By Michael T. Klare, a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College and the author, most recently, of The Race for What’s Left. A documentary movie version of his book Blood and Oil is available from the Media Education Foundation. Follow him on Twitter at @mklare1. Originally published at TomDispatch
With Donald Trump’s decision to shred the Iran nuclear agreement, announced last Tuesday, it’s time for the rest of us to start thinking about what a Third Gulf War would mean. The answer, based on the last 16 years of American experience in the Greater Middle East, is that it won’t be pretty.
The New York Times recently reported that U.S. Army Special Forces were secretly aiding the Saudi Arabian military against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. It was only the latest sign preceding President Trump’s Iran announcement that Washington was gearing up for the possibility of another interstate war in the Persian Gulf region. The first two Gulf wars — Operation Desert Storm (the 1990 campaign to drive Iraqi forces out of Kuwait) and the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq — ended in American “victories” that unleashed virulent strains of terrorism like ISIS, uprooted millions, and unsettled the Greater Middle East in disastrous ways. The Third Gulf War — not against Iraq but Iran and its allies — will undoubtedly result in another American “victory” that could loose even more horrific forces of chaos and bloodshed.
Like the first two Gulf wars, the third could involve high-intensity clashes between an array of American forces and those of Iran, another well-armed state. While the United States has been fighting ISIS and other terrorist entities in the Middle East and elsewhere in recent years, such warfare bears little relation to engaging a modern state determined to defend its sovereign territory with professional armed forces that have the will, if not necessarily the wherewithal, to counter major U.S. weapons systems.
A Third Gulf War would distinguish itself from recent Middle Eastern conflicts by the geographic span of the fighting and the number of major actors that might become involved. In all likelihood, the field of battle would stretch from the shores of the Mediterranean, where Lebanon abuts Israel, to the Strait of Hormuz, where the Persian Gulf empties into the Indian Ocean. Participants could include, on one side, Iran, the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and assorted Shia militias in Iraq and Yemen; and, on the other, Israel, Saudi Arabia, the United States, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). If the fighting in Syria were to get out of hand, Russian forces could even become involved.
All of these forces have been equipping themselves with massive arrays of modern weaponry in recent years, ensuring that any fighting will be intense, bloody, and horrifically destructive. Iran has been acquiring an assortment of modern weapons from Russia and possesses its own substantial arms industry. It, in turn, has been supplying the Assad regime with modern arms and is suspected of shipping an array of missiles and other munitions to Hezbollah. Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE have long been major recipients of tens of billions of dollars of sophisticated American weaponry and President Trump has promised to supply them with so much more.
This means that, once ignited, a Third Gulf War could quickly escalate and would undoubtedly generate large numbers of civilian and military casualties, and new flows of refugees. The United States and its allies would try to quickly cripple Iran’s war-making capabilities, a task that would require multiple waves of air and missile strikes, some surely directed at facilities in densely populated areas. Iran and its allies would seek to respond by attacking high-value targets in Israel and Saudi Arabia, including cities and oil facilities. Iran’s Shia allies in Iraq, Yemen, and elsewhere could be expected to launch attacks of their own on the U.S.-led alliance. Where all this would lead, once such fighting began, is of course impossible to predict, but the history of the twenty-first century suggests that, whatever happens, it won’t follow the carefully laid plans of commanding generals (or their civilian overseers) and won’t end either expectably or well.
Precisely what kind of incident or series of events would ignite a war of this sort is similarly unpredictable. Nonetheless, it seems obvious that the world is moving ever closer to a moment when the right (or perhaps the better word is wrong) spark could set off a chain of events leading to full-scale hostilities in the Middle East in the wake of President Trump’s recent rejection of the nuclear deal. It’s possible, for instance, to imagine a clash between Israeli and Iranian military contingents in Syria sparking such a conflict. The Iranians, it is claimed, have set up bases there both to support the Assad regime and to funnel arms to Hezbollah in Lebanon. On May 10th, Israeli jets struck several such sites, following a missile barrage on the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights said to have been launched by Iranian soldiers in Syria. More Israeli strikes certainly lie in our future as Iran presses its drive to establish and control a so-called land bridge through Iraq and Syria to Lebanon. Another possible spark could involve collisions or other incidents between American and Iranian naval vessels in the Persian Gulf, where the two navies frequently approach each other in an aggressive manner. Whatever the nature of the initial clash, rapid escalation to full-scale hostilities could occur with very little warning.
All of this begs a question: Why are the United States and its allies in the region moving ever closer to another major war in the Persian Gulf? Why now?
