Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Attack Iran...Then What?

What plans do the glib and arrogant war party politicians in Washington and Tel Aviv have for dealing with the consequences of the war of aggression against Iran that they keep threatening?
In a recent post, I argued that even if total victory over Iran were guaranteed in advance, to launch a “preventive” war, i.e., a war of choice, a war of aggression, against Iran would be a questionable deal for the U.S., certainly entailing some serious costs that the politicians with their smug grins are not anticipating.

So, what about the reality in which nothing is guaranteed? In a word,

Short of total victory, would a U.S. attack on Iran be worthwhile?

Incomplete victory could occur in any number of ways – military victory but political defeat (a soberingly familiar outcome), inconclusive military advantage (also familiar), or a victory so expensive as to feel like defeat. The U.S. has been fighting continuously in Iraq for 17 years, off and on in Somalia for 15 years, and in Afghanistan for 7 years (not counting the war against the Soviet Union). Israel fought in Lebanon for 18 years (1982-2000) and re-invaded in 2006. In Iraq, a vicious secular dictator has been replaced by utter social chaos plus a terror campaign that did not exist there until we invaded. In Somalia, utter social chaos existed when we intervened on a humanitarian mission and remains now that Washington is supporting the overthrow of a government whose independence was viewed with disfavor. In Afghanistan, a vicious regime that befriended bin Laden has been replaced by a civil war. In Lebanon, civil war was supplemented by a national war of liberation, provoking the rise of Hezballah, now the most modern political party in Lebanon and a model for all Moslems trying to organize national anti-Western movements. This record suggests the possibility that an attack on Iran might also have unpleasant long-term consequences that should be considered before it is too late.

Military Victory but Political Defeat:
Unprovoked military attack would be likely to unite and outrage the Iranian population, just as 9/11 united and outraged Americans. As with 9/11, if the Iranian government continued to exist, conservatives would be likely to reap the benefit of the subsequent “rallying around the flag.” Just as after 9/11, foreign policy militancy would most likely overwhelm calls for moderation. The reservoir of goodwill toward the U.S. visible in modern Iranian society would vanish; any calls for compromise would be attacked as “treachery.” An attack on Iran would leave Iran weakened militarily but more unified and committed both to acquiring weapons sufficient to protect it and to getting revenge. Even a solid U.S. military victory would thus leave the world a more dangerous place.

Inconclusive Military Advantage:
Making war on an industry is a strange concept. Iran denies planning to acquire nuclear weapons but brags about its nuclear industry, which has been widely reported to be vast in scope and widely disseminated throughout the country. Moreover, military power today comes in many guises. Aside from the obvious question of the likelihood of total success in destroying Iran’s nuclear industry, the ability of even the U.S. to destroy all forms of Iranian military power is an open question. What about guerrilla warfare in Iraq? What plans may Iran have put in place regionally or globally to respond even after destruction of the homeland? Might nuclear-armed Pakistan or China--concerned about Iranian oil--or Russia--concerned about limitless growth in American power—provide just enough support to enable Iran to keep resisting? How long would Americans tolerate endless, one-sided, unprovoked slaughter by their own government? Might this war, in ways different from but reminiscent of the years of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, just drag on?

Victory So Expensive As to Feel Like Defeat:
“No,” the militarists will surely answer, “this will be a truly overwhelming “shock and awe” campaign that will transform one of the world’s great cultures into a desert. Iran will have no surprises for us. Iran will not manage to fire any of the Russian anti-ship missiles it has reputedly purchased at all the U.S. ships now arguably trapped in the Persian Gulf. Iran’s oil wells will sit quietly waiting for pro-American groups to start operating. Saudi oil facilities will come through unharmed; the Saudi Shi’a will remain loyal to Saudi Arabia. American troops and their families in Iraq at the end of that long supply line will continue to receive food and water. Iranian naval mines will prove to be paper tigers. There will be no ships sunk in the Straits of Hormuz, no oil stoppage, no global depression. In contrast to the war in Iraq, Al Qua’ida will find no opportunity to exploit this American adventure. This war may have fallout, but it will have no fog: all will go according to plan. It will not be like Somalia or Lebanon or Iraq or Afghanistan. The war will play so well on TV that far from turning against Washington, the American people will voluntarily, even eagerly trade in democracy for imperialism. Scientific militarism will control every detail.” That would sound good on the campaign trail, if one of the slick war party candidates were honest enough to go into such detail, but where’s the evidence?

Or will the Iranians’ brand new Russian anti-ship missiles sink a couple aircraft carriers, a Shi’ite revolt force a Vietnam-style flight from Iraq, and attacks on Israel by Lebanese Hezbollah provoke Tel Aviv into another disastrous 1982-style ground war trap? Will the American people kick out the war party and take a turn back toward isolationism? After all, why not, given that the world’s lone superpower now arguably faces both the absence of a credible threat for the first time since the beginning of WWII and a recession caused by mismanagement at home.

The U.S. attacked tiny Afghanistan, a semi-feudal society with no power projection capability, in 2001 and remains bogged down, having facilitated an explosive growth in Afghan heroin exports and provoked destabilization of the bordering region of Pakistan.

The U.S. attacked Iraq, a country whose military and economic capabilities had been severely degraded by a dozen years of U.S. military attack and economic embargo. We remain bogged down there, as well, having destroyed the country’s ability to govern itself, facilitated the rise of Iran as a regional power, and given al Qua’ida a new lease on life.

The U.S. fought two wars against such pathetically weak opponents that Washington decision makers did not consider post-war planning to be necessary. Years later, still with no light at the end of either tunnel, the war party is contemplating a third war, against a vastly larger and more unified opponent that has had years of warning time to conceive of all manner of high tech and asymmetric countermeasures. It would seem that even the most eager imperialist would have to admit that a bit of post-war planning might be in order. (Only a fundamentalist hoping for a final explosion that would end the world and bring to earth a savior to carry the souls of the chosen few to heaven could “rationally” argue against post-war planning.) Post-war planning does not begin with “assuming everything goes according to plan...” Post-war planning begins with evaluating the range of possible outcomes and preparing to deal with each of them.
  1. What is the plan to deal with military victory but political defeat?
  2. What is the plan to deal with inconclusive military advantage?
  3. What is the plan to deal with victory so expensive as to feel like defeat?
  4. And finally, what is the plan to deal even with the long-term implications of total victory?

1 comment:

jaimz said...

Well written.
Iran gets the nuclear bomb, big deal - Israel has 200+ & USA 3000+ to punish any Iranian nuclear action. Why would Iran, who has never invaded any country in the last century, want to destroy the investing & buying countries abroad?
Obviously Iran, like Saddam/Iraq went to the Euro [anti-US Oil Dollar], & the USA wants to punish Iran as it did Saddam in 2k3