Iranium ConFUSION Part 1: The costs of war and the likelihood of quick victory
President Trump stated on Wednesday that a war with Iran will be fast and easy. Let’s hope that means faster and easier than the trade war with China has turned out to be, now a year long and getting worse.
We’re in a very strong position if something should happen. I’m not talking boots on the ground. I’m just saying if something would happen, it wouldn’t last very long.Reuters
Only a couple of days earlier, Trump tweeted that Iran will be “obliterated” if it attacks anything American:
….Iran’s very ignorant and insulting statement, put out today, only shows that they do not understand reality. Any attack by Iran on anything American will be met with great and overwhelming force. In some areas, overwhelming will mean obliteration. No more John Kerry & Obama!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 25, 2019
The president, of course, was royally miffed when he wrote this because Iranian officials had just said the White House is “afflicted with mental retardation.”
So, it is no wonder Trump threatened Iran with “overwhelming obliteration.” Who wouldn’t after being called a “retard?” Even though I engage my topics and sometimes my detractors here that way just for fun, it is a little surreal to see grown nations fighting like kindergarteners with threats of massive war that will annihilate potentially hundreds of thousands of people.
Still, the president’s words sound overconfident to me. Let’s remember how we were assured the war with Iraq was over in a mere hundred days, even though we are still at some levels fighting it almost twenty years later, and Iraq was no longer Iran’s equal in military might. Let’s remember how we would be welcomed as the Great Liberators of Iraq.
Let’s note that we still have a number of these “short” wars draining our treasury of trillions of dollars years after they began, costing us our own lives and killing hundreds of thousands of people in other nations. According to one study, the US cost of wars since 2001 has been over $6 trillion. While there is room to quarrel over how these costs were calculated, by any method of accounting the numbers would still be huge. Are we really up to adding yet another “short” war with an enemy that may be as strong as all those others combined?
The cost in human lives is estimated at nearly half a million, half of them civilians with another ten million displaced. That includes 7,000 US troops that have died in war since 9/11. Have we gained something worth all of that? Does it not make us the most vicious nation on earth right now? Who is costing more in terms of human lives than that? Even Kim Jung Un doesn’t come close to that human cost.
Perhaps we should finish all the rest of the short wars we have engaged ourselves in first to find ourselves fully victorious in, at least, one of them before we start thinking we are infinitely undefeatable. These are mostly fights we picked or chose to enjoin in the sense that none of the fights we are involved in now posed any direct threat to the US, except Afghanistan.
It sounds as though President Trump is anticipating a war with Iran will be a simple one-and-done strike like his two previous strikes in Syria. Perhaps he’s been lulled by the ease of those strikes in which the US experienced no retaliation to think that is how it works in the Middle East; but on that he is probably mistaken, for the situation with Iran is different by an order of magnitude.
Rule #1 of war: never underestimate your enemy
A strike on Iranian soil, if the present hot conflict turns into that, as it very nearly has, is likely to turn out much different than all the wars the US has involved itself in over the past two decades. It will be worse than Afghanistan — a pack of terrorist largely armed with machine guns, grenades, land mines and mortars. It will be worse than Iraq, which was fought over fake uranium yellowcake and fake weapons of mass destruction in a battle that never left Iraqi soil. It will be far worse than Libya or Syria, battles that also never left those nations because the last thing either of the regimes in those countries wanted was to engage with the US any more than necessary when they had their own internal wars to fight that were consuming all their energy.
Overconfidence can be the Achilles heal of the mighty. I’ve not been a hand-wringer and did not raise concerns about how well we could handle our numerous previous wars, but I think we need to think this one through as something that could be much different than all those other regime-change wars the US has loved to fight.
