Is There a Viable Military Strategy for Disarming Iran? (1rst Party)
By Tom Snodgrass
Dealing a deathblow to the Iranian resupply of Shi’ite and Sunni Jihadists would strike at both the insurgents' capability in Iraq and the motivation of Islamic Jihadists throughout the world.
Why are we at war?
To answer that question during World War II, the US Army Signal Corps produced a series of seven films under the supervision of Frank Capra (director of the post–war Christmas classic It’s a Wonderful Life) entitled Why We Fight. The film series explained with graphics and newsreel footage the issues, strategies, and consequences involved in our war to the death with the Axis Powers of Germany, Japan, and Italy. While the presentations in these films would be considered “dated” and “unsophisticated” by today’s standards, they were effective in their time to unite the American public behind the US war effort on the homefront as well as overseas.
Such unity of American effort is woefully lacking today. Obviously this is a conspicuous weakness of the Bush administration. But President Bush’ war team is not just bad at communication. Indeed, arguably, they are bad at communication because their message is so bad. For example, we were told for three years effectively that all was going as well as can be expected in Iraq. But the truth was and is that we are losing the war because we did nothing to cut off the flow of money, arms, personnel, and strategy flowing across the borders, notably the southern one with Iran. When a belligerent is not winning in a counterinsurgency, it is losing. Only after losing the last mid-term election, are we told that a reassessment is in order. But even then, the answer was a surge without any clear rationale for how the surge was going to actually make a difference beyond platitudes and wish lists.
More to the point, the Bush administration has remained steadfast in its resolve not to identify the enemy to the American people. We are only told that we are fighting terrorism and terrorists. At times, we are told they are radical Islamists who have somehow hijacked the noble religion of peace. But had President Bush made clear that our enemy is every nation, every regime, every network, every conspiracy, and every individual who preaches, teaches and advocates Shari’a (Islamic law), which is a political ideology bent on world domination, the ability to communicate war goals, progress and strategy would have become infinitely more effective. Instead, he and his defense team insist we are fighting some kind of tactic without faces other than a few al Qaeda types, which leads people to wonder what we are doing in Iraq and even in Afghanistan.
While Bush began with a real strategy (i.e., Bush’s unqualified pledge to “deny the militants control of any nation, which they would use as a home base and launching pad for terror”), he has taken quite the opposite approach in fact. First, he announced that the goal in Iraq and Afghanistan was not victory but democracy. What that meant of course was that the “militants” gained credibility and access as part of the government. Second, Bush and his generals have affirmatively not applied this war strategy to two flagrant terrorist states, Iran and Syria.
The Bush administration’s bumbling approach to the war has cost it the confidence of the American public. The majority of the American people have an idea of what is at stake in this war against the Sharia-faithful Islamic Jihadists and have no desire to lose, but the uncertainty and lack of success in Iraq has left them confused, dissatisfied, and demoralized. The situation is not irredeemably lost, but changes must be made by the US Government to regain public confidence, and with increased confidence reinvigorate the national will to fight on until the Jihadist threat is smashed.
What is war?
As an aside at this point, in an effort to simplify my discussion of war for the reader, I have distilled into an equation the components of war which the preeminent military strategist, Carl von Clausewitz, saw as comprising its essential elements:
WAR = MOTIVATION + CAPABILITY.
While these components are fairly self-explanatory, for any who wish more explanation, I direct your attention to these previous essays (here, here, here, here, here, and here). The objective of any warring power is to remove one or both of these components from the enemy’s war equation and thus bring about the cessation of hostilities on your terms.
Now back to the question: Why are we at war? Obviously we are at war because we were attacked on 9/11 by Sharia-faithful Islamic Jihadists, which in truth was the proverbial straw after more than a decade of similar but less dramatic terrorist attacks directly against the US or against US interests abroad. But the crucial issues concerning any war are: who to fight, where to fight, how to fight, what are the war aims, and how long will the fighting last? These are the questions that must be convincingly and clearly answered in the public’s mind, if the government is to have a unified national consensus supporting the troops in the field. Unified national consensus (especially in a democratic or representative government) is directly related to the essential MOTIVATION component that must be maintained as a part of a belligerent’s equation to effectively wage war.
