Council revives flawed strategy

The prestigious Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) will recommend  that the US 'negotiate' with Iran in order to stop Iran's de—stabilizing influence on Iraq, and to end Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons.  Despite clear evidence that Iran has come to dominate the critical waterways in the Central Region, and is very close to developing an operational nuclear weapon, the CFR has decided to resurrect the failed concepts of 'engagement' and 'dialogue' in an attempt to assuage an adversary that has strategically run circles around the US in the Central Region for over a decade.

The CFR's recommendations for 'selective engagement' with Iran are described as essentially mirroring the Clinton administration's Iran policy in its last year in office.  This may be true, but a close examination of the actions of Iran in the 90s, and the lack of substantive response from the Clinton administration and the US Central Command (USCENTCOM), reveal the abject failure of this strategy.  To put it bluntly, the CFR recommends an approach that will ensure Iranian military and economic superiority in this key area of the world.

Since the collapse of the USSR and the Warsaw Pact, global and regional 'maneuver by proxy' was thought to be an outmoded concept.  There was just one problem with this view: Iran continued to play the game.  In particular, Iran focused on those areas that controlled choke points of strategic waterways, and during the 90s, proceeded to conduct a double envelopment of the Arabian Peninsula.  Iran's first strategic objective was the Horn of Africa.

In the early 90s, Somalia was in chaos, and there was a humanitarian crisis of massive proportions.  Iran's agents took advantage of this situation, and quickly allied themselves with General Mohamed Farah Aidid to provide materiel, training, and intelligence support.  The UN deployed forces to the region, but there were continuing firefights, hijacking of vehicles, and looting of convoys and warehouses.  Bush '41 responded on December 4, 1992 to UN resolution 794, by starting Operation Restore Hope, under which the US deployed 28,000 troops to the Horn.

Even though the US had effectively stymied, at least for the short—term, the Iranian maneuver to control the strategically significant Horn of Africa, the new Clinton Administration's strategic retreat of US forces from Somalia, as a result of the 'Blackhawk Down' ambush in October of 1993, allowed Iran to finally secure its influence in Somalia.  The significance of this retreat would not be fully realized until Coalition forces had to return to the Horn of Africa as part of the War on Terror.

Since the last UN peacekeepers left in 1995, the level of fighting between the clans and terrorist elements has essentially returned to pre—1992 levels.  This has allowed Iranian operatives to establish an international base of terror that provides a safe haven for various terrorist groups including al—Qaeda.  Essentially, the opportunity to ensure the long—term security of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden had been squandered in the 90s.  Therefore, Coalition forces had to establish naval and land bases of operations in the former French colony of Djibouti.

While Iran's left hand was busy in Somalia, the right hand was conducting the other half of the double envelopment of the Arabian Peninsula.  In April of 1992, Iran seized and fortified the island of Abu Musa, which is located in a position at the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf allowing whoever occupied it to threaten, or to entirely close off the Gulf's primary oil shipping lane.

Iran moved additional troops to the island and began construction of improved defensive positions and emplacements for advanced anti—ship missiles, including the C—801, which was the Chinese version of the French—made Exocet.  Later, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) reinforced the island with 4000 troops, anti—aircraft missile batteries, and heavy artillery.  In March 1995, then Secretary of Defense William Perry dropped a bombshell.  He stated in a press conference that Iran's buildup on Abu Musa Island involved chemical weapons and that he considered that a 'very negative factor.'  Therefore, by 1995, Iran was capable of delaying, or even stopping shipping on both the east and west coasts of the Arabian Peninsula.  Strangely, there was no honest dialogue with the American people in the 90s explaining the potential dire consequences of Iran's successes in these maneuvers.

To this day, Iran continues to press its advantage by attempting small boat suicide attacks against Iraq's only off—shore oil terminal in the vicinity of the Al—Faw Peninsula.  These tactics, and the equipment used, are reminiscent of the methods used by Iran during the Tanker Wars of the 80s.  The situation is such that the US Navy has had to increase the number of small patrol craft in the area, and has even diverted an Expeditionary Strike Group to the Northern Persian Gulf.

It was also no accident that the port of Yanbu, Saudi Arabia was attacked by terrorists in early May of this year.  The port is located on the East coast of the Red Sea, approximately 460 nautical miles south of the Suez Canal.  There are two key elements that make Yanbu a strategic asset.  First, it is the nearest major Saudi seaport to Europe and North America, and second, it is the terminus of a double pipeline from east to west across the country that pumps oil and gas from Jubail, which is on the Persian Gulf.  This greatly speeds the shipment of petroleum products to Europe.

It is clear that Iran's long—term plan of seizing control of the strategic waterways in the CENTCOM area of responsibility, while becoming the region's newest nuclear power, is being successfully implemented.  The flawed policy of engagement, dialogue, and sanctions has dropped another ticking time—bomb into the lap of the Bush 43 Administration, and the forces of CENTCOM and the Coalition.  The slack responses and strategic retreats of the past are now coming due, yet the CFR wants to resurrect a strategy that Iran has already nullified.

President Bush should ignore the CFR's and the International Atomic Energy Agency's recommendation to treat Iran with kid gloves.  He should present Iran's violations of the NPT to the UN Security Council as soon as possible, and should examine all available options to remove the mullahs from power, since it is evident that they face an unhappy and restive population.  If the CFR had its way, we would enable the mullahs' goal of regional domination via a bankrupt strategy of constructive engagement and dialogue.

