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September 18, 2006

War with Iran
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 01:29 PM *

This week’s Time Magazine cover story asks, “What Would War With Iran Look Like?

I can answer that question in two words: Unmitigated disaster.

No one is talking about a ground invasion of Iran. Too many U.S. troops are tied down elsewhere to make it possible, and besides, it isn’t necessary. If the U.S. goal is simply to stunt Iran’s nuclear program, it can be done better and more safely by air.

Ah, yes. Douhetism triumphant. The first lesson one should draw from the air campaigns from WWI to the present is that air power doesn’t work. Not for winning wars. Not for making the target population knuckle under. Not for stopping, or even slowing, the target’s industrial production. Strategic bombing is a failed theory.

A U.S. strike would have a lasting impression on Iran’s rulers. U.S. officials believe that a campaign of several days could set back Iran’s nuclear program by two to three years. Hit hard enough, some believe, Iranians might develop second thoughts about their government’s designs as a regional nuclear power.

Would those be the same officials who believed that the Iraqis would greet us with flowers and dancing in the streets?

Some U.S. foes of Iran’s regime believe that the crisis of legitimacy that the ruling clerics would face in the wake of a U.S. attack could trigger their downfall, though others are convinced it would unite the population with the government in anti-American rage.

I’m taking bets. And I’m offering odds on “anti-American rage.” But let’s not limit that to Iran, guys. How many countries can we unite in anti-American rage?

“Nobody is considering a military option at this point,” says an administration official. “We’re trying to prevent a situation in which the president finds himself having to decide between a nuclear-armed Iran or going to war. The best hope of avoiding that dilemma is hard-nosed diplomacy, one that has serious consequences.”

That means they’ve already decided on the military option.

Is there no end to the folly of this administration?

Comments on War with Iran:
#1 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2006, 01:54 PM:

Two words: Mayberry Machiavellis

#2 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2006, 02:11 PM:

One phrase: Reprisal in Iraq.

#3 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2006, 02:12 PM:

Oh @#$%^&*!!!

What part of "NO!!!" are they not understanding? Do they have a clue what can, will, happen if they do this? Do they really seriously want the entire world mad at us, possibly to the point of saying 'you can go to hsll now, thankyouverymuch'?

Can we have the black UN helicopters come in and take over, please, now?

#4 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2006, 02:21 PM:

Is there no end to the folly of this administration?

Is that a trick question?

#5 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2006, 02:33 PM:

If you look at the Iraq war timeline, and see how many times the administration claimed "Nobody is considering a military option at this point" all the while they're planning military options to invade Iraq, you might get the sinking feeling that they've not only planned this out, but they've figured out that launching it just before the elections would be a boost for Republican politicians.

Never mind that if they do this, the US won't exist by the swearing in ceremony. Just annoying details there...

#6 ::: Harry Connolly ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2006, 02:39 PM:

That means they’ve already decided on the military option.

They probably decided on it back in 2001 when they were planning the invasion of Iraq. All they have to do is roll across the border, right? Right?

Oh, and put me down for $40 on waves of anti-American hatred. From everywhere.

#7 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2006, 02:48 PM:

Well, if they go for it. something tells me a draft should follow quickly. After the elections, of course...

#8 ::: David Dvorkin ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2006, 02:53 PM:

Are the professionals trying to remind tha amateurs about logistics?

Of course I have a blog

#9 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2006, 02:59 PM:

"Do they really seriously want the entire world mad at us[?]"

Ever meet -- maybe at a convention, or on a city bus, or waiting in line at the DMV -- a irritating, irritable, weird-affect chip-on-his-shoulder dork who seems to revel in others' disdain for him? Whose core identity comes from some offbeat belief or ideal, and seems to believe that having others attack him for it is all the more justification for holding it?

I think we've got a bunch of guys like that in charge.

#10 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2006, 03:14 PM:

I gotcher October surprise right here.

#11 ::: theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2006, 03:15 PM:

What about the folks in the Administration who really want Armegeddon? The Pre-Millennial Dispensationists? Are we really sure that that isn't the whole point?

#12 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2006, 03:20 PM:

And of course Time goes with the cover illo of the scary guy who doesn't actually have anything to do with Iran's military.

#13 ::: Martin GL ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2006, 03:24 PM:

I wholeheartedly agree with your assesment about war in Iran. Best case scenario: it hardens relations between the "west" and the "moslem world" (not to mention the fact that the two are by now completely intertwined, and thus we have trouble at our doorstep, in our living room and everywhere else). Worst case scenario: oh. My God.

But I had a question: you said bombing campaigns do not slow down industrial production. Is that really true? It seems intuitively and historically not to be the case: stuff is destroyed, production slows down. My understanding of the WWII bombing campaign on Germany was that it did slow down production. Am I wrong, and if so, why?

#14 ::: John ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2006, 03:29 PM:

War with Iran would be both a complete failure and a massive disaster for everyone involved.

1) Oil prices would quickly rise to $100/barrel, with US gas going to IMO $4.00+/gallon.

2) If the goal would be to stop Iranian nuclear research and production, it would fail from the start. The Iranians have been busily digging deep under their mountains to put their facilities, and even if we could destroy them we have no idea where they all are.

3) Iran is a big place; some ground troops would have to be needed even if it were just SF types to provide ground surveillance and BDA. How will they be supplied and protected?

4) If Rumsfeld and Co. thought that fighting "terrorists" in Iraq kept them from going somewhere else, he has no idea what awaits if they go after Iran.

5) Iran may not have all that great a military, but they damn sure have a better one than Iraq and they've invested heavily in air defense (learned a little from Iraq War I and II). Going after their sites won't be easy or cheap.

Not to mention the total loss of any remaining worldwide goodwill even from allies, and outright opposition from neutrals and rivals.

#15 ::: Edward Oleander ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2006, 03:30 PM:

Two points:

1) We are so considering the military option. It is a standard of every branch of the military, even the Coast Guard, that they have contingency plans for attacking, invading, and holding every point on the globe. We have an invasion plan for Canada, for gods sake... Invasion plans for Iran have been kept updated since WWII, and have had special teams working on them since the hostage crisis of 1979. Exit strategies, of course, cost extra and are not included with the basic package.

2) You cannot prevent a nation from gaining nuclear weapons if it, A) Has lots of money and, B) Has access to the information needed. Iran has both. Information from other "rogue" states is flowing in, and it is known that several top nuclear scientists from the old Soviet Union have been employed by Iran. We would be far better off planning to contain Iran instead of preventing it from gaining an arsenal.

It is my opinion, from both tone and wording of Iranian statements of the past few years, that Iran is not trying to develop a nuclear weapon, they are trying to reproduce one. I think they have acquired at least one from the old Soviet arsenal. It is well known that not all Soviet warheads are accounted for. Russia claims they are all there, but poor record keeping makes it appear that as much as 5% of the stockpile is missing. I'm willing to bet that N. Korea and Iran could account for at least a couple...

#16 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2006, 03:45 PM:

It's counterintuitive, but German industrial production in general increased throughout the war. The supporters of air power say "Yes, but it didn't increase as fast as it would have if we hadn't been bombing!" but this strikes me special pleading.

Even at the end, the German people didn't rise up and overthrow Hitler. (Nor did the British rise up and overthrow Churchill, or the Japanese rise up and overthrow the Emperor.) The idea that bombing by foreigners will make the people rise up against their government is a fool's dream.

#17 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2006, 03:51 PM:

Invading Iran while we are fighting in Iraq strikes me as eerily similar to when we invaded China while we were fighting in Korea.

#18 ::: Jon H ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2006, 03:53 PM:

Edward Oleander writes: "We are so considering the military option."

'Considering' implies that the decision hasn't been made. I don't think that's the case. They considered it, and now they're preparing for war.

#19 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2006, 03:58 PM:

Martin GL: (#13)

Germany managed to increase the production of airplanes, and tanks, throughout the war.

There are still arguments about the how, and why; which those who favor Douhet style theories saying the cause was Germany not having production ramped up in the way needed for modern war, and so all they were doing was creating the production train they should have made before the war (which would, of course, have been destroyed).

This fail to take into account that it means they managed, in the face of all out (round the clock, by 1943) bombardment to build new capacity.

The other argument is that, in the face of the attacks they dispersed the production lines and that the bombing was a wasted effort (other than it's advantage to morale on the Allied side; which could point to things being done) which diverted production from things which would have been useful during the invasion.

What really hurt Germany was the bombing of oil fields, and other restrictions on fuel.

Stats on production

Armored vehicle stats

#20 ::: Casey ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2006, 04:06 PM:

#14 (John) writ: War with Iran would be both a complete failure and a massive disaster for everyone involved.

Yowsa. And let us not forget that in order to push back Iran's nuclear capabilities several years, we'd undoubtedly need to bomb nuclear facilities. You know, the ones that enrich Plutonium or Uranium. How can we possibly expect that anyone wouldn't be mad at us for the fallout from that idiocy.

#22 ::: protected static ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2006, 04:21 PM:

Something no one here's mentioned yet (that I noticed - my bad if I skimmed too quickly)... For y'all who are discussing "strategic bombing", remember this: this is also an administration that has pushed aggressively to destigmatize the concept of nuclear use and 'first strikes'.

Just thought I'd toss that out there.

#23 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2006, 04:21 PM:

What really hurt Germany was the bombing of oil fields, and other restrictions on fuel.

I think Rommel was in africa, headed towards the oil in the middle east. Yes?

#24 ::: protected static ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2006, 04:26 PM:

Greg: #8 looks okay to me - he seems to be using a 'sig' line, which might be a breach of bloggy norms, but still - not spam. Also, he's posted (one) previous comment...

#25 ::: Zander ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2006, 04:49 PM:

"Only an idiot fights a war on two fronts. Only the heir to the throne of the Kingdom of Idiot fights a war on twelve fronts."

They're just getting started...

#26 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2006, 05:04 PM:

Speaking of oil -- how much of the world's oil comes from Iran?

Answer: lots.

What's the rest of the oil-producing world going to do if we bomb Iran? Whatever they do, watch the prices shoot up.

What's the rest of the oil-utilising world (i.e. every developed and developing nation) going to do if that happens?

And oh, yes...Bombers run on oil.

A five year old could understand this. So what am I missing?

#27 ::: Farah ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2006, 05:09 PM:

Many years ago I read a Fletcher Pratt story in which the rest of the world simply got fed up and combined to invade America.

Maybe I should find a copy and send it to Bush.

#28 ::: protected static ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2006, 05:10 PM:

And oh, yes...Bombers run on oil.

Actually, I just saw something on the news the other day about an Air Force biofuel program. They're looking (fast!) for an alternative to petroleum for their aircraft.

