What if Iran kicked America’s Ass?

iranian poster

The war drums in Washington are beating the steady staccato they often do when the hint of conflict is teased to a conflict-hungry media and war-weary public. While I get the impression that Trump himself does not want a full-blown conflict here, he is easily impressionable both by America’s more unsavory allies as well as people in his administration. Right now, even if he is just being used as a public face of the stick in a carrot and stick approach, John Bolton is easily the most dangerous man in the world.

But I have made my views quite clear on dangerous and flawed U.S. policy towards Iran on multiple previous occasions. I want to examine a more interesting issue right now…what if the worst comes to pass and there is, in fact, a U.S.-Iran war in the near future? More specifically, what if Iran far outperforms expectations, or America far underperforms, or both?

It is not as much a position for provocation’s sake scenario as you might think. While its nearly impossible to see Iran winning a conventional conflict against America, they would obviously not be foolish enough to fight in such a way like, say, Iraq did in 1991. The First Gulf War was such an overwhelming American military victory that basically stopped everyone-for the time being-from seeking to directly challenge the US with vast formations of tanks and planes. In a strange way, that victory has unintentionally been bad for Washington, which is far less skilled outside of such conventional warfare.

While every strategist around the world must know that Iran would be a far tougher nut to crack than say Iraq or Libya, and private conversations are almost certainly filled with such concerns among military brass, the public face of the issue so far has been one of self-confidence. For all we know it may be warranted, but there is a stronger case to be made for Iran being able to do serious damage to the U.S., and possibly even come out winning more than losing in a direct confrontation. I feel there are military officers who know this and who could talk down the more ridiculous congressman into continuing our present low-level siege warfare. But with Bolton, Tom Cotton, the Saudis, and possibly the Israelis all pushing for a greater escalation, it is quite possible that a cascade of events could drag countries to places even against their own wishes a la summer of 1914.  Here is how that could happen in the very real possibility that Iran outperforms the expectations of our political elite:

Iran today has probably more raw potential military power than North Vietnam did in 1964, if a far smaller pool of battle hardened veterans. Its ability to strike throughout the region is greater, and its population’s strong desire-no matter their politics towards the present government-to avoid a return to being an American puppet could be forged into a type of total war mobilization that would never be able to be replicated in the U.S. The Forever War and the various mistakes of the United States policy leadership since 2003 and onwards have alienated the public from the Pentagon and the interventionist mindset far beyond repair. That already gives Iran a leg up on morale for a long haul battle.

Iran’s special forces have become as hardened in Syria as U.S. forces are through their constant deployments. They have built long term relationships with state and non-state actors alike in Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq (and possibly to a much lesser extent, Yemen), all of whom know that while the United States will not always be in their near abroad, Iran always will be.  Meanwhile, Iranian ally Hezbollah showed in 2006 it can be called upon to tie many Israeli forces down if needed. Their performance in Syria more recently also is impressive.

Iran would most likely cede the air to the overwhelming superiority of American jets, but it’s land-based missiles could wreak havoc on the ships that launched them and their logistical support. They could bypass many American technological advantages by the use of physical and human communication and launch terrorist attacks against American allies-especially European ones who are far more reticent about U.S. hawkishness towards Iran. Meanwhile, oppressed Shia minorities in Saudi Arabia (which tend to live in the regions with the countries oil fields) could be mobilized as a fifth column to damage that notorious and unpopular government from the inside.

Even assuming that the initial stages of the conflict go quite well for Washington, Iran’s ability to damage American allies and dependents combined with its ability to hold out in a conflict longer means that in order to squeeze out a victory the U.S. might be forced to use ground troops in the region. This might work in Iraq where the terrain and local divides could provide an in, though the casualties would be immense as a civil war was touched off. Most likely, I think, Iraq tries to play the neutrality card between the two countries. Either way, to bring about some kind of victory at this point U.S. troops (and more and more naval and air resources) would have to be dispatched, possibly entering Iran proper. A country filled with mountains and large cities. If they even could. After all, a U.S. military exercise in 2002 (with estimated Iranian capabilities than being less than they are now, and American power stronger and more belligerent at that point than at present) showed they might not even be able to land.

As the current Syrian War shows us, cities play the role of castles and forts these days more than ever before. A great place to bog down an invader and give them lots of PR when it comes to the infliction of human misery on people. Around these cities is the difficult terrain of the Iranian plateau and who knows how many emergency cave complexes and hidden bunkers to back up the asymmetrical fight. All of these points, once again, towards Iran being able to last a long time.

