The First Battle of the Next War
by CYNTHIA E AYERS
January 11, 2012
Iran’s clerical leaders consider their country to be in a state of war with the United States—in fact, this has been the case since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Needless to say, the U.S. has never officially acknowledged being “at war” with Iran—and has certainly never prosecuted regional operations in such a manner that could be classified as “war” in the classical sense. Indeed, few—even among our elected elite—understand the nuances of the shari’a-based Islamic “just war” doctrine followed so closely by Iran’s leaders. This renders us blind, deaf and dumb to escalations that have become the “norm” in the one-sided, protracted conflict (verbal and physical) being waged against us. It leaves us with only history to fall back on in efforts to determine the point of acceleration to full-scale war.
From the perspective of the United States, a “first battle” with Iran has not yet occurred. Unfortunately, political correctness and political expediencies have made even the most tenuous predictions of what a future war might look like virtually impossible to openly consider. The tendency to prepare for a “first battle” under the assumption that our military will always begin fighting the next war in much the same way as they prosecuted the last battle of the most recent war is so well known as to be discussed derisively—like a torpedo to be used against our own strategic planners regardless of any recognition as to how difficult it may be to envisage the future.
Discussion of the United States being involved in a future war has actually been labeled by former Defense Secretary Robert Gates as “next-war-itis." Indeed, those who agree with Secretary Gates seem to believe that the future will consist of a long-term defensive posture against much smaller, ill-defined enemies who will continue to act in a random, asymmetric context—thus counterinsurgency training should (in their opinion) replace planning for peer-against-peer scenarios.
An artist’s impression of an EMP attack.
There are those who justify their dismissive nature by touting the strength of American forces and the historical resilience of the American people. Given the threat of conventional weapons, or even a more invasive threat of WMD used in major cities, these would be excellent rationalizations. The fact is, however, that our enemies know exactly how to take us down—instantaneously. Our own lack of an objective, comprehensive discussion of our vulnerabilities does not alter the fact that we are, indeed, highly vulnerable.
Given an unprotected electric grid, the detonation of one or more nuclear weapons at high altitude over the continental U.S. would result in an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) that could effectively remove the United States as an actor on the world stage, long-term. If used as a first-strike weapon, it could end the war for us before we were even able to participate in a “first battle” of the conventional sense. Many smaller conflicts may ensue, fought at the tactical/civilian level within the affected area, but as an initiator of a true “first battle” in a larger war, an EMP would most probably assure immediate victory for an aggressor.
It is encouraging that at least a few of our political, bureaucratic, and military leaders comprehend the potential for a large-scale, devastating “first-strike” against the United States; and it is equally encouraging to learn that a small number of brave congressmen take the threat of internal bad-actors so seriously as to pass a resolution “expressing the sense of the House” that the National Strategy for Counterterrorism include “Iran’s growing presence and activity in the Western Hemisphere.” The two issues are linked.
It is becoming apparent that the stage is being set. The ever-present question is: will U.S. leaders allow the mainstream media and those in positions capable of negatively influencing the masses to carry on in a willfully and masochistically blind manner while sadistically deriding those who have long been trying to warn the populace? Are those at the top levels who have been reticent about speaking the truth so worried about risking their “credibility” (which, in this media-savvy world can so easily be called into question, based only on the agendas of politically-biased influencers) that they are willing to risk the lives of hundreds of millions?
Like the concept of “mutually assured destruction,” the public has come to rely on the collective “wisdom” of our senior leaders because of some underlying sense that they would not want to be held accountable for poor strategic planning. But in a post-EMP world, who would know of any pre-event miscalculations—and who would be around long enough to care? Could it be possible that some of our leaders (to include those in private utilities) have been negligent in protecting our grid due to a self-centered reluctance to risk public discussions of “worst-case” (a.k.a. reality-based) scenarios combined with a certainty that any attempt to assign responsibility, post-event, would be decades away?
John Shy, in America’s First Battles: 1776-1965, tells us that “the first battle almost guarantees that inexperience will be paid for in blood.” We have, as a nation, never experienced a catastrophic collapse of our infrastructure—and thus have developed no real understanding of how to equip ourselves for such an event. Shy further notes:
“More glaring than poorly trained troops in a first-battle problem is the weakness of command-and-control. Virtually every case study emphasizes the lack of realistic large-scale operational exercises before the first battle, exercises that might have taught commanders and staffs the hard, practical side of their wartime business as even the most basic training introduces it to the soldier at the small-unit level. Virtually every case study indicates that the results of confusion, demoralization, and exhaustion at the command and staff level are at best bloody, at worst irremediable—a more crippling defect even than combat units falling apart . . .”
In the event of a U.S. (continental)-wide EMP attack, the troops in the “first-battle problem” will be mostly civilians—without having the benefit of pre-war knowledge, exercises, or training. There will be little, if any, command-and-control. There will be a great deal of “confusion, demoralization, and exhaustion.”
If there is to be a “next war” (or the Western perception of such), it will presumably be with Iran, given tensions subsequent to the release of the September 2011 IAEA report on Iran’s nuclear program. With declarations of support for Iran by Russia, China, and Venezuela, escalation could be incredibly quick (if not instantaneous).
The Congressional EMP Commission noted that our potential adversaries (specifically, Iran, Russia, China, and North Korea) already know exactly what an EMP attack would do. According to EMP commissioners and other experts, over two-thirds (possibly up to 90%) of our population could be dead within the first year after a major EMP event. They have acknowledged that our very sovereignty would be at stake. Are we willing to take a chance that the first battle of the next war will be something other (something less) than an EMP first-strike against us? Or are we willing to concede that the first battle of the next war might, in fact, be our very last battle? Once hit, if our electric grid has not been hardened, the question of who ultimately wins the bigger war will be irrelevant for those left to survive in a long-term “grid-down” environment.
Family Security Matters Contributing Editor Cynthia E. Ayers is currently Vice President of EMPact Amercia. She recently retired from the National Security Agency after over 38 years of federal service, including 8 years at the U.S. Army War College’s Center for Strategic Leadership.
Family Security Matters Contributing Editor Cynthia E. Ayers is currently Director of the Task Force on National and Homeland Security. Prior to accepting the Task Force position, she served as Vice President of EMPact Amercia, having retired from the National Security Agency after over 38 years of federal service.