Attack on Iran: A Looming Folly
by William Rivers Pitt
www.truthout.org, January 9, 2006
The wires have been humming since
before the New Year with reports that the Bush administration
is planning an attack on Iran. "The Bush administration is
preparing its NATO allies for a possible military strike against
suspected nuclear sites in Iran in the New Year, according to
German media reports, reinforcing similar earlier suggestions
in the Turkish media," reported UPI on December 30th.
"The Berlin daily Der Tagesspiegel
this week," continued UPI, "quoted 'NATO intelligence
sources' who claimed that the NATO allies had been informed that
the United States is currently investigating all possibilities
of bringing the mullah-led regime into line, including military
options. This 'all options are open' line has been President George
W Bush's publicly stated policy throughout the past 18 months."
An examination of the ramifications
of such an attack is desperately in order.
1. Blowback in Iraq
The recent elections in Iraq were
dominated by an amalgam of religiously fundamentalist Shi'ite
organizations, principally the Dawa Party and the Supreme Council
for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). Both Dawa and SCIRI have
umbilical connections to the fundamentalist Shi'ite leadership
in Iran that go back decades. In essence, Iran now owns a significant
portion of the Iraqi government.
Should the United States undertake
military action against Iran, the ramifications in Iraq would
be immediate and extreme.
In the first eight days of January,
eighteen US troops have been killed in Iraq, compounded by another
twelve deaths from a Black Hawk helicopter crash on Saturday.
Much of the violence aimed at American forces is coming from disgruntled
Sunni factions that have their own militias, believe the last
elections were a sham, and hold little political power in the
If the US attacks Iran, it is probable
that American forces - already taxed by attacks from Sunni factions
- will also face reprisal attacks in Iraq from Shi'ite factions
loyal to Iran. The result will be a dramatic escalation in US
and civilian casualties, US forces will be required to bunker
themselves further into their bases, and US forces will find themselves
required to fight the very government they just finished helping
into power. Iraq, already a seething cauldron, will sink further
2. Iran's Armaments
Unlike Iraq, Iran has not spent the
last fifteen years having its conventional forces worn down by
grueling sanctions, repeated attacks, and two American-led wars.
While Iran's conventional army is not what it was during the heyday
of the Iran-Iraq war - their armaments have deteriorated and the
veterans of that last war have retired - the nation enjoys substantial
military strength nonetheless.
According to a report issued by the
Center for Strategic and International Studies in December of
2004, Iran "has some 540,000 men under arms and over 350,000
reserves. They include 120,000 Iranian Revolutionary Guards trained
for land and naval asymmetrical warfare. Iran's military also
includes holdings of 1,613 main battle tanks, 21,600 other armored
fighting vehicles, 3,200 artillery weapons, 306 combat aircraft,
60 attack helicopters, 3 submarines, 59 surface combatants, and
10 amphibious ships."
"Iran is now the only regional
military power that poses a significant conventional military
threat to Gulf stability," continued the CSIS report. "Iran
has significant capabilities for asymmetric warfare, and poses
the additional threat of proliferation. There is considerable
evidence that it is developing both a long-range missile force
and a range of weapons of mass destruction. It has never properly
declared its holdings of chemical weapons, and the status of its
biological weapons programs is unknown."
A MILNET brief issued in February
2005 reports, "Due to its position astride the Persian Gulf,
Iran has constantly been a threat to the Gulf. The so called 'Tanker'
wars in the late 1980s put Iran squarely in the bullseye of all
nations seeking to transport oil out of the region. Even the small
navy that Iran puts to sea is capable enough to harass shipping,
and several cases of small boat operations against oil well heads
in the Gulf during that period made it clear small asymmetrical
tactics of the Iranian Navy could be quite effective."
"More concerning," continued
the MILNET brief, "is the priority placed on expanding and
modernizing its Navy. The CSIS report cites numerous areas where
Iran has funded modernization including the most troublesome aspect,
anti-shipping cruise missiles: 'Iran has obtained new anti-ship
missiles and missile patrol craft from China, midget submarines
from North Korea, submarines from Russia, and modern mines.'"
It is Iran's missile armaments that
pose the greatest concern for American forces in the Gulf, especially
for the US Navy. Iran's coast facing the Persian Gulf is a looming
wall of mountains that look down upon any naval forces arrayed
in those waters. The Gulf itself only has one exit, the Strait
of Hormuz, which is also dominated by the mountainous Iranian
coastline. In essence, Iran holds the high ground in the Gulf.
Missile batteries arrayed in those mountains could raise bloody
havoc with any fleet deployed below.
Of all the missiles in Iran's armament,
the most dangerous is the Russian-made SS-N-22 Sunburn. These
missiles are, simply, the fastest anti-ship weapons on the planet.
