should change it to: Would you support military intervention in Iran...

...if it meant the deaths of 4,000 sailors in a two week period?

...if it meant Iranians dragging U.S. airmen through the streets of Tehran?

...if it meant a series of terror attacks on U.S. travelers and business people in the Middle East? Or possibly terror attacks on our home soil?

...if it meant gasoline prices rising to $10.00 a gallon?

...if it meant losing your job?

...if it meant doubling the number of casualties in Afghanistan for U.S. troops for the rest of this year?

I know one reason why pundits, pollsters and politicians avoid the costs: in most cases, they don’t have enough experience with war to properly judge the Iranian response or guess how war with Iran could unfold.

I do though. In the second half of my military career, I practiced intelligence, focusing on the Middle East (beyond Iraq). Moreover, the Army provided me with the perfect tool for this task: the intelligence preparation of the battlefield (IPB). A well-put together IPB looks at various scenarios: the best cases, worst cases, unique cases, and the possibilities. In other words, the perfect tool to answer the question, at what cost?

For instance, take my hypothetical questions above. Based on my analysis of the relative military strengths of America, Israel and Iran, I believe each of the above events is possible (say over a 1% chance of occurring). Some are probable (over 50%); some are not (between 1% and 50%).

One final caveat before I start: this is not a doctrinal IPB. I am not using specific doctrine--I could, if I wanted to; I could doctrine off with anyone anytime; I’ll go doctrine all over you--because it would bore our readers. Instead, I will use the same ways of thinking about the problem, but transform them into prose. I mean, planning for war with Iran is being and has already been done by staffs of hundreds of people. I am just one guy with writing on the back of an envelope, so I won’t/can’t reach the same levels of detail.

With war looking increasingly likely, it makes sense for me to dust off my IPB skills. (I did it once before for Iraq.) We won’t definitively predict the course of war with Iran, but hopefully we’ll help Americans answer that key question, is the juice worth the squeeze?

Mar 28

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

As I dived deep into academic research on Iran’s nuclear program, I swear I entered a militarized version of Groundhog Day. If you aren’t familiar with the movie (and how can you not be?), a sarcastic weatherman, played perfectly by the Bill Murray, finds himself reliving the same day over and over. No matter what he does, he wakes up on Groundhog Day, February 2nd.

In my Iran War version of Groundhog Day, Iran remains perpetually stuck one to five years away from having a nuclear weapon. By my calculations, in 1992, 1995, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2010 and this year, 2012, either a pundit or politician warned the world about an imminent nuclear armed Iran. In the worst example, current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed Iran would have a nuclear weapon in one year...twenty years ago.

With this prediction of imminent Iranian nuclearity comes the perpetual Israeli threat to strike Iranian nuclear facilities...and pundits guarantee an attack will occur almost every year.

(I mentioned in an earlier post that war with Iran comes up almost every calendar year we hold an Olympics. Researching this post, I double down on that idea. Something about athletic competition must get the juices flowing in Israel.)

Here’s a quick timeline for how doomsaying on Iran’s nuclear program and whether Israel or the U.S. will attack Iran:


Time Away: 3-5 Years.
Source: Then Parliamentarian, now Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Did Israel threaten war?: Yes.
Quote: Then Israeli parliamentarian Benjamin Netanyahu tells his colleagues that Iran is 3 to 5 years from producing a nuclear weapon – and that the threat had to be "uprooted by an international front headed by the US." (Also that year, then Israeli Foreign Minister, Shimon Peres, told French TV that, “Iran was set to have nuclear warheads by 1999.”)


Time Away: “Could be less than five years”
Source: “Several senior American and Israeli officials” in the Old Grey Lady
Did Israel threaten war? Yep.
Quotes: “Iran is much closer to producing nuclear weapons than previously thought, and could be less than five years away from having an atomic bomb, several senior American and Israeli officials say.”

Time Away: No estimates, but everyone repeats the talking point, “Iran is aggressively pursuing WMD.
Source: President Bush, National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice, Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham
Did Israel threaten war? Not exactly, but President Bush added Iran to the “axis of evil”.


Time Away: Three years...if not sooner.
Source: Sam Gardiner Colonel (Ret.) in The Atlantic
Did Israel threaten war? The war game in the article all but assumed this scenario.
Quote: The Atlantic runs a war game on war with Iran, something reporter James Fallows describes as, “barely mentioned in America's presidential campaign”. Using the most accurate reports at the time, Fallows reported that, “The [intelligence] community believes that Iran could have a nuclear weapon in three years.”


