The Navy says they were an eyelash away from blasting Iranian boats out of the water early Sunday morning. Ralph "Where you cannot be loved, you must be feared" Peters says they should have done so.
Sunday's incident wasn't a one-off event improvised by the local yokels after a long Saturday night at the hookah bar. It was blessed and carefully planned in Tehran and had practical as well as political goals.
At the tactical level, the Revolutionary Guards' naval arm was testing our responses: How soon do the American weapons radars activate? At what range do the lasers begin to track targets? How close can a small vessel get to a major American warship? How do the Americans respond to possible mines? Can we use phony mines to steer them into real ones? How long does it take an American commander to make a decision? Above all: Does an American commander have the courage to make a decision on his own? When he doesn't have time to deflect responsibility onto his superiors?
And it wasn't just some madrassa dropout with salt spray on his glasses scribbling notes on the lead Iranian boat. On shore, the Iranians would've had all their intelligence facilities tuned in to map our electronic profile as our ships prepared to defend themselves. Rent-a-Russian military experts would've been on hand to assist with the newest gear purchased from Moscow.
The Iranians may even have had an escalation plan, in case we opened fire. President Ahmedinejad and his posse may seem contemptible to Washington, but the Iranians think several moves ahead of us: We play checkers, they play chess.
On Sunday, the Iranians tested us. We failed. They'll probe us again. And every time we fail to react decisively, we raise the number of future US casualties.
Remember the USS Cole? You bet the Iranians do. They plan to better that attack by an order of magnitude.
Tactically, if we had blasted them, the Iranians would have learned just as much as if we had not. But strategically, they would have learned something very important for them to know about our willingness to respond to antagonism.
We should have sunk every one of them. Not because we're warmongers. But because the Iranians had made threats, verbal and physical, that amounted to acts of war. When will we learn that resolute action taken early saves vast amounts of blood and treasure later?
Oh, from Washington's perspective we did the right thing by "exercising restraint." But Washington's perspective doesn't amount to a gum wrapper in a gutter. What matters is what the Iranians think.
They now believe that the Bush administration, our military and the entire United States are afraid of them.