If you're a new reader you might need to know that way back in December 2002 I did a column called "U Sank My Carrier!" about the results of "Millennium Challenge," a US Navy war game in the Persian Gulf. Here's the link to that column:
What happened in Millennium Challenge is that the Navy brass picked a prickly retired USMC vet named Paul van Ripen to play the Iranian commander facing a naval incursion--and van Riper, with nothing but small speedboats, civilian prop planes, and low-tech surface-to-surface missiles, managed to sink two-thirds of the US force by buzzing them with annoying but not openly hostile civilian craft, then attacking simultaneously with everything he had.
I made two important points in that column. The first is that war's entering a new phase where blurring the line between civilian and military isn't just an accident or cheating but crucial to any irregular force facing first-world attackers. It's how they win.
My second point, the one I got a lot of flak for, was that if we send our old-fashioned carrier battle groups into the Gulf in wartime, they won't come out. They'll make excellent dive sites after all the coral and urchins and other sea critters have colonized them--the Gulf is nice and shallow, so our ships will be resting in really prime diving depth--but they won't come out alive.
Well, durned if the Iranians showed they'd learned from van Riper even if the US Navy refused to. To celebrate the new year, the neocons decided to send another battle group into the Persian Gulf. And guess how the Iranians reacted. Yup: they sent a bunch of small "civilian" speedboats to harass the frigate screen, zipping and zooming in the US Navy's wakes. Waterskiing for all I know, just having a great old time trying to provoke the USN's close-in defense systems into a massacre that they could play for the home audience, tapping into that gigantic Shia lust for martyrdom.
Of course Cheney or whoever else ordered the fleet into a shallow deathtrap like the Gulf was playing the same sleazy game, just with a bigger budget. The only possible reason to send a US fleet close to the Iranian coastline right now is that Cheney and his friends are desperate to provoke a war with Iran fast, before they have to leave office.
And it's harder for them than ever now that we have a new-and-improved Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates. Rummy bought into all their neocon crap--hell, he was their main wizard!--but Gates doesn't. He pissed off the neocons bigtime at a news conference I just read about by calling Iran a "challenge" instead of a "threat." That may not sound like a big deal to you, but to the Admin crowd it's enough to get you burned at the stake, like calling Jesus "a nice man" instead of "my personal savior" to the churchy crowd.
So there's the US Navy trolling the Gulf trying to draw Iranian fire, and there's the Iranian speedboats trying to draw US fire, like a couple of street whores winking at each other. Naturally, no business resulted because they both want the same thing: an enemy provocation. If you're thinking this means the VP was willing to risk US casualties to get his Iran invasion, you're right, but I hope you're not surprised. In the first place, sacrificing a decoy force for strategic purposes is a classic part of war, and besides, the idea of draft dodgers like Cheney caring what happens to an ordinary squid blasted into fish food by a suicide evinrude attack is just ridiculous. They're coldblooded, which is good for a war chief.