Monday, July 26, 2010

The Failed Presidency of Barack Obama, pt 2

The breaking wikileaks scandal has the possibility of becoming a true Katrina moment for Barack Obama, depending on how things shake out.

But as the early-viewing New York Times reports, WikiLeaks presents a new depth of detail about how the U.S. military has seen, for six years, the depths of ISI facilitation of the Afghan insurgency. For instance: a three-star Pakistani general active during the 80s-era U.S.-Pakistani-Saudi sponsorship of the anti-Soviet insurgency, Hamid Gul, allegedly met with insurgent leaders in South Waziristan in January 2009 to plot vengeance for the drone-inflicted death of an al-Qaeda operative. (Gul called it “absolute nonsense” to the Times reporters.)
Other reports, stretching back to 2004, offer chilling, granular detail about the Taliban’s return to potency after the U.S. and Afghan militias routed the religious-based movement in 2001. Some of them, as the Times notes, cast serious doubt on official U.S. and NATO accounts of how insurgents prosecute the war. Apparently, the insurgents have used “heat-seeking missiles against allied aircraft,” eerily reminiscent of the famous Stinger missiles that the U.S., Saudi Arabia and Pakistan provided to the mujahideen to down Soviet helicopters. One such missile downed a Chinook over Helmand in May 2007.

Typically, NATO accounts of copter downings are vague — and I’ve never seen one that cited the Taliban’s use of a guided missile. This clearly isn’t just Koran, Kalashnikov and laptop anymore. And someone is selling the insurgents these missiles, after all. That someone just might be slated to receive $7.5 billion of U.S. aid over the next five years.

If it comes out that the Obama administration has been a.) actively covering up Pakistani involvement or, b.) So incompetent as to have overlooked obvious Pakistani involvement, then these documents could have a real impact on the already weakened Obama administration.

Obama's post presidency is fast approaching, and the most important thing for him to do with that time is to plan to fail in Afghanistan. 

Planning to Fail in Afghanistan, pt 11: The "Fail" meme goes viral

Glad to see the NYT is now accurately reporting about our real enemy in Afghanistan - Pakistan:

Americans fighting the war in Afghanistan have long harbored strong suspicions that Pakistan’s military spy service has guided the Afghan insurgency with a hidden hand, even as Pakistan receives more than $1 billion a year from Washington for its help combating the militants, according to a trove of secret military field reports to be made public Sunday.
The documents, to be made available by an organization called WikiLeaks, suggest that Pakistan, an ostensible ally of the United States, allows representatives of its spy service to meet directly with the Taliban in secret strategy sessions to organize networks of militant groups that fight against American soldiers in Afghanistan, and even hatch plots to assassinate Afghan leaders.
Taken together, the reports indicate that American soldiers on the ground are inundated with accounts of a network of Pakistani assets and collaborators that runs from the Pakistani tribal belt along the Afghan border, through southern Afghanistan, and all the way to the capital, Kabul.
Much of the information — raw intelligence and threat assessments gathered from the field in Afghanistan— cannot be verified and likely comes from sources aligned with Afghan intelligence, which considers Pakistan an enemy, and paid informants. Some describe plots for attacks that do not appear to have taken place.
But many of the reports rely on sources that the military rated as reliable.
While current and former American officials interviewed could not corroborate individual reports, they said that the portrait of the spy agency’s collaboration with the Afghan insurgency was broadly consistent with other classified intelligence.
Some of the reports describe Pakistani intelligence working alongside Al Qaeda to plan attacks. Experts cautioned that although Pakistan’s militant groups and Al Qaeda work together, directly linking the Pakistani spy agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, with Al Qaeda is difficult.
The records also contain firsthand accounts of American anger at Pakistan’s unwillingness to confront insurgents who launched attacks near Pakistani border posts, moved openly by the truckload across the frontier, and retreated to Pakistani territory for safety.
The behind-the-scenes frustrations of soldiers on the ground and glimpses of what appear to be Pakistani skullduggery contrast sharply with the frequently rosy public pronouncements of Pakistan as an ally by American officials, looking to sustain a drone campaign over parts of Pakistani territory to strike at Qaeda havens. Administration officials also want to keep nuclear-armed Pakistan on their side to safeguard NATO supplies flowing on routes that cross Pakistan to Afghanistan.
Read the whole thing. 

Pakistan is not our friend. Pakistan is a rouge nation - the enemy of the both the United States and of Globalization's Rising Core-  and they will have to be dealt with, sooner or later. When something goes thump in the night - see the recent almost attack in Time Square - we will have to face the fact that Pakistan is not merely home to a loose nit collection of non-state actors but is actually actively supporting terrorists that kill American troops and undermine our foreign policy goals in South Asia and around the world.