The Geopolitical Impulse
The first two Gulf Wars were driven, to a large extent, by the geopolitics of oil. After World War II, as the United States became increasingly dependent on imported sources of petroleum, it drew ever closer to Saudi Arabia, the world’s leading oil producer. Under the Carter Doctrine of January 1980, the U.S. pledged for the first time to use force, if necessary, to prevent any interruption in the flow of oil from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states to this country and its allies. Ronald Reagan, the first president to implement that doctrine, authorized the “reflagging” of Saudi and Kuwaiti oil tankers with the stars and stripes during the eight-year Iran-Iraq War that began in 1980 and their protection by the U.S. Navy. When Iranian gunboats menaced such tankers, American vessels drove them off in incidents that represented the first actual military clashes between the U.S. and Iran. At the time, President Reagan put the matter in no uncertain terms: “The use of the sea lanes of the Persian Gulf will not be dictated by the Iranians.”
Oil geopolitics also figured prominently in the U.S. decision to intervene in the First Gulf War. When Iraqi forces occupied Kuwait in August 1990 and appeared poised to invade Saudi Arabia, President George H.W. Bush announced that the U.S. would send forces to defend the kingdom and so played out the Carter Doctrine in real time. “Our country now imports nearly half the oil it consumes and could face a major threat to its economic independence,” he declared, adding that “the sovereign independence of Saudi Arabia is of vital interest to the United States.”
Although the oil dimension of U.S. strategy was less obvious in President George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq in March 2003, it was still there. Members of his inner circle, especially Vice President Dick Cheney, argued that Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein posed a threat to the safety of Persian Gulf oil lanes and needed to be eliminated. Others in the administration were eager to pursue the prospect of privatizing Iraq’s state-owned oil fields and turning them over to American oil companies (a notion that evidently stuck in Donald Trump’s mind, as he repeatedly asserted during the 2016 election campaign that “we should have kept the oil”).
Today, oil has receded, if not entirely disappeared, as a major factor in Persian Gulf geopolitics, while other issues have moved to the fore. Of greatest significance in animating the current military standoff is an escalating struggle for regional dominance between Iran and Saudi Arabia (with a nuclear-armed Israel lurking in the wings). Both countries view themselves as the hub of a network of like-minded states and societies — Iran as the leader of the region’s Shia populations, Saudi Arabia of its Sunnis — and both resent any gains by the other. To complicate matters, President Trump, clearly harboring deep antipathy toward the Iranians, has chosen to side with the Saudis big league (as he might say), while Benjamin Netanyahu’s Israel, fearing Iranian advances in the region, has opted to weigh in on the Saudi side of the equation in a major way as well. The result, as suggested by military historian Andrew Bacevich, is the “inauguration of a Saudi-American-Israeli axis” and a “major realignment of U.S. strategic relationships.”
Several key factors explain this transition from an oil-centric strategy emphasizing military power to a more conventional struggle among regional rivals that has already deeply embroiled the planet’s last superpower. To begin with, America’s reliance on imported oil has diminished rapidly in recent years, thanks to an oil drilling revolution in the U.S. that has allowed the massive exploitation of domestic shale reserves through the process of fracking. As a result, access to Persian Gulf supplies matters far less in Washington than it did in previous decades. In 2001, according to oil giant BP, the United States relied on imports for 61% of its net oil consumption; by 2016, that share had dropped to 37% and was still falling — and yet the U.S. remains deeply involved in the region as a decade and a half of unending war, counterinsurgency, drone strikes, and other kinds of strife sadly indicate.
By invading and occupying Iraq in 2003, Washington also eliminated a major bulwark of Sunni power, a country led by Saddam Hussein who, two decades earlier, had been siding with the U.S. in opposing Iran. That invasion, ironically enough, had the effect of expanding Shiite influence and making Iran the major — possibly the only — winner in the years of war that followed. Some Western analysts believe that the greatest tragedy of the invasion, from a geopolitical point of view, was the ascension of Shiite politicians with close ties to Tehran in post-Hussein Iraq. Although that country’s current leaders appear intent on pursuing a path of their own in the post-ISIS moment, many powerful Iraqi Shiite militias — including some that played key roles in driving Islamic State militants out of Mosul and other major cities — retain close ties to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.
While disasters in themselves, the wars in Syria and Yemen have only added additional complexity to the geopolitical chessboard on which Washington found itself after that invasion and from which it has never extricated itself. In Syria, Iran has chosen to ally with Vladimir Putin’s Russia to preserve the brutal Assad regime, providing it with arms, funds, and an unknown number of advisers from the Revolutionary Guards. Hezbollah, a Shiite political group in Lebanon with a significant military wing, has sent large numbers of its own fighters to Syria to help Assad’s forces. In Yemen, the Iranians are believed to be providing arms and missile technology to the Houthis, a homegrown Shiite rebel group that now controls the northern half of the country, including the capital, Sana’a.
The Saudis, in turn, have been playing an ever more active role in bolstering their military power and protecting embattled Sunni communities throughout the region. Seeking to resist and reverse what they view as Iranian advances, they have helped arm militias of an extreme sort and evidently even al-Qaeda-associated groups under attack from Iranian-backed Shiite forces in Iraq and Syria. In 2015, in the case of Yemen, they organized a coalition of Sunni Arab states to crush the Houthi rebels in a brutal war that has included a blockade of the country, helping to produce mass famine and a relentless American-backed air campaign, which often hits civilian targets including markets, schools, and weddings. This combination has helped produce an estimated 10,000 civilian deaths and a singular humanitarian crisis in that already impoverished country.
