Monday, April 10, 2006

The Iranian Clock

Shmuel Rosner, Ha'aretz:
White House Chief of Staff Hamilton Jordan excused himself to a nearby room to throw up. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, who had resigned that morning, said: "Mr. President, I am very, very sorry." Just a few minutes earlier president Jimmy Carter had spoken with the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General David Jones, and had heard from him the first report on the failed military operation to rescue the hostages in Iran. "Are there any dead?" asked Carter. "I understand," he said, and hung up.

The next bestseller by Mark Bowden - the author of "Black Hawk Down," which portrayed the U.S. military failure in Somalia - is on its way to the stands. Its title: "Guests of the Ayatollah: The First Battle in America's War with Militant Islam." Chapters from it were published this week in The Atlantic Monthly, in which, in another article, James Fallows writes that "realism about Iran starts with throwing out any plans to bomb." READ MORE

The burning failure of the hostage rescue, explains a briefer on behalf of the United States Special Operations Command (SOCOM), is what has led to a re-examination of the modus operandi of the elite U.S. military units, their training and their command structure. SOCOM, which leads the small war against terror organizations, mans a number of buildings at the MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, entry to which is permitted only to those who have the appropriate security clearance. Also located at the base is the American Central Command, CENTCOM, which coordinates the military operations between Central Asia and the Horn of Africa, including the Arab expanse in the Middle East, and is overseeing two wars - in Iraq and in Afghanistan.

Brigadier General Mark Kimmet, who has one star on his lapel and whose position is "deputy director of plans and policy" at the Central Command, is one of the busiest briefers, and also one of the most experienced, in the U.S. army. He carefully weighs his answer to a question about a military option in Iran - especially at a time when the command is so busy with the ever-increasing problems in Iraq: We hope, he says, that a diplomatic process will solve the problem. This is the best, most desirable way to deal with it. However, he continues, if there is "any country" that believes that the problems in Iraq will prevent us from carrying out other missions that will be delegated to us, it is not calculating its steps correctly.

The answer to the wrong question is immediately obvious: There is a military option in Iran. The means exist, and so do plans. A possibility of failure also always exists. Hitting the nuclear installations is an option; and even if this does not destroy them, it will cause damage, which will delay Iran for many years.

The right questions will not be answered by the military planner, but rather by the diplomatic assessor and decision-maker: How much damage can Iran cause in a response to an attack? And what is the price that the United States (and the other countries of the West, including Israel) will pay for this? What will happen to the oil market and its prices, and thus to the world economy? What will be the amplitude of the terror attacks that will be directed from Tehran? And to what extent will the ayotollahs be able to undermine the already undermined stability in the Middle East and Asia? If the United States decides not to attack Iran, it will not be the result of a lack of ability, but rather because of concern about the price. "It will be very heavy and felt in every corner of the world," said a senior officer at CENTCOM who asked to remain anonymous. In a new publication of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Moshen Sazegaram, an Iranian dissident, writes that the path to the establishment of a democratic and secular Iran is not necessarily very long. Many experts disagree with him, even strongly, and there are those who warn against relying on Iranian exiles. We already made this mistake, they say, in Iraq; then, dissidents promised a glorious victory and swift rehabilitation.

Six clocks hang in the briefing room for representatives of the members of the coalition at CENTCOM. They tell the local time in Tampa, Kabul, Qatar, Baghdad, Greenwich and Islamabad. Iran, at the moment, is not a battle arena that justifies a clock of its own, but the signs indicating a future possibility of this are increasing - as a report in The New Yorker testified this week. The weekly quotes senior Pentagon officials who are examining operational plans for smashing nuclear sites in the rogue state.

The two gears that are turning the Iranian clock are described by an experienced administration assessor. The first: What will come more quickly - the nuclear capability or the democratic revolution? And the second: If the nuclear move is stopped by a military action, will this accelerate the process of democratization in the country or will it set it back by igniting a new explosion of deadly hostility?