As noted earlier, it is no wonder the American people have no clarity about who we are fighting when the Bush administration named the tactic of “terror” as our opponent and not the Sharia-faithful Islamic Jihadists who are using terror to conduct a highly effective psychological warfare campaign. The Muslim Jihadists know full well that their strategy is effectively attacking and eroding American MOTIVATION.
The difficulty with the Bush administration’s failure to specifically and inclusively identify the Shari’a-faithful enemy is that it has permitted the traditionally anti-war Democrat Party the opening to mischaracterize the war as a limited police problem and to undermine American MOTIVATION by disingenuously contending that only Jihadists directly involved in the attack of 9/11 are the enemy. Consequently, in spite of the Democrats’ early support for the preemptive attack against Saddam’s terror-sponsoring Iraqi state when the Iraq invasion was riding on a wave of popularity after the successful campaign in Afghanistan, the anti-war Elites quickly disavowed the Iraq campaign when the situation began to drag on with no end in sight by claming that Saddam was not involved in the 9/11 plot; therefore, American deaths and expenditures were not justified.
The failure to locate the much-heralded weapons of mass destruction (WMD) was just icing on the Democrats’ “stop-the-war-at-any-price” cake. President Bush’s failure to inclusively specify the Sharia-faithful and those supporting them as our enemies (which clearly included Saddam) provided the Democrats with the opportunity to do what they did during the Civil War and the Vietnam War – undermine US troops in combat. So, irrespective of the Democrats' protestations of “patriotism” to the contrary and notwithstanding the similar cries of “me-too” from their Republican Party “finger-in-the-wind” fellow travelers, there is a bipartisan anti-war movement aligned with the Sharia-faithful in attacking American MOTIVATION to combat the Islamic Jihad against the West. And the Bush administration’s failure to acknowledge the true nature of our Islamic enemy has created this calamity for its own political fortunes and for the nation’s long-term security.
What are the opposing war strategies?
As noted above, both MOTIVATION and CAPABILITY must be present to maintain a belligerent’s fighting forces while engaged in active warfare and to provide a base of support in the belligerent’s population. In our war with the Sharia-faithful, each side is basically targeting different components of the war equation in different ways. The Islamic Jihadists clearly recognize that they will never be able to put more than a superficial wound on America’s military CAPABILITY; therefore, they are using every method, including suicide at one extreme and democracy Jihad at the other, to maximize the political impact of American troop deaths with the objective of destroying US political MOTIVATION to continue the war. The underbelly of the Elite in America they have identified is the Democrat-led US domestic anti-war movement. There is no greater ally in this strategy than the mainstream media and the university professorate. The Islamic Jihadists have skillfully and realistically crafted their total war strategy, which knows no boundaries in the types of weapons it chooses to utilize (other than the limitation of availability) or how and upon whom they use those weapons.
On the other hand, the Bush administration has adopted a limited war strategy that is dysfunctional. In order to target the Sharia-faithful’s MOTIVATION, the US Government is attempting to introduce a completely alien concept of democracy into the Islamic culture that opposes individual freedom of choice based on fundamental religious doctrine. The probability that Islamic culture will reject Jihad, which is mandated in the Quran, and instead embrace a foreign Western political ideology, which is contrary to 1,300+ years of tradition and the current Islamic community organization, is effectively zero.
The second part of this fanciful US strategy of attack on the Islamic-faithful’s MOTIVATION is that once Islamic culture adopts democracy, the Muslim democrats will become US allies against their religious Jihadist brethren. Is there even a need to analyze this absurdity?