In response to these developments, the Obama administration sought to calm the situation by negotiating a nuclear deal with the Iranians and by holding out the promise of increased economic ties with the West in return for reduced assertiveness outside its borders. Such a strategy never, however, won the support of Israel or Saudi Arabia. And in the Obama years, Washington continued to support both of those countries in a major way, including supplying massive amounts of military equipment, refueling Saudi planes in midair so they could strike deeper into Yemen, and providing the Saudis with targeting intelligence for their disastrous war.
The Anti-Iranian Triumvirate
All of these regional developments, in play before Donald Trump was elected, have only gained added momentum since then, thanks in no small degree to the pivotal personalities involved.
The first of them, of course, is President Trump. Throughout his election campaign, he regularly denounced the nuclear deal that Iran, the U.S., Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China, and the European Union all signed onto in July 2015. Officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the agreement forced Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment program in return for the lifting of all nuclear-related sanctions. It was a plan that Iran scrupulously adhered to. Although President Obama, many senior American policymakers, and most European leaders had argued that the JCPOA — whatever its flaws — provided a valuable constraint on Iran’s nuclear (and so other) ambitions, Trump consistently denounced it as a “terrible deal” because it failed to eliminate every last vestige of the Iranian nuclear infrastructure or ban that country’s missile program. “This deal was a disaster,” he told David Sanger of the New York Times in March 2016.
While Trump, who has filled his administration with Iranophobes, including his new secretary of state and new national security adviser, seems to harbor a primeval animosity toward the Iranians, perhaps because they don’t treat him with the adoration he feels he deserves, he has a soft spot for the Saudi royals, who do. In May 2017, on his first trip abroad as president, he traveled to Riyadh, where he performed a sword dance with Saudi princes and immersed himself in the sort of ostentatious displays of wealth only oil potentates can provide.
While in Riyadh, he conferred at length with then-Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the 31-year-old son of King Salman and a key architect of Saudi Arabia’s geopolitical contest with the Iranians. Prince Mohammed, who serves as the Saudi defense minister and was named crown prince in June 2017, is the prime mover behind the kingdom’s (so far unsuccessful) drive to crush the Houthi rebels in Yemen and is known to harbor fierce anti-Iranian views.
At an earlier White House luncheon in March 2017, bin Salman, or MBS as he’s sometimes known, and President Trump seemed to reach an implicit agreement on a common strategy for branding Iran a regional threat, tearing up the nuclear agreement, and so setting the stage for an eventual war to vanquish that country or at least to fell the regime that runs it. While in Riyadh, President Trump told a conference of Sunni Arab leaders that, “from Lebanon to Iraq to Yemen, Iran funds, arms, and trains terrorists, militias, and other extremist groups that spread destruction and chaos across the region. It is a government that speaks openly of mass murder, vowing the destruction of Israel, death of America, and ruin for many leaders and nations in this very room.”
While no doubt gratifying to the Saudis, Emiratis, Kuwaitis, and other Sunni rulers listening, those words echoed the views of the third key player in the strategic triumvirate that may soon drive the region into all-out war, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, also known as “Bibi.” For years, he has railed against Iranian ambitions in the region and threatened military action against any Iranian move that would, as he saw it, impinge on Israeli security. Now, in Trump and the Saudi Crown Prince, he has the allies of his dreams. In the Obama years, Netanyahu was a fierce opponent of the Iranian nuclear deal and used a rare appearance before a joint session of Congress in March 2015 to denounce it in no uncertain terms. He has never — right up to the days before Trump withdrew from the accord — stopped working to persuade the president that the agreement should be junked and Iran targeted.
In that 2015 speech to Congress, Netanyahu laid out a vision of Iran as a systemic danger that would later be appropriated by Trump and his Saudi confederates in Riyadh. “Iran’s regime poses a grave threat, not only to Israel, but also the peace of the entire world,” he asserted in a typically hyperbolic statement. “Backed by Iran, Assad is slaughtering Syrians. Backed by Iran, Shiite militias are rampaging through Iraq. Backed by Iran, Houthis are seizing control of Yemen, threatening the strategic strait at the mouth of the Red Sea. Along with the Straits of Hormuz, that would give Iran a second choke-point on the world’s oil supply.”
Now, Netanyahu is playing a major role in driving the already crippled region into a war that could further destroy it, produce yet more terror groups (and terrorized civilians), and create havoc on a potentially global scale, given that both Russia and China back the Iranians.
Girding for War
Pay attention to the words of Netanyahu in Washington and Donald Trump in Riyadh. Think of them not as political rhetoric, but as prophesies of a grim kind. You’re going to be hearing a lot more such prophesies in the months ahead as the United States, Israel, and Saudi Arabia move closer to war with Iran and its allies. While ideology and religion will play a part in what follows, the underlying impetus is a geopolitical struggle for control of the greater Persian Gulf region, with all its riches, between two sets of countries, each determined to prevail.