(To be clear, I think all of those many wars, except Afghanistan, were unjustifiable in terms of defending the US and came about because of US intentions to reshape the world in its own image and probably because of US military-industrial-complex financial interests and oil. Let’s be honest, the US is more aggressively involved in more wars around the world than any other nation on earth — maybe even than all other nations combined — and to what advantage? What has it gotten the average US citizen for all that it has cost, and how much better off are any of these countries for our involvement? Do you really think the Iraqi people are thanking us for getting rid of Saddam Hussein at the cost of the lives of their uncles and brothers and fathers and sons and the many women and children who have died as “collateral damage?” Hundreds of thousands of lives in exchange for one despot, leaving a country that will be an economic ruin for decades? Do you honestly think they are thanking us for that?)
Unlike many of these other nations we are fighting, Iran is not fighting for its life internally right now. It can easily pull all of its efforts out of other countries to focus just on the US if necessary; whereas many of the other nations we’ve fought recently were already involved in a fight for their existence before our involvement. They already had all they could handle and didn’t want to do anything that would get the US more involved. The US is the only thing threatening Iran’s existence right now, so they will turn everything to that battle if they must.
Iran hates the US as its arch enemy with a hatred that goes back, at least, a half a century to the time when the US supported the oppressive Shah of Iran. (Of course it goes back further in ways that are not as directly tied to the present Iranian regime.) Iran religiously sees the US as the Great Satan (although the terrorists in Afghanistan see us that way, too, but they lack the sophisticated arms Iran has). Iran will see an attack by the US as justification for international jihad (defensive war with a religious mandate) and will use that to pull as many Muslims into the battle from other nations as they can if they can.
All the wars the US has engaged in from the first Persian Gulf War under George the First onward have remained pretty well contained to where the US chose to fight them and away from US lands or US merchant ships or US military headquarters overseas (other than those headquarters in the nation we were fighting). They have, in short, been wars where the other side chose to take a purely defensive approach.
Will Iran be dumb enough to do the same thing when fighting a purely defensive war has served all other nations so poorly? It is already being accused by the Trump Administration of overt acts of war outside of its boundaries against merchant-marine ships. While those claims are far from proven, I think even the US must believe that Iran will not remain in a purely defensive war but will strike out wherever it can against US interests to simply create as much damage as possible against the US anywhere in the world that it can reach.
We have never seen in this generation what it looks like when thirty enemy fighter jets and bombers, hundreds of missiles, dozens of military boats and a submarine or two all attack a single US aircraft carrier at the same time. Maybe we can handle a hornet storm like that, but there is a chance that an aircraft carrier could be sunk with all of its crew, and then things would instantly be all-out hot war to the bitter end by both sides. It may be short as Trump says, but it would likely be severely hostile beyond anything we’ve seen since Viet Nam. I’m sure Iran ultimately would lose, but how much damage could it do before it did and how intense would the fight get?
Iran has clearly shown with the drone attack that it will retaliate even for something as small as crossing a line (if we did). Iran’s missiles can reach all of the surrounding oil-economy nations. It may be reluctant to draw them into the conflict when fighting the US is an impossible victory even without drawing others in; but, at the point where Iran is losing, it might seek to do as much damage to the oil industry as possible in a scorched-earth policy.
Of course, all of this would be excellent news for US oil production, though probably not for US oil companies that have a lot of investment in the Middle East and whose sites would be the first ones Iran would likely target; but that hasn’t stopped those companies from wanting all the other battles in the Middle East. Whether Iran sends missiles into other oil-producing nations or not, it can and will certainly make merchant-marine passage through the gulf impossible during the conflict, greatly diving up the cost of oil. That, too, could be great for the price of US oil, not beset by those problems.
While the US can shoot down most of Iran’s missiles, it is unlikely it could shoot down every missile in Iran’s barrage, and it only takes one missile per site getting through to shut down the entire operation by hitting the center tank in a tank farm or one of the cracking towers, greatly amplifying the missile’s own firepower. As we saw with the drone attack, Iran’s missiles are a lot more sophisticated than a lot of the hardware in Afghanistan.
Keep in mind that it has taken the mighty US nearly twenty years just to gain incomplete control in Afghanistan, and Afghanistan is a backwater pip-squeak of a nation compared to Iran in terms of military power, economic strength, population size and area to control. It is virtually impossible that war with Iran would not cost far more than the war in Afghanistan.