#29 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2006, 05:15 PM:

I can just see it now, George announcing the 'coalition' he will have built for the Iran war: Tonga, Fiji, Belize, Mauritius, and Grand Fenwick.

#30 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2006, 05:15 PM:

protected static @ 28:

'looking for an alternative fuel' remeinds me of one of the Foreigner novels, where a party of people is described as 'consuming enough alcohol to power an airplane into orbit'.

#31 ::: Martin GL ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2006, 05:21 PM:

Thanks for the replies. Interesting.

#32 ::: protected static ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2006, 05:24 PM:

Fragano: You forgot Poland.

#33 ::: Martyn Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2006, 05:34 PM:

When it comes to nuclear weapons, possession is a meaningless statistic. All that matters is using them.

Class of one, my friends, a class of one.

Which is why you can't tell the world 'We're wise enough to have them, you're not'. Give them up and you might stand a chance talking to Ahminadinijad. Threaten him and it is a dialogue of the deaf. He wants you to kill him. He wants to be a martyr. He wants to go to Paradise.

Mr President, he just isn't frightened of you. You can't shock him and he definitely isn't in awe of you.

Militarily, there is only one army that could reasonably consider invading Iraq with any prospect of not getting their arses severely kicked, and I don't see the Peoples Republic putting their 7m men at Mr Bush's disposal. Do you?

#34 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2006, 05:42 PM:

A five year old could understand this. So what am I missing?

A nice fat portfolio of oil stocks.

#35 ::: DonBoy ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2006, 05:44 PM:

Something no one here's mentioned yet (that I noticed - my bad if I skimmed too quickly)... For y'all who are discussing "strategic bombing", remember this: this is also an administration that has pushed aggressively to destigmatize the concept of nuclear use and 'first strikes'.

Tristero is convinced that this is the plan: Link

#36 ::: protected static ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2006, 06:08 PM:

DonBoy: Days before I read that piece by Tristero, I learned that my brother-in-law's Air Force squadron was being suddenly and quite unexpectedly mobilized for parts unknown. I am also convinced that it is the plan, but then I've got a doom-and-gloom streak. I'd be glad to be proven wrong.

#37 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2006, 06:14 PM:

From the mother jones Iraq war timeline:

June 2002: "Operation Southern Focus" begins, a US bombing campaign intended to lay the groundwork for invasion. During these 9 months leading up to the invasion, the military admits it flew 21,736 sorties against Iraq. Four months after it starts, October 2002, Bush tells the public that he hopes to avoid the use of force.

These people are so full of shite that their eyes are brown.

I believe nothing from this administration tells me, about Iraq, Iran, or anything else.

#38 ::: Edward Oleander ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2006, 06:15 PM:

#18 'Considering' implies that the decision hasn't been made. I don't think that's the case. They considered it, and now they're preparing for war.

I think that, instead, it's Bush and his political cronies, who have already decided on war with Iran. That leaves it far from a certainty. The military commanders, as well as the bureaucracy, will work to avoid it. Bush will be bothering the generals to keep their invasion plans current to the minute, just like he did before the Iraq invasion.

But to say the issue is resolved already gives too much credit to Bushy Squirrel's ability to cohesively lead his own government. He rammed his Iraqi misadventure through on the strength of 9/11, but this time he'll have a lot more trouble. After all, the Bush policy of "wishing will make it so" can only go so far. Even the most gung-ho general knows we will need to reinstate the draft to invade Iran...

Having said that, I am willing to bet that there are plans for air strikes that could be implemented on a moments notice, and that no amount of common sense could prevent. I could see some generals being happy to push that idea in hopes it would sate the Shrub for a while.

#39 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2006, 06:20 PM:

Remember, remember the fifth^H^H^H^H^H seventh of November

#40 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2006, 06:57 PM:

I note with interest the frantic smoke signals coming out of the British military for the past six months ("the engine's overheating! She cannae take it, cap'n!") and the actual formal ruling-out of British involvement in military action against Iran some months ago.

Translation: even Mini-Me (Blair) isn't stupid enough to fall for the same trick three times running. Bush is on his own this time (except possibly for Olmert).

But enough about the reality-based community: what are the domestic US political implications if the POTUS decides to Bushwhack Iran?

I see three possible scenarios here, one of which (a land invasion) isn't going to happen outside of the neocon's fevered think-tanks. The other two are conventional airborn strikes, and a pre-emptive nuclear strike.

The pre-emptive nuclear strike is ... well, I'd say it's horrendously risky, but that'd be an understatement. Expect any such strike to collapse what's left of the international non-proliferation framework, not to mention goosing that nice Vlad fellow in the Kremlin. Right now, he's sitting on an immense possible profit centre that he's kindly refrained from exploiting, namely the ability to sell off-the-shelf strategic nuclear deterrents (dual-key, come with en-suite commissar to prevent re-targeting on Moscow, comrade) to all comers. Betcha if the US nukes Iran he starts selling SS-18s, one previous owner, full service history, as-new, even before the fallout drops. And that's before Pakistan joins in! Ooh, the fun and games we'll have if the NPT implodes and Russia goes back to the big swinging dick business! (And if this is to be believed they're already 80% of the way there. Their economy's been growing at upwards of 9% per annum ever since they gave Yeltsin the heave-ho, and the price of oil is only helping; before long they'll be back up to USSR levels of productivity, only re-tooled with modern tech and management skills and without the deadweight of the Near Abroad to hold them back.)

The "conventional" air strike is much less likely to rock the boat and should play mostly as well in Peoria. More importantly, I suspect the recycled Cold Warriors in the Bush cabinet (Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice ... need I go on?) may have second thoughts about poking the sleeping bear with a sharpie even if their geographically-challenged figurehead thinks that immanetizing the eschaton is the best way to energize his base in time for the election.

To add to the fun, Eid ul-Fitr falls on October 24th this year. Now that's the kind of October surprise we can live without, right?

#41 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2006, 07:01 PM:

Wait a minute. Just a few days ago, a few republicans (can't remember who) were proposing 4 heavily fortified bases in Iraq.

My guess is that the plan is to abandon most of Iraq to Iranian funded terrorists after a strike on Iran, fortify a few bases inside the country, and create a few "green zones" based on oil production.

Bush has been advised on what would happen in Iraq if he invades Iran. He's got plans for an invasion anyway. It all fits. Think about it.

#42 ::: Steve Buchheit ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2006, 07:01 PM:

Hate to remind everybody of this, but figuring out and planning for consequences aren't this (US) administration's strong suit. Plus, they have that business plan Wolfowitz wrote out for GHW Bush.

#43 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2006, 07:15 PM:

IIRC the PNAC was written after GHWB lost.

Nuking Iran is suicidal, not that this is likely to dissuade the "decider", because it not only makes getting nukes more attractive, it puts a premium on being able to deliver them to distant targets.

China doesn't want her oil interrupted, but Russia would like to be able to push south into Iran (warm water ports baby. Not gonna happen, but they can dream). Certainly they can try to connive access in exchange for keeping us away).

I just hope the guys who'd be flying the payload will refuse.

#44 ::: Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2006, 07:18 PM:

Speaking of oil, how much of China's oil comes from Iran? Lots.

What happens when you choke China's economy? They get pissed and firesale US debt.

What can the US do about it? Nothing. China has nuclear weapons and ICBMs.

What happens to the US? We die.

#45 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2006, 08:13 PM:

Eric at 44: yeah. I was goin' there. Except, no I don't think we die, if by that you mean we get nuked or invaded. But it's possible we get cold, poor, immobile and chaotic very fast.

Greg, I seem to remember that somewhere recently you were trying to come up with a doomsday scenario. Don't wish so loud.

Charlie Stross, nice riff. "I suspect the recycled Cold Warriors in the Bush cabinet (Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice ... need I go on?) may have second thoughts about poking the sleeping bear with a sharpie even if their geographically-challenged figurehead thinks that immanetizing the eschaton is the best way to energize his base in time for the election."

#46 ::: Stephen Frug ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2006, 08:35 PM:

I've been worried about this for a long time, but the recent signals are genuinely terrifying.

So the question: what can we do? I'm pretty convinced that the answer is "nothing" but I'd sure like to be persuaded otherwise. But given the mindset of the people in charge, and the time frame, and the existing structures of control... what? (It ain't like they're going to listen to protests. Or Congress, even if they were on the side of sanity.)

#47 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2006, 08:53 PM:

you were trying to come up with a doomsday scenario.

hm, I was? Lemme check.... No, no shortage of doom in the ol' scenario cabinet. Cripes, I just added a whole manilla folder just for the Pope's recent comments about Islam that appear to be pouring magnesium on the fire. ... I got so much doom and gloom that I make Eoyore look like Mary Poppins. ... Are you sure it was me?

I do recall trying to think of a scenario that civilians are familiar with, that isn't hyped as all raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, that would evoke a more realistic view of the cl*st*rf*ck that war is. An anti-A-Team scenario, as it were. I believe I settled on a forced quarantine of an entire city in response to a virus scare. Not something you do on vapor-intel.

But I got so many doomsday scenarios already, I can't imagine I was actually looking for more. In fact, I could use a chance to purge the cabinets, if you'd like to take some for me. As far as I can tell, we're six ways and a hair's breadth from from toppling this civilization into the next dark ages. And we've got to hold the powerder keg together till 2009? While Piglet is running around, using a stick of dynamite as a candle? Tigger's got a shotgun? Rabbit's drafting an army of rabbits? And Owl is conspiring to take over the 40-acre wood?

Is that my tail over there? Not that it really matters.

No, no shortage of doomsday here.

#48 ::: sara ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2006, 09:39 PM:

They want to employ the Truman script. "Spare our army the invasion of Iran," etc.

#49 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2006, 10:12 PM:

U.N. inspectors investigating Iran's nuclear program angrily complained to the Bush administration and to a Republican congressman yesterday about a recent House committee report on Iran's capabilities, calling parts of the document "outrageous and dishonest" and offering evidence to refute its central claims.

Officials of the United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agency said in a letter that the report contained some "erroneous, misleading and unsubstantiated statements." The letter, signed by a senior director at the agency, was addressed to Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.), chairman of the House intelligence committee, which issued the report. A copy was hand-delivered to Gregory L. Schulte, the U.S. ambassador to the IAEA in Vienna.

#50 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2006, 10:17 PM:

Stephen (46) --

You are the Sovereign People. These idiots work for you. Their only legitimacy stems from your consent. You can fire them.

Martin GL (13) --

Airpower is good for three things, in this order of importance -- reconnaissance, long range artillery support of ground operations, and interdiction of the other fellow trying to do the two important tasks.

Major institutional problem -- the USAF road to promotion is through being a fighter jock, which is the least important airpower job; in consequence, the USAF's institutional priorities have had Beelzebub bugger them blind with a bale of basil lo these many long years.

There are three kinds of targets -- area, fixed, and opportunity.

