There's a raging debate within the Bush administration, the punditocracy, and the blogosphere about whether or not it is time to bomb Iran. While this conversation scares small children (and other sane people), most of the focus has been on (1) whether President... oh, excuse me... Vice President Cheney truly is moonbat-crazy enough to do so, and (2) whether anyone else in America (including the military) would go along with the idea. But not enough attention is being paid to what happens after we rain death from the skies down on Iran. Which is a shame, because that's what we ignored during the ramp-up to war with Iraq. And we all know how that turned out.
Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that the United States actually does go ahead and bomb Iran. There are a lot of different scenarios which could lead to this point, of course -- a "false flag" operation (think: Gulf of Tonkin Incident); Iranian military captives the United States swears were killing Americans in Iraq being paraded before the television cameras; provoking the Iranian Navy and swearing we were in international waters and not Iranian waters -- there are many ways to make the case for war before the eyes of the world, so it's not very productive to worry about which method it may take. But let's assume George Bush presents some sort of a casus belli to the world, which is immediately followed by the United States military dropping bombs and cruise missiles on Iran.
Now the actual method of the attack (as opposed to the rationale) may influence later events, so it is worth breaking down the possibilities. The old plan was to destroy both Iran's nuclear sites and enough infrastructure that rebuilding them would take the Iranians years to accomplish (while bombing all the military sites and radar installations we see along the way, of course). The new plan (according to Seymour Hersh in his explosive new article in the New Yorker) is to take out the Revolutionary Guard (and to ignore the nuke sites), merely as hot-pursuit retaliation for Iranian involvement in Iraq (while also bombing all the radar installations we see along the way, of course).
The neo-cons thinking: "They'll greet us with flowers, II"
So far, the Iranian response has seemingly been addressed by the neo-conservative think tank "The Iraqis Will Greet Us With Flowers Institute," which is fully as dangerous and deluded as it sounds. Their basic argument is the Iranians will see the errors of their ways (after we bomb them), throw out the Mullahs in Tehran, and beg the United States' forgiveness. Or that they're just too scared of our awesome military might ("Shock And Awe II," you might call it) to retaliate in any way, because they'd be terrified of losing a war with us.
That this is divorced from both reality and the history of the United States and Iran for the past 60 years or so seems to escape the proponents of this view. But then again, they sold the Bush White House on the "we'll be greeted as liberators, with flowers" line, so there's no guarantee it won't work a second time.
Here are some chilling quotes from Hersh's article on the subject of "what happens next?" after the bombs stop falling.
"They're moving everybody to the Iran desk," one recently retired C.I.A. official said. "They're dragging in a lot of analysts and ramping up everything. It's just like the fall of 2002" -- the months before the invasion of Iraq, when the Iraqi Operations Group became the most important in the agency. He added, "The guys now running the Iranian program have limited direct experience with Iran. In the event of an attack, how will the Iranians react? They will react, and the Administration has not thought it all the way through."
That theme was echoed by Zbigniew Brzezinski, the former national-security adviser, who said that he had heard discussions of the White House's more limited bombing plans for Iran. Brzezinski said that Iran would likely react to an American attack "by intensifying the conflict in Iraq and also in Afghanistan, their neighbors, and that could draw in Pakistan. We will be stuck in a regional war for twenty years."
. . .
A senior European diplomat, who works closely with American intelligence, told me that there is evidence that Iran has been making extensive preparation for an American bombing attack. "We know that the Iranians are strengthening their air-defense capabilities," he said, "and we believe they will react asymmetrically -- hitting targets in Europe and in Latin America." There is also specific intelligence suggesting that Iran will be aided in these attacks by Hezbollah. "Hezbollah is capable, and they can do it," the diplomat said.
The article does quote one unnamed "senior European official" (most likely British) who has drunk deep of the neo-con Kool-Aid:
The European official continued, "A major air strike against Iran could well lead to a rallying around the flag there, but a very careful targeting of terrorist training camps might not." His view, he said, was that "once the Iranians get a bloody nose they rethink things." For example, Ali Akbar Rafsanjani and Ali Larijani, two of Iran's most influential political figures, "might go to the Supreme Leader and say, 'The hard-line policies have got us into this mess. We must change our approach for the sake of the regime.' "
This is rebutted with a quote from an unnamed "former [American] senior intelligence official":
"Do you think those crazies in Tehran are going to say, 'Uncle Sam is here! We'd better stand down'? " the former senior intelligence official said. "The reality is an attack will make things ten times warmer."
