Thoughts on Hersh’s Iran article

Seymour Hersh will be having a very interesting story in the New Yorker this week. Steve Gilliard has kindly posted several long excerpts that I want to grab and analyse a little bit more.

The officials say that President Bush is determined to deny the Iranian regime the opportunity to begin a pilot program, planned for this spring, to enrich uranium.

This is a pushback from Hersh’s earlier reporting that strikes on Iran were set for sometime in March of 2006. The pilot programs would produce enough enriched uranium to train the Iranians how to do their job properly, but not enough uranium to produce a credible deterrant. There is some value here, but the cheaper and much more reliable way of blocking the entire nuclear fuel cycle would be to pay the Russians to provide a guaranteed supply of uranium enriched to civilian specifications and then do a gram by gram input-output accounting of that material into the Iranian civilian nuclear program.

One former defense official, who still deals with sensitive issues for the Bush Administration, told me that the military planning was premised on a belief that “a sustained bombing campaign in Iran will humiliate the religious leadership and lead the public to rise up and overthrow the government.” He added, “I was shocked when I heard it, and asked myself, ‘What are they smoking?’ ”

Assuing that a bombing campaign does occur — I am very curious as to what historical parrallel the know-nothing fantastists will abuse as the historical tendency has been a short bombing campaign creates significant rally around the flag effects in pretty much any population. Breaking the morale of the enemy through air power has been a US Air Force and previously the US Army Air Corps obsession since at least the time the first translations of Douhat were provided to Dayton. It has yet to happen. Air power is very useful for destroying things and a little less useful for surveying things, but it will not seperate a regime from its population. Ask the Germans, Koreans, Vietnamese, Serbs, and Iraqis for their experience.

One of the military’s initial option plans, as presented to the White House by the Pentagon this winter, calls for the use of a bunker-buster tactical nuclear weapon, such as the B61-11, against underground nuclear sites. One target is Iran’s main centrifuge plant, at Natanz, nearly two hundred miles south of Tehran. Natanz, which is no longer under I.A.E.A. safeguards, reportedly has underground floor space to hold fifty thousand centrifuges, and laboratories and workspaces buried approximately seventy-five feet beneath the surface. That number of centrifuges could provide enough enriched uranium for about twenty nuclear warheads a year.

There are some cultures where it is extraordinarily difficult and impolite or career killing to say “NO, this is really, truly, an amazingly dumb idea” to a project in general. Instead the polite way of saying the above is to find a ridiculous means of implementing the stupid proposal in the hope that the proposer looks at the solution, and realizes that he asked an amazingly dumb question. The Pentagon is one of those cultures. The first use of nuclear weapons falls under the category, I hope, of a polite way of saying “This is fucking crazy” instead of directly saying no.

I personally am not putting a whole lot of credence into any attack Iran columns or claims that have a start date before September, 2006 for three reasons. The first is a logistical/troop movement reason. The second is another practical reason, and the final one is a political reason.

The current rotation of US forces into Iraq has pretty much completed its insertion. What is in Iraq for the US Army today is what will be in Iraq until September-October when the next round of rotations start again. The US has used the temporary surges in offensive ground combat formations due to hand-overs as a means of conducting major offensive operations in Iraq for the past three hand-offs. The next major rotation is scheduled to start in September, so the natural bumping up of the ground combat component will be a hedge against Iranian counter-reactions. [The Marines and the US Air Force are on shorter schedules, so I am not sure when the next big USMC overlap is]

Secondly, I concur with Steve Gilliard that if the US takes overt military actions against Iran, it is an easy way to wave goodbye to any semblence of a functioning unitary state in Iraq, especially if there is still no central government in Baghdad that can claim any legitimacy. The US supply lines into Iraq are in decent shape only because the Mahdi Army/Badr Brigades — oops, I meant the brave, secular, loyal only to the concept of a united Iraq, Iraqi Army — have decided that the current system of taking US money and not shooting at US convoys while buddying up to Iran is a pretty good situation.

Finally, the most cycnical, but probably the most relevant reason is a political reason. An early attack will not sustain the rally around the flag effect that right now looks to be about the only way that the GOP does not get creamed in November. Prof. Pollkatz shows that the rally around the flag effect of 9/11, start of the Iraq war, capturing Hussein, and the January elections have successively gotten smaller and shorter each time. An attack next month should not perform any differently than this current trend.

( my manipulations)

My colleague colleague, Cernig disagrees with this analysis and makes a strong argument as to what his disagreement implies — hint WWIII. However, I don’t think the short term timing makes any sense. I’ll revise and extend this analysis once I get more information.

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