Time Away: 5-10 years.
Source: The Bipartisan Policy Center using a National Intelligence Estimate
Did Israel threaten war? Not in this report.
Quotes:  “Portions of a U.S. National Intelligence Estimate leaked in August 2005 reported that the Iranian regime was between five to ten years away from acquiring a nuclear bomb”.

(Actually, The Bipartisan Policy Center is pretty funny on this issue. Look at these titles ranging from 2008 to 2012: Meeting the Challenge: U.S. Policy Toward Iranian Nuclear Development then Meeting the Challenge: Time Is Running Out and then Meeting the Challenge: When Time Runs Out and then Meeting the Challenge: Stopping the Clock. Oh my, time has been running out since 2009! Eep!)


Time Away: No estimates.
Source: Seymour Hersh in The New Yorker
Did Israel threaten war? Yes, imminently.
Quote: Seymour Hersh reports that a strike is imminent. He also speculates that the U.S. military may use nuclear weapons to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities.
(For the next three years, Seymour Hersh would write an article each year characterizing Israeli attack as “unavoidable” or describing Iran as “five years away” from a nuclear weapon.)


Time Away: Soon, but no estimates.
Source: Former U.S. Ambassador to U.N. John Bolton
Did Israel threaten war? Bolton predicted war before 2009.
Quote: “Then-US Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton predicts that Israel will attack Iran before January 2009.”

Time Away: 1-3 years.
Source: Secretary Robert Gates, Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic
Did Israel threaten war? Goldberg predicts war in spring of 2011.
Quotes: Secretary Robert Gates, “Most people believe that the Iranians could not really have any nuclear weapons for at least another year or two. I would say the intelligence estimates range from one to three years.”

Jeffrey Goldberg said, “Iran is, at most, one to three years away from having a breakout nuclear capability”.

Time Away: 1-5 years.
Source: See our post from Friday and Jeffrey Goldberg.
Did Israel threaten war? Absolutely.

I am not the first person to point out this unique trend. The Christian Science Monitor has a great roundup, so does Jeff Emanuel on Redstate, and this blog post’s 26,000 words, no kidding, probably round up every mention of Iran ever. Finally, this Wikipedia article shows the limits to crowdsourcing research: tons of research, poor organization and even worse writing.

Mar 26

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

Despite huge flaws in his argument, Matthew Kroenig’s article in Foreign Affairs, “Time to Attack Iran”, probably sums up the case for war with Iran about as well as any article I’ve read--and I spent the last week trying to read them all. Like all Iran-war-pushers, Kroenigs forces his readers to perform amazing feats of mental dexterity, asking them to believe two contradictory ideas at the same time.

But don’t take my word for it, here are a bunch of Doctors of Philosophy saying so:

“When Kroenig is trying to justify the need for war, he depicts an Iran with far-reaching capabilities and dangerously evil intentions in order to convince readers that we have to stop them before it is too late. But when he turns to selling a preventive war, then suddenly Iran's capabilities are rather modest, its leaders are sensible, and the United States can easily deal with any countermeasures that Iran might take.”

Stephen Walt

“The same regime that if not attacked can be expected to do all sorts of highly aggressive things, according to Kroenig, turns into a calm paragon of caution, respectful of U.S.-declared “redlines,” once the United States starts waging war on it.”

Paul Pillar

“Ironically, Kroenig believes that a nuclear-armed Iran would be deeply irrational and prone to miscalculation yet somehow maintains that under the same leaders, Iran would make clear-eyed decisions in the immediate aftermath of a U.S. strike.”

Colin H. Kahl

Iran’s leaders can’t have the bomb; they’re irrational. But don’t worry, if we attack Iran, they’ll respond rationally. Huh? Realistically, rationality doesn’t matter; Iran’s leaders will probably escalate if America attacks and kills scores of Iranian civilians, rational or irrational.

