Confrontation Between Israel and Iran is Strategic, Not Ideological

Yesterday I went to the Center for American Progress event, Nuclear Meltdown: Rebuilding a Coherent Policy Towards Iran (Washington, D.C., 13 December 2007). It was moderated by Center for American Progress Director for Nuclear Policy Joseph Cirincione and consisted of a discussion with authors Barbara Slavin and Trita Parsi whose books are Bitter Friends, Bosom Enemies: Iran, the U.S., and the Twisted Path to Confrontation and Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran, and the United States, respectively. Both Ms. Slavin and Mr. Parsi were phenomenally interesting and well informed. As Mr. Cirincione points out, their books really complement each other and both have been reviewed in tandem in most papers.

The single point that most fascinated me from their discussion — and apparently it impressed Mr. Cirincione as well as he allows in his question — is Mr. Parsi’s dismissal of the ideology and the rhetoric of Israeli-Iranian relations in favor of a purely geostrategic analysis. In this regard, the first Gulf War of 1991, rather than the Iranian revolution of 1979 was the real turning point in Israeli-Iranian relations.

The Center for American Progress already has a video of the event up and Mr. Parsi gives a thumb-nail version of his theory starting about a quarter of the way in, but here is a transcript of what he says:

… Iran and Israel did have a strong relationship during the 50s, 60s and 70s. From the Israeli’s side there was the doctrine of the periphery, the idea that Israel’s security was best achieved by making alliances with the non-Arab periphery states in the region — basically Turkey, Iran and Ethiopia — in order to weaken the Arab states in Israel’s vicinity — the inner and the outer circle.

And there is a myth out there in my view and I argue strongly against it in the book that Israeli-Iranian relations radically change in 1979 because of the revolution. And certainly the revolution did change a lot. Iran had a completely new ideology and very aggressive anti-Israeli rhetoric, but the common threats that had pushed Iran and Israel closer together during the preceding decades — the common threat from the Arab world and the common threat from the Soviet Union — was still there after 1979. And strategically Israel believed that Iran was still a very, very strong periphery power that it needed to have a strategic relationship.

And immediately after the revolution the Israelis were doing everything the could to reach out to Iran, to sell arms to Iran in spite of an American arms embargo and even lobby the United States not only to talk to Iran but also that the U.S. should sell arms to Iran and that the U.S. actually should not pay attention to Iranian rhetoric because the rhetoric was not reflective of the policy. Which is a drastically different position than the Israelis took only a couple of years later.

What really changes the relationship is the end of the Cold War and the defeat of Saddam in the first Persian Gulf War because then at the end of the Cold War the Soviet Union collapses and the last standing Arab army that could pose a conventional military threat to both Iran and to Israel was defeated by the United States. You have a completely new reconfiguration of the geopolitical map in the Middle East in which Iran and Israel emerge as two of the more powerful states. And just as much from the Israeli perspective Iran was needed to balance Iraq to a certain extent they also felt that Iraq was needed to balance Iran but there was no longer a balancer of Iran. They started to view Iran as a potential threat in the future.

So it’s in 1992 that you see a sudden shift in the Israeli position vis-à-vis Iran. Throughout the 1980s in spite of Khomeini’s tremendously aggressive rhetoric against Israel, the Israelis do not talk about an Iranian threat, they reach out to the Iranians. But after 1992 when the Iranians actually become much more pragmatic in their foreign policy their revolutionary zeal is plummeting, that’s when Israel starts to depict Iran as a global and existential threat, out of a fear that in the new Middle East if the United States was now reaching out to the Arab states as it was in the Persian Gulf War and if in addition to that they were to make some sort of a deal with the Iranians, the deal would come at the expense of Israel’s interest.

And the calculation on the Israeli side was they need to make sure that type of political process does not take place. And that is achieved by creating the political obstacles to such a process by imposing new sanctions, by depicting Iran as a global threat. And this initially actually came as a great surprise to the United States because only five years earlier the Israelis had been pushing the Iran-Contra scandal.

That last comment about the Iran-Contra scandal may just seem like a throw-away jibe at the Reagan administration, but I think it’s an important piece of evidence in favor of Mr. Parsi’s case. When I heard it, it really made things fall into place for me. I always wondered what the Israelis were doing as middle-men in that fiasco and how it was that their relationship with Iran was adequate to allow them to act in that capacity, whereas ours was not. Anyway, Mr. Parsi’s theory is what I was missing to explain that recalcitrant fact.