No one can say with certainty when, or even if, these powerful forces will produce a devastating new war or set of wars in the Middle East. Other considerations — an unexpected flare-up on the Korean Peninsula if President Trump’s talks with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un end in failure, a fresh crisis with Russia, a global economic meltdown — could turn attention elsewhere, lessening the importance of the geopolitical contest in the Persian Gulf. New leadership in any of the key countries could similarly lead to a change of course. Netanyahu, for example, is now at risk of losing power because of an ongoing Israeli police investigation into allegedly corrupt acts of his, and Trump, well, who can say? Without such a development or developments, however, the way to war, which will surely prove to be the road to hell, seems open with a Third Gulf War looming on humanity’s horizon.
I have some doubts that this will actually come to war. There may be many people in the Trump administration that want this war, along with Israel and Saudi Arabia, but with what army? The U.S. is still fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, and I’m not so sure they would be able to sustain a war against Iran for very long. They might try an air campaign, but they’re already short on pilots. I don’t think the U.S. military would be able to sustain a war for very long, and that’s the only way that they could beat Iran, I think.
I also wonder whether the population of the U.S. has the stomach for yet another war in the Middle East. I’m sure that we would see a burst of propaganda, just like at the beginning of Bush II’s Iraq war, but I don’t think that there would be much enthusiasm for it.
I wouldn’t be surprised if all this is understood at certain levels of the U.S. military. Hopefully the message gets across to those that are making the decisions.
I agree the US is overextended and most of the US military leadership appears to be under no illusions re that. But we have crazypants like Bolton having disproportionate influence on decision-making.
Yes, and there does not appear to be a viable proxy to provide the bodies..
An invasion of Iran would require a draft, and I don’t see there being the political will for that. Mind you, the invasion of Iraq in 2003 really required a draft as it wasn’t done with enough troops, and that didn’t stop them.
IF you are right about this, one undeniable consequence is that such a war is certainly not imminent.
While a mechanism for a draft does exist, it is in deep mothballs. Reaching the political consensus to activate it; bringing the selection process up to speed and choosing men, then training the draftees for combat duty … you’re looking at many, many months. It also raises questions in regard to how these conscripts would be utilised, after nearly five decades of an all-volunteer force. Do they form their own battalions (of cannon fodder)? Or are they integrated with the ‘professional’ soldiers of the regular army? I can imagine what the regulars might think about that; hint: it would not be positive.
Many of the changes in the American military over the past 30-40 years have been destabilising and the whole edifice has held together only because it was populated by volunteers. Bring in hundreds of thousands of victims of involuntary servitude and you’re asking for serious social trouble.
Re-instating the draft could turn out to be a deterrent to war. Think about this:
These days, I don’t see how a draft could be confined to men only – it would almost have to include women. The prospect of having a daughter/grand daughter/sister drafted & sent off sent off to war could cause a surge in anti-war sentiment in the general populace.
Mercenaries. Remember that the goal is to plunge these countries into chaos. Iraq and Libya. The ”victory” looks like that for the israelis and the neocons.
You’re right. But a couple thousand (???) cruise missiles, or other stand-off weapons, would be plausible, given that the US is NOT to going to be able to ‘fix’ Iran like they did Iraq.
And don’t forget how US nukes are being re-engineered for more tactical efficiency. In all fairness, the existing small ones (the B-61?) would work very nicely for destroying mountains or what have you with nominal fallout. Very quick and efficient. Oh, well, let’s not get too much into the details here….
Crazy and unimaginable as that seems, the fact is that we have a guy in the WH who is eminently malleable, and he certainly isn’t going to ask too many questions when a narrow set of options are presented to him by the Usual Suspects, especially when he has been meticulously guided to the preferred decision over the course of a couple years (if it takes that long.)
No, the only positive vision here lies with Iranian wisdom: to not let itself be baited; to keep its hard-liners in check; to forge relationships with the rest of the world during the perhaps scant years it has left before their fate is decided by others.
Keep in mind throughout all of this: The people who want war have a very clear vision toward which they are working.
“Remember that the goal is to plunge these countries into chaos.”
I believe the goal is to weaken & degrade Iran economically & militarily, short of outright war (air strikes may be contemplated, balanced by the possibility of costly Iranian retaliation)
Regime change, revolution or major social chaos would be welcome developments.
Ideally,the US /Israel want to reduce Iran to a third world country. The reinstallation of a Shah-like figure would be Christmas & Hanakah rolled into one.
Its getting even more complex. Apparently, the next Iraqi government is likely to be formed by Al-Sadr’s party in a coalition with Communists. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-iraq-election/shiite-cleric-sadr-leads-in-iraqs-parliamentary-election-idUSKCN1IE091
I assume this was the goal of Rumsfeld, Cheney, and John Bolton in 2003 when they focused on forming a new democratic Iraq.