The anti-war-with-Iran crowd has almost universally called out this argument for being (in my words) schizophrenically contradictory. But another contradiction has, so far, avoided a rhetorical thrashing at the hands of fellow academics. I call it the intelligence problem:

1. On the one hand, we cannot definitively prove that Iran has a nuclear weapon.

2. Despite poor intelligence, we can wipe out Iran’s nuclear facilities. All of them.

Let’s start with the intelligence. The bottom line: we don’t have it. If we did, Israel or America would have already launched (or made the case to launch) a military strike. Two different “National Intelligence Estimates” have failed to prove the existence or threat of Iran’s nuclear program. While the IAEA would like additional inspections and can’t rule out an Iranian nuclear weapons program, it can’t rule it in either.

The inherent difficulties in gathering accurate intelligence--and publicizing it--shouldn’t lower the bar required to start a war. One would think Iraq showed the need for excessively thorough intelligence.
Nevertheless, without evidence to even prove the existence of an Iranian nuclear weapons program, supporters of war with Iran believe we have enough evidence to completely wipe that program off the face of the earth--the very program whose existence we cannot prove. More confusingly, if we launched air strikes against Iran, how will we verify we truly wiped out their nuclear program if we couldn’t prove that the program existed before we launched the war?

Just one wild card can disrupt the entire mission against Iran. The Economist wrote an article about “ultra high-performance concrete”, an Iranian invention to guard against earthquakes. It also, conveniently, guards against explosives, like bombs. From their article:

"It is therefore anyone’s guess (at least, anyone without access to classified information) how the MOP [the largest bunker busting bomb in the U.S. arsenal] might perform against one of Iran’s ultra-strong concretes."

Concrete is only one variable. Iran could have hidden centrifuges in smaller facilities. It could store uranium in locations we don’t know about. Even the facilities we do know about could have thicker walls and different layouts than planners suspect. By listening to war hawks, though, this mission seems like a walk in the park. Like Matthew Kroenig:

“We have a viable military option to forestall and perhaps even prevent [Iran obtaining a bomb]...According to open source reporting, Natanz is buried under 75 feet of earth and several meters of concrete. The Massive Ordnance Penetrator is capable of penetrating up to 200 feet of reinforced concrete. I will leave it up to the reader to do the math.”

All this is topped off by an unwavering belief in American military might. At least two recent articles--in The New York Times and NPR--express doubts about the abilities of Israel’s military to destroy Iranian targets, but none about our own shortcomings. Sure, the American military could defeat Iran in any military conflict, but could the U.S. destroy their nuclear program in a limited strike? I have my doubts. The U.S. military only has 20 of its “mother of all bombs” to drop; do we have enough accuracy and lethality to do the job?
As I said before, it amazes me that anyone in the U.S. could argue for another preventative war. Another preventative war based on the same schizophrenic contradictions as the last war.

Mar 22

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

Every now and then, Eric C or I will write a post and the other person will ask, “Who actually argues for this?” With that in mind, today we want to justify our series, “The Case against War with Iran”. We’ve broken down the voices into four areas, the four P’s: people, politicians, pundits and professors.

(A quick note for today’s post: many of the arguments for war with Iran have been debunked or rebutted in the blogosphere. We’re not making the case against war with Iran today; we just want to show how many people are arguing for it.)

(American) People

As often as we hold Olympic games, Israel threatens to attack Iran, bringing the U.S. along with it. To chart this, I went to Google Insights, and searched for the terms “nuclear weapons Iran” and, more importantly, “war Iran”. In the last two months, Americans have searched for those terms more than at any other time since Google started keeping records (which apparently only goes back to 2004. What gives Google?). The people have heard the war drums banging, and want to find out who wrote the beat.
And according to the Pew Research Center, a majority of Americans already support military action against Iran. A majority also believe the U.S. will “wait too long” to deal with Iran. (Though their questions tend to ignore the issue of “At what cost?”, as I’ll write about next week.) A Quinnipiac poll found similar opinions about Iran as well. If President Obama does decide to go to war, he can point to polls justifying his decision. However, a majority of Americans oppose a military strike on Iran, according to a World Public Opinion poll. Like many issues, the phrasing of the question can change the results, “wait too long” versus “favor a military strike”.

The point is: the American people are not united against war as they are with Afghanistan and were with Iraq. Americans love starting wars, and hating fighting them.


If the American people can hear the drumbeats of war, that must means politicians started banging them. And everyone knows who plays the role of Neil Peart: Republican presidential candidates. Take the words of their three major candidates for president:

If President Obama is reelected, “Iran will have a nuclear weapon and the world will change.” Mitt Romney (Or read his opinion piece on Iran here at The Washington Post.)