The U.S. has not dealt with a situation like Pakistan since the end of the Cold War. Because not since the Soviet Union collapsed have we been forced to deal with a nuclear armed, heavily militarized nation that was actively supporting notoriously anti-America elements around the world. Since 1989 the U.S. has faced small powers - Iraq, Panama, Serbia - who did not posses nuclear arms. Meanwhile,  we dreamed of hypothetical wars with potential super powers, China, Japan, a resurgent Russia, while we engaged a series of non-state actors during peace building and counter insurgency operations. But Pakistan is a different story. Handling Pakistan might wind up looking a lot like handling the Soviet Union - we'll have to go back to containment (not of "Islamism", etc, but of Pakistan) by building a security alliance with like minded - or at least like interested - nations such as India and Iran. Over time, we'll have to hope that Pakistan's internal contradictions will rip it apart without allowing their nukes to fall into the wrong hands.

The good news is that Pakistan is a poor nation with little industry. Unlike the Soviet Union, Pakistan is not capable of global or even regional "Pakistani block" nor are they capable of building up a military with global reach. What they are capable of is ruining our plans for Afghanistan and triggering a regional war with India. And that is why we must plan to fail in Afghanistan while building a strong strategic relationship with India.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

5GW: What Kind of Day Has It Been?

Note: I've set this post to update automatically at ~ 8:00 am EST on July 20th, 2010, but I'm writing it over the weekend. Because I'll be traveling on business on the 20th, I won't know what other bloggers - my coauthors - are posting about the Handbook of 5GW, but I will say that the following blogs are certain to have some interesting posts at some point on July 20th about our book:




Coming Anarchy


Aaron Sorkin - easily one of the top two or three living screenwriters and a writer that has had a huge impact on my life - ended the first season of each of his three series; Sports Night, the West Wing and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, with an episode entitled "What Kind of Day Has It Been?" In each case the season finale tied up a number of story arcs and set up new story arcs for the next season.

And so today we face a similar event in the blogosphere with the release of the Handbook of 5GW, from Nimble Books, edited by Dan Abbott. The Handbook of 5GW is supposed to be, in my opinion, the 'end of the beginning' of the debate about 5GW, the same why the season finale of the first season of a T.V. series is the end of one story arc and beginning of another. Having watched this project evolve - thanks in no small part to the editorial work of Dr. Abbott - I really think that we have the beginning of a good conversation about less kinetic and more dispersed warfare.

Some Thoughts on My Chapter, 1 Year Later

My contribution to the Handbook of 5GW was a chapter entitled The War for Robert Taylor is about a 5GW counter insurgency operation that was conducted by the city of Chicago against the Black Kings in a public housing project in Chicago. The COIN operation I describe destroyed the insurgency by radically altering the human terrain of the area. This approach to COIN differs from 4GW ideas about COIN, such as David Killcullen's concept of the Accidental Guerrilla because, rather than trying to understand and leverage the primary loyalties of the population - which is what both the Anbar Awakening and the current tribal engagement strategies in Afghanistan do - Chicago's COIN operation set out to destroy and reorient the population's primary loyalties, away from the close to home "tight network" family-community (hood) dynamic to a "loose network" individual-state dynamic. Perhaps counter-intuitively in our anti-government, pro-entrepreneurial society, the government's COIN operation in Chicago was specially designed to destroy private sector relationships (although black market) and replace them with a dependency upon the state. This was done because state dependency was considered the lesser evil when considered against its black market alternative.

When considering my contribution to the 5GW discussion, we should consider the ratio of horizontal to vertical relationships in a human terrain area (be it a nation-state, sub culture, community, etc). In this context horizontal relationships describe "organic" human-to-human relations. This means blood relatives, spouses, extended family, friends, coworkers, community, etc. On the other hand, vertical relationships describe a relationship between the individual and the Leviathan - the state in most cases. In the case of Chicago the horizontal relationships had grown too strong - creating a classic insurgency controlled temporary autonomous zone within the inner city - and needed to be broken by a reassertion of the authority of the Leviathan. So what the city figured out was how to use a 5GW to break horizontal relationships and force individuals to turn to the vertical relationship offered by the state. This type of warfare may have wide ranging implication, from destroying narco-terrorists like the Black Kings to engaging in various social engineering projects. Indeed, the bulk of Lydon Johnson Great Society may have been 5GW operations that tried to destroy more informal, horizontal networks that were designed to help the poor and replace them with a vertical relationship with the state.


Read the book.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Eventual, Inevitable, Security Alliance in South/Central Asia and the M.E.

