Acting Defense Secretary Patrick M. Shanahan, the former Boeing technocrat Donald Trump selected to run the Defense Department, is desperately pounding the Pentagon’s war drums to the dismay of the generals and admirals at the Puzzle Palace who have to send Americans into harm’s way.
It is reasonable to assume that Trump is directly behind the madness because Shanahan still has a job, at least until he goes for confirmation to be the real Secretary of Defense. If Trump meanwhile paints himself into a corner over Iran he may jump-start another conflict in the Persian Gulf.
As usual, Trump’s timing is horrible. More and more incredibly expensive military hardware is already sitting idle all over the nation for lack of enlisted troops, pilots and junior officers to man it. The point of the spear has literally been blunted. There are plenty of warm military bodies to feed and very few warriors who fight. The best of them are dead or burned out from constant combat.
Two titanic “defense” budgets in a row didn’t provide enough money to persuade the country’s young people to hitch their life to a military machine stretched to its limits by three generations of relentless low- and high-intensity conflict.
Military retention is up but recruitment is sinking faster. The Army and Navy end-strength goals — what each branch hopes to look like at the end of the fiscal year — are threatened. A war machine programmed to grow by almost 500,000 Army bodies in 2020 is actually shrinking. The Army is currently short 15,000 recruits, the equivalent of five combat brigades.
The Army and Navy are trolling for young bodies to fill the ranks of the combat deployable. Combat demands bright minds and hard bodies. Despite huge cash signing bonuses ($20,000 and more), and age limits closing in on early geriatrics, nobody but the disenfranchised are biting.
Perhaps as dangerous, the once plentiful supply of reserve and national guard troops George W. Bush arbitrarily federalized for additional cannon fodder in Iraq are merely a sick memory.
In this climate Trump is threatening war without congressional approval.
Last Friday, Shanahan approved the deployment of the USS Arlington (LPD-24), an amphibious transport ship filled with Marines, along with an Army Patriot air defense system to bolster the United State’s ability to pound everything valuable in Iran to smithereens.
What the Marines intend to do when they get there is apparently a military secret. The reinforced battalion of Marines and their landing craft aboard the Arlington are terribly vulnerable without 24-hour overhead protection and a few follow-on divisions of infantry.
Except for being the perfect weapons system for re-enacting a small-scale Iwo Jima with a bloody ending, the Arlington alone doesn’t offer too much threat to Iran without massive support. But by then the second Persian Gulf War will be going strong.
The one-term Marine fighter pilot currently leading the Star Chamber replaced four-star Gen. James N Mattis, a brilliant Marine bulldog who resigned over Trump’s aimless defense policies. Mattis knew that merely putting money where’s Trump’s mouth is was not a solution for forcing Iran or anyone else to quit making nukes.
Despite all the Trumplandian bloviation, Iran is like North Korea in that it is a struggling third-rate military power with a real mean streak and very little means to inflict harm on the same scale as the U.S. employed to reduce Iraq to a smoking hole.
Militarily, Iran has a few options for impeding trade flow from the Persian Gulf through the Strait of Hormuz choke point off its southeastern coast. Those pesky short-range ballistic missiles the Iranians are hiding on ships are cheap copies of the 50-year old unguided rockets made to attack land targets, not ships.
Iran does have some military steam. Between the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman, particularly around the Bandar Abbas naval district, Iran’s “modern” offensive weapons systems will probably give a good account of themselves for a few hours or days before they are erased.
What they can do in the meantime without firing a shot is rattle world oil markets, disrupt Western economies, and raise the ante for another war.
Trump is as usual lying when he implies that Iran is suddenly going to start popping nukes into the Strait of Hormuz and around the Persian Gulf. Iran doing so is about as likely as Xerxes the 1st arising from the dead to lead the Persians on world conquest.
For the purposes of warfare, Iran is as lousy a battlefield as Afghanistan. Its 636,000 square miles of mountainous terrain makes up the seventeenth largest country in the world. Its 80 million people have suffered as much under the Shia Muslim theocracy as they did under the Peacock Throne that preceded it. They know how to fight.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s quest to purify the infidels from Arab lands is just one of four simmering hotspots around the world where the U.S. appetite for unbridled power projection isn’t matched by the Pentagon’s ability to fulfill Trump orders to “reign in” his irritating enemies.
Already Iran is tangling directly with the Iraqis, the Saudis in Yemen, and the Lebanese, Jordanians and Israel through well-armed proxies. The only immediate military threat Iran poses to the U.S. is in Trump’s disease-riddled mind. The threat U.S. military power poses to Iran, however, is very real.
America’s latest potential conflict started in late April when Trump warned buyers of Iranian oil they must stop purchases by May 1 or face sanctions. When that failed to impress anyone, Trump brought out his bomb-now-think-later policy so admired by National Security Adviser John Bolton. That’s scary!
Iran’s Revolutionary Guards commander responded to Trump’s threat by saying if the Iranians couldn’t use the Strait of Hormuz they would “shut it down.” That rhetoric is scary, too, except the last time Iran resorted to using muscle the U.S. sank their entire navy.
When the Ultimate Negotiator ordered Shanahan to send a carrier strike group to enforce his sanctions with massive power the plan backfired. So far, the only thing Trump’s bluster has accomplished is to drive up oil prices and help drive down the stock market.