Area targets are big bunches of distributed, interconnected something where you can't identify the truly important bits, so blowing up as much of it as you can is as well as you can hope to do. (Rail yards, formations of troops, unobserved road junctions are examples of area targets.)

Fixed targets can't move -- bridges, port facilities like drydocks, power generation facilities like dams and generator houses, any kind of hardened installation like a command bunker -- and are generally defended, hardened, or decoyed as much as practical. This is the sort of target that causes substantial losses to the attacking forces and which provides the use case for conventional cruise missiles.

Opportunity targets are things that you want to blow up but can't find without going to look; moving vehicles, ships at sea, advancing formations of troops, trains (as distinct from train tracks), aircraft in the air, and so on. Opportunity targets are short decision loop targets, require an observer (this is what forward air controllers do) to designate them, and are generally what you would traditionally expect tactical air/close air support to do.

Both area targets -- oil fields, train yards -- and fixed targets -- ball bearing factories, power dams, oil refineries, canal gates, bridges -- can be considered "strategic air targets" in traditional uses of the term.

It turns out that you can hurt the other guy, even critically, by pounding the logistical infrastructure, particularly the high capital investment, long lead time items like road and rail tunnels in mountains, hydroelectric dams, and major road and rail bridges, in conjunction with other attack. (This mattered enormously when the Allies were advancing through France after D-Day, frex. (The Red Army used a different doctrine with greater emphasis on tube artillery.))

What you can't do is significantly cut industrial production -- it distributes -- or public morale -- people get more pissed at the people dropping HE on them than at the people responsible for getting them into the war, even if they think their leaders did in fact start the war for bad reasons.

The other thing you can't do -- we're back to that first job again, reconnaissance -- is effectively evaluate how good a job you're doing against pretty much all targets, especially hardened targets.

You can usually tell that you blew the bridge up; what you can't tell is what you did to the bridge pier foundations, which is what tells you how long that bridge will be out of service. Against something like a bunker, where you didn't know for sure that you had a bunker there to target in the first place, it's hellishly difficult to tell how badly damaged it was.

The best single example of this sort of problem I can think of is Tirpitz, repeatedly attacked (at high cost and risk) after the ship was disabled because there was no way for the aerial reconnaissance to tell that previous attacks had been successful.

And that's an anchored ship, one of the simplest possible candidates; bunkers that have been deliberately hardened have also been deliberately concealed, decoyed, and duplicated. An attempt to bomb Iran's nuclear program would be based on a long chain of maybe, and could very plausibly do no damage whatsoever to that nuclear program.

Immense damage to the US, though -- you have to consider that the scenario of an offensive use of nuclear weapons failing to destroy the objective has a indeterminate but significant probability, purely through bad targetting.

#51 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2006, 10:51 PM:

How many countries can we unite in anti-American rage?

We're first in the line to be voted off the planet, I suspect. We have one party that's busy stoking the fire with things like 'head-in-the-sand liberals' (have they noticed who's trying to stop this oncoming trainwreck? It ain't the conservatives). We have another party that is, at the top, most of it so afraid of scaring the train crew that it isn't going to do anything useful. We have a whole helluva lot of pissed off people who can see said trainwreck coming, but are being told to STFU because, well, we-the-people aren't supposed to be able to see the trainwreck coming.

We are SOOO screwed.

#52 ::: David S. ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2006, 10:55 PM:

#27 Many years ago I read a Fletcher Pratt story in which the rest of the world simply got fed up and combined to invade America.

Nah, that would be silly and completely unnecessary. Much easier for China, Japan, Saudi Arabia, etc. to simply dump billions 'n billions (trillions actually) of US dollar bonds and make the towering mountain of Bush debt drop like a, well, like a nuclear bomb actually... 1929 and 1987 would be "minor market corrections" in comparison.

"True conservatives" would love it as it would cut the federal government down to size - to nothing in fact. Millions would starve and five digit inflation rates would rule, but who cares when a favourite economic theory is at stake!

Still, perhaps George will prove better at handling economic depressions than hurricanes, democracy and keeping gas prices down...

#53 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2006, 11:04 PM:

Greg @ 47: while Christopher Robin tiptoes out of the frame, muttering, "There's a hell of a good universe next door, let's go..."

#54 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2006, 11:13 PM:


They want to employ the Truman script. "Spare our army the invasion of Iran," etc.

I think there's a big difference here. When I took "History of the Atomic Bomb" in college I did a paper on Truman's decision based on the information he had at the time. I think he really believed the figures he was given about five million dead and maimed on both sides if the U.S. invaded Japan to end the war. As far as Bush and his neocon advisors go, I think they believe if they can hit Iran hard enough they'll get their "New American Century" and Iraq will be a minor footnote. One is an attempt to stop a predicted slaughter, the other is an attempt to get out of a hog-wallow by molding a world to match your mindset.

#55 ::: Stephen Frug ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2006, 11:25 PM:

You are the Sovereign People. These idiots work for you. Their only legitimacy stems from your consent. You can fire them.

But what we're talking about is an attack before the election -- or, perhaps, after the election but before the seating of the new Congress. How can we "fire them"? It's all very well to repeat the noble sentiments of Jefferson et. al., but practically speaking I can't see how it might be done.

Not to mention the possibility that, even if they wait for the new Congress, even if we win in November... they may not think that they need to care. The doctrines of John Yoo et. al. imply they don't. And these actions might not be "legitimate", but they would be no less damaging for that.

#56 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2006, 11:25 PM:

Satire someone needs to write:

An illustrated guide on draft dodging for Young Republicans, with sections on sneaking into Canada, the safest place to shoot yourself in the foot, and how to cross-dress convincingly.

#57 ::: Glenn Hauman ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2006, 11:55 PM:

The biggest problem with nuking Iran is that you'd irradiate the oil, negating the reason for going there in the first place. This would be the textbook definition of pyrrhic victory.

#58 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2006, 12:00 AM:

Graydon: "You can fire them."

You may also want to think about having security escort them out of the building before they have a chance to clean out their offices.

#59 ::: "Charles Dodgson" ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2006, 12:05 AM:

To add to the remarks of David@52: If the Chinese want to hurt us, for any reason, the debt bomb is certainly in their arsenal. I'm not sure they weren't planning to drop it anyway.

The Chinese clearly do plan as a government with a pretty long horizon. Over the past few years, they've signed energy contracts far and wide. (In addition to the rogue's gallery they've now got an interest in propping up --- Iran; Sudan, home of the Darfur genocide; the increasingly worrisome Putin regime in Russia; etc. --- their willingness to cut a deal with anyone that owns an oil well has also gotten them into a deal with those nice folks from Canada). Part of this planning has got to be their structuring of their debt load. They've got economic wizards groomed nearly from birth to manage their debt holdings, and I find it difficult to imagine that they are blind to the consequences of their purchases. So, for example, when they decide to buy mortgage bonds, I expect they do so with a full awareness that their purchases help to run up the U.S. housing bubble --- running up the damage when it inevitably pops.

When you talk about stuff like this with economists of a traditional bent, they will respond quite rationally that if the Chinese engineered a collapse of the U.S. economy, they would hurt themselves in the process. And why would they do that?

Well, they do have declared ambitions to be a superpower, which requires cutting down the U.S. a notch, if not two. If the alternative, in their minds, is an actual war...

#60 ::: Lisa Goldstein ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2006, 12:16 AM:

#49 (Article from the Washingon Post about UN nuclear inspectors) -- I see the tiniest bit of a possible glimmer of hope here. If the Post is reporting this then at least someone is actually publishing real facts this time, not just repeating the Bush party line. Part of the problem with the last big mess was that no one in the media came forward and said, "You know, it looks like there might not really be WMD in Iraq, and could you explain again why we're invading?"

Well, I said it was a small glimmer. But maybe some people in the media don't want to get fooled again.

#61 ::: protected static ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2006, 01:38 AM:

Via Atrios, we have this little bit from Think Progress highlighting one expert's opinion that we are already operating in Iran:

BLITZER: You think it’s possible there is a little psychological warfare being played on Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to rattle him. To spread the word. To put out this kind of information. To get him nervous, perhaps a little bit more agreeable to the diplomatic option.

GARDINER: It’s possible. It’s also possible that this path was selected a long time ago. You recall that even before Gulf II that a time when the president said we have no plan. I have no plan on my desk. In the summer of 2002 we began bombing Iraq. Operation Southern Focus, without congressional approval, without the U.N. sanctions, we went ahead and began bombing.

BLITZER: The argument at that time is if there were violations of the no-fly zone, U.S. war planes were flying in the north and the south and there were rockets or anti-aircraft fire going up, they could take those out.

GARDINER: Yes, but it was a campaign to begin the war before the war began. You know, I would suggest the evidence is there.

BLITZER: You see a similar pattern right now.

GARDINER: Exactly.

#62 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2006, 02:13 AM:

I wonder if the Congress would go along with an invasion of Iran. The Iraqi war isn't popular any more, and elections are coming up.

I don't think the Chinese are likely to drop the debt bomb deliberately--it would be devastating to them. The real risk there, I think, is the unforseen event.

#63 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2006, 02:50 AM:

Ask yourself what would happen if the U.S. were tied up in Iran/Syria/Turkey/Iraq/Afghanistan/Gulf/FooBarBaz when the PRC finally decided to bring the Taiwan province into a more harmonious relationship with the mainland.

I keep asking: do they really mean to give up Taiwan in exchange for their ExcellentAdventure™ in Iran? The answer I keep getting back: they really don't think China will be able to take Taiwan. Everything will be fine. Stop worrying.

#64 ::: Martin GL ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2006, 02:56 AM:

Graydon: thanks, your reply made a lot of sense. So the problem with strategic bombing of industry is that the industry is much more capable of distributing than we generally think it is. The hammer-and-beehive problem. Thanks for clearing that up.

#65 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2006, 03:11 AM:

David S. #52: Isn't that more or less what we did to the USSR? Pushed them into running their economy at a higher and higher deficit until it finally collapsed?

#66 ::: Doug ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2006, 03:55 AM:

#65: The USSR basically did it to itself. "We have great economy! We have world's largest microchips!"

The most important things that the West did were to continue to exist, to thrive as much as possible, and to remain as true as possible to its ideals. 'Pushing' the Soviet bloc this way or that was a marginal effect at most.

And we should not discount Gorbachev's contribution of letting the empire deflate peacefully. There aren't too many examples of that in history, and it could well have gone the other way.

#67 ::: Meg Thornton ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2006, 03:58 AM:

Oh crud. That means we're going to be playing in Iran too... our PM couldn't possibly be left out of any Coalition of the Daft. As someone else so clearly put it: if the US attempted to invade Mars, Australia would send a battalion or two. We're good little colonial lapdogs, we are.


