Some things cannot be included in this public statement. If my thoughts happen to be convergent with the NSC, and I were to state them here, it could be semi-equivalent to a tipoff to the adversary.
As an attempt to change the behavior of an adversary, the trade war with China has been carried out much more adroitly than the analogous attempt at behavior modification of Iran. To be sure, the ingrained behavior of a fanatical quasi-religious state is a much tougher nut than China’s pragmatic economists. But certain general principles still apply.
One principle is setting the stakes at an appropriate level. If they’re too high, it pushes the adversary into desperate measures. If the the right amount of pressure is applied, which may never be known except after the fact, the adversary’s calculations are likely to be more fluid.
The gray beards of Iran might give a point or two, but they won’t change their minds. But every year, they shrink away a little, while the new blood grows. The natural time scale is generations. Maybe the time scale can be accelerated a little, but with too much pressure, the graybeards react. They are reactionary.
So we should aim for bearable misery. If Iran were a fish, you’d want to let it run, play the line. This is why I was in favor of letting Iran sell a little oil, jerking them around. Unpredictable is good. As it is, the U.S. program is completely predictable, and they are jerking us around. In Coalition Against Iran; Logical Positivism and Self Interest, I suggested, in steps:
- Take charge of oil sales.
- Induce a state of learned helplessness.
- In return for good behavior, restore empowerment by degrees.
While Iran’s high tech military assets can be neutralized, the current U.S. force posture cannot prevent Iran from carving into Iraq. Quoting (Financial Times) Iraq’s desperate struggle to stay out of Iran-US feud,
“[Iraq] is a success that is emerging after four decades of conflict,” says President Barham Salih. “We don’t have the stamina, we don’t have the energy, we don’t have the resources, or the willingness, to become victim to yet another proxy conflict.”
Iraq could become a victim to the extent of an actual occupation of Basra, and other areas where Shiite militia verge on de facto control. Retaliation must be crafted to include a disincentive to the above.
Iran’s strike damaged Saudi Arabia to an almost intolerable degree. The strike may have been too heavy. Had Iran taken out a single GSOP, as a demonstration of future risk, we might not be talking retaliation. We don’t have to make the same mistake.
An ideal target would be an industrial facility, a type of which:
- Iran has multiples.
- Loss of one or two is tolerable.
- Most must function.
- Loss of most would be intolerable.
A strike against one plant is a demonstration, not of dollars lost but dollars-at-risk. If it is apparent to Iran that it cannot defend the remainder, it is a disincentive for Iran to retaliate. The point can be driven home through the back channel: “You strike cost Saudi $1B (Or whatever the hit to the IPO). We just took out your $500M facility. We’re going easy on you.”
Don’t make us play hardball.