May 18, 2010

Going Wobbly

Hatched by Dafydd

One reason I've never been able to warm up to Stratfor is the persistent gloominess and despondency it exudes. George Friedman and his mopy men must have published an optimistic analysis of some world event somewhere, somewhen; but danged if I can recollect any. For the most part, any Stratfor paper can be reduced to the following abstract: Doom is nigh!

Victory is never an option

Lately, however, the entire organization appears to be in utter despair. Take today; Friedman was a guest on Dennis Prager's radio show, and he made the following points:

  1. We cannot possibly stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons; it's inevitable.
  2. Even without nukes, Iran's conventional forces mean it can dominate the entire Middle East at will.
  3. If we were even to try to take out Iran's nuclear sites, it would mine the entire Strait of Hormuz; this would stop 25% of the world's oil market from flowing, which would raise oil prices beyond $400 or $500 a barrel... which would utterly destroy all Western economies, including our own.
  4. There is nothing Israel can do in response to a Hezbollah chemical attack except hunker down and hope that some of Israel's population survives. Hezbollah probably cannot kill every Israel; some would surely remain.

From these "realistic" (that is, terminally pessimistic) assessments and analyses, Friedman made the following recommendation, near as I can recall. This is of course my own phrasing, not Friedman's; but I believe it amounts to a reasonably fair summary of what it appeared to me Friedman proposed:

Since the United States is pulling out its troops, we have no power at all in the Middle East anymore. Israel cannot help us, and we cannot help Israel. Therefore, the only course of action available to us is to cut a deal with Iran.

Since we have no power to threaten Iran, we'll have to accept whatever terms Iran dictates. We will have to recognize and acknowledge Iran as the ruling player in the Middle East; if we're contrite enough, Iran may allow us to have the oil we need to survive.

As for Israel, it must cut the best deal it can with Hezbollah and hope that some Israelis will be allowed to depart in peace. America's moment is passed; the Young Turks (and Persians) will be the new masters of the world.

Friedman went on to predict, following a second question from Prager, that the European Union was fated to shatter apart. Most of Europe will sink into the State of Nature described in Hobbes' Leviathan, where those few remaining lead lives that are "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short." However, some countries will do very well: Germany will probably prosper; but the biggest winner will be Russia, which will end up ruling all of Europe, eastern and western.

We must cut a deal with the Russian bear as well. But see, at least we get a choice: America can become a client state of either Russia or Iran!

Needless to say, I find such despair mongering less than convincing. I note that George Friedman left a number of circumstances out of his calculations.

Iran's deathgrip on the world's oil supply

First, he never once mentioned the staggering oil wealth we ourselves have, right here in our own backyard. Besides the Gulf of Mexico, the Santa Barbara coast, and ANWR -- which by itself comprises nearly as much oil as in all of Iran, and not counting the 20 billion barrels of oil (bbl) we already have at our disposal (should we ever choose to dispose of them) -- we also have something in great abundance that most members of OPEC have scantily or completely lack: oil-shale deposits.

The four largest oil-shale reserves are in the United States; combined, they're the equivalent of more than two trillion bbl. By way of comparison, the combined liquid oil reserves of Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, the UAE, Venezuela, Russia, Libya, Nigeria, Qatar, Algeria, Brazil, and Mexico are less than 1.2 trillion bbl.

So a better way to phrase Friedman's point 3 above is that, if we take out Iran's nukes, then inexplicably allow them to mine the Strait of Hormuz without a fight, we would be forced to begin drilling in our own vast territory -- and selling oil to our allies, who could no longer travel to the Persian Gulf. (Of course, that means we would get those trillions of petrodollars, instead of Iran; what a shame!) And if the price indeed rose sufficiently, it would spur us to begin extracting oil from shale, inventing whatever techniques are necessary to make it practical and profitable.

Not to mention giving us a real incentive to develop high-temperature ceramic engines to burn gasoline much more efficiently, something I've been writing about since the halcyon days at Patterico's Pomposifications, half a decade ago.

Then there's coal liquifaction, nuclear fission, solar-power satellites, and many other energy sources that don't require us to kow-tow to our enemies, begging them to supply us with oil. The current system is untenable anyway: Why entrust our entire economy to countries that would as soon see us dead as the proverbial clam?

Instead of using our energy fragility as an excuse for doing nothing in the face of threats and provocations, murders of our troops and aiding and abetting our enemies... why not use our weakness as a spur towards complete energy self-sufficiency? That's the American way of responding to an impossible situation: change the rules of the game to allow us to win!

Rather than being a deal killer, Iran's threat can turn out to be an utter game changer... pushing the United States to a much stronger position of world leadership even than we enjoy today. It's not a setback, it's a challenge.

Military muscle

Likewise, Friedman's burbling threnody of despair assumes that if Iran decides to mine the Strait, there's nothing we can do about it. If we try to attack Iran's missile and nuclear sites, we'll fail. If Hezbollah shoots Scuds with chemical warheads at Israel, the Jewish state can only cower in the dark and wait for Armageddon.

