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August 30, 2007

The Aftermath

Anthony Cordesman describes the avenues for Iranian-retaliation in the event of an American attack:

1) Iranian retaliation against US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan using Shahab-3 missiles armed with CBR warheads; 2) using proxy groups including...Sadr in Iraq to intensify the insurgency and escalate the attacks against US forces and Iraqi Security Forces; 3) turning the Shi’ite majority in Iraq against the US presence and demanding US forces leave; 4) attacking the US homeland with suicide bombs by proxy groups or delivering CBR weapons to al-Qa’ida to use against the US; 5) using its asymmetric capabilities to attacks US interests in the region including soft targets: e.g. embassies, commercial centers, and American citizens; 6) attacking US naval forces stationed in the Gulf with anti-ship missiles, asymmetric warfare, and mines; 7) attacking Israel with missile attacks possibly with CBR warheads; 8) retaliating against energy targets in the Gulf and temporarily shutting off the flow of oil from the Strait of Hormuz; and 9) stopping all of its oil and gas shipments to increase the price of oil, inflicting damage on the global and US economies.

One of the slightly atypical dynamics of the Iraq War is that the enemy can't really hurt us. It can hurt our ability to occupy Iraq, but unless the jihadists we're training over there decide to refocus their efforts -- which they may well do one day, in which case we'll have created them over there to fight them over here -- the majority of the damage they inflict is localized to our mission in Iraq.

Iran, by contrast, can do us a lot of damage. It's much larger and richer than Iraq, with a much more mature global presence. Additionally, it can unleash hell within Iraq, where our presence vastly enhances Iran's ability to battle us asymmetrically. Americans are used to invading and bombing countries like Bosnia and Iraq -- it's been a long time since we've struck someone who can strike back. For that reason, there's very little talk of the consequences of bombing within the media. You hear a lot about whether such an attack would be effective, but very little about the likely aftermath, and thus almost no serious discussion as to whether a military attack would be worth it. We're simply used to evaluating American military actions as if there will be no retaliatory consequences. And that's very dangerous, and in this case, very untrue.

(via)

August 30, 2007 in Iran | Permalink

Comments

Thanks for writing about this.

Posted by: Antid Oto | Aug 30, 2007 4:38:10 PM

"One of the slightly atypical dynamics of the Iraq War is that the enemy can't really hurt us"
I didn't get the memo that Americans in Iraq (as right/wrong their presence there may be) stopped counting as "us".

Posted by: chuck | Aug 30, 2007 4:55:42 PM

Actually we didn't invade or bomb Bosnia. (We did bomb Kosovo and Serbia). Our failure to act on behalf of the Bosnians is a cause for shame.

Posted by: Bloix | Aug 30, 2007 4:59:43 PM

Anthony Cordesman is the top defense expert in America as far as I know.

Posted by: Denis Drew | Aug 30, 2007 5:01:15 PM

The potential (and in some cases, likely) consequences of a US attack on Iran far far exceed any short-term reason or gain from it. Maybe someday Iran would demonstrably be a threat (the intelligence estimates are still saying their atomic capability is years away).

In the meantime, the biggest threat to the US from Iran, not explicitely made clear in the list in the post is that our supply operations from Kuwait (and Basra to a lesser extent) could be rather easily be cut either by Shia militia attacks or Iranian Revolutionary Guards ground forces. We can't survive in Iraq without huge amounts of supplies flowing up the highways from Kuwait and that route is very dangerous already. Air resupply is out of the question given the volume. Fuel for vehicles, food, ammunition (and even water!) could be cut off, making the US forces do a forced (under fire) withdrawal.

Any general officer that doesn't realize this should be declared insane and shipped home for mental treatment.

Iran could easily put the Saudi, and oil emirates under attack, cutting the western supply of oil from the Gulf. We can't possibly protect all these targets.

It also isn't out the question that we could lose an aircraft carrier in the Persian/Arabian gulf given the tight movement rescriptions and Iran's fleet of fast small boats with high speed and quite deadly anti-ship missiles.

Finally, we risk both the Chinese and Russians joining the Iranian side, militarily and diplomatically. China needs Iranian oil and buys a huge amount of it. Russia doesn't want yet another US client-state on their southern flank and they trade heavily with Iran.

Escalating threats can get out of control very easily.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Aug 30, 2007 5:01:42 PM

Jim: Good points. I hope you won't be offended when I say that reading your comment made me realize how badly we're all missing Steve Gilliard as war with Iran draws closer. He was talking about the aspects you mention at least a year before his death.

Posted by: Antid Oto | Aug 30, 2007 5:32:37 PM

War with Iran isn't drawing closer, in part for the reasons Ezra and Jim outline.

Posted by: Sanpete | Aug 30, 2007 5:40:35 PM

I've said this before: War with Iran? You and whose army?

("You" meaning whichever neocon happens to be slinging the idea around at the time.)

Posted by: litbrit | Aug 30, 2007 6:40:13 PM

Actually we didn't invade or bomb Bosnia.

We bombed Bosnian Serb positions within Bosnia back in the fall of 1995, which ultimately is what set the stage for the Dayton accords.

We didn't bomb Serbia until spring of 1999.

Posted by: Tyro | Aug 30, 2007 8:05:16 PM

The most devastating response Iran could offer to any attack, should it come?