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The Iran NIE: Mendacity, Incompetence or Just the Usual Vileness

The Iran National Intelligence Estimate finding with a high degree of confidence that Iran abandoned its pursuit of a nuclear weapon in 2003 seems on course to completely upend the state of political debate — provided some Democrat wants to make something of it instead of just leaving the story to follow its course in the press.

The NIE has been in essentially the state that it is today for a year. Apparently additional sourcing for the 2003 abandonment has caused the intelligence community to upgrade their confidence level in recent weeks, but that’s about it. This information has been in hand for a year now, during which time the administration continued to amp up their rhetoric on Iran with dark portents of World War III. Now the administration is obfuscating what was known and when. There are three stand-outs to me in their various stories:

  1. The President was only fully informed of the contents of the NIE on Wednesday, 28 November, or maybe 26 November 2007, depending on whether you believe Stephen Hadley or Seymour Hersh (“Hersh: Bush Told Olmert Of NIE Two Days Before President Was Allegedly First Briefed On It,” ThinkProgress, 4 December 2007). Or maybe some earlier date still, since all that Mr. Hersh has is a no-later-than date.

    Given that this information has been the subject of some rather significant administration infighting, possibly even resulting in the demotion of John Negroponte from the cabinet-level post of Director of National Intelligence to a Sate Department Deputy (Porter, Gareth, “Cheney Tried to Stifle Dissent in Iran NIE,” Inter Press Service, 8 November 2007), it would be hard to believe that it could have escaped the attention of the President. Hard to believe, but not impossible: President Bush’s attention is hardly inescapable.

  2. Bush was told — sort of — back in August as he hedgingly revealed in his Tuesday press conference (“Press Conference by the President,” White House, Washington, D.C., 4 December 2007):

    BUSH: I was made aware of the NIE last week. In August, I think it was John — Mike McConnell came in and said, We have some new information. He didn’t tell me what the information was. He did tell me it was going to take a while to analyze.

    One might think from this that the President’s Daily Briefing is a guessing game between the President and the Director of National Intelligence (“I’m thinking of a rogue state that sets off a Geiger counter. Can you guess which one it is?”). But reading any book on the Bush administration by — take your pick — Bob Woodward, Ron Suskind, etc. — and you quickly see that the President’s habit of punctuality and always ending meetings on time — touted by the right as a virtue over the perpetually behind schedule Bill Clinton — is actually a function of his remarkable incuriosity. Again and again you read of a briefer or primary’s amazement that after sitting through a detailed presentation, President Bush would simply jump up without a single question, issued a manly “Great work” or some such oral back-slap and exit the room.

    Given this, I wouldn’t doubt that after hearing of potential critical new information, it wouldn’t occur to President Bush to even ask what that might be. Having now become fully informed as to the new information, President Bush yesterday specifically said that it hasn’t changed his addled mind one iota. People who never reexamine their positions aren’t in need of new information, so why bother asking?

  3. The Office of the Vice President has done everything it its power to pressure the intelligence community to alter its findings (sound familiar?). Baring that, they have tried to prevent the release of the key findings and have succeeded in doing so for some months now (Porter, Gareth, ibid.). But it’s nut just for the sake of external message that they go to all these lengths. There’s been plenty of reporting on the fact that Dick Cheney and his staff engage in a significant amount of maneuver to determine who gets to speak to the President and what information reaches his desk — undoubtedly with only the best intention to wisely manage the President’s time, certainly not to squelch positions differing from that of the OVP.

    At this point President Bush is systematically kept in the dark about all manner of issues. Think of that memo from George Tennet warning about the famous sixteen words in the State of the Union that died on Stephen Hadley’s desk. Just a bureaucratic oversight?

    Of the services that an effective agent provides to a president one is that of plausible deniability in the form of the agents shielding the president from possession of certain inconvenient information, especially in the era of “what did he know and when did he know it.” It is well observed that one of the pitfalls a president faces is “the bubble.” Especially as an administration wears on, a president can wind up extremely isolated and the Oval Office is an extremely lonely place. This is an extremely complicated dynamic, but the gift of plausible deniability is one of those reasons.

    President Bush has always been more the pitch-man-in-chief more than the prime mover of this administration and to make his pitch for the administration’s policies sometimes less is more. Every president needs a sin eater and Vice President Cheney serves that roll for President Bush.