Apparently, US-backed corrupt government officials are unpopular. Who would have thought that? Al Sadr is Shiite but appears to be an Iraqi nationalist first, so he and Iran often do not see eye to eye. Iran could lose some influence in Iraq over the next couple of years.
If Al Sadr’s coalition actually lives up to the campaign rhetoric and focuses on good governance, it will likely baffle foreign-policy makers throughout the Middle East as they will have no idea how to negotiate with such a government.
a reason to depose it in favor of one they can dictate to.
The US has historically done this frequently. Since our current foreign policy seems to be from the 1950s, this democratic election result makes it likely that a new unelected government will be required to appropriately reflect the will of the people that matter.
After all, you can only build nations if they have been deconstructed in the first place.
May 14, 2018 at 6:40 am
I would also bring up another point. Evander Holyfield in disputing that Mike Tyson was invincible, brought up the point that “iron” Mike Tyson had never been hit.
Would the Chinese supply Iran with advanced weaponry as a field test? Russia?
What happens to America’s psyche when a carrier and thousands of causalities occur? And simultaneously, the ability of America to strike back is seriously diminished?
One of the disadvantages of being on the offence, is you need overwhelming force against a defensive stance. I agree with your thought that losing an aircraft carrier would be a huge body blow to morale. It makes me wonder if the natural retaliation to this would be a nuclear strike (I can just hear the battlecry “This one’s from the boys from the Harry S. Truman”). The Boltons and Bibis of the world seem like the kinds of people who want to demonstrate that the US is not afraid to hold onto it tattered hegemony by making it clear they are not afraid to nuke somebody. With the US, Israel and Saudies firmly established as the most insane hell bent on destruction triple entente, the Trump regime would have time to realign things while the rest of the world adjusts to the new reality. Sounds crazy and terrifying. Just thinking out loud here.
Pym of Nantucket
May 14, 2018 at 10:43 am
You raise a terrifying, but plausible point. Would China and Russia use their “nuclear shields” to protect Iran?
A nuclear strike on Shia Iran would elicit a world wide race for a Shia nuke. What you need is will – not necessarily high tech – peasant China and Pakistan did it.
And the last vestiges that America is some kind of moral exemplar would be totally demolished – I think the possibility of world sanctions against the US would be a real possibility.
It’s not just willpower. You need the ability to deliver a missile across the world as an ICBM or even more challenging, an SLBM.
That means not just the bomb, but rocket technology, and miniaturized nuclear weapons that can be used in a missile warhead. Submarines are even harder as it means that the nation must be able to make a missile that can fit in a nuclear submarine, which itself must be quiet.
James “Buster” Douglas pounded Tyson quite a bit (their first bout.) Holyfield was fortunate enough to catch Tyson past his prime, even at the price of an earlobe.
There are all kinds of ways to draw more support for more war. Of many, how about invasion framed as rescue mission – or other variations of “support our troops”?
The establishment has thousands of potential “hostages” already deployed.
I really, really hate this casually accepted propaganda. The Houthis are not Iranian backed. You can only say they are rebels because they refuse to accept the President desired by the Saudis. Look at a map. There is absolutely no way for supplies to reach Yemen from Iran except by sea, and the combined Saudi (hahaha I make the comedy) and American navies have that totally blocked so not even food or medicine can reach Yemen. Americans don’t even know that their Navy is engaged in blockading the delivery of food and medicine. The Houthis and the Iranians are actually different divisions of the Shi’a Twelver tradition and so not inclined to be particularly friendly to each other. I suppose the Iranians would like to support the Houthis, but there is no way for them to do so.
There’s a whole lot of propaganda in Klate”s thesis. Very little, and only passing and quietly laudatory, mention of a principal and unprincipled trouble-maker in all of this, our “friend and ally,” Israel.
Thanks, Procopius: Any number of articles published here at NC back you up on this point. So I have some doubts about Klare’s analysis as well.
David Stockman rips the American Idiot:
One-term Trump already is a lame duck. Goodbye and good riddance.
we hope so, but replacing with joe biden (getting the latest gaurdian push fwiw) does not inspire.
If the dems can engineer a Trump vs. Biden race, then Trump probably wins that one, not least because Biden is probably to Trump’s right on pro-war issues.
yeah it’s another “choice” like 2016. and the dems won’t mind losing, as long as they keep control of the party away from the progressives.
In good service to their class interests, as is pointed out here at NC regularly.
One term Trump? Not likely, given his “opposition.”
Sadly, I must agree.
May 14, 2018 at 6:59 am
It would be ironic if MAGA Trump attacks Iran and in the process completely destroys American hegemony * and the Republican party…..
But as 99.999999% (I’m not going to put all the “9’s” as there are not enough bits in the universe) of the gaseous effusions from the Trump blowhole are inconsequential, I doubt the nullification of the Iranian nuclear deal means much other than as an Anti Obama totem.
but I could be wrong – does Trump merely portray idiocy or is he really, really stupid?