The Iranian-Indian-American Security alliance will someday be the most important in central Asia and the Middle East. The only question is whether it come about in the near future, or after a disastrous Israeli-Iranian war followed by a Pakistani attack on Iran, India and the U.S. Don't believe me? Read the news:

Iran’s deputy police chief accused Pakistan on Saturday of providing a haven for members of an armed rebel group that has claimed responsibility for the deadly twin suicide bombings last week in front of a mosque in the southeastern city of Zahedan.
Chief Ahmadreza Radan also said the authorities had detained 40 people who were seeking to create a disturbance in the city after the bombings, the semiofficial ILNA news agency reported.
The arrests appeared to be part of a crackdown in the Sunni-dominated province of Sistan-Baluchistan, where the rebel group, Jundollah, has been operating.
Without naming Pakistan specifically, he issued a tough warning to “neighbors on the eastern borders” of Iran.

So Iran is being attack by insurgents based in Pakistan? Hmmm. I wonder if any other countries have that problem?

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton worries all the time about the possibility that an attack against the US could emanate from Pakistan and has called on Islamabad to take further, specific actions against militant networks.
Without entering into the details, she seemed to indicate in a BBC interview that the US wanted Pakistan to do more to tackle the Haqqani network, a branch of the Afghan
Taliban which operates in Pakistan and is widely suspected of having close ties to Pakistan's intelligence agency, the ISI.
During the interview at the US embassy compound in Islamabad, Mrs Clinton also said the state department was looking into the possibility of listing the Haqqani network as a terrorist organisation.
The violent and feared network operates along the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan and is seen as the main threat to US and Nato troops in Afghanistan.
"We have designated a number of their leaders over the years as terrorists, and we're now looking at whether and how to describe the group and if it meets the legal criteria for naming it," she said.
Ok, let me get this straight; Iran is under attack, American troops are under attack in Afghanistan, the SECSTATE is worried that Pakistani based insurgents the ISI will attack America and yet....? We ramp up tensions with Iran? And this makes sense to people?

Lest we forget, India has also been attack by the world's second most dangerous rouge state (after the KFR):

NEW DELHI (AFP) – India has accused Pakistani intelligence services of overseeing the 2008 militant attacks on Mumbai, a report said Wednesday ahead of a major meeting between the rival nations.
Home Secretary G. K. Pillai told the Indian Express newspaper that the level of involvement of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) had become clear through recent questioning of David Headley, a suspect under arrest in the United States.

If a political scientist from Mars landed in South Asia and tried to study the situation he or she could be forgiven for quickly concluding that Pakistan was clearly a pariah state and that Iran, India and America must have an alliance to try to contain Pakistan. Of course he would be wrong, but he would not be illogical.  

Thursday, July 15, 2010

At What Point Does Joe Biden Become a Liability?

There appears to be a bit of daylight emerging between the Joe Biden-Nancy Pelosi wing of the Democratic Party and Barack Obama.

First, consider Michael Gerson's column from this morning's Washington Post:

But last week, Vice President Biden appeared at a fundraiser for one of the least responsible critics of the Afghanistan war, Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) -- among a handful of House members who voted to defund the war entirely. "I encourage you, old buddy, to speak out," said Biden. "You're independent. Don't let anybody take that out of you." Is it possible to imagine Biden saying the same thing of a Democrat who is a leading climate-science skeptic? Or a Democrat who dismisses Obama's health reform as socialism? 

And this isn't the first example of dissonance between Biden and the president when it comes to Afghanistan. Consider Biden's quote from The Promise:

At the conclusion of an interview in his West Wing office, Biden was adamant. "In July of 2011 you're going to see a whole lot of people moving out. Bet on it," Biden said as he wheeled to leave the room, late for lunch with the president. He turned at the door and said once more, "Bet. On. It."

Read Robert Naiman's piece.  There is a clear division emerging within the democratic party. Consider a much more serious senior democratic senator:

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Cali.), whose hawkish grounding has angered progressive in the past, likely facilitated that anger again, when she told "Fox News Sunday" that if General David Petraeus asked for more troops next summer, he should be granted them.
"I would say give it to him, absolutely," said the California Democrat. "Now, let's talk about the deadline. This is a transition point toward the beginning of a withdrawal or a drawdown as Petraeus said in his transcript before the Armed Services [Committee]. And I think he has flexibility realistically. Ten years is a long time to fight a war, particularly with what happened before the 10 years. And so we need to understand that [we have] to get the military trained, get the government online, secure and stabilize, and I think do away with the drugs to a great extent, because the drugs are now fueling the Taliban."

Between Feinstein's comments, Republican backing for continuing the war, Obama's appointment of General Petraeus, I'd say it's a good bet that the president is starting to rethink his "July 2011" draw down.

