The New Plan for Iraq: War With Iran?


June 22, 2007

By Joseph E. Fallon

Chronicles,
May 2007

When President Bush announced, in
a televised speech, that he was planning to deploy
21,500 additional troops to Iraq, he added an ominous
aside:


Succeeding in Iraq also requires defending its
territorial integrity and stabilizing the region in the
face of extremist challenges. This begins with
addressing Iran and Syria. These two regimes are
allowing terrorists and insurgents to use their
territory to move in and out of Iraq. Iran is providing
material support for attacks on American troops. We will
disrupt the attacks on our forces. We`ll interrupt the
flow of support from Iran and Syria. And we will seek
out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry
and training to our enemies in Iraq.

In light of the provocative
actions the Bush administration has taken over the past
year, these words cannot easily be dismissed as mere
saber-rattling.

In March 2006, the State
Department created an Office of Iranian Affairs, which,
along with the Pentagon`s new Iranian Directorate, is
tasked with aggressively promoting regime change in
Iran. Among those advising the Iranian Directorate are
three former associates of the Pentagon`s defunct Office
of Special Plans—the same group that promoted the Iraq
war on the basis of false or misleading information:
Abram N. Shulsky, the OSP`s former director; John
Trigilio, a Defense Intelligence Agency analyst; and
Ladan Archin, an Iran specialist.

In the April 17, 2006, issue of
the New Yorker, in an article entitled "The
Iran Plans: Would President Bush go to war to stop
Tehran from getting the bomb?
"
Seymour Hersh
wrote that U.S. troops are already in Iran and are
"in position to mark the critical targets with laser
beams, to insure bombing accuracy and to minimize
civilian casualties."
His source in the Pentagon
also claimed that we had already begun "working with
minority groups in Iran . . . to `encourage ethnic
tensions` and undermine the regime."

Plans continued apace through the
end of last year. On September 30, 2006, the Iran
Freedom Support Act, which provides financing for
activities that promote regime change in Iran, was
signed into law. Then, in late 2006, President Bush
changed security policy in Iraq from a "catch and
release"
program (whereby U.S. forces would secretly
capture Iranian "agents" in the country and
detain them for a few days) to ordering that Iranian
"agents"
in Iraq be captured and held indefinitely,
or killed.

In an effort to disrupt Iran`s
economy, on January 9 of this year, the Bush
administration imposed sanctions on Bank Sepah, Iran`s
fifth-largest state-owned financial institution,

alleging
it "is the financial linchpin of Iran`s
missile procurement network and has actively assisted
Iran`s pursuit of missiles capable of carrying weapons
of mass destruction."
Two days later, on January 11,
U.S. troops violated international law protecting the
immunity of diplomatic compounds, by storming Iran`s
consulate in Arbil in Iraqi Kurdistan and detaining five
of its staff while confiscating computers and official
documents.

In addition, significant military
sea and air operations are now under way. To Iran`s
northwest, at the Incirlik Air Base in Turkey, the
Pentagon has deployed F-16s that can deliver B61-11
nuclear bunker busters, which are theoretically capable
of destroying Iran`s underground nuclear facilities. To
Iran`s south, Patriot Air and Missile Defense Systems
are now in place in Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia,
the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain (where the U.S.
Fifth Fleet, the naval arm of U.S. Central Command, is
headquartered). The USS Eisenhower Strike Group is in
the Persian Gulf, comprising the nuclear aircraft
carrier Dwight D. Eisenhower, its Carrier Air Wing 7,
Destroyer Squadron 28, the guided-missile cruiser USS
Anzio, the guided-missile destroyers USS Ramage and USS
Mason, and the attack submarine USS Newport News.

They are now being joined by the
USS Stennis Carrier Strike Group, which consists of the
nuclear aircraft carrier John C. Stennis, its Carrier
Air Wing 9, Destroyer Squadron 21, the guided-missile
cruiser USS Antietam, and the guided-missile destroyers
USS O`Kane, USS Preble, and USS Paul Hamilton. The
combined Carrier Air Wings of the two carrier strike
groups allow air operations over a continuous 24-hour
cycle. According to Flynt Leverett, former senior
official in the CIA and the National Security Council,
stationing two carrier strike groups in the Persian Gulf
"provide[s] the necessary numbers and variety of
tactical aircraft"
for an attack against Iran.

In addition, the USS Bataan
Expeditionary Strike Group, which consists of seven
ships and includes helicopters and Harrier fighter jets,
has been deployed to the Persian Gulf. A fourth flotilla
of eight ships, the USS Boxer Expeditionary Strike
Group, is nearby, in the Indian Ocean. Currently at sea
and available for deployment to the Persian Gulf are USS
Nimitz and three additional carrier strike groups: USS
Ronald Reagan, USS Harry S. Truman, and USS Theodore
Roosevelt.

Coordinating this military
activity is the U.S. Central Command (USCENTCOM), one of
the Pentagon`s five geographically demarcated unified
commands. Spanning 3,600 miles east-west and 4,600 miles
north-south, its Area of Responsibility is larger than
the continental United States. Of particular note,
therefore, is President Bush`s decision to pass over
highly qualified U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps Combat
Arms officers and appoint Adm. William J. Fallon to head
USCENTCOM. Over its 24-year history, USCENTCOM has
always been commanded by a general from either the Army
or the Marine Corps—never an admiral. That is because
USCENTCOM is a land-warfare command responsible for the
land wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. At least initially,
Admiral Fallon will likely be viewed by the staff as an
outsider, and combat-arms officers will be wary of a
Navy aviator leading Army operations. However, it is
possible that Admiral Fallon was appointed not to lead
land operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, for which he
has limited experience, but to command the assembled
naval forces in and around the Persian Gulf in a joint
sea and air attack on Iran—an operation for which he is
superbly qualified. Admiral Fallon gained extensive
command experience in such operations in the Gulf War
and Kosovo, and he is intimately familiar with the
Persian Gulf region. As his

official biography
states, "He has served as
Deputy Director for Operations, Joint Task Force,
Southwest Asia in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia."