* the loss of one American carrier to “gunboat diplomacy” would be devastating
Iran is a nation of 80 million, with its own vast industrial and military capabilities. I see no way the USA attacks and defeats Iran without going full-on nuclear. Imagine a few simple rules for Iran:
1. Drop bombs on every ship coming its direction from the Mediterranean and Indian Oceans.
2. Close the Strait of Hormuz, and collapse the world economy.
3. Focus on destroying fuel supplies to American tanks and transports so they can’t move.
4. Buy as much Russian anti-aircraft weapons as they can and blow up as many old American and Israeli jets as possible.
5. Give each Iranian man a rifle and tell him to shoot one American soldier a day. Every day.
“the ultimate Nixon treatment”???
So, trump’s going to conduct massive secret bombing raids which kill tons of civilians and turn even greater numbers of people around the world against the united states while breaking all of his promises to bring the troops home and get himself re-elected while carrying 49 states because the dems want to crush their left flank and teach them a rough lesson???
Be careful, those odds might be higher than you think.
Strategic bombing is far less effective than people think. Societies very quickly move to position things where bombing is unlikely. Iran (and North Korea) probably already has many key components deep underground where bombing is unlikely effective. A major blow against their plutonium enrichment program was the Stuxnet virus screwing up a lot of centrifuges – that could get to hidden and protected equipment.
In WW II, Germany was able to maintain a high level of industrial production despite massive strategic bombing. The main things that did its production in were the lack of capacity compared to the Allies and poor weapons systems planning and decision-making (hello, Pentagon?) http://scientiamilitaria.journals.ac.za/pub/article/download/1178/1204
There is even debate about whether or not it was the A-bomb or Russia declaring war on Japan at the last minute and invading its northern islands that caused Japan to surrender to the US.
I don’t think a strategic air campaign against Iran would do much other than kill a lot of people, stir up a hornet’s nest, and destabilize a relatively stable country. Iranians would probably solidify behind the current leadership, so I wouldn’t bet on regime change. There seems to be less of a logical rationale to go to war with Iran right now than Iraq in 2003, so Iranians would be able to stir up a massive amount of anti-US hate if war happened.
So I have no idea what a “successful” war on Iran looks like without a ground force invasion. That would likely make Afghanistan and Iraq look like picnics. How would you successfully occupy and control Iran without wiping out most of the population?
The terrain in Iran more resembles Afghanistan than Iraq.
It all appears to me to be one of those what could possibly go right situations, too many players on the board all very close to each other who constantly engage in stomping into each others personal spaces.
I worry about an event causing a tipping point resulting in an escalation, that will inevitably lead to the involvement of all the interested parties, whether they like it or not.
ww1 comes to mind. the next world war may indeed end all wars.
“I don’t know what weapons World War III will be fought with, but I know the next war will be fought with rocks and clubs.” And humans being what we are, there WILL be a next war, don’t you think?
more like local rumbles between gangs, a good thing, devolution is the new evolution.
The destabilizing presence of millions of refugees, especially in Turkey and Europe, is what? A bug or a feature?
Please remember the goal of war: To make the other’s economy collapse. Does the US regard all “others,” Russia, Iran, and China as well as and Turkey and the EU, as “others?”
The Mediterranean coast areas of the Middle East and North Africa already appear to be at peak refugee generation. The remaining stable areas are places like Iran with no obvious safe route to Europe. Other areas like the ‘stans and India might be hit harder with waves of refugees if war expands.
That might be seen as a feature, not a bug. Then its Russia and China’s problem.
One of many “strategic tactics” in the history of war is the generation and driving of refugees from one sorry place to another, to “degrade the enemy’s will.” I forget what the figure of speech is called, maybe it’s an oxymoron? but it’s characterized nicely in the phrase “man’s inhumanity to man.”
Per the motto of Garrison Keillor’s typical town, Lake Wobegon: “Summus quod summus,” “we are what we are.”
….not only from the above, but from prose choices in general, this is a left scream generally, it has probably taken me too long for final recognition……….best to all…….rs
Saudi-Israeli-American alliance? What could possibly go wrong? And who do you think will have the most casualties?
I am reminded of this:
–he sent to the great Oracle at Delphi to know whether he should go to war against the Persian Empire and the oracle replied: “If Croesus goes to war he will destroy a great empire.” —
A nation of 80 million, three times the size of France, which will welcome our soldiers with flowers and photos of Madeleine Albright…
I think Netanyahu, is the elephant in the room. Does he want to avoid an escalation with Iran as declared or not? Does he want to push hard for regime change in Iran?. On the other side, the character that was apparently involved in the missile incident in Golan is Qassem Suleimani, leader of Iran’s Revolutionary Army and oppositor to both Rohaní and the nuclear agreement. There is also a dissident organization called Mojahedin-e-Khalq (MeK) that is pressing in Washington, (via Gugliani, Bolton and some dems apparently) for a regime change in Iran. They also want to derail the nuclear agreement.
