On War #255: Operation Cassandra

By William S. Lind
March 17, 2008

Admiral Fallon’ s (forced?) resignation was the last warning we are likely to get of an attack on Iran. It does not mean an attack is certain, but the U.S. could not attack Iran so long as he was the CENTCOM commander. That obstacle is now gone.

Vice President Cheney’s Middle East tour is another indicator. According to a report in The American Conservative, on his previous trip Cheney told our allies, including the Saudis, that Bush would attack Iran before the end of his term. If that report was correct, then his current tour might have the purpose of telling them when it is coming.

Why not just do that through the State Department? State may not be in the loop, nor all of DOD for that matter. The State Department, OSD [the Office of the Secretary of Defense], the intelligence agencies, the Army and the Marine Corps are all opposed to war with Iran. Of the armed services, only the Air Force reportedly is in favor, seeking an opportunity to show what air power can do. As always, it neglects to inform the decision-makers what it cannot do.

The purpose of this column is not to warn of an imminent assault on Iran, though personally I think it is coming, and soon. Rather, it is to warn of a possible consequence of such an attack. Let me state it here, again, as plainly as I can: an American attack on Iran could cost us the whole army we now have in Iraq.

Lots of people in Washington are pondering possible consequences of an air and missile assault on Iran, but few if any have thought about this one. The American military’s endless “we’re the greatest” propaganda has convinced most people that the U.S. armed forces cannot be beaten in the field. They are the last in a long line of armies that could not be beaten, until they were.

Here’s roughly how it might play out. In response to American air and missile strikes on military targets inside Iran, Iran moves to cut the supply lines coming up from the south through the Persian Gulf (can anyone in the Pentagon guess why it’s called that?) and Kuwait on which most U.S. Army units in Iraq depend (the Marines get most of their stuff through Jordan). It does so by hitting shipping in the Gulf, mining key choke points, and destroying the port facilities we depend on, mostly through sabotage. It also hits oil production and export facilities in the Gulf region, as a decoy: we focus most of our response on protecting the oil, not guarding our army’s supply lines.

Simultaneously, Iran activates the Shiite militias to cut the roads that lead from Kuwait to Baghdad. Both the Mahdi Army and the Badr Brigades — the latter now supposedly our allies — enter the war against us with their full strength. Ayatollah Sistani, an Iranian, calls on all Iraqi Shiites to fight the Americans wherever they find them. Instead of fighting the 20% of Iraqis population that is Sunni, we find ourselves battling the 60% that is Shiite. Worse, the Shiites logistics lie directly across those logistics lines coming up from Kuwait.

U.S. Army forces in Iraq begin to run out of supplies, especially POL [petroleum, oil, and lubricants], of which they consume a vast amount. Once they are largely immobilized by lack of fuel, and the region gets some bad weather that keeps our aircraft grounded or at least blind, Iran sends two to four regular army armor and mech divisions across the border. Their objective is to pocket American forces in and around Baghdad.

The U.S. military in Iraq is all spread out in penny packets fighting insurgents. We have no field army there anymore. We cannot reconcentrate because we’re out of gas and Shiite guerrillas control the roads. What units don’t get overrun by Iranian armor or Shiite militia end up in the Baghdad Kessel. General Petraeus calls President Bush and repeats the famous words of Marshal MacMahon at Sedan: “Nous sorrune dans une pot de chambre, and nous y serron emerdee.” Bush thinks he’s overheard Petraeus ordering dinner — as, for Bush, he has.

U.S. Marines in Iraq, who are mostly in Anbar province, are the only force we have left. Their lines of supply and retreat through Jordan are intact. The local Sunnis want to join them in fighting the hated Persians. What do they do at that point? Good question.

How probable is all this? I can’t answer that. Unfortunately, the people in Washington who should be able to answer it are not asking it. They need to start doing so, now.

It is imperative that we have an up-to-date plan for dealing with this contingency. That plan must not depend on air power to rescue our army. Air power always promises more than it can deliver.

As I have warned before, every American ground unit in Iraq needs its own plan to get itself out of the country using only its own resources and whatever it can scrounge locally. Retreat to the north, through Kurdistan into Turkey, will be the only alternative open to most U.S. Army units, other than ending up in an Iranian POW camp.

Even if the probability of the above scenario is low, we still need to take it with the utmost seriousness because the consequences would be so vast. If the United States lost the army it has in Iraq, we would never recover from the defeat. It would be another Adrianople, another Manzikert, another Rocroi. Given the many other ways we now resemble Imperial Spain, the last analogy may be the most telling.

