The global-airpower bombers – the B-2 and B-52 – would take big hits from the sequestration cuts scheduled for 2013, and that’s bad news for DOD’s readiness to perform a strike campaign against Iran. If the local nations around the Persian Gulf don’t allow U.S. forces to launch from our bases there to conduct such a strike, a conventional strike is impossible without sufficient long-range bombers and Navy carrier air wings. The sequestration cuts, assuming they occur, will eliminate that package of options.
The cuts – and budget uncertainty in general – will also raise the cost of expending resources on a strike against Iran. Replacements for some Tomahawk missiles or Air Force C-ALCM missiles may simply not be manufactured, for example, as procurement orders decline. If USS Harry S Truman has to be rushed to the Persian Gulf for a rapid response – the readiness promise made when her deployment was cancelled – the dent that that will put in her nuclear-reactor life will be an important problem in the future, especially considering that the reactor recoring for her sister ship, USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) has already been delayed indefinitely. Overuse and deferred maintenance cascade into big availability shortfalls down the line, a problem for all the services’ major weapon systems.
We are already having to make decisions that will produce shortfalls in the future. What has been less discussed is the shortfall our decisions today are creating for potential nearer-term requirements. Assuming the sequestration cuts go through, it will not be an “ops normal” action, from the standpoint of force use, to conduct a strike campaign against Iran. Even three years ago, at this time in 2010, it could have been done on that basis. That is no longer the case.
The hands that are tied by this reality are Obama’s as commander-in-chief. He can’t just order the strike. He’ll have to ask Congress for additional funding just to get extra forces to the theater – and that’s before funding the strike itself, which will be very fuel-intensive. He will have to consider, moreover, the force-wide impact of putting the funds into a strike on Iran. What will he have to give up in U.S. force readiness in the Pacific, the theater to which he says we are shifting emphasis? What about defense of the continental United States? – the fighter-interceptors on alert, the ground-based ballistic-missile interceptors in Alaska and California, both of which defense systems the Air Force foresees shortfalls in operating, if the sequester kicks in? What about Afghanistan, where we still have tens of thousands of troops on the ground?
These are the questions raised by an Israeli television report from Monday (which, of course, may or may not be valid) stating that the Obama administration will tell Israel next month that it is gearing up for a “window of opportunity” to strike Iran in June.
Gearing up with what? The carrier that isn’t deployed? The Air Force aircraft that will run out of flying hours in May?
We don’t have the forces deployed to conduct this strike campaign, nor can they be deployed – assuming the sequester kicks in, and/or that there is no comprehensive continuing resolution agreed to in the next couple of months – without Obama making a big political noise, by running the whole plan through Congress and asking specifically for money to fund it. What are the chances Obama is going to do that?
I’m betting Benjamin Netanyahu doesn’t think he will. If the report really did come from the Obama administration, it is an egregious instance of promising to do something we obviously are making no preparations to do. (I am reminded – painfully – of a press interview Obama did almost exactly a year ago, when he said, on the topic of the Iran nuclear threat: “As president of the United States, I don’t bluff”).
Even if the claim about the U.S. administration’s intentions in Israel is invalid, the report is as good a pretext as any for making it clear to the American people that our defense situation has already changed. We cannot do today what we could have done three years ago. As long as Obama makes no provision for conducting a crippling strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, the threat of doing so carries no weight. That is today’s reality – and it is Obama’s legacy.