Whether Rohani can rein on Suleimani and Washington not to fall prey on MeK ambitions an escalation is avoidable. Trump’s move is clearly a push for regime change but I don’t believe he is interested on an escalation so I think this is as much as he is willing to do.
If the crazies in both sides of the equation manage to produce more provocations or regime change then an escalation is assured.
One thing Syria has shown us is that lobbing a bunch of very expensive missiles at your enemy doesn’t really accomplish much unless it’s in direct support of a ground army. There is no ground army that can invade iran successfully. I really don’t think the US can do it with its current forces, there’s been to much learned in the ocfupation of Iraq and the Syrian Civil War. Even with under-equipped forces the Iranians will be able to restrict our freedom of movement with mines, IED’s, anti-tank weapons and dug-in infantry then throw division after division at us until we run out of ammo. Iraq has ideal terrain for mobile armored warfare supported by air power. Iran doesn’t have much of that, and they won’t give up if invaded. Anything beyond a token strike but less than a full-scale conquest will result in the Persian Gulf being blocked. Even a token strike would be quite dangerous.
I really doubt that there will be a major invasion if some people think that. There is no real staging area that the US can use for any invasion force. No country on that border will let the US even assemble such a force or they would be paying the price for that for like, forever. A naval invasion is also out of the question here. Apart from the fact that a sea-based invasion is one of the toughest tasks in the book, the fleet would be vulnerable to Iranian missiles of which the Iranians have a vast stock. In addition, Iran also has submarines.
A war would probably shut down the Persian Gulf and you never know if a few missiles might go after the Saudi Aramco oil tanks. Would Patriot missiles really be able to defend these areas (crickets). Just today, the Houthis apparently lobbed a few missiles that way. Is the world prepared to go back to lines of cars waiting to fill up with gas like they did in the 70s? Just how high could oil go and more to the point, how long would it stay there. Is the world economy ready to absorb such a hit to the economy?
The US/Saudi/Israeli may consider bombing Iran but that is now complicated by the fact that Iran is now equipped with Russian-made S-300 anti-aircraft missile systems. If another war was in the offering, probably Russia would ship in Pantsir missile systems as well. Another complication is that when the Coalition was fighting in Iraq it was mostly flat lands. Iran, however, is mountainous from what I heard just like Afghanistan is. Thus, even if a new Coalition managed to fight their way into Iran, you would need an army of hundreds of thousands to do it with and it would be a much tougher fight than Iraq ever was. Could the US assemble such a force now? After fighting continuously for nearly 20 years?
Lastly, Iran is important to both Russia and China. What happens if before any such attack the Russians ship in a Army Brigade for practice maneuvers with the Iranians and the Chinese ship in another Chinese Marine Brigade for a goodwill visit? The US war-gamed an invasion of Iran nearly 20 years ago and it did not end well so something to keep in mind-
Yes. Which could mean the entire strategy, regardless of how insane it is, might be to respond to an ascendant Eurasia and East Asia by poisoning the well and hunkering down in Oceania. I don’t see any other way to pivot the whole system to block a coming Chinese period of world domination. Correct me if I am wrong to assume that is the main thing the US is working toward here by getting their own oil production established then blowing the place up. On that front the Turtle Island is fairly easy to defend. This makes Israel and Saudi Arabia suckers though. Both the latter are in terrible long term strategic positions in spite of having the upper hand militarily for now.
Do you really believe the assertion in this post:
“To begin with, America’s reliance on imported oil has diminished rapidly in recent years, thanks to an oil drilling revolution in the U.S. that has allowed the massive exploitation of domestic shale reserves through the process of fracking.”
I may have missed something but doesn’t fracked oil cost more in so many ways and slow down or stop altogether after a few years? And if fracking is the answer for stopping “ascendant Eurasia and East Asia” from fracking too after the well is poisoned? And just out of curiosity — what is there to “hunkering down in Oceania”? Are suggesting the master plan is to party til we drop “On the Beach” (1959).
And doesn’t Russia have some oil?
Tight shale oil is more expensive but so is having a bigger military budget than the rest of the world combined, but using broken window economics, that kind of stuff is good for business, in a sadly nihilistic way. Did tobacco companies close down when they found out smoking isn’t great for your health? If you are judging the policies of Israel and Saudi Arabia for their logic content, the results are disappointing either way.
My comments were simply conjecture but I think there are a surprising number of Dr. Strangelove types in important places who make that kind of large scale thought. I haven’t read a single strategy article saying China is a passing fad and the US can just wait them out and hold onto their hegemony. It looks a hell of a lot to me like the US is decoupling itself from its need of Saudi oil right when China and Russia are enjoying a string of strategic successes in the region (China is pals with Iran, oil can be purchased now in yuan – which is new, Russia has a healthy client in Syria, China now can choke off Suez from Djibouti…). The in-your-face US gunboat diplomacy with the carrier fleet certainly doesn’t seem like it can go on forever, but having two oceans as buffers sure is handy for keeping out waves of refugees if it comes to that. Notice that the US didn’t give a $h!+ about how the Libyan campaign massively screwed up the social situation for their “friends” in Europe? Whose lives are at risk when you prod Russia in the Ukraine and the Baltic States? There are just too many US strategy choices that are guaranteed losers unless you assume their plan is to sow chaos, meanwhile in Latin America the U.S. is learning wars create refugees for them, so it seems quieter.
