A couple of Iranian navy ships are slowly making their way to the Americas. What’s going on? J. E. Dyer has a long and thoughtful post:
That said, two things are worth reiterating. One, the U.S. does not have a constant-ready missile defense network that would protect the central and southeastern United States from an MRBM threat emanating from the south. We are unprotected on this axis. Shifting to a footing of 24/365 alert and anti-missile protection – e.g., by deploying Patriot systems in the continental U.S. or Navy Aegis ships offshore – would constitute a new, un-resourced requirement. We’d have to cut back defense operations elsewhere to meet it.
Two, our ability to react against the “shooter” is limited by the forces we have ready today. We don’t have extra ships and aircraft to deploy for a deterrent presence in Central America. We could react after the fact with B-2 bombers, and possibly other conventional forms of attack, such as submarine-launched cruise missiles and ballistic missiles with conventional warheads. But we would have to attack to mount a response, in (most probably) Venezuela or Cuba, and that response would be inherently escalatory.
It’s quite possible that our current administration would view that as a bridge too far. Realistically, I think the military would view the prospect with strong disfavor. Our ready forces would not have such a preponderance of power, or such advantages of geography, that we could do it easily and without inconvenience.
Bottom line: MRBMs down south would constitute a material transformation of our security footing in the hemisphere. It’s a development we couldn’t live with.
The “red flag” in this whole saga is the concentration of verbal threats from the Iranians, at a time when they are making an unprecedented naval deployment to the Americas; they are mounting an unusual outreach with Fatah; and they are close enough to nuclearization – even by the expected route, as opposed to the speculative North Korean option – that dashing to the finish line is the only step left.
The quality of some of the Iranian threats is deeply silly. But this doesn’t have the feel of random nuttiness to it. The Iranians are up to something.
I agree with Dyer, who implies in the post (and states explicitly in a comment) that the lowest-risk course of action for us would be to sink the ship of the two that has a hold big enough to transport ballistic missiles.
Dyer’s argument is long and well supported. You will have to read the whole thing to get the full thrust of her reasoning.
My take on Iran continues to be that if it gets nuclear weapons, as now seems certain, it will use them. It will not necessarily use them to attack Israel or otherwise blow some place up, at least not in the near future. It will use them to gain leverage, to extort valuable concessions from its adversaries, including us. Obama’s feckless appeasement of the mullahs has whetted their appetite for aggression and confirmed that they have at least three more years of clear sailing ahead. They will press this advantage. We are not going to be able to contain them, because they will continue to look for opportunities to place us in situations where our disinclination to fight will give them victories by default. The current situation, with the two ships, appears to be the opener. We have a lot to lose. If we want to stop Iran we are going to have to confront it militarily at some point. The sooner we do this the less costly it will be.