I have said all this before, in previous columns and elsewhere. If I sound like Cassandra on this point, remember that events ended up proving her right.

William S. Lind, expressing his own personal opinion, is Director for the Center for Cultural Conservatism for the Free Congress Foundation.

To interview Mr. Lind, please contact:

Mr. William S. Lind
Free Congress Foundation
717 Second St., N.E.
Washington, D.C. 20002
Direct line: 202-543-8796

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Filed in Uncategorized | 23 responses so far

23 Responses to “On War #255: Operation Cassandra”

  1. maximilliangcon 25 Mar 2008 at 6:22 pm 1

    Lind put forth this scenario sometime ago, scarey, but I considered it somewhat far fetched, since then others have echoed this worst case prediction.

    Get a load of this,
    It’s actually quite brilliantly written, and given the events of the last
    several years, I don’t think a thinking concious individual can rule this out.

    http://www.lewrockwell.com/rozeff/rozeff183.html

    And if you think the US is headed for big trouble now, if this scenario comes about, all bets are off.

    MaX

  2. gpanfileon 25 Mar 2008 at 6:45 pm 2

    If this happens:

    1. It will be driven by Cheney and the Likud here and abroad.

    2. It will be accompanied by some sort of threat of nuclear retaliation if the Iranians don’t just take it lying down.

    3. They will ignore that threat and do what has been outlined here… oil will go to about $200, and that army will be in serious jeopardy.

    4. Some in the Administration will push for dropping the bomb. W won’t do it, but might threaten to, then execute a wider bombing campaign.

    5. Lacking ground troops, the US will negotiate its way out of the situation.

    6. John McCain gets 25% of the vote, and Democrats sweep all elections by a gigantic margin.

    7. W leaves office with the most pardons ever proffered by an outgoing President, including ones for both himself and his VP, along with at least one former cabinet secretary and most of Rumsfeld’s DOD staff.

    8. When historians in the Chinese Empire write this up, they will laugh.

  3. maximilliangcon 25 Mar 2008 at 9:08 pm 3

    gpanfile

    “When historians in the Chinese Empire write this up, they will laugh.”

    Boy, You nailed it, couldn’t have said it better myself, along the same lines
    as not so long ago we regarded (as pathetic) what was revealed of the Soviet empire after it’s collaphs.

    Now this,

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/mcclatchy/20080325/wl_mcclatchy/2890209

    MaX

  4. EmeryNelsonon 26 Mar 2008 at 2:30 am 4

    Since the time the invasion was being planned I’ve asked the question, “Have you ever looked at a map of Iraq and Iran?” It would seem elementary. However, since we’re primary a naval and air power we have been robbed of any geographical sense. The Iranians have been watching and planning for quite some time and the terrain will be their best friend and our worst enemy. They have fought in southern Iraq before and know the area intimately. Iranian intel runs large sections of the country. They support the Shia Militias with training and man power from the Revolutionary Guards. Iran if very mountainous dead east of Baghdad, which has always given the air force problems.

    We rely heavily on Precision munitions. They are very good for fighting an insurgency (in the sense that they can hit a specific geographic point on the earth) but do we have enough to fight several division sized elements acting in a coordinated manner? I don’t think we do, or at least we didn’t as of the fall of 2006, particularly if the Air and naval Forces are involved with some kind of nebulous strategic air campaign in Iran. If usage forces us to up PGM production to make up shortfalls what would the numbers and time line look like? Could the army rely on organic weapons for support? Do organic weapons even exist the way we are currently deployed?

    In 2005 we were worried that we only had 10 days of ammunition in the country. Last year they were calling it 30 days but that was based on the small amounts used in fighting an insurgency. What happens when usage goes up exponentially? Assuming we could keep the roads open, would it be possible to “surge” logistics with our present system? The majority of it is trucked in by “civilians”.

    How much fuel is available? The US army (AKA, The Finest Army in the World) has minimal experience fighting on foot in the last 30 plus years and never really mastered it then…

    I could go on and on like this and no doubt any answers to these questions received from the military would indicate no problems. To prove the validity of any assurances all we have to do is run a simple exercise. Evacuate five of the twenty (plus) palaces we now occupy (apparently generals love gold toilets). I would put money on the outcome.

  5. moonon 26 Mar 2008 at 10:03 am 5

    Control of the Gulf, and the sea lanes in the IO to/from the Gulf, seems a precondition for survival (for *either* side) in the described scenario. The coast of Hormozgan Province becomes the front line of the campaign to control regional commerce. Iff a plan to attack Iran does not start with naval supremacy, I’m inclined to accept the above Lind scenario as plausible. Even with US naval supremacy, a cornered Iran is a dangerous animal.