The good news for Barack Obama is that the "progressive" caucus in the House will only exist for a few more months, because after this November I expect we'll see Nancy Pelosi  - fresh off an electoral trouncing - crawl back under the rock from whence she came. Once the democrats lose the House, the heat is off and Obama will be free to command the war as Petraeus sees fit.

But there's a flip side to the good news. Once his midterm penance is finished Obama will have to return to the job of governing, and he'll have to do it with a vice president who is pretty clearly out of step with one of the key tenants of his foreign policy. From Biden's perspective, he'll know just what his boss actually thinks of him and everyone in town will know nothing Biden says carries any weight what-so-ever.

It seems that the best solution would be, after the mid terms, Biden and Obama should both to begin quietly hinting that the V.P. may be considering retirement in December of 2012. From there either elevate Hillary or go outside the box and appoint Petraeus.


And this afternoon I see an op ed in the WSJ that supports my "dump Biden" meme.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Planning to Fail Win in Afghanistan, pt 10: 10 Days in, 10 Years Late


When I heard about the changing of the guard in Afghanistan, I wrote that one metric that would be important in determining whether or not the situation could be turned around would be how General Petraeus handled Pakistani meddling in Afghan affairs:

Let's see, however, how Petraeus deals with Pakistan. The good general has a reputation of being a amiable guy and with a great sense for PR - I found him to be both a great public speaker and legitimately funny guy when I saw him speak last year - but he's also a stone cold soldier, and his surge in Iraq included both "soft" elements of population security and hard core kinetics, like tracking down and killing AQI and Iranian special groups operating inside Iraq. So it'll be interesting to see how Petraeus might handle Pakistani or Iranian assets he catches in country - I'd not want to cross the border if I were a soldier in either of those countries armies right now, BTW.

Now, about 10 days after taking command, a picture seems to be emerging. Petraeus is mad as hell and he's not going to take it anymore:

General Petraeus introduced the idea of blacklisting the group, known as the Haqqani network, late last week in discussions with President Obama’s senior advisers on Pakistan and Afghanistan, according to several administration officials, who said it was being seriously considered.
Such a move could risk antagonizing Pakistan, a critical partner in the war effort, but one that is closely tied to the Haqqani network. It could also frustrate the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, who is pressing to reconcile with all the insurgent groups as a way to end the nine-year-old war and consolidate his own grip on power.

A Strategic Asset No More 

General Kayani apparently once referred to the Haqqani network as a "strategic asset"  and there is every indication that the ISI has an all-too-close relationship with Haqqani, so listing them as a terrorist organization, while somewhat symbolic, is still important when, in the years to come, we decide to start considering Pakistan a state-sponsor of terrorism - which they are.

Meanwhile, on the other side of that hundred miles of rocks and dirt that has been responsible for most of our problems for the last ten years, my nominee for the next permanent member of the U.N. security council is making some pretty serious allegations about the ISI:

India has accused Pakistani intelligence services of overseeing the 2008 militant attacks on Mumbai, a report said Wednesday ahead of a major meeting between the rival nations.
Home Secretary G. K. Pillai told the Indian Express newspaper that the level of involvement of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) had become clear through recent questioning of David Headley, a suspect under arrest in the United States.
"The real sense that has come out from Headley?s interrogation is that the ISI has had a much more significant role to play (than was earlier thought)," Pillai said.

Uh-Oh. Yeah, that whole Mumbai thing was sort, kind of an act of war, and I'm sure the U.S. has been trying to hold India back. Maybe no more. Hopefully this is all part of a broader strategy, with Petraeus traveling to Islamabad and playing good cop to India's bad cop and telling the Pakistanis that there is only so much America can do to hold the Indians back, so they better start dissolving their relationships with terrorists organizations, like the ISI.

On the ground in Afghanistan, Petraeus appears to be taking the advice offered in by numerous sources last year and standing up local security militias to augment the police and military:

KABUL, Afghanistan — After intensive discussions with NATO military commanders, the Afghan government on Wednesday approved a program to establish local defense forces around the country, with the potential to help remote areas thwart attacks by Taliban insurgents.
The NATO-backed program, which will be supervised by the Interior Ministry, will pay salaries to the members of these new forces, an inducement that could generate widespread recruitment, although Afghan aides have said they prefer to keep the program small.
A Fine Line Between Militias and Warlords 

 Johnson and Mason (2009) writing in military review last year were skeptical of the tribal militia idea (I referenced their work in Moral Warfare in Southwest Asia) and Malkasian and Meyerle (2009) point out that Afghanistan has a long history of warlordism whereas Iraq had almost no history of militias and warlords run a muck. It's worth considering that one of the QST's primary arguments when they were sweeping the country from 1994-96 was that the warlords and local militias (almost all old Mujihadeen commanders) were too corrupt and did not protect the people. Would these new militias be different? Will they be loyal to Kabul? Will they self finance with graft and drug dealing? Do we want them to be loyal to Kabul - given the corruption of Karzai and his band of merry men? Is this part of Bing West's "mushroom" (keep them in the dark and feed them shit) strategy WRT to Kabul?