Regarding the enemy’s CAPABILTY component, the Bush team’s limited war strategy seeks to nullify the Islamic Jihadist military CAPABILITY by employing strictly in-country counterinsurgency, while ignoring the logistical resupply to the insurgents sustaining their military CAPABILITY from beyond Iraqi borders. So, regardless of how much insurgent military CAPABILITY we destroy in Iraq, it will be readily replaced from outside. In these circumstances, our attempts to destroy the enemy’s CAPABILITY will go on hopelessly until the Islamic Jihadists succeed in destroying our MOTIVATION.
Given these misapplications in strategic component targeting, it would appear that it is only a matter of time until the Islamic Jihadists’ strategy prevails in Iraq, if nothing changes.
What are the critical issues in war and how are they linked?
The issue of “where to fight” is inseparably linked with “whom to war against.” Since the Taliban and al-Qaeda were clearly involved in 9/11, there was no question about the appropriateness of carrying the battle to Afghanistan. However, for the domestic reasons discussed above, Iraq is proving to be the political anvil on which the MOTIVATION of the US war against Islamic Jihad may be shattered. But the US combat success in Iraq is faltering for reasons that are peculiar to the limited war doctrine practiced by the Bush administration.
Having already discussed the fallacy of this type of warfare at length (again, see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here), I will simply say that limited war is doomed to fail when faced with a fanatical enemy who is (1) religiously inspired to die in his cause of conquering the world to impose Islamic Law on every human being (i.e., motivation), and (2) when the war is sustained unimpeded from outside the country (i.e., capability). The logistical resupply from Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia to the Islamic insurgents, Sunni and Shi’ite, in Iraq sustains the CAPABILITY of our enemy. Whereas the outside support from Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia could actually be used to end the Islamic insurgency in Iraq by destroying these absolutely vital logistical centers of gravity, the Bush limited war prohibition against carrying the combat outside the borders of Iraq will eventually guarantee a victory for the Sharia-faithful, unless rectified.
Just as there is a definite linkage of whom to fight and where to fight, so too is there a concomitant linkage between “how to fight” and “what are the war aims (the result sought).” These two aspects of strategy should be totally synchronized because “the how” will determine “the result.” A quick comparison of the two different methods employed by the Sharia-faithful and the Bush team illustrates this fact clearly. The Islamic Jihadists have unleashed a no-holds-barred campaign to kill as many Iraqis and US forces as possible to both outrage and wear down the will to fight of the average American. The “how” of indiscriminate killing is on the brink of bringing about the collapse of US MOTIVATION and the withdrawal from Iraq is the “result” they seek. While the Bush administration’s limited war – the “how” — in the form of counterinsurgency is proving poorly designed to produce the “result” of destroying either the Sharia-faithful’s MOTIVATION or CAPABILITY. And, worse, it is predictably ill-suited to do so.
The “who,” “where,” “how,” and “what result,” all combine to determine the answer to the crucial question: “how long?” The Bush strategy opted for a guaranteed multi-year war because the limited war counterinsurgency approach requires a minimum of 7-10 years for success, both in theory and in those instances where it was applied successfully. Such a prolonged timetable is well suited to the Islamic Jihadists’ strategy, since wearing down American MOTIVATION is their objective and seemingly never ending casualty reports bombarding the American people over a prolonged period of years serves that objective perfectly.
Where are we now?
Without rearguing all the hoary WMD and “was the invasion of Iraq justified?” rhetorical battles, the fact is we are locked in an unrelenting combat in Iraq with the two top contenders for leadership of the worldwide Islamic Jihad – the Iranian Twelver Shi’ites and the al-Qaeda Salafist Sunnis. While Iran and al-Qaeda are in cutthroat competition to win the allegiance of the Islamic ummah by defeating the forces of America, aka “the Great Satan” in the Islamic world, they nevertheless have found it advantageous to engage in a wartime alliance, much as Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union agreed to a mutually beneficial pact in 1939 before those mortal enemies fought one of the most vicious wars in human history. Similarly it appears that the Iranian Shi’ites believe it is in their best interest at present to provide logistical resupply to the al-Qaeda Sunnis who are bitterly contesting control of al-Anbar Province with US forces and our Iraqi allies. This classic “marriage of convenience” will probably last until the fate of Iraq is decided.
