The NY Times continues its recent tradition of publishing the contents of secret memos with information from one about our strategy, or lack thereof, for dealing with Iran:
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has warned in a secret three-page memorandum to top White House officials that the United States does not have an effective long-range policy for dealing with Iran’s steady progress toward nuclear capability, according to government officials familiar with the document.
If true, it certainly isn’t unexpected. In fact, the US has spent more time saying what it won’t do (i.e. taking things off the table) than what it will (“serious” sanctions). However it appears that may be changing, finally. If the Times is to be believed (which, anymore, is not an automatic) it is beginning to dawn on the brain trust that a) Iran isn’t at all intimidated by the prospect of sanctions b) feels no serious threat to their intentions and c) doesn’t plan on discontinuing them.
So this memo, if reported correctly, is an apparent effort to ramp up a more coherent and comprehensive approach to dealing with Iran – an actual strategy. And that includes some military options should “diplomacy and sanctions fail to force Iran to change course.”
Is there really anyone out there holding out hope that “diplomacy and sanctions” will have the desired effect?
Of course, and as expected, White House officials deny the absense of a strategy. National security adviser Gen. James Jones claims:
“On Iran, we are doing what we said we were going to do. The fact that we don’t announce publicly our entire strategy for the world to see doesn’t mean we don’t have a strategy that anticipates the full range of contingencies — we do.”
Except -according to the NYT – the Secretary of Defense, certainly someone who would be privy to any military options, doesn’t seem to think we do.
But in his memo, Mr. Gates wrote of a variety of concerns, including the absence of an effective strategy should Iran choose the course that many government and outside analysts consider likely: Iran could assemble all the major parts it needs for a nuclear weapon — fuel, designs and detonators — but stop just short of assembling a fully operational weapon.
In that case, Iran could remain a signatory of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty while becoming what strategists call a “virtual” nuclear weapons state.
Then what? Testing nuclear weaponry’s design no longer requires actually detonation of a nuclear device. Sophisticated computer simulations now serve that purpose. So Gates’ point – if he made it – is entirely credible. They could indeed become a “virtual” nuclear state without us ever knowing about it (although I doubt their arrogance would allow the Iranian government to pass up an opportunity to rub the world’s nose in it).
The Times also contends:
According to several officials, the memorandum also calls for new thinking about how the United States might contain Iran’s power if it decided to produce a weapon, and how to deal with the possibility that fuel or weapons could be obtained by one of the terrorist groups Iran has supported, which officials said they considered to be a less-likely possibility.
But if we’re talking the “full range of contingencies” certainly one which has to be taken seriously and for which a strategy has to be formed.
In fact, other than “senior officials” and the NYT, there’s not much to verify the memo exists or the strategy doesn’t. And a Gates spokesman has even gone as far as to claim, in the Secretary’s name, that such a strategy does exit:
“The secretary believes the president and his national security team have spent an extraordinary amount of time and effort considering and preparing for the full range of contingencies with respect to Iran.”
So does the Gates memo actually say what the NYT says it says?
I’m inclined to say yes, despite the statement of the Gates spokesperson because of this:
Mr. Gates’s memo appears to reflect concerns in the Pentagon and the military that the White House did not have a well prepared series of alternatives in place in case all the diplomatic steps finally failed. Separately, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wrote a “chairman’s guidance” to his staff in December conveying a sense of urgency about contingency planning. He cautioned that a military attack would have “limited results,” but he did not convey any warnings about policy shortcomings.
“Should the president call for military options, we must have them ready,” the admiral wrote.
That clearly indicates that at least Adm. Mullen didn’t believe the strategy included the necessary and appropriate military options. And, as the NYT further reports, that seemed to be confirmed recently in some Senate testimony. Speaking of the military contingencies against Iran, the Times says:
Administration officials testifying before a Senate committee last week made it clear that those preparations were under way. So did General Jones.
So I think it is fair to conclude that Sec. Gates may have written this memo that the NYT is reporting on and, in fact, that there isn’t yet a comprehensive long-range strategy to deal with a nuclear Iran. To translate that a bit more, what that means is the administration’s focus has been almost exclusively on diplomacy and sanctions and Gates is making the case that those don’t appear they will yield the desired results and a more broad spectrum strategy which includes military contingencies be included and seriously considered.