He seems to have little faith in American, Israeli, and in general Western fighting spirit. I have greater.

Some years ago, I discussed a military strategy for use against Iran that I dubbed the Herman Option, after historian Arthur Herman, who wrote about it. Here is an extensive excerpt from that 2007 post...


Take a moment to look at this map of the Persian Gulf:

Persian Gulf

Iran: Persian Gulf and Strait of Hormuz

The narrow pinch of the Strait of Hormuz on the far right of the Gulf -- about 20 miles wide, with two 1-mile wide sea lanes for tanker traffic -- controls delivery of about a quarter of the entire world's daily oil production. It is staggeringly important to the entire world.

The biggest fear about Iran is that, in response to an attack on their nuclear development sites, they might strike back with a catastrophic terrorist attack in the strait: Iran, Hezbollah, or both could attack an oil supertanker at the narrowest part of the strait, sinking the huge ship and sealing the passage for perhaps years... and as a serendipitous side effect, causing the worst environmental disaster in human history (I'm sure the Iranian mullahs lose sleep over that one).

There is reason to fear this option: the Iranians themselves have practically boasted about it. In Arthur Herman's Commentary piece linked above, he notes this quite matter of factly:

In April of this year, as if to drive the point home, Iranian armed forces staged elaborate war games in the Gulf, test-firing a series of new anti-ship missiles capable of devastating any tanker or unwary warship. In the boast of one Iranian admiral, April’s “Holy Prophet war games” showed what could be expected by anyone daring to violate Iran’s interests in the Gulf. A further demonstration of resolve occurred in August, when Iran fired on and then occupied a Rumanian-owned oil platform ostensibly in a dispute over ownership rights; in truth, the action was intended to show Western companies—including Halliburton, which had won a contract for constructing facilities in the Gulf—exactly which power is in charge there.

A 30-page document said to issue from the Strategic Studies Center of the Iranian Navy (NDAJA), and drawn up in September or October of last year, features a contingency plan for closing the Hormuz Straits through a combination of anti-ship missiles, coastal artillery, and submarine attacks. The plan calls for the use of Chinese-made mines, Chinese-built missile boats, and more than 1,000 explosive-packed suicide motor boats to decimate any U.S. invasion force before it can so much as enter the Gulf. Iran’s missile units, manned by the regime’s Revolutionary Guards, would be under instruction to take out more than 100 targets around the Gulf rim, including Saudi production and export centers.

As Herman notes, "contingency" plans are just that, and may never come to fruition; but clearly, Iran is thinking along these lines. And why not? How could they more seriously hurt the West than to shut off the black gold (Teheran tea) that we depend upon? (I'm sure the mullahs have followed with great glee the GOP's bootless efforts to open up a teensy-tiny fraction of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to clean, modern oil extraction... along with the Gulf of Mexico and the California coast; the efforts were of course thwarted by the then-minority Democrats, who were rewarded for their intransigence by being voted into the majority.)

But on the other hand, as the saying goes, "a plan betrayed is a plan denied." The Persian Gulf is a two-edged scimitar. Herman again:

Every country in Western Europe and Asia, including those that complain most bitterly about American policy in the Middle East, depends on the steady maintenance of the global economic order that runs on Middle Eastern oil.

But -- and herein lies a fruitful irony -- so does Iran itself. Almost 90 percent of the mullahs’ oil assets are located either in or near the Gulf. So is the nuclear reactor that Russia is building for Iran at Bushehr. Virtually every Iranian well or production platform depends on access to the Gulf if Iran’s oil is to reach buyers. Hence, the same Straits by means of which Iran intends to lever itself into a position of global power present the West with its own point of leverage to reduce Iran’s power -- and to keep it reduced for at least as long as the country’s political institutions remain unprepared to enter the modern world.

On a nutshell, Iran thinks of the PG as the lever by which it will move the world; but in reality, to a truly modern nation such as the United States, the Gulf is the lever by which the rest of the world will move Iran.

Herman suggests a seven-point plan to break the logjam with Iran:

  1. Announce that we will not tolerate any nation interfering with the flow of oil through the Strait of Hormuz;
  2. Back that threat up by sending at least a carrier battle group (CBG) to the Persian Gulf, along with anti-submarine ships and planes (the latter are routinely carried on carriers), minesweepers, Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System-equipped cruisers and destroyers, UAVs, and our own submarines;
  3. Declare a one-country blockade of all of Iran's oil shipments out -- and gasonline shipments in; a complete freeze-out. Everyone else gets to ship freely through the strait... just not Iran;
  4. Launch a "comprehensive air campaign" against Iran's air defenses, air bases, communications grid, and missile sites along the PG;
  5. Continue the campaign against the nuclear sites and all supporting infrastructure, including roads, bridges, power plants that serve the nuclear development centers at Natanz and Bushehr, and so forth;
  6. Finally, and most important, continue the campaign to take out all of Iran's gasoline refineries.

