Air Force Chief: What Would Bombing Iran Do, Exactly?
If the U.S. ever bombs Iran’s nuclear facilities, it’ll be Gen. Norton Schwartz’s planes and pilots that pull off the attack. So the Air Force chief of staff wants someone to explain what the hell the military objective of bombing Iran will actually be.
“Everything we have to do has to have an objective,” Schwartz told reporters at a breakfast meeting Wednesday. “What is the objective? Is it to eliminate [Iran's nuclear program]? Is it to delay? Is it to complicate? What is the national security objective?”
“There’s a tendency for all of us to go tactical too quickly, and worry about weaponeering and things of that nature,” Schwartz continued. “Iran bears watching” is about as far as the top Air Force officer was willing to go.
It also sounded like Schwartz had thought carefully about what a bombing campaign aimed at suspected Iranian nuclear facilities would actually look like. “Our obligation is to provide the President and the civilian leadership options,” Schwartz said. “We have done that. And there are others in the government who have provided non-military options — financial, diplomatic, informational and so on.”
“I am comfortable that [Gen.] Jim Mattis” — the commander of U.S. troops in the Middle East and South Asia — “is satisfied that we have been as forthcoming and imaginative as possible, from our perch,” Schwartz said.
It’s a delicate time for Schwartz to slam on the brakes of a potential war. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will visit President Obama at the White House on Friday. He’s unhappy with another U.S. general, Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, for saying last week that bombing Iran was “not prudent.”
The Obama administration does not appear to want open war. (Kidnapping Iranian scientists, wrecking Tehran’s nuclear supply chain or introducing worms into its centrifuge control systems are another story, as are economic sanctions.) The past week has seen lots of high-profile leaks tamping down the case for an attack, including doubts from within the U.S. spy apparatus that Iran is actually working on a bomb and the likelihood of Iranian reprisal attacks inflaming the region and prompting terrorist attacks on U.S. interests and assets.
But those aren’t considerations about what military action could even achieve. Schwartz boosted the Air Force’s ability to blow up targets buried underground, as Iran’s most sensitive nuclear facilities are believed to be — “You wouldn’t want to be there if we used it,” he said — but only up to a point.
“It goes without saying that strike is about physics,” Schwartz said, “and the deeper you go the harder it gets.”