War-gaming the Iranian response
The Iranians have missiles. They also have a shadowy world-wide terror network that, from all accounts, is quite competent and deadly. And geography gave Iran a chokepoint that could cut off roughly 20% of the world's oil supplies.
Put all of these together, and you have quite a range of options for the Iranians to take. Let's assume that they would use these on an escalating scale, with proportionate responses by the U.S.
The very first thing the Iranians would do is bomb the MEK camps in Iraq. This would be on a "tit-for-tat" level and they could make a good case before the world for doing so. The MEK ("Mujahedeen-e-Khalq") is an Iranian dissident group who have been trying to overthrow the government of Iran for quite some time now. They used to operate out of Saddam's Iraq, in cross-border raids into Iran. When we invaded, we kind of institutionalized a stalemate with them -- we accepted their surrender, told them we would protect the safety of their camps, but we allowed them to stay. The only problem is, they're a terrorist group. Which we're protecting with the American military.
You can easily see the parallels with what we would be claiming Iran is doing -- supporting outlaw groups from within their own territory who cross the border and perform terrorist actions. Which is why they would be target number one for Iranian retaliation if we used the "hot pursuit" rationale. Iran would loudly proclaim American hypocrisy and attempt to convince the world of the justification of their actions. They might even succeed in doing so.
If America kept attacking Iran, the options get much grimmer much quicker. Iranian missiles may start targeting the Green Zone in Baghdad with a passion. They may start targeting those sprawling US bases out in the desert in Iraq. Remember the Kuwaiti war with Saddam? America kept saying "oh, we've taken care of all of Saddam's missiles" while the SCUDs kept raining down, proving us wrong. Imagine that scenario coming from Iran.
Iran may also unleash the terrorists it sponsors. Hezbollah, in particular, may begin spectacular terrorist attacks within Europe. They could even conceivably (unlike Bush's bugaboo "Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia") successfully attack the United States mainland. So not only are missiles raining down on the Green Zone, but shopping malls and train stations and power plants are getting blown up all over Europe and the United States, or (failing to reach America) U.S. Embassies worldwide.
But these nightmare scenarios aren't the worst weapon. Iran's real leverage comes from sitting on top of the Straits of Hormuz (some use the singular Strait of Hormuz). Check out a map of it on Wikipedia, and notice that Iran surrounds this tight bottleneck on three sides. Twenty percent of the world's oil moves through these straits every day, on supertankers. Imagine Iranian mines, torpedoes and missiles taking out oil tankers here. They'd really just have to successfully take out one, or maybe two to prove they could do it whenever they felt like.
What would happen after the first of these successful attacks would be oil trading at astronomical highs: $150 to $200 a barrel. Or roughly two to three times what is has been trading at during the Iraq war. Six to nine dollars a gallon at your local pump.
If this went on for a short period of time, it could cause a devastating recession on the American economy. If it went on for a long period of time, it could cause a worldwide economic depression.
If the American economy crumbles, it's going to be harder and harder to find the money to continue three wars at once. Remember, we essentially outspent the Soviet Union in the arms race. It'd be awfully ironic if it happened to us, since it would be almost impossible to pour the amount of money we have been into the Middle East if our economy was on its knees.
And really, what would the eventual end to the American military escalation of an Iranian war? A military draft here at home, for one thing, since the Army just could not withstand to supply a ground invasion at its current level of soldiers. Or we could escalate bombing on a level not seen since Vietnam -- carpet bombing from B-52s, not "smart" bombs in pinprick raids. Or the Bush White House might even be tempted to test out those nuclear penetrator bombs we've been working on -- to take out "deeply buried Iranian nuclear sites," no doubt.
My point is that the consequences for an Iranian adventure would be severe. In all the arguments swirling around Iran currently inside the Beltway, not enough attention is being paid to the likely outcome of such military action. If you're a neo-con and are arguing that Iran needs to be taken out because they're the world's biggest state sponsor of terrorism, then fine -- make your case. But be sure to realistically address what the costs of such rash action would be for America.
Because last time around, we ignored that part of the equation with "we'll be greeted as liberators" -- and we just can't afford a second mistake of that magnitude.