I was going to ask why nobody's assassinated this twit yet, then I realised: nothing to get damaged in the head, and the heart is far too small a target.

#68 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2006, 04:54 AM:

In the mention of the Chinese Debt Bomb, there's something Tom Clancy wrote that comes to mind.

In one of his novels, the bad guys wreck the US stock market mechanisms, so nobody knows what was traded. It looks very contrived as a scenario.

And a part of the political response is to point out that all the assets are still there. It doesn't really matter which speculator owns the shares in the factory, it's still turning out goods to sell.

Well, I'm not sure that works, but that is the position that China is in. They drop the Debt Bomb, and they still have the factories. They're designing and producing computer hardware, even CPU chips. They don't even need Taiwan.

As for invading Taiwan, the logistics are pretty hard. I don't think an opposed landing can work, not without a huge amount of specialised amphibious warfare shipping. It isn't going to be the sort of long-range operation that was done at Okinawa, but I doubt that even the USA has the amphibs to do it from a mainland base.

It's not just nuclear weapons that make another D-Day impossible. Even with all the modern defenses for the ships, what would a salvo of anti-ship missiles do to you? Could the Chinese Navy protect the assault force from a salvo-launch of modern sea-skimmers?

But dropping the Debt Bomb might make a reunion more attractive to Taiwan, maybe more a change of umbrella than actual political union, a sort of EU of the Far East.

But, after seeing some of the sneers from some Americans, who say the EU is a failure because it can't agree to invade anyone, I reckon it's likely that such a scenario is going to be dismissed. They seem to define a nation's existence and worth through the glories of war.

While it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, fall be'ind,"
But it's "Please to walk in front, sir," when there's trouble in the wind,

#69 ::: Don Fitch ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2006, 05:01 AM:

#67 ::: -- "I was going to ask why nobody's assassinated this twit yet" [...]

That's the first time I've seen the "a" word used in years (possibly because I move in the wrong circles, or the right ones), even in remote speculation. The short answer seems to be "look at the order of succession". Longer ones would probably include words & phrases like "martyr", "the Club NeoCon", and "a very substantial percentage of the American voters". *sigh* Possibly installing a Spindizzy Drive and sending the entire area inside the Beltway into distant Space at a moment when preactically everyone important is there would work, but I'm not sure it would be a safe bet.

I am as sure as I ever am of anything that if we institute a military strike at Iran (even in response to something on their part that we've managed to provoke) it'll be at least a generation, and probably a century, before the U. S. could possibly regain Major Nation status in the world. At best.

#70 ::: Ross Smith ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2006, 05:36 AM:

Assassinating Bush would just amount to replacing the monkey with the organ grinder. And, while I can think of any number of entertaining scenarios that involve members of the Bush regime and the words "organ grinder", that isn't one of them.

I don't know how far down the line of succession you'd have to go before reaching someone sane, but I strongly suspect it has at least two digits, and I even more strongly suspect that phrases like "state of emergency" would start showing up before you got halfway there.

#71 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2006, 06:35 AM:

#16: James D. MacDonald: "Even at the end, the German people didn't rise up and overthrow Hitler. (Nor did the British rise up and overthrow Churchill, or the Japanese rise up and overthrow the Emperor.) The idea that bombing by foreigners will make the people rise up against their government is a fool's dream."

To the contrary: the merciless and repeated fire-bombing of Japan had a huge impact on the willingness of the civilian population to fight, and doubtlessly brought the war to a swifter end, if not a more humane one. Did the Japanese overthrow the Emperor? It all depends on your point of view--the Emperor's word was literally law in pre-war Japan. He has no power under the post-war constitution. The Japanese people seem quite content with this.

Ever heard of Curtis LeMay? He found himself a whole military strategy in napalm. Under the bombing campaign he designed, most Japanese cities ended the war worse off than Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Accounts hold that more than 100,000 people died in a single night in Tokyo. The popuation was halved as people fled, leaving no one to work the few remaining factories. By the end of the war, Tokyo had more or less ceased to exist as such. This was such a success, in the opinions of the U.S. military, that they repeated the strategy in Osaka, Kobe, Nagoya, and every other manufacturing center they could hit. In Kobe, they used thermite.

This campaign destroyed most of the urban manufacturing infrastructure in Japan, which was most of the infrastructure in Japan, period. Modernization tends to stay in cities. This didn't merely reduce their ability to produce war materiel: it nearly eliminated it. Why didn't this happen in Germany? Arguably, because they were white. It's a lot harder to justify incurring massive civilian casualities on the enemy when they have the same color skin. See also: internment camps, Japanese-American.

Starving, exhausted, and under-fed people really do start to lose that fightin' spirit. The utter hell that the Japanese went through during the war contributed a great deal to how happy and willing they were to work with the American occupation.

Air power does work. It can very effectively reduce entire cities, population included, to rubble. It has trouble with anything smaller than that, however. Air power, like genocide, isn't a halfway sort of a thing. It's all or nothing. And as much as I'm sure Bush would love to reduce Iran to rubble, I doubt the world would let him get away with it. Again.

#72 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2006, 06:36 AM:

The piece upthread about Russia's nuclear weapons policies (Article here)
does skate over the fuzzy boundary between "strategic" and "tactical" in the classification of nuclear weapons.

I'm not sure that the claim of an 1800-mile range for the sub-launched cruise missile is correct, since some web pages suggest that this applies to a modified air-launched version with extra fuel tanks, making the missile too fat for a torpedo tube.

200 kilotons at a target over a thousand miles away doesn't quite feel tactical to me.

Anyway, I think it's a sign of how the safety of the world has declined. Keeping nuclear weapons at sea, ready to use, is an expensive business, and doing it, when you have plenty of land-based missiles, suggests you expect somebody else to shoot first.

Somebody specific. Aiming a sub-launched missile at an unexpected target is difficult: it's still hard to talk with a sub.

#73 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2006, 06:50 AM:

#69 -- Don, the timescale for America regaining major nation status depends a lot on definition.

And it depends a lot on internal US politics after the fall. Germany, Italy, and Japan don't have the reputation of being run by lunatics after WW2. What happened in those countries broke the chain; in some senses they're not the same countries.

A USA that does something else insane under Bush, and combines throwing him out with a continuation of the same political system--many of the same people in Congress and the Supreme Court--is going to take a lot longer to regain respect.

The Democratic Party has the big problem that it's never looked like knowing how to be an effective opposition. Especially from the outside, it's hard to see a difference. There's two right-wing parties in America, one looney and one acquiescent, and I rather doubt either would help the reputation of a post-disaster USA.

Where's the political sackcloth and ashes going to come from? Is it going to be, "Yippee, I'm Born Again!", or "Forgive me, for I have sinned"?

#74 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2006, 07:07 AM:

Recently I've thought a few times of the secret behind the collapsed America in Kim Stanley Robinson's The Wild Shore. In some bitter momens I almost think it'd be a good idea for the world as a whole.

#75 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2006, 08:02 AM:

Protected Static #32: Somehow, I can't see a Polish battalion (about all that the Poles could send) attacking Isfahan.

I don't doubt that 'Real men' still want Tehran, and I don't doubt that Don and Dick are ready to turn every city in Iran to rubble and then make the rubble bounce (after all, they won't have to risk their precious necks). The problem then will be how will they extract the oil, given that the Iranian people will be even less inclined to be liberated than the Iraqis? What army will the US use to hold down Iran?

#76 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2006, 08:23 AM:

8, 21, 24: Greg, it was definitely appropriate to bring that message to my attention, but it's legit. DD is a minor pro, long known in the SF community.

David Dvorkin, you have inadvertently duplicated a message style and format used by comment spammers. I really think you need to lose the linked .sig line. People are going to continue to mistake it for advertising.

#77 ::: Scott Martens ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2006, 08:24 AM:

Y'all are being a little more apocalyptic about the world than is strictly necessary.

True, George W Bush is exactly the type of idiot to whom Londo Molari's advice about the Kingdom of Idiots applies. (BTW, best use of Babylon 5 quote ever, to Zander in #25.) And, he is stupid enough to start an air war in Iran, and is not likely to accomplish any desirable goal with it except by applying a level of genocidal force that, frankly, even he probably can't get away with.

As for the rest, I think the world view being expressed here is excessively pessimistic.

No one will lift a finger to defend Iran, except rhetorically. To the extent that an American war on Iran is rhetorically useful to attack the United States, it will be used that way. The global hostility to war on Iran is simply the belief - well-founded as far as I can tell - that a war with Iran would be worse for international politics than an Iran with nuclear weapons would be. No one will stop the US from attacking Iran, no one will take much action afterwards, except maybe Hezbollah. Rather, most of the world is posturing to make sure that when it all goes to hell (which it will) they can claim that it wasn't their fault.

China has no "debt bomb". Go down to Blockbuster's and pick up a neat little Percy Adlon film called Rosalie Goes Shopping. It has Marianne Sägebrecht from Baghdad Café and the guy who played Bill in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. The film is built around an important economic lesson: When you owe the bank a thousand dollars, it's your problem; when you owe the bank half a trillion dollars, it's the bank's problem.

Russia will almost certainly never be the same kind of threat the Soviet Union was. It can't be no matter how it's GDP improves. The reason is because the Soviet Union - and even less the portion of it that is now the Russian Federation - was never the economic centre of the Warsaw Pact. The Soviet empire was unique in history. Most empires impoverish their periphery to enrich the centre. Russia - even before the communists - enriched the periphery by impoverishing the centre. The economic core of the Warsaw Pact was East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and to some extent Poland. The wealthiest regions in the Soviet Union were Georgia, the Baltic republics and parts of southern Ukraine. Russia was politically the centre of the old communist world. Economically, it was the hinterland. Even if it returns to the level of productivity it had before 1990, it will still be a minor player compared to the economic power the old Warsaw Pact could muster.

#78 ::: John ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2006, 08:46 AM:

The reason the USAAF didn't firebomb German cities as thoroughly as they did the Japanese ones is multi-fold:

-The German cities had already been bombed to mostly rubble anyway. Only the ones in far SE Germany were untouched by the time the technology made it easier to firebomb them (Dresden).

-Japanese industry was dispersed into homes and residential sections of their cities; small part assembly was done in homes and then sent to factories for final assembly. Germany tended to concentrate the industry in areas separate from the residential portions.

-They tried to firebomb German cities (see Hamburg, Dresden). Until Dresden it wasn't that successful without a lot of effort.

-Japanese cities were firetraps, unlike German ones. They burned very easily and their fire suppression was almost medieval.

#79 ::: Madison Guy ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2006, 08:47 AM:

I think this is one "October surprise" that won't happen until after the election. We still need to soften people up a bit, get them used to the idea. A little infotainment could help...