The Sunburn can reach Mach 3 at high altitude. Its maximum low-altitude
speed is Mach 2.2, some three times faster than the American-made
Harpoon. The Sunburn takes two short minutes to cover its full
range. The missile's manufacturers state that one or two missiles
could cripple a destroyer, and five missiles could sink a 20,000
ton ship. The Sunburn is also superior to the Exocet missile.
Recall that it was two Exocets that ripped the USS Stark to shreds
in 1987, killing 37 sailors. The Stark could not see them to stop
The US aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt
is currently deployed in the Persian Gulf, with some 7,000 souls
aboard. Sailing with the Roosevelt is the Tarawa Expeditionary
Strike Force, which includes the USS Tarawa, the USS Austin, and
the USS Pearl Harbor. The USS Austin is likewise deployed in the
Gulf. The Sunburn missile, with its incredible speed and ability
to avoid radar detection, would do terrible damage these ships
if Iran chooses to retaliate in the Gulf after an American attack
within its borders.
Beyond the naval threat is the possibility
of Iran throwing its military muscle into the ongoing struggle
in Iraq. Currently, the US is facing an asymmetrical attack from
groups wielding small arms, shoulder-fired grenades and roadside
bombs. The vaunted American military has suffered 2,210 deaths
and tens of thousands of wounded from this form of warfare. The
occupation of Iraq has become a guerrilla war, a siege that has
lasted more than a thousand days. If Iran decides to throw any
or all of its 23,000 armored fighting vehicles, along with any
or all of its nearly million-strong army, into the Iraq fray,
the situation in the Middle East could become unspeakably dire.
3. The Syrian Connection
In February of 2005, Iran and Syria
agreed upon a mutual protection pact to combat "challenges
and threats" in the region. This was a specific reaction
to the American invasion of Iraq, and a reaction to America's
condemnation of Syria after the death of Lebanese Prime Minister
Rafik Hariri, which was widely seen as an assassination ordered
from Damascus. An attack on Iran would trigger this mutual defense
pact, and could conceivably bring Syria into direct conflict with
Like Iran, Syria's military is nothing
to scoff at. Virtually every credible analysis has Syria standing
as the strongest military force in the Middle East after Israel.
Damascus has been intent for years upon establishing significant
military strength to serve as a counterweight to Israel's overwhelming
capabilities. As of 2002, Syria had some 215,000 soldiers under
arms, 4,700 tanks, and a massive artillery capability. The Syrian
Air Force is comprised of ten to eleven fighter/attack squadrons
and sixteen fighter squadrons, totaling somewhere near 650 aircraft.
Syria also possesses one of the largest
arsenals of ballistic missiles in the region, comprised primarily
of SCUD-derived systems. Iran, North Korea and China have been
willing providers of state-of-the-art technologies. Compounding
this is the well-based suspicion that Syria has perhaps the most
advanced chemical weapons capability in the Persian Gulf.
4. China and the US Economy
While the ominous possibilities of
heightened Iraqi chaos, missiles in the Gulf, and Syrian involvement
loom large if the US attacks Iran, all pale in comparison to the
involvement of China in any US/Iran engagement.
China's economy is exploding, hampered
only by their great thirst for petroleum and natural gas to fuel
their industry. In the last several months, China has inked deals
with Iran for $70 billion dollars worth of Iranian oil and natural
gas. China will purchase 250 million tons of liquefied natural
gas from Iran over the next 30 years, will develop the massive
Yadavaran oil field in Iran, and will receive 150,000 barrels
of oil per day from that field. China is seeking the construction
of a pipeline from Iran to the Caspian Sea, where it would link
with another planned pipeline running from Kazakhstan to China.
Any US attack on Iran could be perceived
by China as a direct threat to its economic health. Further, any
fighting in the Persian Gulf would imperil the tankers running
China's liquefied natural gas through the Strait of Hormuz. Should
China decide to retaliate against the US to defend its oil and
natural gas deal with Iran, the US would be faced with a significant
threat. This threat exists not merely on a military level, though
China could force a confrontation in the Pacific by way of Taiwan.
More significantly, China holds a large portion of the American
economy in the palm of its hand.
Paul Craig Roberts, writing for The
American Conservative, said in July of 2005 that "As a result
of many years of persistent trade surpluses with the United States,
the Japanese government holds dollar reserves of approximately
$1 trillion. China's accumulation of dollars is approximately
$600 billion. South Korea holds about $200 billion. These sums
give these countries enormous leverage over the United States.
By dumping some portion of their reserves, these countries could
put the dollar under intense pressure and send U.S. interest rates
skyrocketing. Washington would really have to anger Japan and
Korea to provoke such action, but in a showdown with China - over
Taiwan, for example - China holds the cards. China and Japan,
and the world at large, have more dollar reserves than they require.