With Admiral Fallon at the head of
USCENTCOM and U.S. naval strike forces in the Persian
Gulf, the Bush administration is in position to launch a
massive air attack on Iran. The very magnitude of the
likely area of attack ensures that it would not be a
surgical strike. As Time reported in its

September 17, 2006,
issue,

A
Pentagon official says that among the known sites there
are 1,500 different "aim points," which means the
campaign could well require the involvement of almost
every type of aircraft in the U.S. arsenal: Stealth
bombers and fighters, B-1s and B-2s, as well as F-15s
and F-16s operating from land and F-18s from aircraft
carriers.

Given that Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice has refused to promise that the White
House would consult Congress before attacking Iran, if
there is to be an attack, the Bush administration may
seek to provoke a Gulf of Tonkin incident. It could then
claim that Iran fired the first shot, in order to
justify launching a "retaliatory" attack. The
immediate aim would be to force the
Democratic-controlled Congress to provide all necessary
funding for a war to destroy Iran`s nuclear program and
neutralize her military capabilities. In so doing, the
Bush administration would hope that ensuing political
instability would allow ethnic minorities (Arabs,
Azeris, Baluchis, Kurds, and Turkmen) to dismember the
state or opposition parties to overthrow the
government—in other words, regime change.

Judging by U.S. air campaigns in
North Vietnam and Yugoslavia—and, more recently, by
Israel`s attack on Lebanon—such an attack would result
in significant civilian casualties, which could, in
turn, unify Iranians in an outpouring of patriotic
support for their government. It would be comparable to
what occurred in this country following September 11.
The Iranian opposition, ethnic secessionists, and
political dissidents would be discredited as fifth
columnists. And the Muslim world, from Morocco to
Malaysia, would be inflamed against the United States.

What, then, is the purpose of
increasing troop levels in Iraq by 21,500, if the
President plans to attack Iran? The "Surge" is a
political, not a military, action, designed to justify
previous policy, show determination to remain in Iraq,
and circumvent the recommendations of the bipartisan
Iraq Study Group.

The overall failure in the
strategy of the Bush administration, of which the
"Surge"
is but one example, is in its refusal to
accept the concept of Fourth Generation Warfare—war
between a state and a nonstate actor. The Bush strategy
denies that insurgencies arise from, and are sustained
by, local populations. Instead, the administration is
convinced that an insurgency is dependent upon some
other state. In the case of the Iraqi insurgency, that
state is Iran. The Bush administration may believe that,
by neutralizing Iran`s military capabilities, it can
defeat the Iraqi insurgents.

The assumption that Iran is
sponsoring the insurgency in Iraq is false. First, the
insurgents are Sunnis who seek to reestablish the
political hegemony of the Sunni minority. Iran is Shiite
and supports the right of the Shiite majority that we
brought to power in Iraq. Iran is not going to arm
Sunnis to suppress Shiites. Second, if Iran were arming
Shiites to attack U.S. troops, they would be attacking
U.S. troops. Instead, the Shiite militias are killing
Sunnis. With the Shiites now in power in Iraq, the only
way to foment a Shiite insurgency would be if we
attacked Iran. Such an attack would be viewed by Iraqi
Shiites as an assault on Shia Islam.

Even without a Shiite insurgency,
the "Surge" plan has serious flaws. To begin
with, an increase in troops to over 160,000—bringing us
back to levels we have had in Iraq before—is no surge.
Besides, if "victory" was beyond our reach with
250,000 troops on the ground (the original invasion
force), it is not likely to be achieved with
fewer—particularly if the additional troops are not
being provided additional armored vehicles.

The primary focus of the
"Surge"
is to pacify Baghdad. However, in the past,
when more troops were deployed to that city, violence
only increased. The "Surge" doubles the number of
U.S. troops for security operations in Baghdad. That
brings the number of military personnel up to 15,000 for
an operation that, according to the force ratios
established by the U.S. Army Manual for
Counterinsurgency, requires 120,000. According to the
Bush strategy, the difference will be made up by Iraqi
troops—Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds. Yet Kurdish soldiers
are refusing to be deployed to Baghdad, and, if Iran is
attacked, Iraqi Shiite soldiers may well turn on U.S.
troops.

Currently, U.S. troops rely on a
supply line from Kuwait for virtually everything—food,
fuel, ammo, and medicine. If Iran is attacked, that
supply line will be cut—by a general Shiite uprising,
armed Shiite militias, Iran`s Revolutionary Guard, or
all of the above. U.S. outposts would be overrun, and
Baghdad, encircled, rendering a mass retreat (à la
Saigon, 1975) impossible. At that point, the Bush
administration will have run out of options. They would
be unable to resupply the beleaguered troops or bring in
additional troops and armor to end the siege quickly.
Nor could they bomb their way to victory without killing
U.S. troops along with the insurgents and civilians.
Instead of Saigon, Baghdad would resemble Dien Bien Phu,
1954.


Joseph
E. Fallon writes from Rye, New York.


This article first appeared in the



May 2007 issue


issue of

Chronicles: A
Magazine of American Culture.