Now-a-days even the likes of Joe Scarborough are suggesting that the President is either lying or stupid (Frick, Ali, “Joe Scarborough Rips Bush On Iran NIE: He’s Either ‘Lying’ Or ‘Is Stupid’,” ThinkProgress, 5 December 2007). I see no reason to choose as I think that this administration is polymorphously evil: a nasty combination of mendacity, incompetence and the malign.

The thing I don’t get is how these people can preserve even a modicum of legitimacy. If the papers won’t just report that the President lied his way through a press conference this afternoon, you would think that at some point they might just stop reporting on what he says as it is simply too unreliable to print.

Jacksonians and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty

My last two posts have been about the ways that the right seeks to undo the international system built up over the last 65 years. Robert Farley of Lawyers, Guns and Money assesses that they have also succeeded in ruining the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as well (“The NPT is Dead,” 13 October 2007):

The strike [by the Israeli air force on a possible Syrian nuclear reactor], and especially the apparent acquiescence of the United States in its planning and execution, means that the NPT is pretty much a dead letter… and has been replaced by a de facto arrangement in which states that the US approves of are allowed to have nuclear power, while states we dislike get airstrikes. … Combine this with the recent nuclear deal with India, and I’d have to say that the Bush administration’s effort to kill a legal cornerstone of international stability have been remarkably successful.

To which Matthew Yglesias adds (“The End of the Non-Proliferation Treaty,” The Atlantic.com, 14 October 2007),

Iraq was the neocons’ big chance to show that the approach to WMD policy they prefer — basically an ad hoc regime enforced by American military power and undergirded by nothing more principled than American whim — was workable. To make it work, they needed to show that we could successful topple a regime we didn’t like and replace it with one we liked better cheaply and easily enough to make it credible that we’d go and do it again. But it failed. The low-cost airstrike approach isn’t going to succeed against any kind of determined adversary, and the more we act like a rogue superpower the harder it will be to get our way.

This is another masterstroke for the Bush administration. They rip to shreds the one bulwark we do have against nuclear proliferation — one that has been fairly successful over the last 40 years — and have ready in its place absolutely nothing. In this case not even the credible threat of U.S. force.

Jacksonians and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty

Yesterday I argued that ideological factors took precedent over more pragmatic considerations of national security in the right-wing fervor for deployment of an ABM system. Another example of this phenomena would be the proposed new generation of small-yield “bunker buster” nuclear weapon and the reliable replacement nuclear warhead. A significant debate revolves around whether the United States would have to resume nuclear testing to certify these weapons, or whether simulation and component-level testing would be sufficient. And why not? If simulation and component-level testing are good enough for ABM aren’t they good enough for a new nuclear weapon? But for proponents of these weapons, resumption of testing is not a means to an end product, but is rather the whole point.

In the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1970 the United States and other declared nuclear powers committed themselves to complete nuclear disarmament. But this commitment wasn’t entirely sincere. For supporters of the NNPT on the left it was sincere, but for supporters on the right, it was a throwaway provision. And they weren’t out of their minds for thinking so: a fair amount of language in treaties is nonoperative, there to paper over disagreements. Supporter on the right in favor of a creating a double standard figured that Article VI obligations on declared nuclear powers could be perpetually kicked down the road.

But the United States began to covertly disarm. The Partial Test Ban Treaty of 1963, the unilateral test moratorium announced by George Bush, Sr. in 1992 and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty were disarmament through the back door: with a bar against testing having cut off the path to new nuclear weapons, all that was required for disarmament to obtain was to wait for the last weapon in the existing stockpile to be decertified. But the right caught on to this scheme and the Senate rejection of the CNTBT in 1999 called it to a halt.

But it isn’t enough to stop the left from imposing a test ban. A new generation of weapons and new testing are required to depose the regime of piecemeal nuclear disarmament. Ginning up some new nuclear weapons systems was intended to begin the process of rolling back this development. The RRW was a particularly brilliant maneuver in that one could pick off a number of people who in defense of the de facto non-testing regime might otherwise have opposed a new generation weapon by arguing that the purpose of the new weapon was to preserve the commitment to no nuclear testing. But no one should miss the fact that there is not an across the board disavowal of the need to test these new weapons, but instead a debate about whether they will have to be tested. There should be little surprise that should the Jacksonians find themselves in power again, they will determine that in fact they do need to be tested. The motive is not the simple certification of a weapons system — again, witness ABM: noncertification is acceptable when it serves the ideological objective — but wrecking fundamental damage to one international system, that it might be replaced with another more to their ideological liking.