Also, Afghanistan has not openly stated its intentions of wiping Israel off the the map, as has Iran on many occasions. If Iran sees its military ability to destroy Israel rapidly disintegrating, it is likely it will try to carry that ambition out before all of its military might is reduced to rubble, knowing it will take it, in the very least, fifty years to dig out from under the rubble in order to get another shot at Israel.
Iran may even already have a nuke or two that our superior intelligence failed to uncover. The US has been known to see weapons of mass destruction that don’t exist; so, maybe it also doesn’t see some that do! I understand that could be an argument for why we need to fight Iran, but don’t kid yourself on the cost and about whether we can even accomplish the task with so many other wars we have far from finished. Don’t fool yourself to think we are infinite and undefeatable.
The US has committed acts of war against Iran
Let’s also be clear and honest about the fact that the US has committed what in any century before WWII would be considered all-out war against Iran. It has laid siege to the entire country. Sanctions are the modern-day equivalent of laying siege to a city. We have come to Iran’s gate with an extremely heavy and ultimately sophisticated military force to establish and enforce an embargo on Iran’s economic lifeline (oil). We have done everything we can to cut off supplies of all kinds (or financial ability to buy supplies) in and out of the state via sanctions, including this week cutting off the Supreme Leader, himself. These measures are intended to slowly starve the people of Iran until they rebel internally against their leaders. People who are being starved don’t thank you for using that means to get rid of their oppressive leaders … if they even think their leaders are oppressive.
Iran on Tuesday sharply criticized new U.S. sanctions targeting the Islamic Republic’s supreme leader and other top officials, saying the measures spell the “permanent closure” for diplomacy between the two nations…. President Hassan Rouhani went on to call the sanctions against Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei “outrageous and idiotic.”Mediaite
There is no nation in history that would not have considered such measures overt acts of war. We can use the term “sanctions” to sanitize everything to sound diplomatic and political, but we are for a fact starving the people of Iran. The US would never consider such measures against itself anything less than overt acts of war.
So, all I’m asking here is that we be fair and honest and admit that the US has committed overt acts of war against Iran since we would consider it nothing less if the same things were being done to us. We would fight in whatever manner it took to liberate ourselves from such an intense siege and would feel morally justified in doing so. I’m not talking about whether or not Iran deserves the siege we have laid, but just about what it is, plain and simple — an act of war — because, sometimes when we think someone deserves something, we don’t see it in an objective way.
Russia sees it the same way Iran does:
Russia, with deep political and economic ties to Iran, has denounced U.S. efforts to raise pressure on Iran and this week backed Tehran’s account of the downing of the U.S. drone…. “This means an end to the policy of ultimatums, sanctions and blackmail…. There is a very narrow window left because this is an absolutely insulting step for intergovernmental relations. But hope dies last…. Iran will never be alone if, God forbid, the U.S. ever takes absolutely crazy and irresponsible actions against it…. Not only Russia, but many countries sympathize with Iran.”Bloomberg
Iran has some powerful allies, and it’s doubtful our own allies are going to work with us on this when many of them back the JCPOA deal President Trump shredded. After the wrong WMD intel that took the US into the Iraq war, America has lost a lot of credibility when it tries to make claims such as saying Iran attacked oil tankers in the region. We may be going it alone and enraging the rest of the world — even our allies — over whatever problems this creates.
Many people have warned President Trump that making the situation as tight as he has in the Strait of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf greatly increases the chance of war by accident, and we saw how close that came when Iran intentionally shot down a US drone that cost a quarter of a BILLION dollars.
Read my second article in this series here: “Iranium ConFUSION Part 2: What we Know, What we Know we Don’t Know, and What we Wish we Knew”
It concisely lays out the facts we know about the present conflict as well as how President Trump may actually have been playing 4-D chess in moves that looked foolhardy on the surface. (Yes, as much as I’ve criticized arguments that everything else he is doing is 4-D chess, I think that could actually be the best argument for some of his recent strange moves with Iran.)