Meanwhile the Bush administration began the occupation of Iraq with the confused strategy of “nation-building,” while not fighting the counterinsurgency that ignited in the summer of 2003 by denying that it was occurring. President Bush and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld naively believed that they could turn over the policing of Iraq to the Iraqi army and police and quickly withdraw US forces, thus avoiding a repeat of the Vietnam counterinsurgency warfare. And yet one of the first things that they did was to disband the Iraqi army and police?!
Finally, when the Bush administration could no longer deny the existence of the insurgency, they fought a counterinsurgency campaign in Iraq with the same lack of skill as the French displayed in Vietnam during the early 1950’s. US forces were largely in a defensive “force protection” posture, which naturally and ultimately resulted in more US casualties, rather than fewer. The January 2007 decision to “surge” and put General Petraeus, the US counterinsurgency guru, in command in Iraq is an attempt to salvage the situation for domestic political purposes. Unfortunately we are continuing to pursue a strategy for defeat with limited war counterinsurgency that seeks basically to contain the struggle within Iraq, not to prevail over the Islamic Jihadists.
In addition to not attacking the sources of Islamic insurgent CAPABILITY in Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia, the Bush Iraqi strategy has another complicating weakness. It is that conducting counterinsurgency in an Islamic country starts from a deficit because dar al-Islam (any territory where the Sharia has been supreme law) is fundamentally hostile turf for counterinsurgency as Muslims consider the presence of kuffār (كفّار — non-believers in Islam) in dar al-Islam, especially in the context of an occupying army, to be a mandatory rallying cause for Jihad. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the current US presence in Iraq provide conclusive evidence of this fact.
Can the situation be turned around?
The irony is of course that if the US truly wanted to deal a crushing blow to the worldwide Islamic Jihad we could not ask for a more ideal situation than the one we are in now. The key to warfare is logistics; without logistic resupply eventually there is no combat CAPABILITY. Iran is the principal logistics resupplier of the CAPABILITY that sustains both Shi’ite and Sunni insurgents in Iraq. Dealing a deathblow to the Iranian resupply of Shi’ite and Sunni Jihadists would strike at both the insurgent CAPABILITY in Iraq and the MOTIVATION (morale) of Islamic Jihadists throughout the world. That is the way warfare functions.
War is much like a football game where momentum can be a determining factor. Knocking Iran out of the world Jihad currently underway would have a devastating effect. It should be noted that the way the West has historically rolled back Jihad was to administer overwhelming physical defeat (Tours-632, Vienna-1519, Lepanto-1571, Vienna-1683) which destroyed Jihadist CAPABILITY and put a stop to the expansion of dar al-Islam for extended periods of time. While it is unlikely that, short of nuclear eradication of Mecca and Medina, the West will ever be able to completely extinguish Jihadist MOTIVATION, the historical Western victories over Jihadist CAPABILITY also served to severely dampen Jihadist MOTIVATION and to curtail their Jihad for varying periods of time. As with the oriental concept of the “mandate of heaven” to rule, Jihadists believe that they have the mandate of Allah to subjugate the world to Shari’a; however, as in the past, if and when they will be thwarted by a massive defeat, the MOTIVATION for Jihad will wither away.