The thing about Iran is, we need to get people thinking about nuclear war. Get them worked up about the Iranian "threat." And on the other hand -- just in case we need to use those nuclear bunker busters -- make the idea of using nukes a little more thinkable.

How about a "high-concept" TV soap featuring a plucky red state small town with a biblical name surviving nuclear catastrophe while those sinners in the big cities apparently burn in hellfire and disappear? Yeah, new CBS show "Jericho" just might do it.

#80 ::: protected static ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2006, 09:13 AM:

Fragano: Sorry, Poland was a reference to Bush's remarks during one of the debates... Kerry ripped the dubious nature of our grand 'coalition', running down a list much like yours - whereupon Bush turned to him and said (somewhat petulantly) "You forgot Poland".

And yes, Poland's contribution was little more than a battalion.

#81 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2006, 09:19 AM:

#76. Sorry. Figures. Clueless noob like me fingers a pro post as spam. (sigh)

#82 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2006, 10:27 AM:

Protected Static #80: I know. When it comes to projecting its power, Poland isn't much stronger than Grand Fenwick (though, come to think of it, Grand Fenwick did defeat the United States).

#83 ::: David Dvorkin ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2006, 10:31 AM:

David Dvorkin, you have inadvertently duplicated a message style and format used by comment spammers.

Oops. Sorry. My posts will look like this, from now on.

Not that they'll all start with apologies!

Well, I hope not.

#84 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2006, 10:50 AM:

I think the a-word was being used about the Aussie PM, not about Shrub. Although there is a joke out there, where Shrub has a series of nightly dreams:

One night GW Bush is tossing restlessly in his White House bed. He awakens to see George Washington standing beside him. Bush looks up and asks, “George, what’s the best thing I can do to help the country?” “Set an honest and honorable example; never tell a lie,” Washington advises, then fades away.

The next night, Bush is astir again, when he sees the ghost of Thomas Jefferson moving silently around the bedroom. Bush calls out: “Tom, please! What is the best thing I could do to help the country?” “Respect the Constitution,” Jefferson advises, and then dims from sight.

The third night sleep still evades Bush. He sees the ghost of FDR hovering over his bed. Bush lowers his voice and asks, “Franklin, What is the best thing I could do to help the country?” In that golden voice of his, FDR replies, “Help the less fortunate,” and then he disappears.

Bush still isn’t sleeping well the fourth night. He tosses and turns, and suddenly another figure moves out of the shadows. It’s the ghost of Abraham Lincoln. “Abe,” Bush pleads, “what’s the best thing I can do right now to help the country?” Lincoln pauses, then replies, “Go see a play.”

#85 ::: "Charles Dodgson" ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2006, 10:55 AM:


WRT Iran: the Iranians are not without retaliatory options of their own, against our troops in Iraq, among other things. Also, consider what such an attack would do to oil prices.

WRT the "debt bomb": We owe billions of dollars to the holders of the bonds in the Bank of China's portfolio. They can sell those bonds at any time. No bonds, no problem.

There would be consequences, of course. The price of dollar-denominated bonds, in dollars, would drop due to the sudden glut --- which is the same thing as saying that U.S. interest rates would suddenly rise. And there would be spillover effects in the currency markets, where the dollar would suddenly wind up being worth a whole lot less than it is now.

But a dollar decline is probably inevitable over the long term anyway --- the most active debate between economists in this field lately is the relative likelihood of a "soft landing", in which the decline is gradual over time, vs. a "hard landing", in which runaway markets force a crash. What professional economists aren't considering, anywhere I've seen, is that the Chinese might deliberately act to cause a crash, when they felt the moment to be right. They aren't considering this for the very good reason that China's economy would be significantly damaged in the process. (After the dollar crashes and the entire U.S. economy tanks, they wind up exporting a whole lot less ot the U.S.!) What I'm suggesting is that the Chinese leadership might be willing to deliberately damage their own economy, if they can arrange to cripple ours in the bargain.

I don't think there's any reasonable debate that the Chinese could hurt us in this fashion. As pure economic management, it would be nuts --- there is room for debate over the amount of damage to their own economy, but it would surely be considerable. As global grand strategy --- these are the heirs of the perpetrators of the Tiananmen square massacre, and hell, it's cheaper than a war.

(BTW, if you're going to do the argument from authority thing, you might want to google around, starting with the terms I've used above, and get a sample of the real debate --- these are somewhat controversial matters, and it's not hard to find someone supporting just about any position with better arguments and credentials than a movie by Percy Adlon, even if Adlon does have the might of "the guy who played Bill" backing him up).

#86 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2006, 11:54 AM:

#67 -- Megan, the last thing you want is for some fool to assassinate Bush. This would make matters worse, both by who's in the chain of succession and that it would make GWB a martyr.

What would be nice would be shipping the Prez, VP, and some members of his Cabinet (the Secretaries of State and Defense) to the Hague to be tried for war crimes.

Failing that, a nice juicy scandal involving all those mentioned in the above paragraph -- and let it be something that would demand their removal from office, would be acceptable.

#87 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2006, 12:08 PM:

#67, assassination won't solve anything because, fundamentally, the reason things have gotten so bad is that people have been seduced by Bush's promises of power and cowed by Bush's prophecy's of fear. By all accounts, bush lost the last election but was given the presidency because Ohio hid votes, midirected voters, and subverted the will of the poeple. But the fact that Bush/Kerry was decided by one state, when every state should have kicked the bastard out, says people didn't quite "get" it.

What would be best right now, in my opinion, is for a whole lot of light to be shined on the administration's fuckups from day one, their plotting to invade Iraq from day one, their lies and deceptions to the american people from day one, so that maybe folks won't be so easily decieved next time.

#88 ::: Noelle ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2006, 12:22 PM:

This goes way, way back to the beginning of these posts, but....

The US has plans to invade Canada? But we're so peaceful, and friendly, and well, nice.

Even though it's highly unlikely they would ever be acted on, what would the possible use be of drawing them up?

Does this point to an underlying pattern in the way the US military thinks? Or just the knowledge that their government may ask for the strangest information at any time?

#89 ::: Madison Guy ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2006, 12:28 PM:

Get set, ready, go... The propaganda campaign clearly has started. In the words of "Jericho" executive producer Jon Turteltaub, "A nuclear bomb is not as bad as everybody thinks." Yeah, right. Wednesdays on CBS, starting tomorrow.

#90 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2006, 12:30 PM:

Does this point to an underlying pattern in the way the US military thinks?

Noelle @ 88: No. The American military does what its civilian leadership tells it to do, up to the point where it can no longer stomach the orders, and at that point it resigns. Best case scenario. Worst case scenario: the U.S. goes totalitarian, and Bush or Cheney becomes Big Brother. Do I think it will happen? No. Could it? Yes.

#91 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2006, 12:36 PM:

#86 --
This would make matters worse, both by who's in the chain of succession and that it would make GWB a martyr.

I have long thought that the worst possible thing would be for some nutjob to murder the president. Not only because murder is wrong, although that's the most morally important reason for me. I don't believe in capital punishment in any event, and vigilante capital punishment is right out. You are not allowed to kill people just because you don't like them.

The other thing that worries me is, if someone did kill the president, that anyone who has ever said anything against Bush or his policies would become suspect. That is the scenario in which liberals would be rounded up and put in camps.

So I hope to God no one ever tries it.

(This is like the torture discussion. It is morally wrong, even if it did any good -- which it does not and never does, and in fact usually does harm to the ostensible "cause" for which it's undertaken.)

No, we have to defeat Bush and his cronies honorably. This means presenting the evidence of their wrongdoing, uncovering lies and demonstrating incontrovertibly that they are lies, finding some way of shining the light of truth so the whole world can see.

#92 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2006, 01:23 PM:

Noelle, of course the Pentagon has a plan somewhere in its files dealing with an invasion of Canada. Somewhere in its files, the Canadian military has a plan for war with the US. The unlikeliness of such things taking place has nothing to do with it. When it's not fighting, a well-run army, navy, or air force, and the overall commanders of these forces, concentrate in two things: Planning and Training. The one thing all such groups reliably have in common is the tendency to look at a plan, ask "What if" and then come up with plans for all the What-ifs they were able to think of. It begins to resemble an obsessive-compulsive disorder, and can make a family decision to take a short road trip to visit friends and go shopping in another city turn into a planning orgy that makes the Army-Navy joint planning for the Pacific island-hopping campaign in World War II look loose and disorganized.

I am told by People Who Know that one reason officer training often uses unlikely targets (like, say, a neighboring country your country is on good terms with, or even an imaginary country) is that it keeps the trainees from using what they already know about the plans for the enemy du jour in their own planning exercises, so they have to work from scratch.

Since the alternate to all this compulsive planning is the Bushco tendency to follow the Jiminy Cricket School of Planning (if you wish upon a star...), I can live it with, even if it is occasionally embarassing, or seems ridiculous.

#93 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2006, 01:46 PM:

I would like assassination to work--it's so much less damaging than war, but afaik, there haven't been any assassinations which have done any noticable good. Unfortunately, we don't know what would have happened if Hitler had been assassinated.

Imho, the reason assassination doesn't do any good is that leaders are much more integrated into their societies than is generally appreciated. It's not just that their successors might continue their policies, it's that a lot of people identify with their leaders. They don't want to go along with what the assassin wants any more than they want to give the country which bombs their cities what it wants.

I also have a notion that assassination makes surviving leaders that little bit more crazy.

The one thing you can do pretty effectively with assassination is make peace more difficult to achieve.

#94 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2006, 01:52 PM:

I have long thought that the worst possible thing would be for some nutjob to murder the president.

On the other hand, if Bush had run into a tree and killed himself back in his drunk-driving days, the world in general and America in particular would be lots better off right now. Particularly if Rumsfeld and Cheney had been in the back seat.

#95 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2006, 02:06 PM:

Maybe if it was an inside job? Where is the Praetorian Guard when you really, really, need them? Those backstabbing bastards.

#96 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2006, 02:22 PM:

Greg London #95: That is a cure far, far, far worse than the disease. We'd like to avoid empire, not bring on its worst aspects.

#97 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2006, 02:34 PM:

Greg London @ 95

No, you don't want to assassinate Bush, then we'd get Cheney. (He'd probably die of heart failure, then we'd get Hastert.)

First we force Cheney out - making him testify, truthfully, at Libby's trial is a start - and put in a reasonably honest VP. Then take out Bush, or simply wait for him to time out.

You know: first you loot, then you burn.

#98 ::: miriam beetle ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2006, 02:35 PM:


By all accounts, bush lost the last election but was given the presidency because Ohio hid votes, midirected voters, and subverted the will of the people.

ohio absentee voter over here! you know, as in "we have no intention of counting the absentee votes"?

sigh. i think about that a lot.

back to your regular discussion.