ABM

In the wake of the U.S.-Russia dustup over placement of an ABM interceptor site there has been a raft of articles on the U.S. missile shield. The October 2007 issue of Arms Control Today devotes the cover and six articles to it. Matthew Yglesias (“Preemption, 12 October 2007) calls his readers’ attention to a long story in Rolling Stone on the subject (Hitt, Jack, “The Shield,” Issue 1036, 4 October 2007).

I think that Mr. Yglesias is correct to say that the real purpose of ABM is “to facilitate American first strikes.” That the U.S. seeks such a capacity is the conclusion of a RAND report (Buchan, Glen C., et. al., Future Roles of U.S. Nuclear Forces: Implications for U.S. Strategy, Santa Monica, California: RAND, 2003, see p. 61) and Keir Lieber and Daryl Press suggest (“The End of MAD: The Nuclear Dimension of U.S. Primacy,” International Security, vol. 30, No. 4, Spring 2006, pp. 7-44, see p. 28) that in such a scheme, mop-up of a small number of surviving missiles launched after a disarming counterforce strike might be a job for which an ABM system of limited capability might be adequately suited.

But this isn’t the whole of the story: there are three reasons that the right has in the past and continues today to be so in favor of an anti-ballistic missile system.

  1. More fundamental than anything else is the American cultural reason for the fervor for ABM on the right. The culturally Scotch-Irish descended, Jacksonian segment of the United States subscribes to a very specific notion of warfare and the law of nations. War is to be fought all out with no restraint. Victory resulting in complete submission of the opponent is the objective. It is retributive in its notion of justice and particularistic rather than universalizing and legalistic in its reasoning. It is a mentality that never made the leap to the counterintuitive reasoning of the nuclear age. Its members have never understood limited war or restraint in warfare. Hence the angst over Vietnam, the use of torture in Iraq and opposition to all forms of arms control.

    The basis of arms control in the 60s and 70s was the gradual acceptance by nuclear strategists of MAD and its institutionalization in the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty of 1972. That nuclear powers would intentionally remain vulnerable to attack was the linchpin in stabilizing the nuclear arms race, but this flew in the face of the Jacksonian notion of war. Conspiring with one’s enemies to limit one’s capabilities and limit the uncontainable violence of war didn’t fit their paradigm and ever since they have been raging to tear down the entire structure. The intense interest in deploying an anti-ballistic missile system has had less to do with pragmatic considerations of national security than with the ideological struggle between two strategic paradigms. No policy debate would be so intense and fought out over generations of strategists and politicians were it just a weapons system at stake. The aim of moving to deploy an ABM system so urgently — even before it has been adequately demonstrated to work — is specifically to destroy the existing arms control regime and international system more generally in favor of one more in line with Jacksonian notions.

    This is why opponents of ABM have done so much to pillor Ronald Reagan, the id of 1970s and 80s America, and why the label “star wars,” with its invocation of psycho-cultural tropes, was so effective. The whole debate about ABM has taken place where strategic reasoning leaves off and social-psychology picks up.

  2. Hedging one’s opposition to ABM on technical infeasibility is probably a bad option. First, Americans, with their infinite faith in technology and can-do attitude won’t buy it. Second, at some point a system of at least some rudimentary capability will probably be up and running. A review of the history of nearly every weapon today touted as a miracle system shows that at some point in its development it was widely considered a boondoggle that would never work.

    The Patriot Missile is a good example here. During development in the late 1970s there was endless harping that the technical hurdles were insurmountable and that it would never work. The first battery was deployed in 1984 as an anti-aircraft weapon, but it was designed to be a modular system and underwent a number of major and minor upgrades, including the 1988 upgrade that gave it the anti-ballistic missile capability for which it is so well known today. In the 1991 Gulf War CNN footage of Patriot missiles rising to destroy incoming Scuds over Israel and Saudi Arabia are some of the most memorable images of the war. Subsequent studies have indicated that the success rate of the Patriot was significantly lower than initially reported, but additional upgrades throughout the 1990s have further refined the performance of the weapon. In the invasion of Iraq the weapon misidentified and shot down two allied aircraft, but it is hardly the only system to have malfunctioned resulting in friendly-fire deaths. It is presently undergoing an upgrade that is nearly a complete system redesign and will significantly enhance performance in nearly every aspect. The important point is that it managed to overcome its technical hurdles, with significant progress being made post-deployment and has undergone a number of modifications that have pushed a thirty year old system well beyond its initial specifications. A similar story could be told for the Tomahawk cruise missile or the B-2 stealth bomber.

