Saturday, May 06, 2006

Wargaming Iran

I’m convinced that Iran isn’t under any real threat from the Americans, and all the discussion is just a combination of making it seem that the Bush Administration still has relevance (unsuccessful), and talking up the price of oil (very successful).  Nevertheless, it is interesting to think through what would happen if  the Americans or Israelis dropped some bombs on what they claim are Iranian nuclear installations.

First, there would be no ‘regime change’.  The religious leadership is diffuse, and even if a few Mullahs were killed, the rest would remain, with an even more negative attitude towards the United States.  More importantly, the Iranian people, who chafe under current religious meddling in politics, would be firmly behind their government and religious leadership.

Secondly, the ability of the Iranians to fight back would in no way be impeded.  While terrorism is always a possibility, Iran’s ace in the hole is the geographical fact that it controls transit of oil through the Strait of Hormuz.  The most obvious and most devastating counterattack would simply be to sink an American warship or a representative oil tanker, and make it clear that no more tankers will pass through.  Iran has been buying armaments for just this kind of eventuality.  Even if Iran couldn’t completely block the Strait, the mere threat of attack would be enough to stop the tankers.  The price of oil would instantly skyrocket, and American and world recession wouldn’t be far behind. 

The Americans would have to do something to protect the flow of oil.  The only possible thing to do is the thing that bombing is supposed to replace, boots on the ground.  Iran has two to three times the population of Iraq, a much more challenging geography, and has not been weakened, like Iraq, by years of sanctions.  The 150,000 troops in Iraq weren’t sufficient, so how many troops would be required for Iran?  500,000?  How many more American troops would be required in Iraq due to Iranian-arranged attacks against them there?  How much would it all cost?  Some multiple of the one to two trillion that the attack on Iraq will cost.  The United States has neither the troops nor the money to follow through on the occupation required after the bombing.  On top of all that, the world can’t do without the Iranian oil that would be removed from the market due to sabotage during the occupation (just look at what’s happening in Iraq). 

Those who think that an attack on Iran would be like Clinton’s bombing attack on the Serbians are hallucinating.  The attack will inevitably lead to the necessity of a full American occupation of Iran.  Even with the assistance of other countries who want to protect the flow of oil, Americans will bear the brunt of the human, public relations, and financial costs of this occupation, and the United States simply can’t afford it.