Seems the Blue team didn’t fare well in the Millennium Challenge 2002 (MC ’02) you reference. I also recall an old saying about people who live in glass houses. Just how stable is the Saudi regime and how dependent that the oil must flow? I agree with your assessment that the Blue team would have little reason not to attack the flow of oil and many good reasons to do just that — especially the kind of many-headed Blue teams which so often spawn these days. And as you point out, Iran is in a different league than the other countries we break our toes on as we try to kick them around in our Middle East sandbox.
I can’t imagine what we’re supposed to win in a war with Iran and I can think of many ways we could lose. I could believe that portions of the MIC might enjoy some benefit from the existing endless wars . But I can’t figure out what group in or out of the MIC would benefit from a war with Iran. Expenditures to support executing a war often impact ongoing expenditures for procurements and many big players in the MIC are milking some fat Air Force and Navy procurements. Why take risks which might upset the established chain of pork? Who or what is driving U.S. foreign policy? Do we even have a coherent foreign policy?
And I agree with other commenters who question how much this post illuminates a situation that appears more and more bizarre the further it progresses.
This article is below the standards I expect from this site – I was hoping that there might be some insight into the economic spectrum of the non-stop war (NSW) we are prosecuting in the ME these many decades.
There are many websites that offer much useful information about the military elements of our NSW than this pablum, from a professor of peace no less!
Words should have meaning, so why is Syria referred to as a regime in this offering, but not the Axis of Nuttiness (Israel, KSA, USA)?
The phrase that says that “this time the conflict has almost nothing to do with oil” makes the whole article collapse on inanity.
what are those sites?
Please get Bolton’s official title correct:
National Insecurity Advisor
In the rural conservative west, I don’t find much political support for another mideast war. There is affection for the military, but few people have anything positive to say about the existing wars or another one. When Israel’s security comes up as an issue, people always say, “Oh yeah, Israel…”, followed by a skeptical forebearing pause. And this is in an area that went 60-to-70% for Trump. If people in DC know how weak support for a war is — and they might not — they’ll have to arrange some kind of incident to make it look like a national defense issue for the US. Netanyahu showing off his CD collection didn’t cut it out here.
People I’ve spoken to find basic geopolitical reality put in concrete terms to be the most persuasive case against the war. Most of the pro-war case is based on tender-minded yuppie abstractions, like “threat.” “Clearer than the truth,” as Dean Acheson put it. So Iran’s a threat to us, huh? I guess their landing craft are crowding the Persian Gulf and their vast armies are swarming their shores before they head across the Indian Ocean, and then the Pacific, to invade us. If they are, where are the pictures? Iran’s an existential threat to Israel? They can use their nukes — if they haven’t yet, you have to ask if Iran is really a big threat.
This approach really gets people thinking. It works well on the Russia issue, too. They’re about to invade Ukraine, any minute! Uhm, where are the photos of the columns of troops and tanks that are going to do it? Russia is a threat to the US — I guess that’s why Petropavlovsk is crowded with amphibious forces, huh? Conservative rural America, at least in the west, is skeptical and tired of ponying up money and kids for the wars. They have not been asleep.
What and Who prevent us from extricating ourselves from this region with its inane, insane, and intense historical religious and racial animosities and endless wars engineered by a few? The entire Middle East is a massive crime scene engineered by a few zealots, political leaders and parties seeking endless war for power and profits. Defending our allies and assuring pipelines and global sea choke points remain open for shipment of petroleum does not entail initiating another major military conflict. In this regard, there should be no new AUMF granted by Congress to the executive branch, and the 2001 AUMF needs to be sent off into the sunset. Whatever happened to diplomacy?
I think that the neoconservatives have vastly overestimated the effectiveness of waging war and the US military’s capabilities.
Ironically part of that is self inflicted. By waging pointless wars, they have spent lots of resources for no gains. The 2003 Iraq Invasion was the biggest pro-war push from the neoconservative movement.
There are other issues. The profiteering by the defense industry has led to expensive and ineffective weapons. It has also led to a lot of careerists in the senior military ranks that are hoping to get lucrative retirement opportunities and so have sold their souls to the defense industry.
Personally I think that the rich ought to be conscripted and forced to have their kids fight the imperialist wars.
The wealthy would fight this tooth and nail, but someone with extraordinary moral courage should propose something like this.
Charles Rangel has proposed numerous bills to reinstate the draft for men and women, rich and poor, and Congress more or less said, “yeah right Charlie.”
We’ll bomb from the skies (nukes?), use the national guard and the reserves when the army runs out of volunteer canon fodder, private armies, but we’ll never draft the “Beaver Cleavers.”