He’s right. But this may also be an effective way to get the word to Iran that time is running out and the military guys are beginning be taken more seriously in discussions about how to react to Iran’s nuclear intransigence.
In this podcast, Bruce, Michael and Dale discuss the state of the economy, and the Obama Administration’s childlike foreign policy. The direct link to the podcast can be found here.
The intro and outro music is Vena Cava by 50 Foot Wave, and is available for free download here.
As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don’t forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don’t have iTunes, you can subscribe at Podcast Alley. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here. For podcasts from 2005 to 2009, they can be accessed through the RSS Archive Feed.
I’ve always been a fan, when talking national defense and deterrence, of telling potential enemies what our strategies are. It helps them formulate their plans on how to best attack us without receiving the most devastating response. For instance, our new unilateral nuclear use strategy:
It eliminates much of the ambiguity that has deliberately existed in American nuclear policy since the opening days of the cold war. For the first time, the United States is explicitly committing not to use nuclear weapons against nonnuclear states that are in compliance with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, even if they attacked the United States with biological or chemical weapons or launched a crippling cyberattack.
Those threats, Mr. Obama argued, could be deterred with “a series of graded options,” a combination of old and new conventional weapons. “I’m going to preserve all the tools that are necessary in order to make sure that the American people are safe and secure,” he said in the interview in the Oval Office.
Well if that’s true, Mr. Obama, why change our nuclear strategy? You see, in terms of a nuclear arms strategy, “ambiguity” is a feature, not a bug. But when you announce to anyone who can put anthrax in an envelope – or better yet weaponize it and introduce it into the US population via terrorist proxies – that if we find out who you are, you don’t have to worry about nukes, well that may make such an attempt at least appear to be somewhat survivable. And for zealots and other nutballs, that’s all it takes.
Certainly nuclear weapons are fearsome, but their history – their two uses – show them to be just another method of killing in war. For instance between Hiroshima and Nagasaki – the two cities bombed with nuclear weapons – about 105,000 died. That’s a horrific total granted, until you consider the 149,000 to 165,000 estimated to have died in the conventional bombings of Tokyo and Dresden. Obviously Tokyo was done over an extended period but Dresden wasn’t.
I also know that nuclear weapons are significantly more powerful now than then – significantly. But they come in various sizes, yields and means of delivery. No one wants to use them but that “ambiguity” about their use has certainly served us well to this point. So why the change? What is served – in terms of our national security – by changing it? How are we made safer when you tell potential enemies “hey, if you’re in compliance with the Nuclear Non-proliferation treaty and decide to use chem or bio on us, we will not nuke you?”
“Oh,” they answer, “well then let’s see how we can comply with that new strategy shall we?”
Obama claims he would retain the right to reconsider the use of nukes. Really? So what is the new strategy again? Is that unambiguous ambiguity I hear?
He also claims that his strategy will “edge” the world closer to making nuclear weapons obsolete. Will it? What it will most likely do is make chem and bio weapons the next bad guy growth industries. Oh, and if you don’t have nukes, there’s no reason to fear them. If you use chem and bio weapons on us – just as long as you’re in compliance with the non-proliferation treaty, mind you – we’ll only use conventional weapons in return (since we have no chem or bio weapons with which to answer in kind).
This isn’t a strategy, it’s a unilateral weakening of our national security. If the law of unintended consequences runs true to course, we’ll see that played out in a chem or bio attack on America or Americans somewhere.
Our enemies and potential enemies need to understand that if they strike us they will reap the whirlwind – potentially. When the whirlwind is unilaterally downgraded to a dust devil, it makes them think an attack (a chem or bio attack for heaven sake) may be survivable, and that’s not a thought we should be putting in their heads.
Tell me where I’m wrong.
In this podcast, Bruce, Michael, and Dale discuss the Obama Enigma, the current state of politics, and Iran’s progress towards nuclear weapons.
The direct link to the podcast can be found here.
The intro and outro music is Vena Cava by 50 Foot Wave, and is available for free download here.
As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don’t forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don’t have iTunes, you can subscribe at Podcast Alley. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here. For podcasts from 2005 to 2007, they can be accessed through the RSS Archive Feed.
Appearing before microphones at the G-20 conference, the Presidents of the US and France along with the PM of the UK made an announcement concerning Iran:
President Obama and leaders of Britain and France accused Iran on Friday of building a secret underground plant to manufacture nuclear fuel, saying the country has hidden the covert operation from international weapons inspectors for years.
