The recent wars of the United States have all been fought against weak countries, and even so, results have been mixed. If the Americans lose their calm and take on a tougher foe like Iran, the results would be catastrophic.
The US government has recently started another round of its usual sabre-rattling towards Iran, this time going so far as to announce a troop buildup in the Middle East. The war hawks in the administration haven’t gotten their way yet, but that won’t stop the President from bragging about how he could win a war, if he needed to; see, for instance, his recent tweet:
“If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again!”
All of this raises the question: is this just bluster, or does Mr. Trump think he could actually put an end to Iran?
My own belief is that America would lose a war with Iran.
Just to be clear, I am not talking about a nuclear war, in which the United States could turn any country, Iran included, into glass – the only trouble is that, while Iran itself may or may not have a nuclear deterrent, Russia and China certainly do, and they would not tolerate an American first strike against their neighbor.
So that leaves two options for what America could do to Iran: Either bomb Iran with conventional weapons from a safe distance, or else invade on the ground.
The trouble with bombing is that, unlike the Taliban or ISIS, Iran has effective anti-aircraft weapons, especially the Russian S300 surface-to-air missile system. Missile for missile, it is not as good as America’s Patriot SAMs, but the Russian missiles are cheaper (hence more abundant) and fully up to the job of area denial.
The United States is no longer capable of the sort of logistics seen in World War II, where tens of thousands of combat aircraft were produced and shot down every year. Instead, the current arsenal, which is the result of decades of production and no significant combat losses, consists of about 900 F-16s, 300 A-10s, 200 each of F-15s and F-22s, 100 F-35s, and smaller numbers of other planes.
When fighting the Taliban and ISIS, more aircraft were lost to mechanical failure than to enemy action. That won’t be the case with Iran. America is no longer capable, either psychologically or economically, of losing aircraft every day.
And any plan to invade Iran with ground troops would be dead in the water. Ever since the German offensive was turned back at the Ardennes, the US military has been operating under the Jupiter Complex – every operation involves raining fire on the enemy out of the sky. Without air superiority, US ground forces can do nothing.
Add to that the fact that Iran has twice the population of Afghanistan or Iraq, a large and mountainous country to defend, and better equipment and training than the weak enemies which America is accustomed to fighting, and you can see how much worse this would turn out than any of the previous middle eastern wars.
Granted, American technological superiority is still great enough that Iran would lose more men in every battle. But the Iranians can afford this – they would, after all, be defending their families, homeland, and religion, while for America, Iran would be just one of the many far-away places which the average citizen can’t find on a map, but in which the military must spread itself in order to defend America’s global hegemony.
And then we need to look at Iran’s offensive capabilities. The Iranian navy has purchased Klub missiles from Russia; these high-tech cruise missiles can evade radar and most other defenses by flying just 20 meters above the water. They can strike both land and sea targets, and can be launched from any military vessel – or out of a shipping container on a civilian ship – or from a truck, or a warehouse, or a hole in the ground – you get the idea.
One hit from a Klub missile would be enough to sink an American carrier, which is how you can know that tensions are hottest when America’s aircraft carriers sail out of a 500 km range from Iran.
But even if the Americans manage to keep their carriers afloat (at the cost of keeping them too far from the land battles to offer much support) the entire gulf coast of Saudi Arabia would be open to attack. The infrastructure necessary for shipping oil to the US would be demolished, and the bottom would fall out of the American economy.
And even though the Iranians wouldn’t be able to get their own vessels anywhere near American shores, there is no way to know that they don’t already have a few klub missiles sitting in automated containers at the bottom of the Potomac estuary, waiting for the command to empty the ballast tanks, pop up to the surface like corks, and pull off a quick decapitation strike against Washington DC, just as the politicians are settling in for another day of business-as-usual.
In conclusion, going to war with Iran is a very bad idea. And it’s also completely unnecessary. The Iranians do not want a war – they aren’t suicidal, and as I said before, they stand to take a lot more casualties than we would.
And while they hate us, it isn’t like we haven’t given them reasons to. The CIA meddled in Iranian politics for decades before the Revolution of 1979. And while Americans frequently talk about the time when the Soviet Union downed KAL-007 with the loss of all passengers and crew, they rarely hear that in 1988, the Americans did the same thing to Iran Air flight 655 in 1988, when a missile cruiser shot down an Airbus A300 that had ignored orders to identify itself, even though it was in Iranian territory at the time.
Americans will almost never hear about this, but every Iranian schoolchild knows the story – and the anniversary of the event, July 3, is a traditional day for chanting “Death To America!”
So America isn’t that innocent. And Iran isn’t that guilty. Their human rights record looks poor by European standards, but it doesn’t hold a candle to what Saudi Arabia, America’s favourite middle eastern country, manages to get away with. The Iranians will execute people for drug trafficking and various sex crimes, but they don’t behead teenagers for showing up to protests. And they don’t hide bodies in their embassies. And they didn’t wait until 2017 to let women drive.
My conclusion? America should stop demonizing Iran. And stop showing favouritism to Saudi Arabia. And stop rattling sabres at Iran – because if that particular rivalry escalates into a shooting war, the Americans will lose..