Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Saber-Rattling 101:

How to Scare the Bejesus Out of Tyrants and Tin-Horns
by Joy Busey from People First Politics

The buzz on the left has been insistent for a couple of weeks now about what the Bush administration is planning to do about Iran’s apparently insane Shi’ite political leader and his nuclear ambitions. The carrier fleet and their escorts have been deployed to the Gulf, the rhetoric has kicked up a few notches about how accessible Iran’s nuclear facilities are to air and sea strikes, there’s even been some talk of a draft. Because Iran’s got a heck of an army and they could march it into Iraq if it felt the need.

There are of course many reasons to doubt that our current war-loving band of chicken-hawk miscreants in Washington are really dumb enough to attack Iran, particularly since Israel issued a statement on Wednesday that they’d be willing to live with a nuclear Iran. So long as it’s just power, of course, as opposed to weapons.

Thus it was with a wry smile and a roll of the eyes that I saw the several news reports about 5 ACMs - Advanced Cruise Missiles - mounted with 5-150 kiloton nuclear warheads (these qualify as tactical nukes as opposed to strategic ones on ICBMs that boast multiple megaton warheads) that were ‘accidentally’ flown from Minot AFB in North Dakota to Barksdale AFB in Louisiana on August 30. Oops.

The ACMs were reported to be among a stockpile of 400 destined to be decommissioned, so the warheads were supposed to have been removed at Minot before the cruise missile bodies were transported to Barksdale. According to The Army Times story, the Air Force insists that they had total control of the warheads at all times, even though they didn’t exactly know where they were for the duration of the 3 1/2 hour flight.

It’s all okay. They were “safely mounted to the B-52’s wing pylons,” right where they should be if the Air Force were planning to launch them from high altitude against a target. We have to figure these 400 tactical ACMs are part of that redundant overkill portion of our national stockpile, as both the Navy and Air Force have plenty of tacticals (and their delivery missiles) in or near the current theaters of operation. So it’s not like we should suspect a bombing attack on Iran doesn’t already have all the bombs it needs.

Yet having had a little contact and familiarity with military nuclear programs over the years, I’ve just gotta say this whole comedy of errors strikes me more as deliberate saber-rattling than as a legitimate oops. You just don’t oops these things. The fail safes are too stringent, the procedures too tight, the sign-offs at all levels of command and oversight too foolproof. You just can’t ‘lose’ these things. Maybe in some god-foresaken corner of old Soviet colonialism, but not right here in the heartland.

I figure Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has plenty of underlings doing nothing but following the debates in the U.S. press and cable news about whether or not we’ll be attacking Iran to prevent its completion of nuclear ambitions. I also figure they won’t be predisposed to believe this was a complete oops, any more than I am. There is certainly a threatening undercurrent to the fact that advanced, tactical nuclear-tipped cruise missiles (can be launched from sea or air) are being shuffled around from the deep northern midwest to active forward deployment stations such as Barksdale in Louisiana.

Perhaps it will work. It might just scare Ahmadinejad enough to settle his overactive dog and pony act, as well as serve to keep his troops within his own borders instead of marching into Iraq to wreak havoc on our troops there. In which case this intriguing episode of fine-tuned disinformation will have served its purpose well.

But in the meantime, shouldn’t we do a little investigating to find out if lax procedures and a cavalier attitude at our nuclear stockpiles might make them into targets for terrorist designs? I mean, if they won’t miss a warhead when it’s gone, we’ve something to worry about. Rattling sabers at ‘the enemy’ is one thing. Rattling them at We the People is something else entirely.

UPDATE: Looks like ex-spy Larry Johnson had the same take as I did, just a few hours (and inside contacts) later. Check it out at Staging Nukes for Iran?


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