#99 ::: Samantha Joy ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2006, 03:27 PM:

#88 - Yes, the US does have a plan to invade Canada. I wouldn't worry much about it, though; read more here and even here if you'd like more information.

#100 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2006, 03:46 PM:

Fragano at #96: you can't avoid Empire, you've had one since 1945!

(In fact, a lot of the current mess is the end result of the USA's persistent refusal to take responsibility for running its empire. Sometimes nation-founding myths can come back to bite you a couple of centuries down the line; this one's doubtless going in the 3000 AD history books as a classic example.)

#101 ::: Noelle ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2006, 03:46 PM:

I wasn't particularly worried about US invasion plans of Canada, more confused that they would spend the time drawing them up. However, these links put things in a better historical context.

I'm not certain any kind of planning is better than no planning. Yet it's clear with this administration that realistic plans are routinely ignored. I just wonder what would happen to public opinion if the media got a hold of realistic plans for a war with Iran. Assuming they actually reported on them.

#102 ::: J Thomas ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2006, 03:51 PM:

OK, so the military needs guys who can make war plans. And they have to train them to make war plans. And when they make plans to invade canada, or norway or whoever, the purpose isn't so much to have a plan on hand in case we need to invade norway. The purpose is to grade the planner on how well he can make a plan.

Then when we actually need a plan to attack, say, iran -- we pretty much start from scratch with a whole lot of good people doing it. Somebody might possibly look at some of the old student exercises just in case. But they sure don't depend on them.

And when it leaks that they're planning it, they say "We have war plans with everybody. Even canada and norway. It's just what we do."

Last september I heard rumors we were really planning an attack on iran, scheduled for late february/early march. But the war didn't happen. Now I'm hearing those rumors again but the story is it will come in late september/early october. These rumors are unreliable. Just because we're making the plans and moving the supplies doesn't necessarily mean we'll go through with it.

#103 ::: Jakob ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2006, 05:18 PM:

Strategic bombing:

German industrial output did increase during the bombing campaign, but it concentrated on near-obsolete designs. What Albert Speer might have accomplished without the need to disperse production is interesting; it seems to have been the threat of the nightly bombing that allowed him to override industrial interests and push the output increases.

The major impact of the bombing on the German war economy was that soaked up by the defences; 1/3 of the optical industry and 1/2 of the electronics industry capacity was dedicated to the night defence of the realm, as well as tens of thousands of flak guns, which would have been an asset on the Eastern Front as anti-tank weapons.

Graydon: Sure, the fighter mafia now rule the roost, but air superiority is a prerequisite for the effective application of airpower. Under the bomber barons, you ended up with such things as 'fighters' which were really only suited to delivering tac nukes at high speeds.

All this aside, airpower remains a necessary but by no means sufficient condition for military victory. Even in the most successful air campaigns (Gulf Wars I and II), there was a need for ground troops to finish the job. Or not, as the case might be.

#104 ::: Vardibidian ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2006, 05:37 PM:

Before WWII, England kept a War Book, which was not plans for the military but plans for the civilian structure in case of a war. The book was regularly updated (and continued to be, at least up until Thatcher, which is as far as I've read about), and contained plans not only for organizing the bureaucracy but for mobilizing the civilian population, instituting the draft, rationing, getting experts in various fields out of the universities and labs and into, well, the universities and labs but helping the war effort, and all that sort of thing. When they eventually decided that they were at war, they mobilized incredibly quickly and thoroughly.

After 9/11, of course, we in the US used our War Book to get all the people with the skills needed to track down ... oh, hell, I can't even be bothered with the sarcasm.


#105 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2006, 06:40 PM:

Vardibidian: Of course we have a War Book. It's about a goat.

This has been provided without DRM by Sarcasm On Demand.

#106 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2006, 06:53 PM:

It's about a goat.

Damn you, Mr. Ford, I nearly choked on my pizza from that.


#107 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2006, 06:58 PM:

#94, on counter-factuals involving persons driving into trees:

Jim, if Ann Richards had beaten Bush for governor or Texas back in 1994, I without a doubt would have attended her funeral yesterday. As it is, I can't help seeing the turning point as having been right then. So I stayed home.

#108 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2006, 07:27 PM:

Charlie #100: My passport says that I'm a citizen of the United Kingdom, which hasn't had an empire for over half a century. That quibble aside, I'm not talking about the extent of control of territories beyond the bounds of the United States but the nature of the regime -- a republic versus a state ruled by an emperor -- within the United States.

#109 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2006, 07:33 PM:

Coming in rather late,

Meg #67 I agree that it's almost certain that Australian troops will be sent, as ever, by both major parties, to follow the USA whenever it whistles, as they were to Iraq despite the almost-unprecedented size of the demonstrations against it. If it does happen (as I ever pray it does not), looking at the last few years, it will at least be with far more reluctance from the population & armed forces, and perhaps with an 'exit strategy'.

Don #69, like PJ #84, my interpretation of Meg's "a-word" remark was that it related to John Winston Howard, current Prime Minister of Australia, leader of the presently-governing Coalition of the Liberal Party of Australia and The Nationals (formerly the Country Party), and proud follower in the Coalition of the Willing.
But as has been said, if you wanted to assassinate JWH, what would put you off most is looking at what would replace him. Plus it would provide a huge club to wield against the people who oppose him, what he's done and what he stands for, for decades to come, and a great lever to push all sorts of things "he'd have wanted". (And a bunch of other bad consequences in many areas, e.g. new laws & repression followed attempts on Benito Mussolini's life.)

protected static #80 In the transcript I have: Debate 1: 30-Sep-2004 "Kerry: ... when we went in there were three countries: Great Britain, Australia and the United States ..." "Bush: Well, actually you forgot Poland. And now there's 30 nations involved ..."

#110 ::: beth meacham ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2006, 07:52 PM:

The busheviks keep talking about bombing Iran as if it would be an act in a vacuum. Bombing, and the people rise up against their leaders. Bombing, and the people harden against the attacking Americans.

What they don't ever say is that Iran has...what?...350,000 men under arms. And a border with Iraq, where there are 140,000 American soldiers available to attack. Do these idiots imagine that Iran won't respond to being bombed by crossing that border and taking the fight to the US military?

#111 ::: Edward Oleander ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2006, 08:40 PM:

#102 (as followup to #88 and others) OK, so the military needs guys who can make war plans. And they have to train them to make war plans. And when they make plans to invade canada, or norway or whoever, the purpose isn't so much to have a plan on hand in case we need to invade norway. The purpose is to grade the planner on how well he can make a plan.

Then when we actually need a plan to attack, say, iran -- we pretty much start from scratch with a whole lot of good people doing it. Somebody might possibly look at some of the old student exercises just in case. But they sure don't depend on them.

Although the 1930 plan to invade Canada was declassified a long time ago and is now on public display, you can bet there is a much more current plan in a locked cabinet at the Pentagon that still has "Top Secret" stamped on it. As several have pointed out, this is what military planners do between wars. Back in the early '80s, several of my friends went into various branches and became such planners. These contingency plans are far more than mere exercises for students. They are the full-time occupation for hundreds of military planners during peacetime. I can't imagine that much has changed in that respect.

My point of all this is that we have a large group of professional warmakers who understand the differences between a war with Iraq and one with Iran, especially a ground war. Bushy Squirrel used his Start One Useless War card already.

#112 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2006, 08:47 PM:

beth meacham @110: Do these idiots imagine that Iran won't respond to being bombed by crossing that border and taking the fight to the US military?

I doubt that Bush could find either country on a map, let alone realize that they share a border.

Rumsfeld, Rice and the rest should know better. But apparently they don't.

#113 ::: Bob Oldendorf ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2006, 09:47 PM:

#111 etc.

Re: the American war plans for an attack on Canada

In every bar in northern New York, the wisdom is that the 10th Mountain Division was placed in Watertown (a very rare move, that, expanding a military facility in an extremely Blue state) specifically to put Canada on notice.

Ft. Drum gained the 10th Mt. back when Quebec separatism was still on the rise. The bar-wisdom holds that their Super Secret Mission is actually to stand ready to seize control of the St. Lawrence Seaway (and its access to the American interior, and its hydro plants) should our Canadian partner break up.

Theoretically, there should be plans laid to implement such a contingency; but, this being Rumsfeld's Pentagon, maybe not.

#114 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2006, 12:14 AM:

We still need to soften people up a bit, get them used to the idea. A little infotainment could help...

Yetanother grim SF story starts looking like prophecy; who remembers Spinrad's "The Big Flash"?

#102: So we have professionals who know attacking Iran is stupid? BHD. Donnie fired the ones who spoke up against Iraq; what makes you think he won't do that again, and again, until he gets down to the timeservers who follow orders and the whackos who \want/ to invade?

#115 ::: Ross Smith ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2006, 12:34 AM:

#114 CHip : We still need to soften people up a bit, get them used to the idea. A little infotainment could help... Yetanother grim SF story starts looking like prophecy; who remembers Spinrad's "The Big Flash"?

That one doesn't ring any bells, but I remember Brian Aldiss's "Another Little Boy".

#116 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2006, 02:51 AM:

"Do these idiots imagine[...]"

Isn't that exactly the problem; their imaginations are scrawny and cruel? They can't imagine very much, and what they can imagine is sick and sad. Damnit, if I were in charge of the world's only superpower, I could do better.

...scary, isn't it? But the truth of the matter is that any of us could do better. What is wrong with us as a nation, that our dreams have turned so thin and sour?

#117 ::: James ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2006, 03:06 AM:

One of the recurring statements by Bushites in George Packer's THE ASSASSIN'S GATE is 'I/we could never imagine ...' normally followed by something that a ten year old could have foreseen.

#118 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2006, 04:43 AM:

Yes, Iran could do a lot of damage to the USA with resources that wouldn't be involved in directly dealing with an air attack.

1: American-flagged ships in the Gulf would become potential targets. Even if you follow pre-WW1 standards, they could probably sieze several loaded oil tankers. These days, expect sea-skimmer missiles. This is risky, because there aren't just US ships passing through the Straits of Hormuz. It also means that the USAF has a lot of targets other than the Iranian nuclear programme.

2: US bases in Kuwait: want to bet that Iran wouldn't, as the tension rose, warn Kuwait that should the USA start shooting, Kuwait would be considered a co-belligerrent.

3: Yes, possible counter-invasion of Iraq, and with the whole Sunni-Shia split, they already have their Fifth Column. They don't have the high-tech weapons, and the USAF might be able to shred their logistics, but I wonder a little how many US Army units in Iran are mission-capable for a ground war. Note that the British Army is rather in the way.

4: Iran is one of the few countries to have actually used ballistic missiles in a war.

