The Case for Invading Iran
Thomas Holsinger has a long essay on “The Case for Invading Iran” over at Winds of Change.
All the reasons for invading Iraq apply doubly to Iran, and with far greater urgency. Iran right now poses the imminent threat to America which Iraq did not in 2003. Iran may already have some nuclear weapons, purchased from North Korea or made with materials acquired from North Korea, which would increase its threat to us from imminent to direct and immediate.
IranÃ¢€™s mullahs will use nuclear weapons as a shield against foreign attack while they more openly support terrorism elsewhere. American acquiescence in Iranian nuclear weapons will lose the war on terror by ceding terrorists a Ã¢€œprivileged sanctuaryÃ¢€ in Iran. WeÃ¢€™ll have let terrorists have in Iran what we invaded Iraq to stop. The invasion of Iraq will have been a complete waste of effort, and our dead in Iraq will have died in vain.
Many will argue that the Iraq invasion was a complete waste of effort and that merely doubling the rationale for it still leaves one with zero rationale. I am not among them, of course, but couching one’s argument for a war with Iran that has even most hawks quite skeptical on the basis that of course your audience supports the war in Iraq is problematic.
Those still reading after ten paragraphs finally get to the substance of the case:
If the United States does not forcibly prevent Iran from producing nuclear weapons, every country in the area will know to a moral certainty that they cannot rely on the United States for protection against Iranian nuclear attack, or Iranian nuclear blackmail in support of domestic opposition to the generally shaky regimes of the Middle East. American prestige and influence there will collapse. If we wonÃ¢€™t protect ourselves by pre-emption, we canÃ¢€™t be relied on to protect anyone else.
So every country within reach of Iranian nuclear weapons will have enormous strategic pressure to develop their own nuclear weapons to deter Iranian nuclear threats. As a recent strategic survey noted, Syria has many times the per capita and absolute GDP of North Korea, and Egypt several times the per capita and absolute GDP of Pakistan. If North Korea and Pakistan can develop nuclear weapons, so can Syria and Egypt, and also Saudi Arabia, all three of whose regimes are shaky. And they wonÃ¢€™t be the only countries to develop nuclear weapons after Iran does – many more will join the nuclear Ã¢€œclubÃ¢€ within a few years, some within months.
This is indeed plausible and a good reason–beyond the not insignificant fear of the Iranian mullahs having nuclear weapons–for us to take action. While nuclear mullahs is of concern to the U.S., it is even more so for their Arab–not to mention Jewish–neighbors. So, not only might it set off a regional arms race, but the fact that the U.S. did nothing to the mullahs would embolden the others.
Only military force THIS YEAR can prevent this nightmare. Bombing alone wonÃ¢€™t do it Ã¢€” it will only postpone things, and IranÃ¢€™s mullahs wonÃ¢€™t just sit there while weÃ¢€™re bombing them. War is a two-way street. They have spent years preparing for this conflict, and will try to stop Persian Gulf oil exports. There will also be an instant massive uprising by Iranian-led Shiite militias in southern Iraq.
I agree that bombing alone appears not to be a viable option. But how viable, exactly, is military invasion? And would that not have regional consequences as well?
Holsinger cites an Atlantic Monthly article on the subject that I discussed here recently and concludes,
it wonÃ¢€™t take us only 7-10 more days to overthrow IranÃ¢€™s regime than it did IraqÃ¢€™s, not to mention locating and destroying the known and secret nuclear facilities scattered over a wide area. I feel the Atlantic panel significantly underestimated logistic problems. Our forces must pass through mountains to get to IranÃ¢€™s capital of Teheran, while getting to Baghdad required passage only through deserts and broad river valleys. Iran is much bigger than Iraq, so our ground forces will have a greater distance to travel, while even minor resistance in mountain passes will cause significant delays.
While he says the Atlantic’s experts–who rejected invasion as a feasible option–were too optimistic on some issues, he argues that Iran’s functioning civil society and other factors make the situation more favorable than in Iraq. Still, his, “rough estimate of American casualties in the conquest and occupation campaigns for Iran, assuming that the mullahs don’t nuke us, or use chemical weapons, is that we’d take about 50% more casualties in the first 18-24 months in Iran than in three years in Iraq, mostly in the twelve month period after the initial conquest.”
So, assuming that the regime wouldn’t use the nukes or chemical weapons that he thinks they have–which is an odd assumption given that much of the rationale for invasion is our fear they will use nukes–we would have a long war and quite several thousand American dead.
Everyone I know of with opinions on the subject agrees that the occupation campaign in Iran would be more intense than Iraq’s, but Iraq’s has seen only about 1700 KIA (or is it total fatalities including accidents?) during the 33 months of the occupation to date. That is about 50 fatalities per month for an average of about 120,000 troops (1 fatality per month per 2400 troops).
If Iran’s occupation entails 200,000 men and is twice as intense as Iraq’s in terms of casualties, we’re looking at 1 fatality per 1200 men per month. 200k x 12 months = 2400k divided by 1200 = 2000 fatalities per year. This is certainly a lot compared to IraqÃ¢€™s occupation campaign, but it also indicates that American casualties in Iran will be acceptable by any reasonable standard.