    Q: when Iran loses the ability to use her ports for commerce, how does she sell her remaining $200/barrel oil? Via Russia? (I’m not an oilman, so I’d like to understand how robust/fragile Iran’s oil economy infrastructure is.)

  6. EmeryNelsonon 26 Mar 2008 at 2:40 pm 6

    Moon, I believe General Van Riper made it very clear that the US Surface Navy will not be much of a factor a few hours into the fight (Millennium Challenge 2002). The Iranians can barrage us with relatively crude, but accurate enough, missiles. Our anti ship missiles systems will handle a few but a dozen will easily get through. The utility of naval air and ship to shore missiles will be of limited use in short order. Unlike Millennium Challenge there will be no restart of the exercise nor will they be able to reduce Iranian capabilities to bows and arrows.

  7. Mycophagiston 26 Mar 2008 at 7:05 pm 7

    Ok, enough of this…

    I want my Mommy and I want her NOW! Nor will I settle for anything less than a real Mommy, not some second rate, dragged from the deep Mommy… :(

    Do you guys know what would get the Most publicity that anyone could imagine?

    No, not an anti-war demonstration that wouldn’t get much press anyway…

    A sit-in a Nancy Pelosi’s office consisting of Conservatives like Mr. Lind and many of those here, attacking the Democrats for being spineless while our country is being led by a modern day Nero.

    And BTW, such an act Would get the nations attention.

    Dave

  8. Duncan Kinderon 26 Mar 2008 at 8:07 pm 8

    Another point to consider is that the Saudi oilfields lie in a region the population of which is heavily Shi’a.

    Presumably some of these Saudi Shi’a have Iranian sympathies, and they are well situated to sabotage Saudi oilfields. Iran probably already has sleeper cells in place to do just that.

  9. moonon 26 Mar 2008 at 11:08 pm 9

    EmeryNelson, do you imagine we have no plans to neutralize Iranian missile batteries, now that Van Riper shed light on this vulnerability? (It’s been 5.5 years since MC02, eh?)

    If we’re not carefully planning to effect naval and littoral supremacy as a precondition to an attack, I’m afraid I concur with the assessment of Lind.

    Since MC02, have any other exercises or war games been run ISO this contingency?

  10. Duncan Kinderon 27 Mar 2008 at 10:54 am 10

    To buttress my prior point about oil production sabotage, note that the current Basra strife has already generated sabotage of an Iraqi pipeline. Presumably the Iranians are aware that this has been done and have some idea how it was done.

  11. Dr_Vomacton 27 Mar 2008 at 12:54 pm 11

    Mr. Lind, on the several occasions on which he has made this dire prediction, has rightly said that one requirement for the total defeat of the U.S. forces in Iraq is bad weather. That is, for the U.S. forces in Iraq to suffer a devastating defeat, U.S. air power must be temporarily neutralized, much as U.S. air forces were temporarily grounded during the initial phases of the German Ardennes Offensive in World War II.

    This seems like a reasonable qualification. I find it hard to believe that several Iranian armored divisions could mass and cross the border unscathed as long as the U.S. Air Force is in play. Say what you will about air power–tanks and vehicles of all kinds are easy prey for a modern fighter or bomber aircraft. This is especially true for mechanized units that are massed to deliver a heavy punch. Another name for such units is “target-rich environment”.

    As long as the U.S. Air Force is in play. So my question is: what could diminish or incapacitate our air? Perhaps mere cloud cover could play a role, as it would limit satellite reconnaissance. Would that be enough? I think it might shorten the warning, but once the enemy tanks neared the border, the jig would be up for them. How about really bad weather…sandstorms, perhaps? I’d really like to know–from someone familiar with the region–how frequent such storms (or any kind of severe weather) are, and what effect they have on the ability of our high tech air force to destroy enemy ground units.

    Might the Air Force be compromised by factors other than weather? A sudden revelation of the true vulnerability of our carrier groups, perhaps? Sabotage of regional air-fields?

    But aren’t we thinking too much inside the box? Is it really true that a fully operational air force will protect our forces in Iraq, no matter what tactics the enemy uses?

    I’m reminded of another occasion when the U.S. was caught off-guard by a technologically inferior foe: the Chinese intervention during the (forgotten) Korean War. Through a spectacular failure of intelligence (in all senses of the word), U.S. forces were unpleasantly surprised by the sudden presence of a very large Chinese Army on the Korean battlefield. How did all those Chinese get there? Why, they walked.