Douglas Hanson is our military affairs correspondent

The prestigious Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) will recommend  that the US 'negotiate' with Iran in order to stop Iran's de—stabilizing influence on Iraq, and to end Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons.  Despite clear evidence that Iran has come to dominate the critical waterways in the Central Region, and is very close to developing an operational nuclear weapon, the CFR has decided to resurrect the failed concepts of 'engagement' and 'dialogue' in an attempt to assuage an adversary that has strategically run circles around the US in the Central Region for over a decade.

The CFR's recommendations for 'selective engagement' with Iran are described as essentially mirroring the Clinton administration's Iran policy in its last year in office.  This may be true, but a close examination of the actions of Iran in the 90s, and the lack of substantive response from the Clinton administration and the US Central Command (USCENTCOM), reveal the abject failure of this strategy.  To put it bluntly, the CFR recommends an approach that will ensure Iranian military and economic superiority in this key area of the world.

Since the collapse of the USSR and the Warsaw Pact, global and regional 'maneuver by proxy' was thought to be an outmoded concept.  There was just one problem with this view: Iran continued to play the game.  In particular, Iran focused on those areas that controlled choke points of strategic waterways, and during the 90s, proceeded to conduct a double envelopment of the Arabian Peninsula.  Iran's first strategic objective was the Horn of Africa.

In the early 90s, Somalia was in chaos, and there was a humanitarian crisis of massive proportions.  Iran's agents took advantage of this situation, and quickly allied themselves with General Mohamed Farah Aidid to provide materiel, training, and intelligence support.  The UN deployed forces to the region, but there were continuing firefights, hijacking of vehicles, and looting of convoys and warehouses.  Bush '41 responded on December 4, 1992 to UN resolution 794, by starting Operation Restore Hope, under which the US deployed 28,000 troops to the Horn.

Even though the US had effectively stymied, at least for the short—term, the Iranian maneuver to control the strategically significant Horn of Africa, the new Clinton Administration's strategic retreat of US forces from Somalia, as a result of the 'Blackhawk Down' ambush in October of 1993, allowed Iran to finally secure its influence in Somalia.  The significance of this retreat would not be fully realized until Coalition forces had to return to the Horn of Africa as part of the War on Terror.

Since the last UN peacekeepers left in 1995, the level of fighting between the clans and terrorist elements has essentially returned to pre—1992 levels.  This has allowed Iranian operatives to establish an international base of terror that provides a safe haven for various terrorist groups including al—Qaeda.  Essentially, the opportunity to ensure the long—term security of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden had been squandered in the 90s.  Therefore, Coalition forces had to establish naval and land bases of operations in the former French colony of Djibouti.

While Iran's left hand was busy in Somalia, the right hand was conducting the other half of the double envelopment of the Arabian Peninsula.  In April of 1992, Iran seized and fortified the island of Abu Musa, which is located in a position at the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf allowing whoever occupied it to threaten, or to entirely close off the Gulf's primary oil shipping lane.

Iran moved additional troops to the island and began construction of improved defensive positions and emplacements for advanced anti—ship missiles, including the C—801, which was the Chinese version of the French—made Exocet.  Later, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) reinforced the island with 4000 troops, anti—aircraft missile batteries, and heavy artillery.  In March 1995, then Secretary of Defense William Perry dropped a bombshell.  He stated in a press conference that Iran's buildup on Abu Musa Island involved chemical weapons and that he considered that a 'very negative factor.'  Therefore, by 1995, Iran was capable of delaying, or even stopping shipping on both the east and west coasts of the Arabian Peninsula.  Strangely, there was no honest dialogue with the American people in the 90s explaining the potential dire consequences of Iran's successes in these maneuvers.

To this day, Iran continues to press its advantage by attempting small boat suicide attacks against Iraq's only off—shore oil terminal in the vicinity of the Al—Faw Peninsula.  These tactics, and the equipment used, are reminiscent of the methods used by Iran during the Tanker Wars of the 80s.  The situation is such that the US Navy has had to increase the number of small patrol craft in the area, and has even diverted an Expeditionary Strike Group to the Northern Persian Gulf.

It was also no accident that the port of Yanbu, Saudi Arabia was attacked by terrorists in early May of this year.  The port is located on the East coast of the Red Sea, approximately 460 nautical miles south of the Suez Canal.  There are two key elements that make Yanbu a strategic asset.  First, it is the nearest major Saudi seaport to Europe and North America, and second, it is the terminus of a double pipeline from east to west across the country that pumps oil and gas from Jubail, which is on the Persian Gulf.  This greatly speeds the shipment of petroleum products to Europe.

It is clear that Iran's long—term plan of seizing control of the strategic waterways in the CENTCOM area of responsibility, while becoming the region's newest nuclear power, is being successfully implemented.  The flawed policy of engagement, dialogue, and sanctions has dropped another ticking time—bomb into the lap of the Bush 43 Administration, and the forces of CENTCOM and the Coalition.  The slack responses and strategic retreats of the past are now coming due, yet the CFR wants to resurrect a strategy that Iran has already nullified.

President Bush should ignore the CFR's and the International Atomic Energy Agency's recommendation to treat Iran with kid gloves.  He should present Iran's violations of the NPT to the UN Security Council as soon as possible, and should examine all available options to remove the mullahs from power, since it is evident that they face an unhappy and restive population.  If the CFR had its way, we would enable the mullahs' goal of regional domination via a bankrupt strategy of constructive engagement and dialogue.

Douglas Hanson is our military affairs correspondent