We’re missing a post-hostilities Iran-US future

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We're missing a post-hostilities Iran-US future

190503-​A-​YD127-​1086 STRAIT OF HOR­MUZ (May 3, 2019) Gunner’s Mate 1st class Tyson Hink­ley stands watch aboard the Cyclone-​class coastal patrol ship USS Whirl­wind (PC 11) while tran­sit­ing the Strait of Hor­muz. Whirl­wind is for­ward deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of oper­a­tions and sup­port of naval oper­a­tions to ensure mar­itime sta­bil­ity and secu­rity in the Cen­tral Region, con­nect­ing the Mediter­ranean and the Pacific through the west­ern Indian Ocean and three strate­gic choke points. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Vin­cent Fausnaught/​Released)

Mil­i­tary plan­ners are taught to “start with the end state” when you begin plan­ning mil­i­tary oper­a­tions. What that means is fig­ur­ing out where you want to be when every­thing is all said and done first, then fig­ur­ing out how to get there. It helps stop our ten­dency to start mov­ing ships, air­craft and peo­ple around in ways that might end up being counterproductive.

One way this takes shape is an end­ing nar­ra­tive. Dur­ing one exer­cise, I wrote that our objec­tive was to use kinetic (think bombs) and non-​kinetic (think cyber and other elec­tronic weapons) effects (just a fancy term for the result of using a weapon) to dis­uade coun­try orange from con­tin­u­ing to move forces into an area. That nar­ra­tive guided all of our future actions, includ­ing what sorts of weapons we used and what tar­gets we used them on.

We don’t have a nar­ra­tive yet for what a peace­ful Iran-​US coop­er­a­tion looks like. We have lots of talk about a peace­ful Iran not build­ing nuclear weapons. This is like say­ing a suc­cess­ful mar­riage means a hus­band doesn’t beat his wife. While true, it’s not exactly a high bar, and leaves a lot of details out.

We need a nar­ra­tive to guide us. A nar­ra­tive helps us sell a pic­ture to the Iran­ian peo­ple. Right now, the US is sim­ply a bully that slaps sanc­tions on them. A nar­ra­tive gives them a rea­son to oppose stu­pid gov­ern­ment poli­cies. Ira­ni­ans do vote, and they have voted for less-​nuclear peo­ple before. A nar­ra­tive also serves as a guide for our allies, and gives them a pos­i­tive mes­sage to broadcast.

Pres­i­dent Trump did this best in North Korea. His video about a future with North Korea was spot on. Every­thing in the imagery and words was delib­er­ately cho­sen. After watch­ing it, you can see the future. You start fill­ing in the blanks, and you can build con­di­tions for that future.

We need this in Iran. We need a future, or we will be stuck repeat­ing the actions of the past.

This post rep­re­sents the views of the author and not those of the Depart­ment of Defense, Depart­ment of the Navy, or any other gov­ern­ment agency.

190503-A-YD127-1086 STRAIT OF HORMUZ (May 3, 2019) Gunner’s Mate 1st class Tyson Hinkley stands watch aboard the Cyclone-class coastal patrol ship USS Whirlwind (PC 11) while transiting the Strait of Hormuz. Whirlwind is forward deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations and support of naval operations to ensure maritime stability and security in the Central Region, connecting the Mediterranean and the Pacific through the western Indian Ocean and three strategic choke points. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Vincent Fausnaught/Released)

Military planners are taught to “start with the end state” when you begin planning military operations. What that means is figuring out where you want to be when everything is all said and done first, then figuring out how to get there. It helps stop our tendency to start moving ships, aircraft and people around in ways that might end up being counterproductive.

One way this takes shape is an ending narrative. During one exercise, I wrote that our objective was to use kinetic (think bombs) and non-kinetic (think cyber and other electronic weapons) effects (just a fancy term for the result of using a weapon) to disuade country orange from continuing to move forces into an area. That narrative guided all of our future actions, including what sorts of weapons we used and what targets we used them on.

We don’t have a narrative yet for what a peaceful Iran-US cooperation looks like. We have lots of talk about a peaceful Iran not building nuclear weapons. This is like saying a successful marriage means a husband doesn’t beat his wife. While true, it’s not exactly a high bar, and leaves a lot of details out.

We need a narrative to guide us. A narrative helps us sell a picture to the Iranian people. Right now, the US is simply a bully that slaps sanctions on them. A narrative gives them a reason to oppose stupid government policies. Iranians do vote, and they have voted for less-nuclear people before. A narrative also serves as a guide for our allies, and gives them a positive message to broadcast.

President Trump did this best in North Korea. His video about a future with North Korea was spot on. Everything in the imagery and words was deliberately chosen. After watching it, you can see the future. You start filling in the blanks, and you can build conditions for that future.

We need this in Iran. We need a future, or we will be stuck repeating the actions of the past.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.