Additionally, administering defeat to Iran would have the effect of putting Syria on notice that their continued logistical support of Islamic Jihadists in Iraq will no longer be tolerated. We have been telling Syria to stop the re-supply of insurgents across their border for four years, and they have ignored us. Why shouldn’t they? The Bush limited war strategy of containing the war to Iraq has made US threats ring hollow. Those who advocate “soft power” fail to appreciate that soft power doesn’t exist when there is no steel fist inside the velvet glove. Defeat of Iran would restore the US ability to exercise soft power with Syria, Saudi Arabia, and other Islamic countries. Military defeat of Iran is the key to turning the situation around, and that brings me to the question: How?
Is there a viable military strategy for disarming Iran?
I have compiled a number of quotes that I believe provide a historical framework for a viable military strategy for Iran that revolves around airpower. As one of the early airpower theorists, Alexander P. De Seversky, pointed out (a) that once total control of the air (air supremacy) is gained in warfare, the victor’s will can be imposed unchallenged; (b) that in some cases destruction to eliminate the power of the defeated enemy makes occupation and subjugation unnecessary; and (c) that the greater the enemy’s MOTIVATION, the greater the destruction that may be necessary to subdue him.
Once control of the air over hostile territory is assumed, the further disposition of that area is normally at the will of the conqueror . . . he may find the elimination of the country as a world factor more desirable, or more expeditious, than its actual subjugation . . .
The deeper the civilization and the national pride of a people, the more likely it is to be subjected to the method of extermination, since such a people cannot be reconciled to living the life of the vanquished.
– Alexander P. De Seversky, Victory through Air Power (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1942), p. 145.
My second series of quotes are taken from a work by J.E. Peterson, which detail how the British successfully policed their Middle East Empire using airpower for approximately twenty years. This historical lesson should be of special interest since this is the same difficult terrain and peoples that pose similar problems to us, although obviously no two historical situations are going to be exactly the same. The lesson I take away from the British experience is that hostile elements in Iran could be controlled without occupation, once air supremacy is assured.
As early as 1919, air sorties were carried out against recalcitrant tribes of the interior, as well as against the Yemen imamate and Somaliland, and a flight was stationed permanently at Aden in 1920. When overall responsibility for the defense of the colony and protectorate was given over to the RAF in 1928, a squadron of bombers from Iraq replaced the existing garrison of British and Indian troops . . .
They exhibited an obvious advantage in reconnaissance, both in the ability to quickly and safely map unknown countryside and in gathering intelligence on enemy movements. Their mobility could be particularly useful in theatres of operation involving relatively small forces spread out over extensive territory. Attack by air was seen as particularly effective where the countryside was rugged and ground movements restricted to a limited number of roads and passes. Aircraft could be used for dropping communications and even some supplies to besieged positions. Finally, artillery spotting could be done more efficiently from the air . . .
The use of aircraft to support political authorities in maintaining order seemed to be an application of air power that was even more appropriate for "peacetime" conditions in many areas of the newly expanded empire. In particular, the advantages of air power over ground forces in "punitive expeditions" were seen to include the ability to: (1) strike a quick blow at a great distance; (2) keep forces concentrated without sacrificing mobility; (3) destroy the morale of tribesmen unable to counter air attacks; and (4) speed up negotiations with rebellious tribes by dropping government terms and landing negotiating officials.
– J.E. Peterson, Defending Arabia, “Chapter 2: Air Power and Empire in the Arabian Peninsula,” online edition from www.JEPeterson.net (posted September 2000).
The third set of quotes is taken from the book I consider the classic work of American military history, Russell Weigley’s The American Way of War. Weigley reconfirms De Seversky’s point that air supremacy permits the power exercising it the freedom to range over the countryside and destroy the enemy’s CAPABILITY at will. The other very salient point made by Weigley is that the American people’s tolerance for extended war is quite limited. He cites Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt as being very aware of this fact, which can only make one wonder what Lyndon Johnson and George W. Bush were thinking about when they both embarked on war strategies in Vietnam and Iraq, respectively, which were certain to prolong the conflicts.
When the skies over a nation are captured, everything below lies at the mercy of the enemy's air weapons. There is no reason why the job of annihilation should at that point be turned over to the mechanized infantry, when it can be carried out more efficiently and without opposition from overhead.