And the longer it lasts, much like say the United States in the 1770s, the more likely foreign support for Iran increases. This support could be direct (Russian jets from Syria over Iraq and Iran) to indirect, with an increasingly distracted America coming under pressure in the Taiwan Strait, Ukraine, the Baltic, or Afghanistan from coordinated Chinese and Russian action. If so, the cost of even a hard-won victory and the fall of Tehran would fatally undermine the U.S. global position not just in the Gulf but around the world. This means the Pentagon will be reluctant to commit the full and decisive forces it would need to truly beat Iran, and thus Iran’s chances of outlasting, embarrassing, and undermining America increase. Meanwhile, the hard anti-American left and right alike are driven to win in Europe as a new flood of refugees pours out of the region, radicalizing the internal politics of American allies and moving these countries from seeing Washington as a guarantor of peace into the primary underminer of it. As it becomes more and more obvious that Saudi Arabia and the UAE have the most gain from the belligerence-and are most likely working directly with Al Qaeda type organizations to fight a fully sectarian war, people around the world-perhaps especially American troops will start to wonder why anyone would die for the Gulf Arab leadership and their jihadist friends.

For the most dramatic outcome, you just might have Iran being the spark to create a truly global anti-American balancing act. An event which for many powers in the world probably feels far overdue. America’s ability to act unilaterally outside of the Western Hemisphere will be effectively gone for good, and the embarrassment would probably set off a political bloodbath at home. I believe this analysis holds true even if the war is a technical victory for Washington. Considering that this would have resulted from a war of choice, it would go down in history as one of the biggest great power self-owns in history. Upon the level of Austria-Hungary declaring war on Serbia in 1914, The Soviet intervention in Afghanistan, or the numerous Carthaginian attacks on the city-state of Syracuse-that latter example being the very one I am currently reading about which inspired this post. No one would have predicted that little Syracuse could have drawn with and even occasionally defeated the western Mediterranean’s then-greatest power, but with terrain, audacity, and a greater appetite for sacrifice than their opponents, they did. Considering that present day Iran lives under such existential threat by American power that their military and strategic apparatus is likely far less complacent in terms of promotion, doctrine, and self-confidence, it was easy for me to think of this connection. Especially when reading about Carthage’s vast sums of money not being able to offset their extreme adversity to casualties when fighting abroad.

Of course, considering the regional and international coalition that Iran would face, it is also true that even an Iranian victory would be incredibly costly and thus they would wish to avoid all-out conflict in the first place. Let us hope Washington’s notoriously bumbling elites can be convinced to see present events in the same light.

There we are. I guess its time to be labeled an Iranian shill now.

Iranproachment

The news and the internet is awash with op-eds and coverage of a potential major step in US-Iran relations. I am not going to spend time going into detail about something you can find practically everywhere this week except to state the following as briefly as possible.

No matter what you think of the deal itself, this is in the best interest of both parties. Especially in the hopes of greater coordination against Daesh. If there is going to be an improvement on the situation in Iraq and Syria it can only happen with Iran and the US working together on some issues.

This also adds flexibility to American grand strategy. The United States can loosen the binds that hold it into deep integration with some extremely dubious allies-and this means in the long term that forces and effort can be redeployed to more critical regions-especially East and South Asia and the Pacific Littoral.

In Iran’s case it increases the flexibility towards other Gulf states. Already there are hints that the new primary foe is Saudi Arabia.

So while you obviously cannot expect too much-largely this deal is a win/win. The only losers so far are reactionary nutcases in Tehran and the somehow still lingering neoconservative establishment in the United States.

I don’t know about you, but I drink the bitter tears of neocons like a fine wine.

There’s One Thing I Haven’t Heard Yet About the U.S.-Iran Deal….

US-Iran deal

You can hear the discussions and the debates already: ‘A Major Middle-Eastern Re-Alignment’, ‘The Dawn of a New Era’, ‘From Foes to Friends?’ and on the litany of predictable headlines goes. And it is true, no matter what the future holds this was a big moment in the relations between two countries who have oscillated from low-intensity Cold War to outright hostility and back and back again numerous times since 1979. But now both sides realize the commonalities of interest outweigh the still substantial disagreements and there will at least be an attempt to deal with it. Whether or not it will be successful only time will tell. But hopefully it will be. Both nations share an enemy in combating Sunni extremism, which has much more global appeal and violent credit to its name than any corresponding Shi’a movement. In fact, last month U.S. airstrikes supported Iranian backed Shi’a militia offensives against Daesh (ISIS) in Iraq. Nothing like an even scarier foe to bring to former enemies together.

