Saturday, January 13, 2007

The U.S. turns its guns towards Iran 

Last week I pointed out an ominous development - that with the appointment of an Admiral to run the U.S. Central Command it was clear that they were preparing for a military conflict with Iran. It seems some others have now figured this out. From the New York Times:

THE United States Central Command stretches across some of the world’s most volatile real estate from Kenya in the southwest through all of the Middle East to Kazakhstan in the northeast. It encompasses two active combat theaters: Afghanistan, which is landlocked, and Iraq, with a tiny uncontested shoreline.

In both, the main fighting is counterinsurgency, largely the task of light infantry like the Marines and the Army’s 10th Mountain or 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions. CentCom, as it is known, has always been run by a four-star general from the Army or Marines.

So why name a sailor — Adm. William J. Fallon — as CentCom’s new commander, as President Bush did earlier this month?

One word: Iran.

It's all about Iran - yep, they sure got that right.

Admiral Fallon’s appointment comes amid a series of indications that the Bush administration is increasingly focused on putting pressure on Iran and, perhaps, veering toward open confrontation. They include the dispatching of a second Navy carrier battle group to the Persian Gulf; a blunt singling out of Iran in Mr. Bush’s speech Wednesday night, warning that America will “seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq,” followed by a dawn raid Thursday on an Iranian office in the Kurdish city of Erbil in which five Iranians were seized along with files and computers.

The important thing is that Admiral Fallon is a naval aviator.

Now the ranking officer in the Pacific — the Navy’s traditional fief — his résumé includes 24 years of flight assignments beginning with combat in Vietnam and including commanding the air wing on the carrier Theodore Roosevelt in the first Iraq war.

Iran thus far has been the principal beneficiary of the American enterprise in Iraq, exerting influence over the Shiite parties it nurtured in exile and expanding its own regional prestige. The Iranians’ confidence and defiance have been bolstered by the knowledge that American ground forces are stretched near the breaking point in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But introducing more air and sea power, with their long reach, in the gulf could change the military balance and options.

It is classic gunboat diplomacy.

The American naval presence in the gulf is the Fifth Fleet, based in Manama, Bahrain. It usually numbers around 20 ships, capable of putting 15,000 sailors and marines afloat. Its principal component is a carrier battle group, so adding a second will, in effect, double its air and sea power.

A carrier battle group typically consists of a Nimitz-class carrier like the Eisenhower, a floating city so huge one can see the horizon rise and fall without feeling the swell of the sea, and capable of carrying as many as 85 aircraft, along with protective escorts. These usually include two guided missile cruisers, two destroyers, a frigate, two submarines and a supply ship. These smaller vessels could be used for other tasks, like escorting tankers through the narrow Strait of Hormuz, through which much of the world’s oil passes, or enforcing sanctions or a blockade on Iran.

The Fifth Fleet also normally has a Marine landing force of 2,200, roughly equally divided between ground troops and air support, aboard three specialized ships that can be used in raids or other operations.

Will this cow the Iranians? Ray Takeyh, an Iran expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, thinks not. More likely, he said, is that “the more radical militants will use this to berate the more moderate” and “the notion of accommodating Western audiences will diminish.”

Some would have us believe that just because the U.S. is getting its tail kicked in Iraq it poses no danger to anyone else. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is an imperial power, determined to defend its "strategic interests", and in particular its access to oil, and it will use all its resources to fight anyone it views as posing a threat. As I've said before, it looks like the bloodletting has only just begun.


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