Edward Luttwak to the Box

Sunday, April 25, 2010 10:15 AM

There are quite a few items I did not include in the 2006 Blog Entry file of this website. One of these concerned the "public intellectual" and strategist, Edward Luttwak. He has recently published a well-received tome entitled The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire.  He's not just a writer and an idea man. Luttwak is also a business man and a self-described "operator". I love that word. 

At one time I was an inexperienced, naive magazine editor, fresh out of Columbia College. My mentor around the office was an old German named Henry, who had been an art director at the famous advertising agency, N.W. Ayer. Whenever he noticed that I was falling under the spell of some dubious character, Henry would casually advise me without elaborating, "That guy is an operator". Translated, this meant "be careful". Henry was almost always correct in his assessment.

Anyway, with the invasion of Iraq out of the way, Luttwak's ultimate contemporary concern in 2006 was Iran, specifically, the bombing of Iran. Sounds familiar, doesn't it? The U.S. Government is still obsessed with that topic today. Why? Somehow it is assumed that bombing Iran will solve a self-evident problem. I for one remain at a loss to understand what exactly the problem is, aside from the obsessions and hysteria of certain members of a well-placed, well-heeled international pressure group which has been taking Uncle Sam to the cleaners for years. 

There is a relatively new website called “The Race for Iran” entirely devoted to debunking this ongoing fake crisis and suggesting a dose of sanity to defuse the fake crisis before it becomes a genuine crisis with the potential to implode the economy of planet earth. The problem is, facts and reason are not in the ascendancy on planet earth; facts and reason will not change the dynamics in Washington, the capital of the lone surviving "superpower", because Washington has been hijacked by the just-alluded-to international pressure group that will not take "no" for an answer, and is willing to bribe, finagle, intimidate and distort until it gets the outcome it demands.

Herewith, the 2006 blog entry, my emphasis in red...


Sunday, February 26th, 2006

Edward N. Luttwak wrote a piece in the Wall Street Journal a few weeks back which was reprinted in Haaretz of Tel Aviv. See below. Luttwak is now based in Washington, D.C., ensconced at a "think tank" called the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He has variously been described as a geopolitician, a military commentator, and a defense intellectual. While not openly advocating the bombing of Iran, he points out that the mission would not be a difficult one. In the process, he reveals the casual cynicism and presumption at the heart of official Washington.

It is taken for granted that Washington and Tel Aviv have the right to attack Iran. Luttwak states that Iran's air defenses are outdated and/or inoperable and that its nuclear energy research sites, although "thickly protected" underground, are no match for the latest U.S. penetration bombs, which Washington has thoughtfully shipped over to Israel. Luttwak is thoughtful enough to inform us that, thanks to the U.S. embargo, Iranian aircraft "regularly fall out of the sky" due to lack of spare parts. Maybe he thinks this circumstance is something America should be proud of, an example of great strategy. He's not knocking it. 

In any case, it is apparent from Luttwak's own analysis that Iran is no more a threat to the citizens of the United States than Iraq was. Both Iran and Iraq--the latter prior to "Operation Iraqi Freedom"--have been mercilessly embargoed by the U.S. using the UN as a front. If Iran is attacked in the coming months, it will be because Washington and/or Tel Aviv have calculated that they can get away with it, and that this is something they would like to do. In short, it will be a gratuitous, predatory act just like Iraq.

By the way, Luttwak's track record on the Iraq fiasco has not been what one might call sensational. UPI editor at large, Arnaud de Borchgrave, pointed out in August, 2004 ["Baffling friends and foes"] that Luttwak advocated in early 2003 the invasion of Iraq, saying that it would be a cakewalk and that Ahmad Chalabi--the con man, fugitive and fraudster--was America's best hope to run a free Iraq. Isn't playing god wonderful? 

Likewise, the unjustifiable bombing of Iran may indeed be a breeze from a military point of view, just like the "shock and awe" invasion of Iraq was an initial success. It is what comes afterwards--the hangover, the blowback--which is most critical. We now see the brilliant results for America and the Middle East of Luttwak's advice with respect to Iraq. He was not alone then, in the run-up to that war. He is not alone now. The same crowd is hard at work on the same, comprehensive, hidden agenda. 

w w w . h a a r e t z . c o m [Tel Aviv]

February 24th, 2006

It could be done in one night

By Edward N. Luttwak

Many commentators argue that a preemptive air attack against Iran's nuclear installations is unfeasible. It would not be swift or surgical, they say, because it would require thousands of strike anddefense-suppression sorties. And it is likely to fail even then because some facilities might be too well hidden or too strongly protected. There may well be other, perfectly valid reasons to oppose an attack on Iran's nuclear sites. But let's not pretend that such an attack has no chance of success. In fact, the odds are rather good.

The skeptics begin sensibly enough by rejecting any direct comparison with Israel's 1981 air attack that incapacitated the Osirak reactor, stopping Saddam Hussein's first try at producing plutonium bombs. Iran is evidently following a different and much larger-scale path to nuclear weapons, by the centrifuge "enrichment" of uranium hexafluoride gas to increase the proportion of fissile uranium 235. It requires a number of different plants operating in series to go from natural uranium to highly enriched uranium formed in the specific shapes needed to obtain an explosive chain reaction. Some of these plants, notably the Natanz centrifuge plant, are both very large and built below ground with thick overhead protection.

It is at this point that the argument breaks down. Yes, Iraq's weapon program of 1981 was stopped by a single air strike carried out by less than a squadron of fighter-bombers because it was centered in a single large reactor building. Once it was destroyed, the mission was accomplished. To do the same to Iran's 100-odd facilities would require almost a hundred times as many sorties as the Israelis flew in 1981, which would strain even the U.S. Air Force. Some would even add many more sorties to carry out a preliminary suppression campaign against Iran's air defenses (a collection of inoperable anti-aircraft weapons and obsolete fighters with outdated missiles). But the claim that to stop Iran's program all of its nuclear sites must be destroyed is simply wrong.

An air attack is not a Las Vegas demolitions contract, where nothing must be left but well-flattened ground for the new casino to be built. Iran might need 100 buildings in good working order to make its bomb, but it is enough to demolish a few critical installations to delay its program for years - and perhaps longer because it would become harder or impossible for Iran to buy the materials it bought when its efforts were still secret. Some of these installations may be thickly protected against air attack, but it seems that their architecture has not kept up with the performance of the latest penetration bombs.

Nor could destroyed items be easily replaced by domestic production. In spite of all the claims of technological self-sufficiency by its engineer-president, not even metal parts of any complexity can be successfully machined in Iran. More than 35 percent of Iran's gasoline must now be imported because the capacity of its foreign-built refineries cannot be expanded without components currently under U.S. embargo, and which the locals cannot copy. Aircraft regularly fall out of the sky because Iranians are unable to reverse-engineer spare parts.

The bombing of Iran's nuclear installations may still be a bad idea for other reasons, but not because it would require a huge air offensive. On the contrary, it could all be done in a single night. One may hope that Iran's rulers will therefore accept a diplomatic solution rather than gamble all on wildly exaggerated calculations.


Edward N. Luttwak is a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic & International Studies in Washington. The article was originally published in The Wall Street Journal.