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January 12, 2007

Lessons Not Learned Iran  War and Peace

As Bush sends a second carrier strike group to the Persian Gulf, days after putting a Navy Admiral in command of two land-locked wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, it seems clear that the intended target is Iran. Maybe the intent is to intimidate Iran, not to attack it, but it sure doesn't feel that way. The ships will be sitting ducks, inviting attack, so their presence only makes war more likely.

In modern warfare, ships don't fare well, a fact demonstrated in dramatic fashion in the Pentagon's Millenium 2002 wargame. From Wikipedia's account:

Millennium Challenge 2002 (MC02) was a major wargame exercise conducted by the United States armed forces in mid-2002, likely the largest such exercise in history. The exercise, which ran from July 24 to August 15 and cost 250 million dollars, involved both live exercises and computer simulations. MC02 was meant to be a test of future military "transformation" — a transition toward new technologies that enable network-centric warfare and provide more powerful weaponry and tactics. The simulated combatants were the United States, denoted "Blue", and an initially unknown adversary in the Middle East, "Red". Most of the people on the U.S. side assumed that the adversary in the game would be Iraq, but it was later revealed that the other side was simulating the military forces of Iran, the only Middle Eastern state that most observers feel has a strong ability to counter an American military engagement.

In the early days of the exercise, Red, commanded by retired Marine Corps general Paul K. Van Riper, launched a massive salvo of cruise missiles, overwhelming the Blue forces electronic sensors, destroying thirteen warships. Soon after that offensive, another significant portion of Blue's navy was "sunk" by an armada of small Red boats carrying out both conventional and suicide attacks, able to engage Blue forces due to Blue's inability to detect them as well as expected. At this point, the exercise was suspended and Blue's ships were "re-floated". In addition, Red's command used motorcycle messengers to evade Blue's sophisticated electronic surveillance network and transmit orders to front-line troops.

There were many within the upper echelons of the Department of Defense that found the results displeasing and it was decided that the wargame should be started over. The rules of the exercise were essentially changed shortly thereafter, with the different sides ordered to follow predetermined, scripted plans of action, leading to allegations that the exercise was scripted and "$250 million was wasted". General Van Riper resigned soon after, concerned that the wargame would serve to merely reinforce an increasing notion of infallibility within the U.S. military rather than serve as a learning experience. [Emphasis added]

In a real conflict, there will be no "re-floating", no do-overs. But as Iraq demonstrates all too clearly, the US leadership hasn't learned the central lesson: technology alone doesn't win wars. Denial is subject to rude awakenings.

In an interview with Nova, General Van Riper said something very telling. In an environment where an adversary knows the US is determined to attack, its best strategy is to strike first. This is how his Red team had such success:

My belief at the outset of Millennium Challenge was that Blue believed it had a monopoly on preemption, and it would strike first. And, of course, in any war game I was familiar with up to that point, that had never been the case. The U.S. had only gone to war as a result of some aggression by an enemy, and so always had to react. Now that it was announced policy that we reserved the right to do that, the Blue force was going to take full advantage of it and plan to strike first.

So I simply stepped back and said, "What advantage is there for Red to wait for Blue to strike?" There was none. And that lead to the natural conclusion that if they're coming, and we can't persuade them not to diplomatically, then we will strike.

As I looked at an ultimatum that gave me less than 24 hours to respond to what literally was a surrender document, it was clear to me that there was no advantage in any of this diplomacy. I was very surprised that the Joint Forces Command personnel who had argued for using all of the elements of national power—the economic, the diplomatic, the political information—in some sort of coherent fashion, really came at Red with a blunt military instrument. So it was clear to me that this was not going to be negotiated, this was going to be a fight. And if it was going to be a fight, I was going to get in the first blow. [Emphasis added]

Iran is rapidly being put in the position Van Riper faced: cave or fight. No diplomacy. At some point, they may come to the same conclusion Van Riper did, that they may as well strike first. Even more likely, and therefore more dangerous, is the possibility that as more and more ships are moved to the Gulf, some freelancer will take a potshot with a missile and that will become the excuse for war. Maybe that's the point. Dangle enough targets, and sooner or later shots will be fired and war will begin.

[Thanks, Miles]

Posted by Jonathan at January 12, 2007 05:14 PM  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb