Friday, January 21, 2005

Some columnists have noted the non-denial denials coming from the administration regarding Seymour Hersh's New Yorker article (Hersch wrote that Pentagon civilians were advocating for the US military to strike Iran with the purpose of destablizing it's government). Here, for example, is Fred Kaplan writing about Rice's confirmation hearings:
In a similar exchange, Biden raised Seymour Hersh's claim, in the latest New Yorker, that Pentagon civilians are pushing for an airstrike against Iran, as a means of toppling its fundamentalist regime. Biden emphasized he wasn't asking Rice to confirm the report. He just wanted to know if she believes it's possible to topple the Iranian regime through military action—and whether regime change in Iran is the administration's goal.

Rice replied that the administration's goal is to have a regime in Iran that's responsive to U.S. concerns. She then noted that the current regime stands "180 degrees" in opposition to those concerns—on nuclear weapons, relations with al-Qaida, and support of Hezbollah. She added, "The Iranian people, who are among some of the most worldly that we know—in a good sense—do suffer under a regime that has been completely unwilling to deal with their aspirations."

Once again, Biden gave Rice a chance to dismiss the hottest rumor of the moment. And, again, she demurred.
It is questionable whether much should be read into Rice's - and the administration's - non-responses. After all, confirmation hearings are all about reciting prepared answers to vaguely related questions. For what its worth, though, the idea of destabilizing enemy regimes through strikes has a rich history.

The most recent example is the so-called "shock and awe." Remember, from the beginning of the Iraq war:
They're calling it "A-Day," A as in airstrikes so devastating they would leave Saddam's soldiers unable or unwilling to fight.

If the Pentagon sticks to its current war plan, one day in March the Air Force and Navy will launch between 300 and 400 cruise missiles at targets in Iraq. As CBS News Correspondent David Martin reports, this is more than number that were launched during the entire 40 days of the first Gulf War.

On the second day, the plan calls for launching another 300 to 400 cruise missiles.

"There will not be a safe place in Baghdad," said one Pentagon official who has been briefed on the plan.

"The sheer size of this has never been seen before, never been contemplated before," the official said.

The battle plan is based on a concept developed at the National Defense University. It's called "Shock and Awe" and it focuses on the psychological destruction of the enemy's will to fight rather than the physical destruction of his military forces.

"We want them to quit. We want them not to fight," says Harlan Ullman, one of the authors of the Shock and Awe concept which relies on large numbers of precision guided weapons.
There was much hoopla about JDAM bombs designed to scare the enemy. In the end, though, it didn't work: the bombs did not cause Iraqi troops to lay down their arms and a ground campaign was required.

In fact, as Stephen Van Evera writes in his essay on militarism, these claims have been made quite often in the past:
What might be called the "psychic shock" theory of victory--holding that armies or regimes will collapse under the psychic shock of attack--is trotted out. Before 1914 Russian officers claimed the Austro-Hungarian regime would disintegrate under Russian attack: "On the occasion of the first great defeats all this multinational and artificially united mass ought to disintegrate." In the 1920s Italy's General Giulio Douhet, a founding airpower theorist, thought bombing would "stampede the population into panic." (In fact bombing has repeatedly stampeded populations into supporting their wartime governments.) In 1939 France's General Maurice Gamelin thought a French attack on the Soviet Union in the Black Sea area perhaps could "lead to the collapse of the entire Soviet system." In 1940 Germany's General Alfred Jodl thought German attacks on Britain would "break the will of the people to resist, and thereby force its government to capitulate." And in 1941 Japan's Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto hoped that American morale would "sink to the extent that it could not be recovered" if he destroyed the U.S. main fleet at Pearl Harbor. (In fact the Pearl Harbor attack greatly energized the American public for war.)
We can add the bombing destruction of Dresden during WWII to the above list: later studies show the effect on undermining German will to fight was minimal. By contrast, the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki (combined with the hundreds of thousands of deaths in the bombing of Tokyo and other cities) achieved the desired effect. The historical lesson seems to be that only truly massive devastation will yield surrender or "collapse." Van Evera notes that despite this, militaries are very sympathetic to the claim that a non-atomic limited strike will induce "collapse" of the enemy, largely because it can be used as a justification for increased spending on conventional military forces.


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