They would have no problem teaching a hegemonic superpower a lesson
if the need arose."
"The hardest blow on Americans,"
concluded Roberts, "will fall when China does revalue its
currency. When China's currency ceases to be undervalued, American
shoppers in Wal-Mart, where 70 percent of the goods on the shelves
are made in China, will think they are in Neiman Marcus. Price
increases will cause a dramatic reduction in American real incomes.
If this coincides with rising interest rates and a setback in
the housing market, American consumers will experience the hardest
times since the Great Depression."
In short, China has the American economy
by the throat. Should they decide to squeeze, we will all feel
it. China's strong hand in this even extends to the diplomatic
realm; China is a permanent member of the United Nations Security
Council, and could veto any actions against Iran proposed by the
5. American Preparedness
American citizens have for decades
taken it as a given that our military can overwhelm and overcome
any foe on the battlefield. The rapid victory during the first
Gulf War cemented this perception. The last three years of the
Iraq occupation, however, have sapped this confidence. Worse,
the occupation has done great damage to the strength of the American
military, justifying the decrease in confidence. Thanks to repeated
deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, recruiting is at an all-time
low. Soldiers with vital training and know-how are refusing to
re-enlist. Across the board, the American military is stretched
to the breaking point.
Two vaunted economists - one a Nobel
Prize winner and the other a nationally renowned budget expert
- have analyzed the data at hand and put a price tag on the Iraq
occupation. According to Linda Bilmes of Harvard and Nobel Laureate
Joseph E. Stiglitz of Columbia University, the final cost of the
Iraq occupation will run between $1 trillion and $2 trillion,
surpassing by orders of magnitude the estimates put forth by the
Bush administration. If an engagement with Iran envelops our forces
in Iraq, and comes to involve Syria, our economy will likely shatter
under the strain of fighting so many countries simultaneously.
Add to this the economic threat posed by China, and the economic
threat implicit in any substantial disruption of the distribution
of Mideast petroleum to the globe.
If Iran and Syria - with their significant
armaments, missile technologies and suspected chemical weapons
capabilities - decide to engage with the relatively undersized
US force in Iraq, our troops there will be fish in a barrel. Iran's
position over the Gulf would make resupply by ship and air support
from carriers a dangerous affair. In the worst-case scenario,
the newly-minted American order of battle requiring the use of
nuclear weapons to rescue a surrounded and imperiled force could
come into play, hurling the entire planet into military and diplomatic
Conclusion: Is Any of This Possible?
The question must be put as directly
as possible: what manner of maniac would undertake a path so fraught
with peril and potential economic catastrophe? It is difficult
to imagine a justification for any action that could envelop the
United States in a military and economic conflict with Iraq, Iran,
Syria and China simultaneously.
Iran is suspected by many nations
of working towards the development of nuclear weapons, but even
this justification has been tossed into a cocked hat. Recently,
Russian president Vladimir Putin bluntly stated that Iran is not
developing its nuclear capability for any reasons beyond peaceful
energy creation, and pledged to continue assisting Iran in this
endeavor. Therefore, any attack upon Iran's nuclear facilities
will bring Russia into the mess. Iran also stands accused of aiding
terrorism across the globe. The dangers implicit in any attack
upon that nation, however, seem to significantly offset whatever
gains could be made in the so-called "War on Terror."
Unfortunately, all the dangers in
the world are no match for the self-assurance of a bubble-encased
zealot. What manner of maniac would undertake such a dangerous
course? Look no further than 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
George W. Bush and his administration
have consistently undertaken incredibly dangerous courses of action
in order to garner political power on the home front. Recall the
multiple terror threats lobbed out by the administration whenever
damaging political news appeared in the media. More significantly,
recall Iraq. Karl Rove, Bush's most senior advisor, notoriously
told Republicans on the ballot during the 2002 midterms to "run
on the war." The invasion of Iraq provided marvelous political
cover for the GOP not only during those midterms, but during the
2004 Presidential election.
What kind of political cover would
be gained from an attack on Iran, and from the diversion of attention
to that attack? The answer lies in one now-familiar name: Jack
Abramoff. The Abramoff scandal threatens to subsume all the hard-fought
GOP gains in Congress, and the 2006 midterms are less than a year
Is any of this a probability? Logic
says no, but logic seldom plays any part in modern American politics.
All arguments that the Bush administration would be insane to
attack Iran and risk a global conflagration for the sake of political
cover run into one unavoidable truth.
They did it once already in Iraq.
William Rivers Pitt is a New York
Times and internationally bestselling author of two books: War
on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know and The Greatest
Sedition Is Silence.