Appearing before reporters in Pittsburgh, Mr. Obama said that the Iranian nuclear program “represents a direct challenge to the basic foundation of the nonproliferation regime.” French President Nicholas Sarkozy, appearing beside Mr. Obama, said that Iran had deadline of two months to comply with international demands or face increased sanctions.
Essentially the argument is the facility is too big for the manufacture of nuclear fuel for peaceful purposes and can only exist to enable the pursuit of nuclear weapons.
American officials said that they had been tracking the covert project for years, but that Mr. Obama decided to make public the American findings after Iran discovered, in recent weeks, that Western intelligence agencies had breached the secrecy surrounding the project. On Monday, Iran wrote a brief, cryptic letter to the International Atomic Energy Agency, saying that it now had a “pilot plant” under construction, whose existence it had never before revealed.
So now Iran has been called out. That’s the easy part. Increased sanctions are promised. That’s the hard part. Russia may possibly come on board (we’ll see if the unilateral decision to remove the missile defense shield from eastern Europe), but China is an unknown (although the Chinese foreign ministry recently said it was not in favor of increased sanctions). That’s assuming the Obama administration plans on working all of this through the UN.
One of the sanctions that the US and others are considering is one which would restrict the importation of gasoline. While Iran sits on a sea of oil, it has very limited refining capacity. It must import most of what it uses. Cutting those imports would seriously effect the country. However Venezuelan strong man Hugo Chavez, during a recent visit with Iran, promised to provide the regime with gasoline. That could set up a confrontation between the US (and others) and Venezuela. Hugo Chavez might finally get the confrontation with the US he’s been claiming was coming very soon.
This is about to get complicated and nasty. December is the date in which France has demanded compliance with international demands. In the interim, both sides are going to be scrambling to line up their allies. And then there’s the wild card – Israel.
This will be an interesting couple of months. But one question I have – why wasn’t this presented to the UN before the president of Iran spoke?
UPDATE: Dale sends me a link to this article by Simon Tisdale at the Guardian in reference to this story:
…Now it seems the Iranian regime has been caught red-handed, and clean out of trumps, by the forced disclosure that it is building, if not already operating, a second, secret uranium processing plant.
The revelation will bring a triumphal roar of “told you so!” from Bush era neoconservatives in the US to hawkish rightwingers in Israel. The likes of former vice-president Dick Cheney and UN envoy John Bolton, and the current Israeli leader, Binyamin Netanyahu, have long insisted that Tehran’s word could not be trusted.
Yet the argument about who was right and who was wrong about Iran is hardly important at this juncture…
As Dale sarcastically notes:
Yes. Whatever we do, let’s not try and keep track of who was right and who was wrong about Iran. We certainly wouldn’t want to have a track record of foreign policy reliability we could consult in the future.
Because this is about, uh what was it again, oh, yeah, change!
That’s what the UK Times is reporting:
Iran has perfected the technology to create and detonate a nuclear warhead and is merely awaiting the word from its Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to produce its first bomb, Western intelligence sources have told The Times.
The sources said that Iran completed a research programme to create weaponised uranium in the summer of 2003 and that it could feasibly make a bomb within a year of an order from its Supreme Leader.
Of course, what we don’t know about Iran’s capability could fill a book. We’ve seen it variously reported that they a year away to ten years away – a good indicator that for the most part intelligence agencies haven’t a clue in reality.
However, as we know, nuclear bombs are old technology. The genie has been out of the bottle way too long to believe that Iran can’t build a bomb if it dedicates the time and resources to do so. And it certainly seems to have done both.
So now what?
That’s the salient question now. Let’s assume Iran has a bomb by this time next year – then what?
Well here’s the apparent game plan:
If Iran’s leader does decide to build a bomb, he will have two choices, intelligence sources said. One would be to take the high-risk approach of kicking out the international inspectors and making a sprint to complete Iran’s first bomb, as the country weathered international sanctions or possible air strikes in the ensuing crisis. The other would be to covertly develop the materials needed for an arsenal in secret desert facilities.
Last week, during a series of high-level US visits to Israel, officials outlined Washington’s plans to step up sanctions on Iran, should Tehran fail to agree on talks. Robert Gates, the Defence Secretary, and General James Jones, the National Security Adviser, said that Iran had until the end of next month, when the UN General Assembly is to meet, to make a positive move towards engagement.