Like Lincoln's government before it, President Roosevelt's in World War II labored under an acute awareness that the American electorate might not show patience with a prolonged war. General Marshall had made his observation that a democracy cannot fight a seven years' war . . . If the American people were to remain patient enough to see the Pacific war through to the unconditional surrender of Japan, then the pace of the war must not be allowed to lag.
– Russell F. Weigley, The American Way of War (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., 1973), pp. 239 281.
The final quotation I have chosen to illustrate my points is from a recent column by Andrew McCarthy in National Review Online which specifically addresses our situation in Iraq, thereby reaffirming that American patience is short and that we have occupied our last Islamic country.
. . . [I]f Iraq proves anything, it is that we Americans lack the patience for long, difficult occupations — especially if our leaders fail to convince us that our own security, as opposed to a better life for the occupied, is at stake. Barring a perception-altering reprise of 9/11, U.S. counterterrorism for the foreseeable future will have to be about suppressing radical Islam without sticking around to see that the swamps stay drained — something which, by the way, would call for a ruthlessness I frankly doubt we have the stomach for.
– Andrew C. McCarthy, “Preoccupied with Democracy in Iraq,” National Review Online, May 23, 2007.
Briefly stated, the strategy I propose for disarming Iran is to unleash a real “shock and awe” air campaign reminiscent of Desert Storm 1991. Without having access to classified intelligence, I would structure my Air/Special Ops attack on Iran along these priorities.
1. Air Defenses/Iranian AF Bases
2. Nuclear Production/Storage Facilities
3. Mullahcracy HQs
4. Iranian Navy Ships/Facilities/Strait of Hormuz Defenses
5. Ballistic Missile Production/Storage/Launch Facilities
6. Iranian Revolutionary Guards'(IRG) HQs, Barracks, Training Camps, Equipment and Ammo Depots
7. Hezbollah's HQs, Barracks, Training Camps, Equipment and Ammo Depots
8. Gasoline Refining/Importation/Storage/Distribution Facilities
9. Iranian Army HQs, Barracks, Training Camps, Equipment and Ammo Depots
10. Restrikes (As Necessary)/Any Other Facilities With Military Use Potential
I would target for death the Iranian Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
In other words, I would destroy all Iranian military capability. Then I would send the message to the Iranian people: “So far Jihad has cost you only your military, while we have spared electrical, water, and civilian communication facilities. If your country ceases exporting Jihad, these facilities will continue to be spared. We have no desire to invade and occupy your country; however, we will monitor activities all over Iran from the air and any attempts to reconstitute a Jihad capability or even the threat to do so will be met by further devastating air attacks. When we are satisfied that Iran is no longer engaging in Jihadist activities, US air monitoring will cease.”
Combining the British experience of policing their Middle East Empire from the air, which the RAF designated “air control,” with our experience of interdiction in World War II and our policing the “no fly zones” over Iraq, there is ample historical precedent to use airpower for protecting our interests in the Middle East. I realize that there will be the shoulder-fired man-pack surface-to-air missile threat, but with our satellite and drone surveillance capabilities and our Special Ops insertion capability to put eyeballs on the target, we should face no insurmountable threats.
I submit this essay as a “think piece” that does not address all of the issues, such as keeping the Iranian oil flowing. But, considering the immeasurable stakes involved, I am certain that a way could be found to deal with these types of concerns.
Colonel Tom Snodgrass, retired U.S. Air Force, is Advisor on Military Intelligence and Strategy to the Society of Americans for National Existence (SANE). Colonel Snodgrass spent 30 years in active military duty. He spent much of his time in the military as a senior intelligence officer and has been an instructor at several war colleges. He is a highly decorated Vietnam War veteran and holds a Master of Arts degree in History and Political Science. firstname.lastname@example.org http://www.saneworks.us/