I think all of these questions need to be answered if the ISAF is going to get in the business of supporting local militias. Ironically, critic of president Bush's Afghan policy, such as Ahmed Rashid, often suggest that is was the reliance on former Northern Alliance commanders - acting as warlords - that helped fuel the rise of the neo-Taliban throughout 2002-06.

I Am a Published Author!

The Handbook of 5GW has arrived! Read a preview of my chapter The War for Robert Taylor, here.

The Coming Divsion of Labor: Israeli Levithan/Russian Sys Admin


Russia appears to be tilting towards an "all clear" on the coming Israel-Arab strike on Iran:

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Monday Iran was gaining the ability to build a nuclear bomb, remarks welcomed in Washington as a sign of growing international unity behind a tough line toward Tehran.
Medvedev's comments were the strongest criticism of Iran's nuclear program to emerge from the Kremlin under either Medvedev or his predecessor, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
A major goal of U.S. President Barack Obama's "reset" of relations with Moscow has been winning Russian backing for a tougher international line toward Iran.
"It is obvious that Iran is moving closer to possessing the potential which in principle could be used for the creation of nuclear weapons," Medvedev told a meeting of Russia's ambassadors in Moscow.
Russia's Strategic Interests

Interesting. If Medvedev asked me, not only should Russia (from their perspective - not an American perspective) support an Israeli strike, they should also adopt a policy of intelligence sharing with Israel (WRT Iran's nukes and air defenses) and even offer to use Russian intelligence assets or special forces as needed to assist Israel. This is because a nuclear Iran is a bigger threat to Russia than to anyone else:

To top it all off, Iran, which already posses a missile that can hit Russia, had crowds in the street today shouting "Down with Russia!"

The day will come in the not-too-distant future, when Russia wants to throw its weight around in the Caucuses or central Asia and all of these answered prayers are going to haunt them. Until then, I hope the Poles and Czechs do their part to reduce global warming, I hope the protesters keep going until A-Jad either steps down or "gets Ceascued" and I hope Putin keeps getting everything he wants. 

Besides the obvious benefits of setting the Iranian program back a few years, I continue to suspect that Russian companies will be in a the cat-bird-seat, so-to-speak, when it comes to rebuilding the destroyed infrastructure in Iran:

Russia, Turkey and Pakistan want nothing more than an Iranian client state, stripped of all international connectivity and forced to conduct business through Russian/Turkish and Pakistani smugglers. These guys will be popping popcorn and laughing with glee as Israel destroys Iran's nuclear capacity - I'd not rule out Turkish, Pakistani and Russian complicity in such an attack, by the way - because it ensures an even weaker Iranian position and greater levels of dependency upon its patrons.

A Road to Damascus Tehran Conversion?

So there you have it. The world is lining up to support either an Israeli or American strike on Iranian nuclear facilities. The question now is not about the strike, per se, but instead its about whether or not a solid long-term shift in regional politics will emerge in the Middle East, post strike. The Arab countries are scared and the Israelis are talking about resuming peace talks, setting the stage for a regional deal.

I remain opposed to an American strike on Iran, in theory, but I'm always most strongly in favor of playing the hand we've been dealt. If planning to bomb Iran is Obama's way to plan to fail in Afghanistan, then so be it. Let's do it right - get the Arab's and Israelis to bury to hatchet, once and for all, and we'll have more than made up for the cost, both monetary and human, of destroying Iranian nuclear facilities.

Given these developments, I have moved from "opposed" to "agnostic but skeptical" when it comes to either an Israeli or American strike on Iran - so long as it's part of a larger strategy to disengage from Afghanistan and cement a permanent Arab-Israeli peace in the Middle East. Given my dithers between American or Israeli jets delivering the goods, I order my preference:

#1. Joint Arab-Israeli operation - with Saudi jets flying cover for Israel.

Baring notorious Arab-Israeli cooperation, I shift to my preference to:

#2. A multi-day American air campaign designed to destroy Iran's nuclear facilities, Republican Guard and key nodes of civilian infrastructure, including power plants and communications grid. America can get things done that Israel can't, and if we're going to strike let's minimize their ability to make trouble in the region by doing whatever we can to cripple or even destroy the Iranian state.

#3. An Israeli strike. Ok, but less likely to be successful than an American strike.

