Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Naval Exercises in Persian Gulf

As long as our troops are in Iraq, a greater US naval presence than usual is necessary in the Persian Gulf. The Persian Gulf, besides being the main route for supplying our troops in Iraq, is, after all, our line of eventual withdrawal of at least the majority of our troops at some time in the future (preferably that withdrawal will begin in the next year or two, though no one who has watched the reckless Bush Administration for six years is holding their breath).

While our navy is in the Persian Gulf, they have to be prepared for anything and part of being prepared is holding exercises. That's understood. But how those exercises are portrayed can be a touchy matter. We now have two aircraft carrier groups in the Persian Gulf. That's a strong military presence. There was concern for a time that we might put three aircraft carrier groups in the area; three aircraft carriers might have been a serious signal of impending military action against Iran. Naval exercises with three aircraft carriers would have heightened tensions not just in the Persian Gulf but around the world.

The Huffington Post carries an interesting article on the naval exercises by Barbara Surk of AP; I recommend reading the whole article but here's an excerpt:
Ships packed with 17,000 sailors and Marines moved into the Persian Gulf on Wednesday as the U.S. Navy staged another show of force off Iran's coast just days before U.S.-Iran talks in Baghdad.

The carrier strike groups led by the USS John C. Stennis and USS Nimitz were joined by the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard and its own strike group, which includes two landing ships carrying 2,100 members of the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit.


The war games—which culminate in an amphibious landing exercise in Kuwait, just a few miles from Iran —appear to be a clear warning to Tehran, coming just ahead of the Baghdad talks and as the United Nations contemplates tightening sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program.

A good reporter gets a story from multiple sources, if possible. Surk mentions the navy and what I assume is an Arab foreign policy expert in Dubai. No mention is made of the White House but I can't help feeling Cheney's fingerprints are on the story. Maybe not. But consider that the USS Bonhomme becomes a third ship after the two aircraft carriers as if it is almost equivalent to an aircraft carrier. We are told there will be amphibious operations and that's fine; that is a part of naval operations and if we think of it as a defensive capability, it's a capability worth showing, if there's a reason to. Except perhaps as a way of creating uncertainty and tying down Iranian troops at defensive locations, an offensive amphibious capability against Iran, however, doesn't make any sense given our troop shortage (and the very long coastline of Iran). Without a draft, those troops are not going to be available any time soon.

Then there's the odd point made in the article about the amphibious landing being made in Kuwait "just a few miles from Iran." Well, Iraq has a wedge of land between Kuwait and Iran and that's where a lot of our shipping goes through. So why the point about "just a few miles from Iran"? I hope I'm wrong but the tone of the article almost seems designed to be mildly provocative. If someone was urging Surk to mention these points, perhaps someone from the White House or some proxy, she has an obligation to say so to the reader. Then again, it's possible I'm just misreading the article. Cheney doesn't have his hands on everything that seems odd—just some things.

Of course, Iran is continuing to misguage the Bush Admistration and I'm surprised that it behaves as if it has some sort of political or military cover if things gets worse. If Bush somehow launches a war against Iran because Iran stumbles and provides an opening that even our navy must respond to, we will have a major war and, despite the modest return of Democrats to Congress, the White House may feel no restraint to limit the damage it could do to Iran. In fact, given the ineffectual policies in Iraq, and given the reckless and authoritarian nature of Bush and Cheney, who always overreact to their own failures, they could get the stupid idea that it's necessary to show a 'real' demonstration of American power, without the considerable restraints that frankly have operated in Iraq (and that were necessary if we were to accomplish what we reportedly claimed to be our goals). The chance of war with Iran have diminished but no one should take anything for granted, not us and not the Iranians.

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Anonymous S.W. Anderson said...

One thing that looms really large in Bush and Cheney's thinking is the potential for interruption of oil tanker traffic in that part of the world. They've mentioned it many times in relation to Iran, especially a nuclear-armed Iran.

I suspect their paranoia about this isn't just a matter of looking out for the best interests of U.S. truckers and consumers. Major disruption of our oil imports would knock the tent pegs out from the whole U.S. economy, triggering a serious recession. Also, it would hurt the oil bidness, the holiest of holies, so to speak, in the Bush & Co. scheme of things.

Bush is paranoid about the economy tanking, and has gone to some very unconservative lengths to goose it whenever it appeared that it was headed that way. He saw his old man lose the White House in large part because of stagflation and recession, and has been compulsive from day 1 to keep from having that happen while he's president.

Obviously, a strong naval presence in the Persian Gulf, especially the carriers, discourages both threats and actual interference with tanker movements.

Given the well-publicized degradation of our military land forces — a situation the Iraqis are keenly aware of — I tend to doubt the naval presence and exercises are intended to intimidate the Iranians, generally or regarding nuclear weapons development.

The fleet air arm can do lots of damage but it can't take and hold territory or topple a regime. Dense and perverse as they are, I suspect Cheney and Bush realize getting into it with Iraq is not the thing to do now, and that there's not enough time left for Bush to pull out some kind of vainglorious victory by trying.

I certainly hope that's the case, anyway.

11:04 PM  

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