Doing nothing. At least, nothing militarily. Throw open the doors to foreign reporters, call upon the international community to repudiate the US.

Antid Oto: you and me both.

Posted by: pseudonymous in nc | Aug 30, 2007 8:25:19 PM

On the other hand...

it would drive up oil prices.

As my Dad said:

When Texas does well...the country is going to hell.

And it would tie the hands of the next president, who will probably be from the Republican side of the Democratic party...and thus will not want to withdraw forces to a sustainable position.

Posted by: S Brennan | Aug 30, 2007 9:19:57 PM

The potential (and in some cases, likely) consequences of a US attack on Iran far far exceed any short-term reason or gain from it.

The short-term political gain is enormous -- control of both houses of Congress, and the White House, and with them the ability to dictate fiscal policy, write the tax code, shape the regulatory environment, pack the judiciary, and justify the use of all the power of the intelligence state to perpetuate those advantages by harassing the opposition into impotence, all by wrapping yourself in the mantle of a 'wartime' administration, deep into mid-century. Only the powers available in 'wartime' will get you there.

Sure, there'd be immediate short-term losses, but in the long term the profit from running a bust-out on the world's largest single-state economy is almost inconceivably enormous. I'm not talking about simple oil-and Halliburton peculation.

I'm talking about taking it all, and owning it, forever.

Posted by: Davis X. Machina | Aug 30, 2007 10:00:43 PM

War with Iran isn't drawing closer, in part for the reasons Ezra and Jim outline.

A lot of serious people think we should go to war with Iraq. Why are you so anxious to start living with a nuclear Iraq, Sanpete?

Posted by: Exile on Ericsson St. | Aug 30, 2007 10:50:29 PM

meant to say "war with Iran." Luckily, the serious people prevailed and we have already ruled out the possibility of a nuclear Iraq.

Posted by: Exile on Ericsson St. | Aug 30, 2007 10:51:31 PM

Only the powers available in 'wartime' will get you there.

We're already at war, Davis.

Still wondering why this idea that people you disagree with can be serious thinkers and scholars bothers you, Exile.

Posted by: Sanpete | Aug 30, 2007 11:14:47 PM

These are for the most part short term responses. Iran would quickly collapse if it shut off oil production (it imports its oil because it doesn't have its own production infrastructure). The attacks on US ships, etc., would be quickly stopped.

The thing that is scarey is the terrorist attacks and further destabilization of Iraq. That's crazy.

Posted by: Tony | Aug 30, 2007 11:45:20 PM

Not bothered, Sanpete. I'm mostly agreeing with you here, though I think you're not bold enough about Iran.

Posted by: Exile on Ericsson St. | Aug 31, 2007 12:28:38 AM

Invading Iraq was stupid, but it wasn't crazy. There had been a soft occupation of the country since the 1991 attack anyway.

Attacking Iran, on the other hand, is mind-bottlingly insane. And not in the "so crazy it might work" way, either.

I'm watching for the typical fall correction in the stock market. If things get nasty (as they did in the fall of 2002), then I'm betting that these guys really will take us over the edge.

Posted by: David | Aug 31, 2007 1:09:28 AM

It's an odd point to get stuck on. But maybe you're just sticky.

Posted by: Sanpete | Aug 31, 2007 1:11:34 AM

(That's in reference to Exile's fixation, not David's remarks.)

Posted by: Sanpete | Aug 31, 2007 1:13:58 AM

The most devastating response Iran could offer to any attack, should it come?

Doing nothing. At least, nothing militarily. Throw open the doors to foreign reporters, call upon the international community to repudiate the US.

Even if Iran does respond - say, by carrying out a mass-casualty attack against Washington - what do you think the world's response will be? How many people, even in close allies like the UK, will say "Yes, it's a tragedy, but the Americans do kind of deserve it for what they did"? I'd guess 60% plus.

Posted by: ajay | Aug 31, 2007 5:38:13 AM

Sanpete, I'm just worried that you're being serious enough here about Iran. There's a lot of serious, rational arguments in favor of going to war with Iran. Why are you ignoring them? Are you afraid of them?

Posted by: Exile on Ericsson St. | Aug 31, 2007 5:43:49 AM

There's a lot of serious, rational arguments in favor of going to war with Iran.

No, there aren't.

You people are delusional. You think there are no limits to American military power. Iraq, and before that, Vietnam, ought to have shown you that you were wrong, but you evidenctly are incpable of learning the lesson.

We have no military means of stopping an Iranian nuclear weapons program. We have no military means of changing the Iranian government. If we try to achieve these things by military means, our hubris will lead to a disaster, just as it already has in Iraq.

Giving you and your ilk control of the country's foriegn policy was like handing a drunk our car keys.

Posted by: rea | Aug 31, 2007 6:26:31 AM

And don't forget the $100 oil. A couple of months of that and we could have a full-blown global recession or depression.

Posted by: bob h | Aug 31, 2007 7:19:26 AM

"War with Iran isn't drawing closer, in part for the reasons Ezra and Jim outline."

Do you really believe the Bush Administration is making a rational calculation? I don't, not for a second. It looks more and more likely that we will attack Iran before Bush leaves office. They don't think of it as starting a new, third war on his watch. They still believe in shock and awe and think Iran will be cowed by an air and missile attack. And, just like Iraq, they couldn't be more wrong.

Posted by: SteveH | Aug 31, 2007 12:08:50 PM

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