I’ve met a few unforgettable individuals in my time.
I first met Barry McCaffrey as a classmate at the US Army Command and General Staff College where I was a Captain and he was a Lieutenant Colonel McCaffrey served in the US Army for 32 years before retiring as a four-star General. When he retired he was the most highly decorated General serving on active duty. His awards included three Purple Heart medals (wounded three times in combat), two Distinguished Service Crosses (second highest award for valor) and two Silver Stars for valor. After retiring he served eight years as Professor of International Security Studies at West Point.
General McCaffrey is now a consultant based in Northern Virginia. As such he is free to express his personal opinions, and does so. On January 12, 2012 he presented a seminar to NBC news executives and producers on the situation and possible consequences of a Persian Gulf confrontation in concert with other dangerous national security challenges.
His presentation comprised material from unclassified sources including the CIA 2010 World Fact Book. He tempered his seminar with his decades-long training and experience gleaned from involvement in international security affairs.
The US is ordering three Navy carrier battle groups into the Gulf region. McCaffrey questions this action. In his judgment the US should not place a carrier in the narrow Gulf waters if, in fact, combat operations ensue. Contrary to popular impressions, the Iranian military has the capability to sink a carrier in the constrained Gulf waters. That would herald all-out war.
Unwise congressional action drove this confrontation forcing the Obama administration to impose economic sanctions on Iran thus blocking Iran’s ability to export oil. McCaffrey’s point is that diplomacy falls in the realm of the executive and not the legislative branch. Congress tied the hands of the Secretary of State.
Even if Iran implodes from economic sanctions and internal pressures, Iran will not forsake its nuclear ambitions. She will achieve an initial nuclear capability within 36 months. Within 60 months Iran will have a dozen weapons with missile and fighter delivery systems capable of striking Israel, Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states and regional US forces. With few US diplomatic options left, Iranian military options escalate.
McCaffrey believes the slightest Iranian miscalculation will result in a major military confrontation in the next 12 months. The US would require a large military air and naval campaign of several months duration to eliminate the threat and make the Gulf safe for shipping.
The US does not live in a vacuum; we do live in a dangerous world fraught with risk. Here are the primary risks facing the US today in relative order of priority but not necessarily in order of occurrence. Multiple scenarios could evolve. Keep in mind, the military does not decide which engagements to pursue. That is a political decision. The question is -- can we address any of these risks adequately given President Obama’s massive reduction in US military capability?
-- First: Withdrawal from Afghanistan. US and NATO forces are 870 miles from the open sea. This requires retrograde through an uncooperative Pakistan. A 2014 withdrawal date alerts the Taliban in both Afghanistan and Pakistan as to our intensions and beckons their resurgence.
-- Second: The implosion of Iraq coupled with aggression by Iran provokes war in the Gulf region.
-- Third: The North Korean leadership transition fails followed by a military confrontation with South Korea and possible nuclear confrontation throughout the western Pacific.
-- Fourth: Pakistan collapses and the military looses control of 90 to 110 nuclear weapons.
-- Five: Hugo Chavez dies in Venezuela and / or Fidel Castro dies in Cuba precipitating violent regime changes replacing the current regimes with more radical governments unfriendly to the US but cooperative with Islamic extremists or drug cartels.
--Six: Mexico’s summer elections produce a new government reaching an accord with the seven major drug cartels in country. Mexican rule of law collapses further threatening our southern boarder.
US security environment is dynamic. America still serves as the world’s economic powerhouse for now, but the American people face a crisis of confidence in their institutions. Based on recent Gallup polling, the US military and police forces are held in highest regard. Alternatively, the President ranks at 35% with congress ranking at 12%. Television news, newspapers, banks and public schools rank between the President and congress.
With US elections pending in November, Americans have a lot of soul-searching to do. Who as president and who in congress will lead us in these perilous times?