In my opinion the occupation campaign in Iran will be awful only for the first year, and then conditions will improve much faster than in Iraq for reasons mentioned above in this post. My guesstimate at this point is about 3000 American fatalities over two years for both the conquest and occupation campaigns in Iran, though the first year would be ghastly.
Remember, this is an argument for invasion. It gets better:
Consider also, that, if small numbers of Iranian nuclear weapons are enough of a threat to seriously menace an American invasion, they are enough of a threat to merit pre-emptive attack with American nuclear weapons. Get real – our nukes are bigger than theirs, and we have lots more than they do. And if Iranian nuclear weapons arenÃ¢€™t enough of a threat to merit pre-emptive use of our own, theyÃ¢€™re not a reason to avoid invading.
That, I’m afraid, I don’t follow. First off, it is inconceivable to me that we would use nuclear weapons in the Middle East in a pre-emptive strike to ensure that they don’t get/use nuclear weapons. Second, the fact that we would find using nukes in such a circumstances morally repugnant and the object of international condemnation really has little connection to our willingness to send troops into nuclear harm’s way. This is, shall we say, the Mother of all Non Sequiturs.
And then there’s this:
Did I mention the bribes? Now is the time for some breathtaking bribes Ã¢€” say a billion dollars per Iranian nuke delivered to us, which would be cheap given the alternative. Once we demonstrate the will to invade and eliminate the mullah regime, such bribes would be more effective than most think. Psychological warfare was wildly successful in the invasion of Iraq.
So, the nukes are basically just laying around unguarded?
Regardless, Holsinger ensures us,
Fear of possible Iranian nuclear weapons use against an American invasion is not a valid reason for doing nothing. A thousand more American civilians have been killed by enemy action at home in this war than American servicemen killed at home and abroad. Not invading Iran will increase this disparity by several orders of magnitude. We have armed forces to protect our civilians from the enemy, not vice versa Ã¢€” soldiers die so civilians donÃ¢€™t. We will invade Iran to protect the American people from nuclear attack. That is worth the risk posed by Iranian nuclear weapons to American soldiers, and the burden of deploying 200,000 troops there for several years. Our reserves knew when they enlisted that theyÃ¢€™d be called up for the duration of a major war. Invasion of Iran to protect America from nuclear attack, and preserve our freedom, counts as a major war.
As crazy as much of the article sounds–and it sounds plenty crazy–it is defensible. If one believes the premise–thousands of American civilians will die of Iranian nuclear attack if we do nothing–then doing something is obviously required.
Our old buddy Mohamed ElBaradei says “if they have the nuclear material and they have a parallel weaponization program along the way, they are really not very farÃ¢€”a few monthsÃ¢€”from a weapon.” He admits that, “Diplomacy is not just talking. Diplomacy has to be backed by pressure and, in extreme cases, by force. We have rules. We have to do everything possible to uphold the rules through conviction. If not, then you impose them. Of course, this has to be the last resort, but sometimes you have to do it.”
So, that something isn’t diplomacy.
Economic sanctions, the likely first next step that the U.N. take will almost certainly be ineffectual. Further, Iran can easily retaliate by raising oil prices. In the meantime ElBaradei’s “few months” tick away.
Nobody with any expertise thinks bombing alone will work.
And if we don’t invade this year, it won’t matter much after that. We’ll be in the worst case scenario. And President Bush will be reviled as AmericaÃ¢€™s worst President Ã¢€” the one who through inaction cost us our freedom.
Of course, launching a pre-emptive strike on Iran and absorbing all the consequences that would bring might well have the same consequence for Bush. The irony of success is in such endeavors is that one can never prove what would have happened otherwise.
I’m far from sold that an invasion is called for. But no other option seems available. And we’re running out of time.
As I believe I’ve mentioned previously, there are no good options here.
Update: Dave Shuler points to this post at his blog but provides the following trenchant assessment in the WoC comments section: “[A]n invasion in force of Iran, removing the current regime, and occupying the country is militarily doable but politically impossible.”
I think that about sums it up.
Ironically, Jeff Medcalf has a blog but says nothing about this there. In Shuler’s comments section, though, he provides a very detailed list of U.S. options ranging from “mild sanctions” to “Obliterate Iran with a nuclear attack.” He concludes,
I doubt there would be much controversy in saying that options 14 and up would be exactly what we are trying to avoid by undertaking the lesser options. If we didnÃ¢€™t care about avoiding nuclear annihilation of Iran, in whole or in part, we could let Iran get a nuclear weapon and then destroy them if they use or transfer it.
The danger of taking any path 4 or higher, including simple limited blockade, is that Iran will defend itself, and could easily escalate the conflict. We have to be prepared for option 12 or 13 even if we only intend option 4.
Indeed. The problem with a pre-emptive war to avoid a possible war at the time of the enemy’s chosing is that you definitely get a war at the time of your own chosing. I’m not yet convinced that’s a worthwhile exchange.
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