Will Iran be next? what is the impact of a simulation?

Through Truth Out, I came across an article from the December 2004 Atlantic Monthly called Will Iran be Next?. Briefly, this recounts a simulation run by the magazine last year, with the cooperation of serving and retired US military and officials, asking what if the US decides to take action against Irans nuclear programme. (Very much back in the news today.)

What interests me is the effect this article might have on the Iranians, if theyve read it. (You can get Google in Farsi, so I suppose they can read it in Tehran.)

This was a three hour table top exercise, organised by retired USAF officer Sam Gardiner (“For more than two decades he has conducted war games at the National War College and many other military institutions….” ) to examine the Iran-related issues that the incoming President would face, through the eyes of a simulated principals committee at the White House.

Players included:
CIA director: David Kay (former chief nuclear-weapons inspector for the IAEA and the United Nations Special Commission)
Secretary of State: Kenneth Pollack/ Reuel Marc Gerecht (think tanks, but both ex-CIA/ NSC)
White House chief of staff: Kenneth Bacon, (chief Pentagon spokesman during much of the Clinton Administration)
Secretary of Defense: Michael Mazarr, professor, National War College.
National Security Adviser: Gardiner himself.
(It seems to have been loosely conducted, with people stepping in and out of roles. Stirling Reid would have done it better.)

Some of the conclusions were:
– Israel could not mount a successful strike and the US should encourage Israel to back off
– according to Gardiner (now metamorphosed to “four-star General Gardiner, commander of CentCom”) the US “could mount an invasion of Iran if it had to…. [but> …the available military options are likely to fail in the long term….”
– “The most important hidden problem, exposed in the war-game discussions, was that a full assault would require such drawn-out preparations that the Iranian government would know months in advance what was coming. Its leaders would have every incentive to strike pre-emptively in their own defense.”
-“A realistic awareness of these constraints will put the next President in an awkward position. In the end, according to our panelists, he should understand that he cannot prudently order an attack on Iran. But his chances of negotiating his way out of the situation will be greater if the Iranians dont know that.”

The naivety of the last bullet point takes my breath away. (er, they do know it, if theyve read your magazine, and assuming they take you seriously…) Could account for some of the problems the EU seem to be having in negotiating with the Iranians at the moment.

You have to ask what were the Atlantic Monthlys motives for holding this simulation as an unclassified, indeed widely publicised exercise, and of intelligent and presumably patriotic people in participating.

The US (and much of the western world) is renowned for being too generous with its secrets. (See any good book about KGB technical and scientific intelligence. Economists talk about information asymmetry and demonstrate how asymmetry in your favour helps you get a better deal – and vice versa.)

Simulations provide another way for people to publicise information. When reading about, or doing, a simulation, you just have to remember to ask “why?”

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