If Tehran fails to respond, Washington aims to build a tough international coalition to impose harsh sanctions focusing on petroleum products — an area where Iran is particularly vulnerable because it sends almost all of its crude abroad for refinement.
The feeling, of course, is if these sorts of sanctions can be imposed, it will hurt the regime even further by adding more unrest among a population already not happy with the election outcome. And, per the Times, hit directly at the Revolutionary Guards Council, which is the main exporter of terrorism through its surrogates in various parts of the world.
Of course what isn’t mentioned by the Times is the one big fly in the ointment of getting this done – China. No China, no sanctions. And China has developed a pretty close relationship with Iran based on petroleum trade. In 2004 it signed two huge oil and gas deals with Iran. Presently 45% of China’s crude imports come from the Middle East and that’s expected to rise to 70% by 2015. In 2008, China finalized a $70 billion deal to develop Iran’s Yadavaran oil field in exchange for the supply of liquefied natural gas. And much, much more.
So China is not going to be keen to cripple a nation which it has invested so much time and money in developing a relationship with – especially if it wants to maintain its own economy (and keep its own internal unrest to a simmer) during recessionary times.
Bottom line? My guess is a lot of tough talk and fist shaking at Iran, but in the end, nothing much happens and Iran ends up with its nuke. The play will be made in the UN where China has a seat on the Security Council and I’d almost bet the house that nothing comes out of that organization with any teeth whatsoever or China won’t vote for it.
Bottom bottom line – Israel, who we seem bound and determined to have worse relations with, is probably going to have to find a way to destroy the capability on their own. Militarily they’ve been quietly developing the strike capability for some time. And Saudi Arabia, which is very worried about an Iranian nuke and what it would do to the balance of power in the region, has given Israel a subtle nod that it would turn its back should the Israelis fly over their territory to strike Iran – unprecedented in the history of the region and an indication of the depth of fear the Saudis harbor.
But reliance on the UN and “sanctions”? I just don’t see that happening.
I guess this just wasn’t considered true until the boys at al Qaeda said it was true, huh?
If it were in a position to do so, Al Qaeda would use Pakistan’s nuclear weapons in its fight against the United States, a top leader of the group said in remarks aired Sunday.
Not only would it use Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, it would use Iran’s, North Korea’s, Russia’s or anyone else’s they could get their hands on.
And that says what? That we have every reason to consider it a national security priority to ensure a) they (AQ) don’t get their hands on such weapons and b) those nations most likely to develop them and hand them over to AQ don’t get the opportunity to do so.
Anyone – what would be an indicator that a regime might hand that sort of weapon over to AQ?
Answer? If the regime already actively supports terrorists and supplies them with weaponry .
I’ll leave it to you to figure out which country that is and why now is a perfect time to be taking a much stronger stand in support of dissenters there. If you’re still in the dark, read this interview, especially the last few paragraphs. If what the interviewee says is true, we’re talking sea change, folks.
While at a conference in Singapore with Asian defense leaders, Sec. Gates did a little podium thumping about North Korea’s recent nuclear test:
“We will not stand idly by as North Korea builds the capability to wreak destruction on any target in Asia — or on us,” Mr. Gates told a major defense conference here that has been dominated by North Korea’s test this week of a nuclear device and the firing of at least six short-range missiles, all in defiance of international sanctions.
It took a foreign journalist to point out to Sec. Gates that while the US may not recognize North Korea as a nuclear weapons state, it was, in fact, already a “defacto nuclear weapons state.”
And, of course, it was important that Gates do a little apologizing to the assembled group as well, since this seems to now be an integral part of any foreign visit:
Mr. Gates concluded that the United States, “in our efforts to protect our own freedom, and that of others” had “from time to time made mistakes, including at times being arrogant in dealing with others.” Mr. Gates did not name names, but then said, “We always correct course.”
Other nations in the region weighed in on the North Korea nuclear test as well:
In Moscow, the Kremlin issued a statement saying President Dmitri A. Medvedev and Prime Minister Taro Aso of Japan had agreed on the need for a serious response to the nuclear test, Reuters reported.
As is usually the case in these sorts of situations, no one has any idea of what might constitute a “serious response” . In essence, the most “serious response” discussed thus far at the conference has been tightening sanctions. And we know how well sanctions have worked in NoKo and Iran.