#4. An American or Israeli preemptive nuclear strike. From a tactical perspective, it gets the job done even more effectively then option #2 and but, oh boy, we better really have out ducks in a row WRT regional strategy before we open that door.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Iran, Israel, the Gulf States and a New Big Bang: Considering Vertical and Horizontal Scenarios

"For by wise council, you shall make your war" -- Proverbs 24:6 


The term "the big  bang" was first used by Tom Barnett in his Pentagon's New Map piece in Esquire and was further explained in his book of the same name. A quick rundown: a "big bang" is vertical scenario - for example, the war in Iraq - which sets off a series of horizontal changes in political realities of a given region. In the original article, Barnett was arguing that invading Iraq was a way to lay a big bang on the calcified political institutions of the Sunni Arab world. Barnett's core argument is that the U.S. can have a positive impact on the world when we construct horizontal strategies to deal with vertical shocks (even if we create those vertical shock ourselves) and that Iraq could have been/maybe still is an opportunity for the U.S. to redefine our relationship with both key Middle Eastern states and the rising new core of globalization, including India and China.

Today a new "big bang" waits in the wings, this time to be led by the Middle East's regional Leviathan - Israel - and this later day big bang offers a chance for the United States, if we seize the opportunity, to redefine the politics of the Middle East for the next century.

The Coming Vertical Scenario in the Mid East: The Iranian-Israeli War

I've been pretty critical of a potential American/Israel - for all intents and purposes there is little difference in this case - strike on Iran.

But Joe Liberman rarely calls me for advice about foreign policy - too bad, because we'd agree on a lot (but not Iran) - and he currently has more influence than I do:

U.S. Senator Joseph Lieberman says there is a broad consensus in Congress that military force can be used if necessary to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.
Lieberman cites a recent set of sanctions passed by Congress against Iran as a potential deterrent. But he insists that the goal of keeping Iran from becoming a nuclear power will be accomplished "through diplomatic and economic sanctions if we possibly can, through military actions if we must."

Liberman's comments, in a vacuum, might be disregarded were it not for a growing international cacophony calling for Israel to DO SOMETHING!:

"I think it's a cost-benefit analysis," Mr. al-Otaiba said. "I think despite the large amount of trade we do with Iran, which is close to $12 billion … there will be consequences, there will be a backlash and there will be problems with people protesting and rioting and very unhappy that there is an outside force attacking a Muslim country; that is going to happen no matter what."
"If you are asking me, 'Am I willing to live with that versus living with a nuclear Iran?,' my answer is still the same: 'We cannot live with a nuclear Iran.' I am willing to absorb what takes place at the expense of the security of the U.A.E."
When a prominent Arab leader is publicly calling for a strike - implicitly endorsing an Israeli strike against a Muslim nation, well, that sound you hear is Israeli jets revving their engines. This news, taken along with news that the Saudis are willing to look the other way while Israel uses their airspace - maybe even their territory - well, that sound you hear are Saudi F-15s gearing up to cover Israel on their way in:

Saudi Arabia has conducted tests to stand down its air defenses to enable Israeli jets to make a bombing raid on Iran’s nuclear facilities, The Times can reveal.  
In the week that the UN Security Council imposed a new round of sanctions on Tehran, defense sources in the Gulf say that Riyadh has agreed to allow Israel to use a narrow corridor of its airspace in the north of the country to shorten the distance for a bombing run on Iran.
To ensure the Israeli bombers pass unmolested, Riyadh has carried out tests to make certain its own jets are not scrambled and missile defense systems not activated. Once the Israelis are through, the kingdom’s air defenses will return to full alert.

D-Day -1: Considering the Vertical Dimension

Before those jets take off, however, it's important to consider the long term implication of an Iranian-Israeli war. Of particular importance we should consider the chances that such a strike would be successful and what the costs of even a successful strike might be.

Fortunately, we don't have to engage in wild speculation when it comes to an Israeli strike on Iran, because the Center for Strategic and International Studies has published a fairly comprehensive study on the issue.

First, let's take a look at the route:

At the time this report was written the CSIS determined that all three possible routes - southern, central and northern carried with them substantial political risk. Recent developments have eliminated many political risks. For example, although Israel's recent raid on the Turkish flotilla has virtually ruled out the northern route, the Gulf States are now clearly on board and I firmly believe the Obama administration - and by extension Iraq - have or will soon green light the operation, so the southern skies are clear for a strike anytime the mood strikes the IDF. Interestingly, the CSIS report lists the southern route as also having the lowest operational risk, which only supports my belief that what we see publicly WRT Middle East politics is so much theater and all the interested parties decided to hit the Shiite Devil many years ago.

The report goes on to suggest that an air-to-ground strike would push the Israeli air force to its limits and would require the deployment of the bulk of Israel's air asset, about 90 fighters, including all of their most advanced F-16i and F-15is and all four of their KC-135 tankers. It's not hard to imagine that Israel would be reluctant to commit all of their air assets to this one strike, no matter how big of a threat they considered Iran.