  12. Cheton 27 Mar 2008 at 1:03 pm 12

    Dr Vomact,

    That’s an excellent comment because that’s exactly what would happen.

    Sandstorms are common during certain times of the year and can cut visibility to near zero. In Saudi Arabia, these tended to be worse in the winter and early spring — I don’t know about Iraq.

    Somebody more knowledgeable than I would need to comment on our ability to conduct air operations against armor during these conditions (I’m assuming that the Iranians would not be able to interdict our airfields).

  13. jaylemeuxon 27 Mar 2008 at 4:11 pm 13

    “Could the army rely on organic weapons for support? Do organic weapons even exist the way we are currently deployed?”

    If the Army’s situation is similar to mine during my three tours in Iraq from 2003-2006, then no.

    In my Marine infantry battalion, the crew-served weapons, even the line ones, collected dust in basement armories from the day we arrived till the day we left. Most of them were in poor shape indeed. The only exceptions are the machine guns. The same crew-served weapons are left in Iraq permanently and turned over from unit to unit because there are not enough to go around.

    More importantly, the Marines who were TO’d to employ those weapons had not trained in their crew-served MOS’s since the School of Infantry. As an assault section leader (TO’d to oversee the employment of 6 SMAWs) I was particularly frustrated by this fact. In Iraq, we were too busy learning how to drive around in circles and call medevacs for each other to train on the crew-served weapons we knew we wouldn’t be using.

    As for armor and mech units, I don’t have much firsthand knowledge, but I wouldn’t bet on their combat effectiveness.

  14. maximilliangcon 27 Mar 2008 at 9:27 pm 14

    Consider,

    There are apparently hundereds of thousdands if not a million
    small arms and various weapons unacounted for in I-rack.

    The US has been actively arming and equipping various malitias for the past year or more.

    If the general Iraqui population takes it upon it’s self to rise up and
    turn en-mass on US forces, it won’t take any direct involvement
    from Iran, Syria, or any outside force to put the US forces
    in very serious jepoardy.

    MaX

  15. dadmanon 27 Mar 2008 at 11:16 pm 15

    First time replier, long time reader.

    If air our air power was grounded due to weather and/or the other side built up queitly and came out of the woodwork enmasse, we might witness a sandy Stalingrad.

  16. EmeryNelsonon 27 Mar 2008 at 11:21 pm 16

    “do you imagine we have no plans to neutralize Iranian missile batteries, now that Van Riper shed light on this vulnerability?”

    Moon, I’ve asked this question several times and last year a retiring navy Captain told me that our capabilities had “doubled” since MC02. Someone else can do the math on that startling bit of information. However, this assumes the Iranians are standing still, which is not very reasonable considering the Russians are selling them AA missile systems and there’s been talk of other sales but I’m not aware of how much truth there is to it. Even if there were other exercise, since the organization is still the same, can anyone reasonably expect a result other than what came from the MCO2?

  17. maximilliangcon 28 Mar 2008 at 8:34 am 17

    “If air our air power was grounded due to weather and/or the other side built up queitly and came out of the woodwork enmasse, we might witness a sandy Stalingrad.”

    I was going to suggest that, or a very ugly retreat on a Russian/Napolionic invasion scale.

    Retorical;
    What does it tell us that basic tennants of warfare, lines
    or retreat and contingncies are apparently being taken
    for granted, if not ignored in this scenario ?

    Hubris and arogance pervades US attitudes.

    Apart form that though, the economy, and lack a virtually
    any viable leadership candidate on both sides, the US
    is doing just great Great !

    MaX

  18. maximilliangcon 28 Mar 2008 at 9:29 am 18

    “I want my Mommy and I want her NOW! ”

    DAVE, Dave, dave,,
    What are we going to do with you !?

    You just don’t seem to get it ?!

    The US has a destiny, through it’s vastly superior military
    and technology, and supreme moral position to dominate,
    and crush it’s enemies.

    After Afganistan, Iraq, Iran, Syria, N. Korea, Venuzella,
    Lebanon, and Cuba, Lybia, will be the Pakistan, Balkans & Russia, China, India, Mexico, Vietnam (Again !), Myramar, The African continent, Scandinavia, Canada, Austrialia, the UK, Japan, Mars,
    Jupiter, and Neptune.