"We need to say to the Iranian government, the time is now. You will stop your nuclear production now." Rick Santorum

“The red line is now.” Newt Gingrich

While readers might deride those quotes as standard stump speech fare, campaign fodder for pro-war GOPers, presidential candidates aren’t the only ones in the Republican party banging the drums. Also unleashing epic war drum solos include the John Bonham’s of the political world, Republican Senators and Congressmen.

“There should be no daylight between America and Israel in our assessment of the [Iranian] threat.” Senator John McCain

"We need to make sure that this president is also going to stand by Israel and not allow his administration to somehow speak contrary to what our ally thinks is in its best interest." Representative Eric Cantor

“No greater threat exists to the security of Israel, to the entire region and, indeed, to the United States than a nuclear-armed Iran...The Iranians now face a choice to either meet their international obligations and rejoin the community of nations or violate their international obligations and face the consequences.” Secretary Leon Panetta

“And that is why, four years ago, I made a commitment to the American people and said that we would use all elements of American power to pressure Iran and prevent it from acquiring a nuclear weapon. And that is what we have done.” President Barack Obama

Oh, those last two were Democrats. I guess that makes them “Keith Moon”.


The politicians bang the drums, the people hear, and the pundits turn up the volume. A small sampling from the punditocracy:

“After speaking with many of the Israeli leaders and chiefs of the intelligence and the military, I have come to the conclusion that there is a strong likelihood that Israel will strike Iran during 2012, because Iran is getting too close to what was coined by Minister of Defense Ehud Barak as the zone of immunity.” Ronen Bergman, the senior political and military analyst for Israel’s most widely read daily newspaper.

“The United States should have the legal right to use military force when it removes dangerous threats not just to our security, but to regions and the world -- and that is, I argue, exactly what is posed by the prospect of Iranian nuclear weapons.” John Yoo in National Review. Yep, that John Yoo.
Bill Kristol, Charles Krauthammer, repeatedly and finally, Foreign Policy’sShadow Government” blog--again, repeatedly--all chimed in as well.

Professors (Academics)

Our final section covers the thinkers who give the pundits, politicians and people something to talk about: the professors and academics working for think tanks who chime in to say, “Let’s go to war with Iran.” (To finish the tortured analogy, I guess they build the drums?)

For example:

- Matthew Kroenig in Foreign Affairs, “Time to Attack Iran

- Brent J. Talbot in the Journal for International Security Affairs, “Stuxnet and After

- The Bipartisan Policy Center in Meeting the Challenge: Stopping the Clock

- The Heritage Foundation

- The American Enterprise Institute

When enough people want war, call for war or threaten war, guess what might happen? War. So we’ve (hopefully) justified the series. On Monday, we start making the case against war with Iran.

Mar 21

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

"Iraq Is All but Won; Now What?"

The Los Angeles Times posed that question on April 10th, 2003. In seven words, that (formerly) esteemed southern California paper captured why we don’t make predictions here at On V: much of the time, predictions will make you look foolish.

We bring this up because, to make the “case against war with Iran” omelet, we’ll need to break a few On V editorial rules (eggs).

Rule 1: We hate making predictions.

To say, “The US should not go to war with Iran” predicts that:

1. War is more likely than not.

2. If the US does go to war with Iran, it will go badly. At least the benefits will not outweigh the costs.

As Eric C pointed out to me, many pundits, journalists and politicians declared victory in Iraq within weeks of the initial invasion. Unfortunately, the mission was not accomplished. (Regarding those two links, one of which comes from a forum, we have checked the quotes and the majority are not “quotes behaving badly”.) Eric C’s especially favorite quote comes from Chris Matthews, “What's [Howard Dean] going to talk about a year from now, the fact that the war went too well and it's over?”
Take Libya too, which flips the narrative on its head. Few forecasters predicted Iraq would turn out horribly; plenty predicted that Libya would mire the U.S. in another ten year war. Iraq turned out horrible; Libya did not.

And like a mouse who gets a cookie, making one prediction means making two, then three and so forth. I think the war will go poorly; that means that either Iran or the U.S. will escalate the conflict, a prediction. Escalation begs the question, “Will the U.S. put ground troops into Iran?”, another prediction. And then how will all of that effect US operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan? Predictions, predictions, predictions, and we will invariably miss on a few.

Yep, we’ll get something wrong, but that’s why we hesitate in the first place.

