You can rest easy.  Political pundit and former presidential candidate Pat Buchanan predicted on Sunday that there is a “fifty-fifty chance of U.S. air strikes on Iran by October.”  I just love the all out commitment involved in making a fifty-fifty prediction: there’s a hundred percent chance you’ll be right.  Of course, the very fact that Pat Buchanan mentions something might happen means the odds are that it won’t.  

Don’t get complacent, though.  Just like the cataclysmic natural disaster that strikes every century or so, once in a blue moon it turns out that Pat Buchanan knew what the hell he was talking about.  

Similarly, we might expect that the Bush administration knows that attacking Iran would be the worst imaginable thing they could do–for the Bush legacy, for U.S. foreign policy, and for stability in the Middle East.  A strike on Iran would be an act of sheer lunacy; so the Bush administration might just try it.  
Back to the Stone Age

Since World War I, airpower fanatics have claimed that their brand of armed force makes all other forms of warfare obsolete.  The Kosovo conflict is the closest any nation has come to a pure airpower victory, but it didn’t really win us anything, and an Army guy–General Wes Clark–ran the show, and a Navy carrier strike group was involved, so it didn’t really count.  

Now that our escapade in Iraq has demonstrated the obsolescence of land power as a means whereby a hegemon can subjugate a smaller state, the U.S. Air Force figures Iran is its big chance to get back in the game, to make itself the permanent darling of the neoconservative elite.  In all probability, though, the only thing the USAF would do with an air operation against Iran is bomb itself in the foot.  

It wouldn’t be terribly hard to bomb Iran back to the Stone Age.  Aside from the capital city of Tehran, much of Iran is still in the Stone Age.  Our air planners won’t have much trouble coming up with a way to level Tehran.  They won’t even need to use nukes.  They’ll wipe it out the old fashioned way, the way we wiped out Dresden in World War II, with incendiaries.  

If we do a Dresden on Tehran, we’ll take out a sizable chunk of the Persian race.  We might have trouble justifying that.  We could say it was revenge for the holocaust, I guess.  Except, yeah, that’s right, the Iranians weren’t responsible for the holocaust, were they?  They just said stupid things about it.  Darn.  And if you’re going to split hairs, it wasn’t the Iranians who said stupid things about the holocaust per se; it was their goofy president, and if we’re going to hold a whole nation responsible for the stupid things its goofy president says, we’re drifting into pot-and-kettle territory.

We can probably get at most of Iran’s nuclear industry, but not the parts that matter most to us, which are the parts that are a) buried real deep underground and/or b) the parts we don’t know about.  The parts we can get at the Russians can replace reasonably quickly, and Iran can afford to pay Russia to replace them because no matter how clever our air planners are, they can’t figure out a way to bomb Iran’s oil reserves to rubble.  

Good News, Bad News, Ugly News

We can take out a huge chunk of Iran’s navy with air strikes, but as with the nuclear facilities, Iran can buy a new navy from Russia about as fast as Paris Hilton can buy a new wardrobe.  That’s more or less what happened after we whapped their navy in the 80s during Operation Praying Mantis.  

One thing the U.S. Air Force does right, it does air superiority.  If shove comes to biff, Iran’s air force would be on the canvas before the bell stops ringing.  Come to think of it, Iran’s air force is already on the canvas.  The only places Iran can get spare parts for its F-14 air-to-air fighters are eBay and Craig’s List, and if by some miracle they manage to get one if their Tomcats airborne, we’ll likely shoot it down before its pilot can raise its landing gear.

Air superiority is only an enabling objective in warfare, though, never an operational aim.  It does little good to own the skies over bad land if the bombs you drop on it accomplish nothing strategically or politically, and it doesn’t take a world-class air defense system to bring down our most sophisticated combat jets, as the February crash of a B-2 (Billion) bomber reminded us.  For practical purposes, losing both engines over an enemy’s desert is the same as getting shot down by a camel.  

Maritime superiority is another matter.  It can get hard to sort the good guys from the bad guys from the bystanders in the air, but on water, especially in congested areas like the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz, it can be impossible to tell Grandma Moses from Snow White’s evil stepmother.  Iran crafted its naval force to have asymmetrical advantages in its home environment against sea control visitors like the United States Navy.  Iran’s patrol boats, diesel subs, outboard craft, shore batteries, maritime aircraft and so on couldn’t hold a candle to our Navy in a toe-to-toe battle in the middle of the North Pacific.  Moreover, Iran couldn’t put a multi-carrier strike group on the bottom of the Gulf, but it could cause us a heap of strategic embarrassment.  Heaven help us if the USS Abraham Lincoln ever needs to limp through the Strait to safety because of damage done by an SSN-22 Sunburn missile.

My pretty good guess is Iran could close the Strait too, even if only for a little while.  There’s no real telling what that might do to the price of oil, but regardless of crude cost, Dick and Dubya’s buds on the board of Exxon/Mobil and its major shareholders will make out like, uh, bandits.

Buchanan beat the war drum again on Wednesday, April 16, this time in the San Francisco Chronicle.  Pat thinks General David Petraeus’s scapegoating of Iran at his recent congressional hearings indicated that, “The neoconservatives may yet get their war on Iran.”

I’d like to think the neocons understand what a bad idea it would be to start a hot war with Iran.  I want to believe they’re diabolical enough to know that their first best destiny is to keep up the pretense of the Iraq war being a proxy war with Iran so they can cover their real objective of establishing a century long second Cold War with Iran serving as a proxy for Russia and China.  That, of course, would create their ideal post-modern Orwellian (Rovewellian) world order: justification for U.S. military occupation of all parts of the world that aren’t parts of Russia or China, and for borrowing ever greater sums from the Chinese to spend on weapons to fight a war with them that they have no intention of fighting or even arming themselves for.

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes at Pen and Sword .  Jeff’s novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books) is on sale now.

“Populated by outrageous characters and fueled with pompous outrage, Huber’s irreverent broadside will pummel the funny bone of anyone who’s served.” — Publishers Weekly

“A remarkably accomplished book, striking just the right balance between ridicule and insight.” — Booklist

View the trailer here.

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