    This link below will cheer you up though, and set the record
    straight in your mind and convince you once and for all
    of the overwhleming invinciblilty of the US Military.

    Don’t get discouraged just because you got it all wrong
    this one time though, and keep those fine posts
    coming,,. ;0)

    MaX

    http://uk.news.yahoo.com/register/20080320/ttc-v-22-osprey-combo-copter-hits-fresh-d1d76f9.html

    V-22 Osprey combo-copter hits fresh tech snags
    The Register – Technology News
    By Lewis Page The Register – Technology News – Thursday, March 20 11:41 am

    “The famous V-22 “Osprey” tiltrotor plane-chopper combo is back in the news again for unhappy reasons, mere months after it had seemed to be finally putting its troubles behind it.”
    (Advertisement)

    “A US project official has revealed to the press that the Osprey’s engines are currently wearing out much too fast, to the point where it may need to be fitted with different powerplants. The engine snag comes as Boeing, makers of the V-22, are hoping to sell it to the Royal Navy under a rather unfortunate name.”

  19. Mycophagiston 28 Mar 2008 at 12:35 pm 19

    maximilliangc wrote:
    “I want my Mommy and I want her NOW! ”

    DAVE, Dave, dave,,
    What are we going to do with you !?

    You just don’t seem to get it ?!
    ************

    Thanks Max… :)

    I was reading these posts and really, really got depressed. I kid you not. I am used to organising demonstrations, actions, etc, etc.

    A vision poped into my head of angry Conservative targeting the leadership of the Democratic Party, not to demand they support the insanity, but to DEMAND they do their duty as Americans.

    After all, they are just as responsible for this mess as Bush. Inaction IS action.

    Well dressed, combed hair, respectable and outraged! I imagined them standing in Pelosi’s office saying, “We refuse to leave until you stand up for the Constitution.”

    Properly organised it would receive dramatic press coverage. It might even have an impact. It might even make people think.

    And surely there’s little enough thinking taking place.

    Dave

  20. gracaton 28 Mar 2008 at 4:05 pm 20

    As a long time reader of Mr. Lind I have to say if he says it could happen I think it is a possibility. I don’t think it will happen but it is great food for thought. Be sure disaster is lurking! I just don’t think it will unfold like Stalingrad.

    As a long time military and civilian aviator’s kid I love airplanes and what they can do. I do think airpower plays a lead role in todays conflicts. But as a former airborne soldier I think every serviceman should be trained in basic infantry skills. Even sailors. Over reliance on one armed force over another is like the messed up transportation system in the USA today. Over reliance on POVs. No rail to speak of. Especially commuter rail.

    Don

  21. simontmnon 28 Mar 2008 at 5:23 pm 21

    The regular Iranian military has never shown any ability or inclination to engage in this kind of large scale offensive action; and their mobile forces are extremely limited. Iranian strength is in the irregular forces of the Revolutionary Guard; it’s quite likely they could (quietly) assist an Iraqi Shi’ite uprising in cutting off US supply lines, overrunning isolated units, strangling larger forces. And they can certanly endanger US ships in the Gulf. But large scale Iranian troop concentrations invading Iraq seems very unlikely. This isn’t really good news for the US, the Iranians have proven to be very well adapted to the modern warfare environment, and there is certainly a danger. For one thing, the Iraqi army is apparently run controlled by Iranian-backed Shi’ite factions, there’s no reason to think they won’t turn their guns on the US as part of a general uprising.

  22. Mycophagiston 28 Mar 2008 at 6:16 pm 22

    simontmn wrote

    “The regular Iranian military has never shown any ability or inclination to engage in this kind of large scale offensive action…”

    Actually the Iraq/Iran war proved that they have the inclination if not the ability to mount large scale offensives.

    Have they learned anything from the failure of their WW I tactics? Iffy question I would say. Certainly I’m under the impression that you prepare for what your enemy can do, and not what you want them to do.

    Dave

  23. dadmanon 28 Mar 2008 at 11:37 pm 23

    To clarify, what I meant as a “sandy Stalingrad” was more figurative.
    A defeat or major bloody broken nose that would greatly weaken the US or and/or divide us further. Hard unexpected gut punch that would leave us gasping for awhile.
    At home, the political finger pointing would begin, news broadcasts of skin of the teeth fighting, protests, etc.
    We may win the battle, but would be forced to pull out in disgrace.

    I could see the other side (insurgents, AlQ, whoever) coming out, grabbing the belt and latching on. It would make our airpower too close for comfort. Mass freindly fire. While “they” are latched on, additional support for the little people start coming in.