  3. As Senator Lyndon Johnson argued to liberal skeptics who thought the 1957 civil rights bill didn’t go far enough, it was more important that a bill get passed than any particular content of the bill. Or as Senator Johnson put it, “Once you break the virginity, it’ll be easier next time.” Senator Edward Kennedy has offered a similar defense of his votes for micro-initiative healthcare programs or No Child Left Behind. If a comprehensive universal healthcare bill is unpassable, than pass it in a million little pieces. Or, it is more important to get Congress to agree in principle on federal education spending. The program can later be reengineered with amendments.

    One of the notable features of the post Newt Gingrich / George W. Bush right is the degree to which they have learned to use the very things they most hate about government to their advantage. One is that a budget line-item never dies. All that was necessary was to fund ABM once, then there would be interest groups, a bureaucracy, a scientific community, a lobby and the fundamental human laziness of just carrying a line-item forward. The program would then live in perpetuity.

    Combine this with number two, that the technological problems can be ironed out in the field with enough money, and the important point is to get systems in place. The pressures of real-world operability plus the bureaucratic juggernaut will force a system into existence. The arguments that Mr. Hitt in the Rolling Stone piece thinks his strongest are, at this high-level, no argument at all. You really have to dig down into the nitty-gritty — which he does not do — before such arguments start to have any impact. In this scenario, a few negative GAO reports are no threat. In fact, they could shame politicians to throw good money after bad, lest failure show their previous votes in a new light. In fact, I’ll wager that if the Democrats capture Congress and the White House in 2008, the ABM juggernaut just keeps rolling on unabated.

The real problem with an anti-ballistic missile system is that it is a Maginot Line. This is the case for three reasons.

  1. ICBM counter-measures and ABM system requirements don’t scale at the same rate so would-be attackers can defeat ABM — or at least confound it to the point where a defender could not factor it into their strategic considerations with any reliability — much more easily and affordably than defenders can adapt. And being on the right side of a scalability calculation is how one wins a strategic competition.

    If the technical countermeasures aren’t enough, it’s worth noting that the calculation of an ABM system is that its OODA loop is inside that of an ICMB flight time. As terrifyingly short as ICBM flight times are, they are long enough compared to modern C3I. To defeat ABM, all one has to do is compress ballistic missile flight time to less than the OODA of ABM. The 25 minutes from Asia to the U.S. is a relatively long time, but park a missile submarine loaded with intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs) a few hundred miles off the coast and now you are talking about flight times of more like five minutes. Many IRBMs are suborbital so even if detected and reacted to, there just might not be enough air under a warhead for a ground-based interceptor to work its magic.

    Reaction time of ABM could be shortened too, with the first C of C3I — Command — being the lowest hanging fruit. But automate the decision-making component and SkyNet goes live.

    All of these calculations explain why the Chinese are spending so heavily on SSBNs (Lewis, Jeffrey, “Two More Chinese Boomers?,” Arms Control Wonk, 4 October 2007) as well as why the United States continues to turn out attack submarines ($2.7 billion for one Virginia class submarine in the FY 2008 budget) nearly 20 years after the end of the Cold War and without a single navy peer competitor prowing the seas.

  2. Once it becomes clear that ballistic missiles are under threat, states will quickly realize that the future is in cruise missiles.

    Having watched a number of U.S. air power attacks on CNN, Americans think that cruise missiles are an exclusive U.S. technology. While, say, the U.S. Tomahawk cruise missile is an extremely sophisticated weapon, cruise missiles are not beyond the reach of less capable powers. The German V-1 “flying bomb”, first flown in 1944, was essentially a cruise missile. The United States deployed its first cruise missile, the problem-prone Snark, in 1961 and initially development of the cruise missile was considerably ahead of that of the ICBM. The Europeans have the Storm Shadow. During the invasion of Iraq, Saddam Hussein attacked Kuwait with a Chinese-made Silkworm cruise missile, first deployed in the early 1980s. Proliferation of cruise missiles is proceeding apace and the technology is not so sophisticated as to be intercepted by export control regimes. Hell, the flight control system of a Tomahawk runs on an 8086 processor. And it’s not even manufactured by Intel anymore. The design has been licensed to a bunch of low-end Asian chip fabricators.