Herman points out the critical choke-point for Iran and the focus of this campaign:

It is still insufficiently appreciated that Iran, a huge oil exporter, imports nearly 40 percent of its gasoline from foreign sources, including the Gulf states. With its refineries gone and its storage facilities destroyed, Iran’s cars, trucks, buses, planes, tanks, and other military hardware would run dry in a matter of weeks or even days. This alone would render impossible any major countermoves by the Iranian army. (For its part, the Iranian navy is aging and decrepit, and its biggest asset, three Russian-made Kilo-class submarines, should and could be destroyed before leaving port.)

Contingent upon the completetion of the first six steps, Herman suggests the coup de grâce:

  1. American special forces would seize all of Iran's offshore wells and pumping stations, from the strait to Kharg Island (the small, unmarked island just off Iran's coast, due east of Kuwait and about 10 o'clock from Bushehr).

Herman concludes that if we did all this, we would able "to control the flow of Iranian oil at the flick of a switch."


While it's clear Iran threatens to mine the Strait if we attack, it's by no means a sure bet that it will succeed; in fact, we have a very good counterstrategy at our fingerends, the Herman Option. In addition, Iran would be cutting its own throat -- which means the very threat itself may be nothing more than a monumental bluff.

There is yet another George Friedman dog in the night that doesn't bark. When discussing Hezbollah and its chemical-tipped Scuds, why did he never even mention the possibility of missile defense? For heaven's sake, has anyone thought that it might possibly have occurred to Israel that Syrian Hezbollah could shoot missiles at them from Lebanese territory?

I strongly suspect that Israel has invested a lot of time and treasure in developing anti-missile systems, particularly for fast, short-distance use -- from Lebanon to Tel Aviv, for example. What logic in assuming that all or even most of the missiles will successfully strike their targets?

But beyond missile defense, would Syria really risk such an aggressive move into all-out, existential war, knowing that in such a dire circumstance, Israel would not make any distinction whatsoever between Hezbollah terrorist targets in Lebanon -- and Syrian military, C3I, and political targets in Damascus?

Deterrence still deters, especially when dealing with a non-jihadist, eminently practical king such as Bashar Assad.

Knowing what is at stake -- that is, what will be at stake, when we have a new Commander in Chief in 2013 -- I believe Iran's and Syria's deeds will not quite live up to their invective. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad talks a great fight.

George Friedman obviously knows all of this; but his interlocutor, Dennis Prager, probably does not, nor does most of Dennis' audience. Shouldn't Friedman have mentioned the positive side of the ledger? Alas, he did not; he limned only the gloomy, pessimistic part of the painting. It's hard not to conclude that he has an agenda... and a good understanding of the whole picture would just get in the way of "the fierce urgency of now."

It all boils down (as oft it doth) not to some technical measure of strength or military might, but rather to our will to fight. And it's exactly that "will to fight" that despairing, defeatist analyses directly attack: If we think we can't win, defeat becomes a self-fulfilling default position.

"Fear is the mind killer."

"Fear is failure and the forerunner of failure."

Fear is a living thing: Feed it, stroke it, heed it, and it grows; starve it and it weakens and dies. Honestly, we need more Petraeuses and a lot fewer George Friedmans; I'm afraid the one of the latter we have plays directly into the hands of our Cowardly Lyin' president.

Expect the exeptional

All this whining and whimpering like whipped dogs is unbecoming the world's only hyperpower. Such despair is not only illogical, not only plays into our enemies' hands, but most important, it's unAmerican. Only those who voluntarily surrender can be ultimately defeated; that is the deepest secret. So long as we stand and fight our fate, Fate is unbound.

Should we go gentle into that bad night? Or should we burn and rave at close of day? If you're an American, there's no need to ask; when the time comes, we'll know what to do. And it will never include signing a suicide pact with Iran to buy us a few more years of subjugation.

"Rage, rage against the dying of the light."

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, May 18, 2010, at the time of 1:28 AM

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Tracked on June 1, 2010 2:35 PM


The following hissed in response by: Bill Befort

Reminds me of 1991, when a lot of people who should have known better were writing about Saddam Hussein's "fifth largest army in the world" and its fearsome artillery. Even Hackworth was on television predicting heavy casualties if we tried to force Iraq out of Kuwait. As it worked out, all the Iraqis got from their artillery was that their ammo dumps -- the ones we didn't find and blow up -- supplied raw materials for IEDs after their army collapsed for the second time in 2003. In 1991 there may have been some excuse for defeatism -- legacy of Vietnam, whatever -- but now it represents a triumph of despair over experience.

The above hissed in response by: Bill Befort [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 18, 2010 10:36 AM

The following hissed in response by: Dishman

If you stare into the void long enough, the void stares back.

The above hissed in response by: Dishman [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 18, 2010 8:03 PM

The following hissed in response by: kentuckydan

Israel has developed shale oil recovery at about $25 a barrel and the residue can be burned in electrical plants

The above hissed in response by: kentuckydan [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 20, 2010 6:27 AM

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