Thursday, January 05, 2012

Gary Sick: If you like the Iraq and Afghanistan wars ...

Gary Sick, an expert on Iran and its foreign policies, takes a look at the current state of relations between the US and its allies, on the one hand, and Iran on the other in an important piece, Who’s Afraid of the Ayatollahs? Gary's Choices 01/04/2012. Toward the end, he includes this warning about a war of choice against Iran that American hawks are promoting and have been promoting for a while:

These are the same illusions of righteousness and impunity that preceded the U.S. invasion of Iraq. As General Zinni memorably noted, if you like Iraq and Afghanistan, you're going to love Iran. Those who suggest that a U.S. military confrontation with Iran would be surgical, limited, and one-sided are many of the same people who eight years ago assured you that the invasion of Iraq would be a cakewalk. ...

An impeccable array of U.S. and Israeli security officials have spoken openly of the absolute folly of going to war with Iran and have warned against exaggerating either the threat or Iran’s intentions. Those voices include the top military leaders and intelligence officials in both the United States and Israel.

After a decade of war and trillion dollar deficits, the United States should be well aware that such adventures can do us real harm. An important set of experienced voices continue to call for a return to negotiations. Iran says it is willing. We risk greatly and unnecessarily if we ignore the chance. [my emphasis]
He notes that even among Republicans like Willard (Mitt) Romney who paint the supposed Iranian threat in apocalyptic terms, it also simultaneously taken for granted that the US has an overwhelming superiority to Iran in the force it could apply to defend against an Iranian military move in its neighborhood perceived to be hostile to US interests. And he writes:

Without questioning the logic of this proposition, just how worried should we be about Iran? How much harm can Iran actually do to us?

This question is important since, despite all the scare talk, the United States and its allies are actually conducting their relations with Iran as if they were entirely immune to any retaliation. Such policies include the use of drones for both reconnaissance and attack; covert (or officially deniable) actions, such as the Stuxnet worm introduced into the Iranian nuclear infrastructure and/or assassinations of suspect individuals; displays of military force; and destructive unilateral sanctions.
He warns against the faith that the Obama Administration puts in such acts, because in fact they are "misleading and ultimately dangerous" - and not only in Iran. Obama has expanded covert warfare considerably, based on what we know in the public record.

I haven't followed the drones-in-Iran story closely, but this was news to me: "At least two other U.S. drones had previously been downed over Iran, though they were apparently shot down, not commandeered."

He also notes that Iran may have scored again on the covert front: "Little noticed was the Iranian announcement that it had rolled up a CIA espionage ring in Iran. If true, this is the third time since the revolution that a major U.S. spy ring was neutralized."

Sick also warns that asymmetric methods don't apply only to guerrilla warfare. Referring to the cyber-attacks on Iran's nuclear power program, he writes:

Iran has a very highly developed cyber warfare capability of its own, with a battalion of young, skilled IT engineers. Until now, they have focused primarily on putting down the incipient revolt that followed the contested elections of 2009. In that effort, they were much more efficient than the Egyptians, or Syrians or other Middle East nations who have tried to stop use of the internet for social and political mobilization. But what happens next?

The United States and all other developed industrial states rely on computer-driven systems for their most mundane and most sensitive services, everything from waste disposal sites to dams to nuclear plants. Cyber warfare specialists are openly worried about the vulnerability of these systems to a sophisticated cyber attack. And such attacks, if well planned, leave no discernible fingerprints.

As in the case of the stealth drone, are we as invulnerable as we thought? What if a power plant in your vicinity suddenly and mysteriously exploded or ran amok? You probably would not blame your national security officials, but you might be wrong. In cyber warfare, the playing field is much more level than in conventional warfare.
If such a thing happens, it won't be very helpful for our politicians and pundits to be cluelessly asking, "Why do they hate us?"

In the real world, those whiz-bang black ops programs often don't work nearly so well as they do on TV and in the movies. If the United States is firing rockets from drones, or conducting sabotage operations or other covert military missions, assassinating scientists or other civilians the US Administration of the moment decides needs killin', all those are acts of war. For all the annoyance they cause us, the airport inspections by the TSA can't protect Americans from every risk that stems from our reckless and ill-advised covert wars.

Economic sanctions aren't as always clean and easy as we might like to imagine them:

More recently, the U.S. Congress has been insisting on sanctions against Iranian banks that, in effect, make it impossible for Iran to sell its oil. That is the equivalent of a military blockade of Iran’s oil ports, arguably an act of war. And these sanctions are being imposed unilaterally, without reference to the United Nations Security Council. Members of Congress can go home to their districts and boast about how tough they can be on Iran, and in an election year that is worth a few votes. President Obama seems unwilling to buck the tide, despite his better judgment.

Iran has responded with harsh words, indicating that if Iran’s oil lifeline is cut off, others will also find their access to world oil markets imperiled. Iran does not need to close the Strait of Hormuz to make a point. Its words make it clear that an act of war by the United States will be treated as such by Iran. Even the threat of a confrontation immediately drove the price of oil above $100 per barrel, which has effects on economies struggling to recover from the recession. [my emphasis]
War with Iran. Really not a good idea.

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