    Cruise missiles fly low and under radar detection systems, are capable of maneuver and because they don’t follow set, easily calculable trajectories like ICBMs, are not subject to easy intercept. Cruise missiles usually have shorter ranges, so we are potentially back talking about anti-submarine warfare again.

  3. Then, of course, there is the most radical delivery system. If I were a terrorist or rogue state plotting to get a weapon of mass destruction to a U.S. city, I would just FedEx it.

    As has been fairly well observed, modern terrorism and to an increasing extent, modern war in general, is parasitic on the very highways and byways of globalization. There is no killer app here that can solve the problem. This is more labor-intensive problem demanding a myriad of heterogeneous and creative operations.

It would seem to me that given the scalability issue covered in number one, ABM is a grand-strategic looser. Much more security per dollar could be had through the tried and true means of anti-proliferation, traditional deterrence, counterforce, anti-submarine warfare and the newer, but relatively affordable area of homeland security.

Syria Gets the Osirak Treatment?

Also in nuclear news, despite some pretty severe smack-downs from some prominent names in the arms control community, Glenn Kessler and the Washington Post are apparently sticking by their story that Israel bombed a Syrian nuclear installation on 6 September 2007 (“Israel, U.S. Shared Data On Suspected Nuclear Site,” 21 September 2007, p. A1).

Joseph Cirincione, coauthor of the widely consulted reference, Deadly Arsenals: Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Threats, calls this story “nonsense” (“North Korea-Syria Nuclear Ties: Déjà Vu All Over Again?,” Foreign Policy, Passport, 14 September 2007) and Jeffrey Lewis of Arms Control Wonk goes so far as to call it “bullshit” (“Did Israel Strike a Syrian Nuclear Facility?, 16 September 2007). Mr. Cirincione writes and Mr. Lewis excerpts approvingly:

The Washington Post story should have been headlined “White House Officials Try to Push North Korea-Syria Connection.” This is a political story, not a threat story. The mainstream media seems to have learned nothing from the run-up to war in Iraq. It is a sad commentary on how selective leaks from administration officials who have repeatedly misled the press are still treated as if they were absolute truth. Once again, this appears to be the work of a small group of officials leaking cherry-picked, unvetted “intelligence” to key reporters in order to promote a preexisting political agenda.

This is definitely the administration that has cried wolf too many times, but the Washington Post article seems pretty heavily sourced. And I don’t believe that Syria is an Israeli bombing range where the IDF just flies out for practice missions. If they went in, they must have had some pretty serious concerns. I’m going to need a lot more than unnamed Bush officials and bluster before passing judgment on this story.

A Bent Spear

The Washington Post put a major story about the six nuclear armed cruise missiles unwittingly flown across the country on the cover of the weekend edition (Pincus, Walter and Joby Warrick, “The Saga of a Bent Spear,” 23 September 2007, p. A1). Details on the exact point of failure remain under wraps, but it sounds like an instance of a single failure leading to a chain of subsequent failures.

The article goes on to point out that this is just the final, high-profile outcome of a longstanding, but not yet newsworthy problem:

A secret 1998 history of the Air Combat Command warned of “diminished attention for even ‘the minimum standards’ of nuclear weapons’ maintenance, support and security” once such arms became less vital, according to a declassified copy obtained by Hans Kristensen, director of the Federation of American Scientists’ nuclear information project.

The Air Force’s inspector general in 2003 found that half of the “nuclear surety” inspections conducted that year resulted in failing grades — the worst performance since inspections of weapons-handling began. Minot’s 5th Bomb Wing was among the units that failed, and the Louisiana-based 2nd Bomb Wing at Barksdale garnered an unsatisfactory rating in 2005.

Both units passed subsequent nuclear inspections, and Minot was given high marks in a 2006 inspection. The 2003 report on the 5th Bomb Wing attributed its poor performance to the demands of supporting combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Wartime stresses had “resulted in a lack of time to focus and practice nuclear operations,” the report stated.

It’s worth noting that it’s not just the Army that is being degraded by the excess demands of the administration’s war in Iraq.