The chances of a U.S. military strike against Iran has certainly diminished since Obama took office, and Gates himself has made clear that he favors exhausting diplomacy, sanctions and other nonmilitary steps as the U.S. searches for a way to halt what it contends is Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.
Yet the Pentagon also sees its job as planning for the worst-case scenario, which a hybrid war with Iran might well be.
It has a conventional military, which though considered mediocre in many respects, possesses high-tech weapons, including cruise missiles and air defense systems. But Iran also has the ability to strike using unconventional tactics, including terrorist strikes around the globe, stepped-up support for insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan, and with waves of small speed boats attacking U.S. naval ships in the Persian Gulf.
In a war with Iran, “you would have to destroy the Iranian air force and negate the missile threat. You’d also have to deal with Iranian small boat attacks, and you’d also have to be prepared to deal with terrorist attacks,” said Andrew Exum, a fellow at the Center for a New American Security, a Washington think tank, and a former Army officer who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Gates also grew concerned that the lessons the military was learning in Iraq about what it took to succeed against an insurgency would be shunned as those wars wound down. He worried that the Pentagon bureaucracy, Congress and major defense contractors would return to what they felt most comfortable doing — preparing for large-scale conventional war.
If future wars are likely to be hybrid wars, the Pentagon has to prepare for fighting conventionally and unconventionally at the same time, Gates says. He is quick to point out that the budget recommendations he laid out this week hardly represent a radical shift away from buying large high-tech weapons systems.
At the end of the piece, though, Donnelly argues how this budget's primary aim is to hold down defense spending -- and not to set different spending priorities that reflect future threats.