On the other hand, the report suggests that Israel could use up to 30 Jericho III ballistic missiles which would do an equivalent amount of damage to Iran's nuclear program, setting it back perhaps several years.

When taken together; Israel's aircraft, ground based ballistic missiles and submarine based cruise missiles; combined with the Arab world seemingly announcing "clear skies" for an Israeli strike, all the pieces are in place for a vertical scenario. According the CSIS report, the best case scenario pushes Iran's nuclear program back several years.

D-Day +1: Considering Horizontal Dimensions

It's worth considering, however, that even the best case scenario acknowledges that Iran will be able to rebuild, probably will, and will do so outside the confines of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, from which they will certainly withdraw. So even if the vertical shock - the strike itself - works like a charm, the world will still have to gird itself for the eventual Shiite bomb, as well as fallout - literal and figurative - from the strike itself.

When it comes to literal fallout, CSIS report is pretty pessimistic about the radiation related deaths. From  page 90 of the report:

• Highest level of environmental damage is caused by a strike on the Reactor, Spent Fuel Storage and the Reprocessing Plants.
• Actinides and Fission products are highly radioactive elements resulting from the fission process in the Reactor. Iodine-131, Stontium-90, Cesium-137 and Plutonium-239, have all been identified as the most damaging to human health.
• Attacking the Bushehr Nuclear Reactor would release contamination in the form of radionuclides into the air.
• Most definitely Bahrain, Qatar and the UAE will be heavily affected by the radionuclides.
• Any strike on the Bushehr Nuclear Reactor will cause the immediate death of thousands of people living in or adjacent to the site, and thousands of subsequent cancer deaths or even up to hundreds of thousands depending on the population density along the contamination plume.
The above quotes and map help illustrate the difference between a vertical and horizontal scenario.Thousands of deaths. As the map I posted above demonstrates, prevailing winds could easily carry contaminates over hundreds or even thousands of square miles, including over the territory of gulf states currently cheer leading for the strike. So even a perfect strike is going to set off political turmoil throughout the region, including in Afghanistan, where the Iranians are likely to take the gloves off - so -to-speak- when it comes to arming and training insurgents to kill American troops. Make no mistake, the soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines on the ground in central Asia will pay a tremendous price to support Israel's grand strategy - a price so high as to virtually guarantee an American withdraw.

What Kind of Day Had it Been?

In a perfect world, Israel wouldn't be considering a strike on Iran. In a perfect world, or even one that makes a bit more sense then the one we live, the U.S. would have normalized with Iran shortly after 9/11 and leveraged that relationship to buttress out other regional goals, including stabilizing Afghanistan and undermining Saddam Hussein. In even a marginally more rational world, the U.S. would have sent representatives to Tehran - say Kissinger, Bush 41, James Baker and Bill Clinton - to make peace with Iran as we ramped up for the invasion of Iraq. In that world, Hussein might have taken the very generous exile offer that was on the table before him in 2003 and gone away quietly, lest he fall before the coming American/Iranian onslaught.

Unfortunately, we don't live in a perfect world. We live in a world with a government controlled by failed lawyers (successful lawyers can't afford a career in government) where few Americans know the differences between Shiites and Sunnis, Arabs and Persians or even Iraq and Iran. In this world, the control of U.S. domestic and foreign policy has always been at least marginally influenced by radical Christianists (not to be confused with actual Christians) and faux patriots who were always on the verge of slightly deranged policy choices detached from reality. In this world, we look for the least bad American policy choice and understand that formulating a sustainable "grand strategy" is beyond the ability of any American government that can get elected.

Given the reality and limitations we face, we must deal with situation at hand. It's likely that Israel will attack Iran and, for better or worse, the U.S. will get sucked into the melee. Stopping Israel at this point probably forces Obama to pay an untenable political price - domestically - and further add to his international reputation as a later day Hamlet - a man who has allowed the native hue of his resolution to be sicklied over by the pale cast of thought. By wasting so much time and diplomatic leverage pressing for sanctions on Iran Obama backed himself into this corner, but here we are, and now the time has come to deal with coming vertical shock by coming up with a horizontal scenario that not only makes best of an ugly situation, but actually set up both the United States and the world for positive developments.