The question will be if this rapprochement is temporary or long term. Iran also wants more diplomatic options, an end to sanctions, and greater levels of flexibility than to be forced into becoming a junior partner with Russia. The U.S. on the other hand no longer has the will to bluster about constant large scale conventional intervention and also needs more options in the region-particularly if it is going to downplay its presence in order to focus on the far more important (to Washington) Asia-Pacific and possibly even European spheres of interest. It may also be desirable to remind the Saudis and Israelis who is boss in the relationship with Washington, but good luck getting anyone to acknowledge that in any official capacity. Both sides have a lot to gain and even more to lose. Nothing is settled yet but the gamble just might be worth it. After all, look at Yemen. A Saudi led coalition as well as (allegedly by some but unproven so far) an uninvited Israeli guest are stepping up bombing runs on Iranian-aligned Houthi rebels who are making gains at the expense of the government. Now this is a wild card for both parties as it introduces independent action from their allies separate of their own negotiations. It is so convoluted that it actually has captured a fair amount of media attention relating to the talks-as it should.

But one thing I am so far not seeing mentioned, except in passing, concerns less about new-found chumminess in Iraq against a common foe or even the dangers of the situation in Yemen, but rather the still ongoing and far more deadly than either of those examples Syrian Civil War.

When the war began there was no question as to whose side Iran would stand on. Syria under the Assad family was a die-hard Iranian ally, all the more important for really being the only one. Naturally, this meant that the United States and its allies jumped on the rebels bandwagon (this was of course those dark and far off days of 2011). Syria also of course had close ties to Russia (The Tartus Naval Base in Syria being Russia’s only external military installation not in a part of the former U.S.S.R.) and a quite obvious minefield of ethnic and sectarian divides. All of this made direct intervention a la Libya not an option. But short of invasion or no-fly zone, the U.S. and Iran went to work on a proxy conflict as the once sealed Syrian state splintered apart.

The problem of course was that so did Saudi Arabia. In fact, nations like Saudi Arabia and Qatar were much more gung-ho about such an intervention than even the U.S. seemed to be (neoconservative fantasies of then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton aside). The extreme form of Islam often championed by elements within these states, coupled with the fact that the Assad regime had long since made alliances against the majority Sunni population of their nation with many of the various other minorities basically guaranteed a particularly nasty division of society. Something that the Iraq War should have given the U.S. foreign policy establishment much more pause when contemplating entering the fray.

Once it became apparent that the Syrian government would not fall quickly-or perhaps at all-radicalization within the rebel movement was pretty much a guarantee. Gradually, the Islamist elements became a larger and larger part of the Syrian opposition, to the point where any hopes of a moderate-only victory became about as likely as a Green Party candidate winning the American presidency.

I remember watching the early stages of the Syria conflict unfold as a doctoral student familiar with Syria’s general demographic makeup. My first thought was ‘if the government doesn’t crumble in a month or two this is going to be nasty on all fronts-how I hope the U.S. doesn’t interfere!’ But so it happened. How much of an effect this had on the war is debatable, but once the war was guaranteed to be long it very much served U.S. interests to hope the regime-yes the Assad one-would be the faction which emerged triumphant. Rebel victory increasingly looked like a scenario where the price of getting rid of one family and their nepotistic gang would demand a terrible price for ethnic and sectarian minorities alike, not to mention the empowerment of religious fanatics who respected no borders. And yet, the American foreign policy establishment still hedged its bets with the rebels who at best could deliver only the most questionable gains in the form of Iran having to spend money and arms on aid to Damascus.

Perhaps the United States realizes its errors on this issue. Perhaps not. But this brings us back to the recent Iran-US talks. Iran and Russia are the only state level external actors that pull weight with the Syrian regime. It would be wise-if the U.S. wishes to take back its Syrian mistakes-to be using those secret talks in order to negotiate something on Syria, namely to agree to stop any indirect support for the rebels in order for something else.

Considering the way things can go in such negotiations, it would hardly surprise me if that ‘something else’ was acknowledging Iranian influence in Syria and maybe even assisting them against Daesh there (where they are even more entrenched in than in Iraq) in exchange for Iran agreeing to make its Shi’a militias in Iraq loyal to the Iraqi government at least once the current conflict is over. Or it could be for Iran to have its proxies hold off from hostility with the Kurds. This is of course speculation, but its the kind of deal I would strike. If it is not that, one suspects Syria still comes up, and that the U.S. could very well be looking for a face-saving way to distance itself from that country or for further collaboration between all parties opposed to Daesh-something Iran could very likely provide.

Simply because this is the one issue being sidelined by the media covering the US-Iran talks makes it by far the most interesting one to me. If indeed this is being actively discussed the ramifications of it could be as big as any nuclear program or shift in alliance networks.

Anyway, have a pretty jumpin’ propaganda song.

 

Edit: 4/13 to clarify that the claims of Israeli involvement in Yemen are so far unsubstantiated.