And now something out of left field. It has, at times, been suggested that some potentially nuclear-capable states have acquired ex-Soviet weapons, and the know-how to copy them. Iran has missiles, and it's possible they have functioning warheads. If the US uses a nuclear bunker-buster, what's the chance that an Iranian nuclear missile hits a major US base? It looks suicidal for Iran, but what's the end result for the USA.

And if you're the UK or France or Russia, and the USA looks like the nuclear mad dog of the world, how do you target your missiles? Probably not New York, you're not suffering from UN-hatred, but how do you use nukes to get through Bush's skull?

You probably need the warheads fused to initiate at toupee-level.

#119 ::: lalouve ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2006, 05:11 AM:

One of the basic errors made when planning war and economics (separately or together) is to assume that people will act rationally. I've yet to meet a person whose every decision was rational and unemotional; somehow, I don't think that the rulers of Iran, or China (I gave up long ago on the US leadership on this point, and any others)are going to be the exception to this.

I can see the idea of "Iran's population will rise up against its leaders" - I even like that idea. However, popular uprisings (Poland? Czechoslovakia? Hungary?) are created by the population itself, frequently with support, financially and politically, from other countries. It doesn't happen through bombing them, which, unaccountably, seems to generally be blamed on those dropping the bombs. I know I would.

#120 ::: Paul Weimer ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2006, 05:41 AM:

Re: 115 That one (The Big Flash) doesn't ring any bells

The Big Flash is a Vietnam era Spinrad story where a rock group who uses nuclear bomb imagery and promotion has a meteoric rise which shifts public opinion toward the use of such weapons. The government and the group feed off of each other for the purpose of making a nuclear strike palatable and politically possible.

#121 ::: Ross Smith ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2006, 08:00 AM:

Oh, and another nasty thought just occurred to me. (Yeah, I know, like you didn't have enough of those to be going on with.)

There are any number of countries in the Middle East that are ruled by relatively pro-Western regimes that, shall we say, have the occasional disagreement with the general run of their population on the subject. If the US does attack Iran, one of the more obvious consequences is that said populations are going to quickly become a good deal more disagreeable about it. Some of the more unsteady cases are likely to undergo regime changes, and not the sort the neocons have in mind.

Just to pick an example completely at random, consider for a moment the prospects of Musharraf's regime in Pakistan. That's Pakistan as in, the Islamic country that actually does have nuclear weapons...

#122 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2006, 08:19 AM:

Fragano: whoops, I assumed you were American. Bad Charlie!

Mind you, as our last imperial war was fought in 1982 in the south Atlantic, and the last major colony handed over to China in 1996, I'd quibble with the "no empire for 50 years". Although Churchill did have to sell off most of the family silver to pay for WWII ...

#123 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2006, 10:03 AM:

Ross (121) --

Egypt and Jordan, too, both of which have greater strategic implications for the Mid-East oil supply.

#124 ::: NelC ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2006, 11:24 AM:

#118: Dave, I can't see Iran already possessing nukes and not telling anyone about it. To quote Dr Strangelove:

Of course, the whole point of a Doomsday Machine is lost, if you keep it a secret! Why didn't you tell the world, eh?

Announcing the fact wouldn't make the American Empire any more likely to invade or bombard, after all. Looking at the examples of Korea and Pakistan, the opposite case seems more liekly. Unless they're keeping the announcement for an opportune moment, say just before the USA's mid-term elections. How's that for an October surprise?

#125 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2006, 11:34 AM:

Charlie Stross #122: I do live in the States, after all, so the mistake's understandable.

I would argue that the empire ended with the independence of India/Pakistan/Burma/Sri Lanka, and the policy decision to move the colonial empire to independence over the course of the 50s and 60s. Even though there were still a large number of colonies in the 1950s, it was clear that the UK was going out of the empire business. The remnant colonies (those left after the 1960s) constitute(d), at best, what I'd call an 'after-empire' the disjecta membra of what was once an empire.

I'd also not want to characterise the Falkland's war as an imperial war (its motivation was to shore up a weak regime in Argentina and to shore up a weak regime in Britain), but a border conflict in a remnant colonial region.

#126 ::: NelC ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2006, 11:34 AM:

That should read, "...the examples of North Korea and...", of course.

#127 ::: odaiwai (formerly dave) ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2006, 12:05 PM:

Charlie Stross #122:

and the last major colony handed over to China in 1996

It was 1997, because I had the occasional pleasure of being harangued by the Black Watch (AKA Her Majesty's Drunken Arseholes), for the sin of having an Irish accent, right up until June 30 1997.

After which they all buggered off and it rained for a month.

#128 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2006, 12:55 PM:

Dave Bell If the Iranians have warheads, it's because they bought them.

This is the only reason they would be keeping them secret. I have been told, with reasonable airs of certainty, that no such sales have been made.

I credit the affirmations at being about 90 percent reliable.

More to the point, with the present climate, the only people the Iranians have to bluff into believing they have warheads, of their own manufacture, is the US. Since our rhetoric is "They have the bomb, ANY MINUTE NOW", or (looking at various talking heads, are already making, "hemispheres of nuclear material") that's not all that hard to do.

So I still don't think they are less than five, and more like ten, years from being able to start manufacture of weapons grade fissiles.

#129 ::: Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2006, 12:59 PM:

These days, expect sea-skimmer missiles.

Why? The Straits of Hormuz are 21 miles wide. The shipping channel -- and if you're a supertanker, you stick *exactly* to the channel, because you draft 12-17 meters, you turn slowly, and you stop slower. So range from coast to supertankers is around 10 miles, and is even less where the deep water favors the Iranian coastline.

You don't need a missle to bag a supertanker in the straits. A modern towed 155mm howitzer has more than enough range to bag a supertanker in the straits, and with the right shell, this is a one shot kill -- if the crew doesn't panic and destroy the ship trying to dodge the shells for you.

You don't even need vulnerable to air attack coastal defence emplacements. Just map out several shooting parks and ranges to the channel, scoot out, shoot, move to the next base.

Worse, apparently Iran has some of the M107 Self Propelled Gun, which can hit targets clear across the Straits. One of these with a clear line of sight shuts down the straits to oil tankers until it's killed, and since it's SP, it'll be harder to kill than you think.

The 1991 Gulf War showed just how hard killing mobile launchers is, even with complete air superiority. The US and Allies launched bunches and bunches of mission trying to bag (larger and slower) Scud launchers, and at the end of the war, US CENTCOM was very unhappy with how many functional launchers there still were.

A war with Iran means the Straits of Hormuz are closed to the only cargo that matters for at least months. The only way they'll reopen is if someone invades and can hold the coast and a significant distance inland along the entire Iranian side of the straits.

You save the sea skimmers for the targets you really want to kill -- the tanker escorts.

#130 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2006, 09:28 PM:

#120: IIRC, the government and the group did not feed off each other; the opening material suggests that the group was deliberately created to shift public opinion to favor using nukes.

#131 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2006, 11:49 PM:

Re: CHip @130: From what I remember of the story, the group (The Four Horsemen?) had already existed, and were picked up by the psychwar/PR folk as a ready tool (as Paul @120 said) “for the purpose of making a nuclear strike palatable and politically possible.” The fact that a group playing with apocalyptic imagery had a following at all, made for a promising start. After some weeks of promotion, special arrangements were made so that nuclear submarine crews could watch (were required to watch?) a live televised concert by the group, the climax of which was the detonation of an atomic bomb in the desert as a backdrop for the stage show. The sub crews got overexcited.

From what I remember. Remember reading it; not certain that I have a copy even in one of the boxes...

#132 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2006, 03:21 AM:

My mention of sea-skimmer missiles was in part meant to contrast with the pre-WW1 law and tradition on a blockade. You boarded the ship, checked the papers and the cargo, and if it was carrying "contraband" took it into one of your own ports. You didn't sink it without warning.

Submarines changed that.

While the US Army did develop mobile artillery systems that could be set up for coast defence, the fire control is a problem. You need to be able to calculate solutions that take into acount target movement. Oil tankers aren't so difficult a target, but it would need a certain amount of specific training--something like aiming for the bow and a battery firing a salvo with a particular dispersion pattern might be enough. It might not; I have before me the back of an envelope that suggests even a supertanker can move its own length in less than a minute.

But this still adds to the problems the US would have. And the rest of us.

#133 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2006, 05:44 AM:

Dave Bell - I really can't see hitting a supertanker at 10 miles range as much of a problem, assuming you have artillery that will reach that far. At the age of 13 I was training to do so with a 114mm naval gun (I went to a rather odd school) and it wasn't too hard - with a battery, it would have been even easier. The problem of hitting moving ships with artillery has been largely solved for some time, especially hitting ships as large and unwieldy as a supertanker.
10 miles is extreme range for most of the Iranian SP artillery, which tend to have ranges of about 15km. Extreme, but still possible. The exception is Raad 2, which has a reported range of 30 km.
Summary - with enough heavily dug in towed or SP artillery, the Iranians certainly could close the Straits. And it's difficult to see what the US could do about it, if the Iranians have been paying attention to what North Korea has been doing.

#134 ::: Alex ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2006, 07:24 AM:

And they don't have to hit all the tankers or even most of the tankers, they just have to spike the war-risk insurance rates high enough to scare off the shipowners.

#135 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2006, 11:13 AM:

From wikipedia:The strait of Hormuz at its narrowest is 21 miles wide [1], having two 1-mile-wide channels for marine traffic separated by a 2-mile-wide buffer zone [2], and is the only sea passage to the open ocean for large areas of the petroleum exporting Persian Gulf States. Roughly 40% of the world's oil needs are transported through this passage each day.[citation needed]

Yeah, Iranian artillery could take out some tankers here. But they would have to shoot and scoot, and hide really really well, because you're looking at one of the things that air power is good at. Strategic bombing won't conquer a nation, but tactical surgical strikes against purely military targets is something we do really well. And artillery has a major problem with it. If you have sufficient technology with radar and computers (and we do), you can detect the trajectory of the shell and know exactly where the gun is located. Rockets would be better to shoot and scoot because you can't tell where it came from by looking at the tail end of the trajectory.

From wikipedia: On 14 July 2006, Hezbollah forces fired, what was reported to be a Chinese C-802 radar-guided anti-ship missile, at the Israeli corvette INS Hanit, killing four sailors and inflicting heavy damage. A second missile sunk a Cambodian vessel crewed by Egyptian sailors, although no deaths were reported. [12] Israeli military believes that Iranian advisers from the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) were present at the launch during the attack.[17] Iran has denied involvement in the incident.[16]

#136 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2006, 12:07 PM:

Greg --

SP artillery is very hard to take out, even with backtracking. Even in the (unlikely!) case where you have your artillery laid just right, the flight time of the shell you send back is long enough for the SP gun to move off its firing point. (This is one of the reasons for developing rocket artillery to blanket areas.)