Unofficially, about all that’s gone on is this:
“There’s no prescription yet on what to do,” said a senior American defense official who asked for anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly. The official said that one “prudent option” was “what should we be thinking about in the event that we need to start enhancing our posture, our defenses?” But the official said that it was premature to talk of building up American forces in the region — an echo of comments from Mr. Gates on Friday that the United States had no plans to reinforce some 28,000 American troops based in South Korea.
Well there you go. China also had a few words to say as well:
“We are resolutely opposed to nuclear proliferation,” General Ma said, adding that “we hope that all parties concerned will remain cool-headed and take measured measures to address the problem.”
China is resolutely opposed to nuclear proliferation only after NoKo. That means it wants no nukes in Japan. And its admonishment to all to remain “cool-headed” and take “measured measures” means it is in no hurry to do much of anything about the present problem. Of course, China holds the key(s) to dealing with NoKo and everyone knows it.
So? So as usual, North Korea does what it chooses to do and nothing of significance is being done to “punish” it for doing so. I’m sure, as is the MO of the Obama administration, that the blame for all of this will be laid at the previous administration’s feet, but a quick perusal of history going back later than 8 years will show than no US administration has actually dealt effectively with North Korea and the present one isn’t going to be any different – despite its apology.
North Korea says “no”:
North Korea conducted a nuclear test on Monday, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency quoted a ruling party official as saying.
YTN Television quoted the South Korean weather agency as saying it detected a tremor indicating a test at 0054 GMT (8:54 p.m. EDT).
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak had called an emergency meeting of cabinet ministers over the test, Yonhap said.
Well that ought to keep ‘em buzzing around in DC for a day or two. I wonder if we’ll finally figure out that anything that NoKo agrees too in the future isn’t worth the paper it’s written on?
The Taliban, as expected, have managed to endear themselves to another benighted people:
Up to 500,000 terrified residents of Pakistan’s Swat valley have fled or else are desperately trying to leave as the military steps up an operation using fighter jets and helicopter gunships to “eliminate” Taliban fighters.
As the military intensified what may be its most determined operation to date against militant extremists, the UN said 200,000 people had already arrived in safe areas in the past few days while another 300,000 were on the move or were poised to leave.
The escalation of the operation came after Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Yousaf Gilani, made a public appeal for unity. In a televised address on Thursday evening, Mr Gilani said: “I appeal to the people of Pakistan to support the government and army at this crucial time. We pledge to eliminate the elements who have destroyed the peace and calm of the nation and wanted to take Pakistan hostage at gunpoint.”
This is pretty much the style of the Taliban, certainly nothing very different than what they did in Afghanistan.
However, there is a difference between Pakistan and Afghanistan, and that difference is nuclear weapons. Now most seem to think that the Pakistani army is strong enough to prevent a deterioration of the situation to the point that the Taliban would gain control over the nukes. But that makes a lot of assumptions which may or may not be warranted. It is important to remember that the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan and its eventual triumph there is irrefutably linked to support from Pakistan’s government, namely the ISI. Now it may be a stretch to believe the ISI would help the Taliban gain control of Pakistan, but it may not be to much to believe the organization may have mixed feelings about the present operations against the Taliban.
The Taliban needs to be destroyed as an effective organization. Like a type of cancer, the Taliban attacks the very religious core of countries. But only Islamic countries. Its extremist brand of Islam appeals to a certain element of Islamic countries and it is that portion of the population in which the Taliban embeds itself and attempts to exploit.
The very fact that Pakistan is treating the Swat valley takeover by the Taliban as an emergency in which drastic action must be taken to defeat them is an encouraging sign. Previously Pakistan’s government and army were content to give such opposition lip-service and some rather poor attempts to oust them from other territories. Now that the Taliban has all but declared war on the Pakistani nation, we may finally see a real and concerted effort by Pakistan to rid the region of the Taliban. In the end, the overreaching by the Taliban may end up being the best thing that could have happened. If Pakistan is successful in taking the Taliban out, the war in Afghanistan become much more winnable. The remaining Taliban based along the border may not enjoy the same safe-haven they’ve enjoyed for years.
However, should Pakistan fail in its attempt to destroy the Taliban, we may end up with two nations in jeopardy instead of one, and since one has nuclear weapons, we may have no choice but to intervene should it get to that point.