Finally, we need to make careful predictions. I dislike bold, all-or-nothing predictions. Predictions, like ours about Iran, should always be couched in terms of probability. Preferably, what are the odds that Iran has a nuclear weapon? Or what is the likelihood that following a U.S. military attack on Iran, they can sink a U.S. capital ship? I don’t trust predictions couched in terms of near certainty, so, as we wade into a sea of predictions, we will try to avoid them.

Rule 2: We don’t “chase the news”.

We’ve rarely written about current events like this. Though we completely supported repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” as a policy, we never wrote about it. Though we had thoughts about the recent National Defense Authorization Act, we avoided it too.

We don’t chase news stories because, unlike say an op-ed columnist, we just don’t have insights on every single foreign affairs event. For example, the shooting in Afghanistan last week. We don’t necessarily have a must-read take. We have an opinion, but not an earth-shattering, groundbreaking one. I mean, how many blog posts to do you read around the interwebs that begin, “Well, I guess I have to comment...”

When it comes to war with Iran, unlike other topics, Michael C’s intelligence training gives us that unique viewpoint. Current events will probably outpace our three to four times a week posting schedule, but we’ll make do.

Further, chasing one news story means ignoring another, Syria, just like we ignored Libya last year. What gives? Well, we believe that the Iranian situation--with nuclear weapons, Israel, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, terrorism and Hezbollah, JSOC, oil prices, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the straits of Hormuz involved--is a much more complicated, dangerous and potentially explosive situation. Apologies Syria, but we believe--and again, this is a prediction--that a conflict with Iran has a better possibility of turning into a full-scale war.

Tomorrow we will discuss why we have finally started making these predictions.

Mar 20

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

I spend a lot of time daydreaming, retroactively replaying the past, thinking and dreaming about what I could or should have done to change the course of my life, knowing what I know now. (Buy stock in Apple, for instance.) More a fun diversion than a punishment, I usually don’t daydream wistfully or with regret.

Lately, I’ve been dreaming about stopping the Iraq war. If someone smart enough had reported the right information about Iraqi WMDs in the lead up to the war, they could have stopped it. (I even have a pet theory on how to do this: you convince two, just two, senators to go in, read the appendix in the Oct 2, 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on “Curveball” and leak it. Then you would go and talk to Joe Wilson. How would you disprove the al Qaeda link? I don’t know.)

This day dream does fill me with regret, because at the time, I knew I should have said something. I should have been louder. Outside of a marching a few symbolic protests in an already liberal city, Santa Barbara, I did nothing to stop it.

I felt then, and feel now, that war with Iraq was a mistake. The WMDs never materialized; neither did the connection to al Qaeda. The war lasted longer and cost more than any official predicted. We didn’t lose nearly as many soldiers as we thought we would--relative to previous wars, American soldiers came out okay, casualty-wise--but what we saved in lost American lives, Iraqis lost in the tens of thousands. We destabilized a country and strengthened Iran.

As Michael mentioned yesterday, we weren’t blogging at the time. Hell, I didn’t even write. I protested the war, but with a tenth of the energy I put into environmental activism. My senior year of college (2006), I helped out the anti-war protesters, even though that movement, chaotic and run by anarchists, embarrassed me.

Which brings me to the present day. I graduated from college, and now Michael and I run a (relatively) popular and somewhat influential blog.

A few weeks ago, Michael approached me about writing something on Iran, and I rejected it. Then I remembered my history with the Iraq war. We need to say something about war with Iran. At the very least, we need to provide one voice, that says, “Maybe this isn’t a good idea.”

Because in 2003, we didn’t have enough voices making that case. In a gross over-simplification of the run up to the war in Iraq, the counter-voices to the war consisted of a handful of reporters writing articles that landed on page A18. (More on this in a later post.) We want to be a mega-phone putting that information on page A1, if for no other reason so that pundits can’t say, “Well, everyone felt this way when the war started”, like they did with Iraq.

And now, a caveat, and it’s a big one. I’m not taking this task lightly.  After I agreed to do a series on Iran, I laid out the issues for Michael C:

1. I want us to be right.

2. I want to know we’re right because we’ve done as much research as two bloggers without access to classified information can do on this topic.

3. Finally, I want us to add to the debate. We don’t want to regurgitate other people’s argument; we want to add to the discourse.

I believe we’ve met those criteria. So we’re starting this series. As The Who said, we won’t get fooled again.