Missiles are worse, because they have longer flight times. Pulling low-level interdiction with dumb rockets or cannon is an invitation to aircraft loses and doesn't work all that well.

Anyone with half a brain will decoy all their firing points, have pre-built berms for the actual guns to park in (=even more of a requirement for a direct hit) and drive bunches of tracked vehicles around that are AA tasked rather than artillery themselves, so picking out the scooting artillery piece is hard, even with airborn radars.

Because there's been a long time to plan this, I doubt the -- more typically effective -- tactic of preventing ammunition resupply will be effective in this case.

Plus, mining the shipping channels has worked before; no reason to suppose that it won't work again. Mines are typically most successful as a constraint on maneuver, and in this sort of application mines would be an ideal tool with which to constrain shipping into range of shore based weapons.

So, sure, they can expect to keep hitting tankers with artillery, and it only takes one good hit with a phosphorus round to put burning oil tanker pictures on all the news and run the insurance rates past the point of stopping traffic.

If the USN goes in there to escort, it can expect to take loses, potentially substantial ones. The ship types desirable for artillery duels in restricted waters aren't available, and it can expect to be under optical observation from widely separated points with fast communications. (aka you can't find it, you can't jam it, and you can't get away without leaving the straights.)

#137 ::: Alex Roston ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2006, 12:28 PM:

Has anyone out there contemplated exactly what making sure the Iranians can't build a bomb entails? Really doing the job doesn't just mean taking out the nuclear facilities. Iran has enough oil money that rebuilding won't be a problem. The worst merely destroying the facilities will do is set them back 2-5 years.

Really, really making Iran unable to build a bomb requires much more than that. All the engineers, chemists, physicists, mathematicians, and computer people would have to be killed, and Iran would need to be rendered unable to train more technologists. Doing it "right" would require the destruction of all Iranian research facilities, regardless of what problems they work on, plus the science and engineering departments of all Iranian colleges and universities. In addition, any Iranian hi-tech companies would have to be bombed. (As Jim MacDonald has observed, "hi-tech" means "advanced 1940s technology," which is really all you need to build a nuclear weapon.) Note that destroying universities, hi tech companies, and research facilities would require operations in daylight. (There's no point to destroying a university at night because teachers and advanced students wouldn't be killed.)

So when you hear a wingnut saying, "We'll just take out the nuclear facilities." you're hearing the voice of incompentence. Bombing the facilities simply won't work. It just guarantees never-ending emnity between the US and Iran.

On the other hand, "doing it right" would be an atrocity of incredible proportions. Even if we didn't use nukes, we're talking about, at a bare minimum, killing a hundred thousand people. What that would do to the reputation of the US is beyond imagining.

The simple fact of the matter is that we can't get Iran to be non-nuclear without negotiating, and that means making concessions no conservative can make.

BTW Charlie, I just reread your story "A Colder War." It really fits the times.


#138 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2006, 04:32 PM:

The iranians could use something like their Kowsar to attack a tanker and scoot. I don't know if Iran has any self propelled guns or not.

If the US initiates bombing raids in Iran, this would be an easy response for them. Take out one tanker, hide for a few days, take out another. There's no way you could track them all down. Without grunts on the ground, which then means you've got US special forces on the ground inside Iran, looking for these damn things. which will only escalate things, and we don't have the manpower for escalating things in Iran.

Of course, maybe the White House plan goes something like this: Bomb Iranian sites with the advertised purpose of taking out their nuclear capability. The real purpose being to push Iran into initiating state warfare back at us or indirectly by targeting tankers through the straights of hormuz. This then gives the White House an excuse to send our troops from Iraq over to Iran to look for these missile launchers and secure the area along the coastline. We then get out of Iraq without looking "weak" or without invoking "cut and run" labels.

It's an insane plan, of course. But for some reason, when I consider the idea of Bush or Cheney or Rumsfeld entertaining the idea, it seems well within the limits of their insanity.

#139 ::: Jacob Davies ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2006, 04:36 PM:

I'm very unclear on why Iran having nukes is particularly worse than Pakistan having them, not that I think Iran is anywhere near Pakistan right now anyway. In both cases they have a regional opponent (India & Israel) with a corresponding nuclear capability, no ability to reach the US with missiles, and no particular reason to launch a first-strike that would inevitably result in total annihilation.

In both cases the main risk is that they would supply weapons to a non-state group, and on that front Pakistan seems like much more of a risk than Iran - stronger connections to actual terrorist groups.

What would have been a much better idea would be the US reconciling with Iran in 2001. Bit late now but maybe we could work on it over the next five years. Yeah, hostages, terrorism, I know, but we made up with Gadhafi and he blew up a passenger airliner. Does it ever strike anyone as odd, though, that the countries the US has the hardest time forgiving are those where corporate assets were expropriated? Cuba, Iran, maybe Venezuela... Why, you'd almost think that protecting ownership of corporate assets was the most important job of the US!

#140 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2006, 04:54 PM:

this just out.

President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan said that after the September 11 attacks the United States threatened to bomb his country if it did not cooperate with America's campaign against the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Musharraf, in an interview with CBS news magazine show "60 Minutes" that will air on Sunday, said the threat came from Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and was given to Musharraf's intelligence director.
(end snip)

#141 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2006, 05:33 PM:

You know, I figured something like that probably happened.

I would have demanded the head of their chief bomb-maker, too.

#142 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2006, 01:18 AM:

I've read discussion about an invasion or attack on Iran for a couple years now, and there seems to be a big PR push for the idea in the last few months. However, I just can't make myself believe this will happen under Bush, because he's enormously weaker now than he was for the Iraq attack, and Iraq was a much weaker and easier target than Iran.

I think the big problem with Iran and other countries getting nukes isn't that they're wild-eyed fanatics who don't care about consequences. (That's crap. Iran could attack us with conventional forces if it were true--the fact that we'd clobber them is an effective deterrent.) The real problem is that the more countries openly have nukes, the more other countries need to openly have nukes to avoid the threat of being pushed around by the ones who have them. This is cutting-edge 1940s technology, and a whole raft of countries could have them very quickly. And the world looks a whole lot nastier with 30 countries with ready to use nukes and the surrounding forces than it does at present.

#143 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2006, 01:26 AM:

" . . . because he's enormously weaker now than he was for the Iraq attack . . ."

A neocon would look at this as even further justification to strike.

Meaning a lot of people are going to die in fires and crumpled buildings as Rumsfeld attempts to prove that Shock and Awe really works if you try again and again and again.

#144 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2006, 03:49 AM:

Greg, Bush says he's never heard of that. Armitage says he talked to them about cooperating, but never mentioned bombing.

#145 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2006, 08:56 AM:

Greg, Bush says he's never heard of that. Armitage says he talked to them about cooperating, but never mentioned bombing.

The Daily Show just had a great bit, showing clips of Shrub's speech to the UN. Bush says something like:

"To Iran, we respect you. We respect your people, the great contributions you've made to the world's culture..."

Flash back to Jon Stewart talking with a Brooklyn accent:

"It would be a shame if something were to happen to such a nice place as this."

I can imagine a similar exchange happened with Pakistan.

#146 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2006, 01:04 PM:

He can't get any of this done without substantial support from other Republicans. He's closing in on the end of his presidency, and that makes him a lot less powerful, because the total reach of his power to punish a wayward Republican congressman is bounded by 2008. Similarly, the Republican majority in congress is almost certainly either going to disappear or get much narrower in the next election, which means that the party screwing over Republicans who don't follow the party line gets much more expensive. And congressional Republicans can see (much better than we can, probably) that sticking with Bush may amount to going down with a sinking ship. Their deep commitment to principles is leading them to do things like run lots of campaign ads with no mention of the word "Republican" in them, get "stuck in traffic" and somehow miss the fundraiser that Dick Cheney helps run for them so there are no arm-in-arm photos floating around, etc.

Anyway, all this makes me think we aren't going to do anything really big in Iran. We may bomb them, though I think if we do, we'll be pulling out of Iraq very soon after that, whatever the President's timetable. But getting support for a massive invasion or Iraq required all Bush's influence and PR tricks at a time when the country was revved up for a war (basically wanted to go kick some Arab ass, and if it happened to be the right Arabs, so much the better), Bush's credibility was much higher, his approval ratings were strong, and he had years left in which to reward friends and punish enemies.

Maybe this is just wishful thinking. If there's some way we can keep Iran from becoming a nuclear power within our budget, I'd like to see us do that. But the Iraq fiasco spent a lot of our budget in a sense, and Bush has less budget (in terms of credibility and political capital) than he needs to invade Iran.

#147 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2006, 02:21 PM:

Albatross, the suspicion is not that Bush has the capital to start yet another unwinnable war, but that Cheney has the willpower and either material to blackmail Congress or the implication of such blackmail, that they will go along with whatever they're handed. They have before. Oversight? Advice and consent? Cue the crickets chirping. Worse, the Democrats are going to stay silent until they get their heads (or something) handed to them on platters, because they're afraid that anything they say will be turned into 'soft on terrorists'.

#148 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2006, 08:57 AM:

There are a lot of Republicans who would like to hold office past 2008, at which time Bush and Cheney will have no power whatsoever. They may dance around some issues while giving in to the white house for now, but they're not going to sacrifice their political careers for the greater glory of Bush's last couple years in office. I think many (most?) people saw the Iraq invasion as something that was unlikely to rise up and bite them. This wasn't entirely crazy, even if the "they will greet us with candy and flowers" line was obviously goofy. They only had to expect that the invasion and occupation of Iraq wouldn't turn into a disaster.

How many people think an invasion and occupation of Iran will not be a bloody, horrible mess? How many congressmen want to see their vote in favor of the invasion of Iran quoted in their opponent's campaign ad in 2008 or 2010?

I think 9/11 gave the Bush administration the political capital to invade Iraq, which they used. I don't see where the political capital will come from to invade Iran, short of another bloody terrorist attack on the US. (And even then, invasion seems less palatable at this point than bombing them into the stone age.)

The great, painful truth is that, whatever dreams the neocons had, most Americans don't give a damn what kind of government is in Iraq. If we can change that government at low enough cost, most Americans don't notice much, and this is a fertile area for lobbying and adventurism. (Think of our great experiments in turning Haiti into a liberal democracy. How many times have we done that, again?) But when it costs huge amounts of money, sends lots of American kids home in boxes, and wears out/bogs down our army enough that we may not be able to meet real threats, people do start noticing.

Like I said, maybe this is wishful thinking. But I don't buy it. Attacking Iran looks absolutely nuts to me.

#149 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2006, 09:13 AM:

#138 Greg London:

The iranians could use something like their Kowsar to attack a tanker and scoot. I don't know if Iran has any self propelled guns or not.

They have lots and lots of SP guns. Check out the Federation of American Scientists at, your one-stop shop for all the background data your geopolitical nightmares need.

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