D-Day+2: A Horizontal Scenario for 2010

If we accept that Israel will strike, and that she will strike with the implicit or explicit support of both the U.S. and the Arab world, then it is vital that the U.S., Israel, the Arab world, and the world at large get something out of the strike. Because no matter what Israel does Iran will get the bomb, but a post-strike Iran is going to be even more paranoid, less connected and less transparent than the Iran we deal with today, and they'll be nursing a serious national trauma in the form of thousands of casualties from the strike.  So we don't get a non-nuclear Iran out of the deal, but here is a list of things we ought to get:

#1. Rapprochement  between Israel and Saudi Arabia. This must be the sine qua non of American support for any military action. I would even support the U.S. moving a squadron of F-22s to Iraq and making it very clear that any Israeli or Saudi jet that overflies is being shot down unless we see these two countries bury their respective hatchets.  Because whatever differences Israel and Saudi Arabia claim to have, its become pretty clear that in the real world their respective national strategies rarely diverge and increasingly we're seeing a convergence - which is terrific - but we can no longer let two of our strongest allies pretend to hate each other strictly for domestic political reasons. So if Israel and Saudi Arabia agree to recognize one another and begin a diplomatic relationship, the U.S. should agree to underwrite whatever they're planning WRT to Iran.

And if you think peace between Arabs and Israelis is a lot to ask....

#2. Israel, Saudi Arabia and India get permanent seats on the U.N. Security Council. For too long, the U.N. Security Council has been a the group that won WWII, and sooner or later the UNSC will have to grow, and this is as good a time as any.  Each of the three countries I've selected is important in both their respective regions and in terms of the global economy. All three are also relatively stable in terms of both their governments and their borders, and all three have a serious interest in the stability of both the global economy and international security. In short, all three are perfect candidates for the first round of new admits to the UNSC since 1945 (not counting the ROC/PRC switch and the Soviet Union/Russia switch).

Given their nuclear status, population and increasingly prominent diplomatic and economic position in the world, its high time India joined China on the UNSC anyway.  For the U.S. India is a largely selfish pickup, because bombing Iran probably means giving up on Afghanistan this round, which means we're going to have to use India to counterbalance Pakistan and as a base for deploying drones and Spec Ops forces to kill ISI assets (let us call things by their proper names: Taliban, Al Qeada = ISI asssets) in the region. Sponsoring them for UNSC membership is just our way of saying "you guys were right about Pakistan, we're sorry, let's be friends". 

This whole mess has been at least partially driven by Israel's - not entirely unjustified - belief that the whole world is out to get them and that too many countries in the world today might be more or less indifferent to A-Jad following through on his promise to "wipe Israel off the map (the actual quote was probably a mis translation, but I digress). UNSC membership, when combined with a daring raid on Iran nuclear facilities and rapprochement with the House of Saud finally gives Israel the global respect and sense of stability they've been clambering for since 1948. They'll soon discover that with great power comes great responsibility, and also along with their new relationship with Saudi Arabia they'll have to deal with some lingering issues WRT both Gaza and West Bank, but resolving those issue is both inevitable and desirable if Israel is to develop global economic power commensurate with their regional military prowess.

Finally, Saudi Arabia may seem like an odd choice. They are neither the largest nor the most progressive Muslim nation, nor are they all that integrated into global economy - oil exports notwithstanding - and they certainly leave much to be desired when it comes to human rights. In the scenario at hand, however, the Saudi's are willing to stick their necks out, both to recognize Israel and to strike Iran, and they deserve something for that effort. Also, the strike on Iran, assuming it goes down as described in the CSIS report, will kill thousands of Muslims in Iran and maybe other countries in the region, so sponsoring the nation that houses Mecca for membership on the body that can veto U.N. action should go a long way to make clear that our beef is not with Islam. As a bonus, just as UNSC membership will elevate Israel and force them to deal with internal contradictions, UNSC membership will give a little push to a lot of the changes underway in Saudi society.

In order to make this plan happen, it would have to be a package. I'm not sure how a state gets a permanent seat on the UNSC, but I'd imagine a unanimous vote of all 5 current permanent members ought to be enough. While the 5 member may find reasons to object to any of the 3 new members individually, forcing them in as a package deal makes it difficult for anybody to object. France and the U.K. would be fairly easy to convince to go along with whatever the U.S. suggests, and Russia has a long-standing relationship with India and a developing relationship with Israel they would want to buttress. China will protest to India's ascension to permanent status, but recent history suggests that China rarely wants to be the odd man out on the UNSC, so once the three European (counting U.S. as "European") powers plus Russia are on board, China should come along.     


In a perfect world, this wouldn't be an issue. In a perfect world, the U.S. and Israel would both realize the realpolitik advantages of an alliance with Iran and count on deterrence to keep their nuclear weapons in check. But we don't live in a perfect world, so we have to make do with the hand we've been dealt. As Israel and the Arab countries beat the drum for the ultimate vertical solution to Iran's nuclear program, it falls on the U.S. to demand a horizontal strategy that forever changes the politics of both the Middle East and South Asia.