Sunday, November 29, 2009

Iran escalating its dispute with the West

I believe, and I can only guess Iran believes, that in the final analysis, if the conflict with the West goes to war, Iran will win the war. Iran will win the war at high cost to itself. In both relative and absolute terms Iran will lose vastly more than its distant enemies, but its enemies will retreat first and leave Iran with a more powerful regional position than it has today.

The United States admits it cannot invade Iran because Iran has very good terrain for defending against invasion, good morale and an industrial base that can keep its defenders supplied. But if the US cannot invade, and capture or remove Iran's leadership as it did Hussein, in short it cannot win a war. The war will relatively quickly resolve into a stalemate where Iran and its allies execute asymmetric attacks against US forces in one huge zone at least from Pakistan, through Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq. "At least" that zone because there's a good chance Saudi Arabia and Jordan will see fighting and other forms of turmoil as well.

I expect that Israel would respond to attacks from Gaza and Lebanon from the air, but would not attempt to take or hold territory in either. In that case Israel would suffer the psychological damage of being exposed as vulnerable to missiles to a degree greater than it has ever been in its history, but after that would not be a main front in the war, unless it tries to hold Lebanon in which case it would. There also would be attacks on oil installations and against the regional string of pro-US dictators.

How long would the American people be willing to sustain a wide scale war throughout the Middle East? One that would require several times the modest effort the US is exerting currently in Iraq and Afghanistan? Over what? To make sure Israel remains the only nuclear capable country in its region? I don't believe the US would get into such a war at all, but once in I'd expect the first election to provide a candidate calling for ending hostilities and I'd expect that candidate to win. If not the first, then the second election. Iran surely calculates that it will outlast the voters of the United States.

This would be a tremendously expensive war for the US that would substantially harm its global standing relative to its rivals, and would very likely lead to a re-examination of its policies in the Middle East. For Iran it would be a second Iran-Iraq war, a national project of survival that, if it's like the previous major war, indoctrinates the next generation of leaders, gives operational experience to its armed forces and purifies the country - giving Iran's citizens a tangible reason to focus on aspects of life bigger and more important than their personal gain or comfort.

I can be wrong. I don't see Iran as eager for war, but not afraid of it either, not afraid at all. This is about the same way I see Iran's view of sanctions. There'll be a cost, but Iran will end up with more enriched uranium if they happen. Not eager to get them, but if they're imposed, they'll be acceptable.

So we see two things in the aftermath of the IAEA report against Iran. One is Iran mirroring the US public policy of allocating funds to support democracy movements in Iran by allocating funds to resistance movements in the US and UK.
Under the proposal, whose outlines were approved by the legislature, $20 million from Iran's Oil Stabilization Fund will be allocated to help "progressive movements" report on rights abuses by the United States and Britain.

IRNA did not say which movements would receive the money, but the use of the word "resist" could be an implicit reference to militant groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas, which Iran supports and often refers to as "resistance groups."
The other is that Iran claims it will open 10 more uranium enrichment centers.
Iran's government announced plans on Sunday to build 10 new uranium enrichment plants and said work would start within two months, state broadcaster IRIB reported.
Both of these are symbolic slaps in the face of the West that surprise me in their stridency. We're looking at an angry but defiant Iran. Angry over the Balochistan attack that took Iran's leadership by surprise and went against what the Iranians had hopefully believed had been a different direction in US policy under Obama. Defiant because if it comes to it, Iran does not expect to lose overall in a conflict with the West regardless of the level at which the West chooses to engage.

If I was to make one policy suggestion to the Obama administration it would be to issue a Presidential finding that support for armed separatist groups is against US policy and to in some way, even if not fully officially, admit that it had been in effect when he came into office so he can credibly assert that he has stopped it. If not that, then somehow or other, there has to be something more tangible than the statements we've heard so far that the US condemns the Balochistan attack.

It seems like the US position is that this can be on the table after Iran exports its LEU, and the US will be willing to trade it for changes in policy regarding Hamas and Hezbollah. If that's the US position, it prevents further discussion as effectively as Bush's requirement that Iran suspend enrichment.


Lysander said...

I don't believe this will escaltae to war. But if it did, do not underestimate the catastrophe the U.S. can bring to Iran.

The U.S. will not limit itself to military targets, which, like Serbia, Iran can hide and protect. Nor primarily its nuclear facilities, which Iran could duplicate.

Instead, the U.S. will attack all of Iran. All its civilian Infrastructure. Every bridge, every electrical plant, every water facility. Every industry of ANY kind, military or otherwise. In short, everything a nation needs for modern life will be targeted. It will not resemble the war with Iraq at all.

No, I don't believe it will happen. I doubt any regional U.S. puppet will permit their territory to be used as base. Yes, I do think that Iran can and will hurt U.S. interests quite substantially if it did happen.

But if it were to happen, it will be very difficult for Iran to emerge from it all still capable to be a regional power. And while the U.S. would likely end the conflict with its stated objectives unmet, it would damage Iran enough to put its long term goals out of reach.

Again, I'm not predicting war. I do think the U.S. is bluffing and Israel alone cannot wage a long term aerial campaign against Iran. I think Iran's leadership has rightly understood this. But I hope no underestimates the cost of such a war to Iran.

Arnold Evans said...

Instead, the U.S. will attack all of Iran. All its civilian Infrastructure. Every bridge, every electrical plant, every water facility. Every industry of ANY kind, military or otherwise. In short, everything a nation needs for modern life will be targeted. It will not resemble the war with Iraq at all.

I basically agree with that, except Germany and Russia rebuilt after WWII - where destruction like you described occurred, inflicted both from the air and ground.

Unless the leadership changes, it will end the war in charge and with resources to rebuild.

Iran would lose a lot more than the US, but all it has to do is hold on, which it would, then it'll worry about rebuilding after the US leaves, which it would.

If war was to happen, we'd see the total destruction and then reconstruction of Iran. After the war, I suspect Iran will be able to present it as in Russia and China's interests to help it rebuild, which would be enough. But that's a problem to be dealt with when it happens.

This is not to predict war. I predict no war. This is to say that I suspect Iran's leadership is willing to play chicken with US leadership.