It is becoming increasingly hard to go three days without reading an article or seeing a news segment concerning Israel, Iran, and the possibility of a new Middle Eastern war for the United States. The cause of this conflict is Iran’s burgeoning nuclear program and it government’s repeated threats and innuendos that Israel has no right to existence; something the Israeli government is not very agreeable with. It is believed that Israel will attack Iran in one form or another, with or without American aid. While many decry the possibility of another American war in the region—fittingly in the nation between the United States’ other two conflict zones—there is reason to believe that such a military involvement may turn out better than expected.
The Iraq and Afghanistan Wars have had a humbling effect on the American military, but only humbling in a certain aspect. Like the Vietnam War before them, Iraq and Afghanistan have shown that the United States is still ill equipped to deal with an armed conflict guerrilla in nature. These insurgent struggles are inherent in the nature of guerrilla warfare. The organized, formal military (in these cases represented by the United States) are easy to attack as they have uniforms which designate their troops, flags when label their bases, and patrols which can be monitored. The insurgent military (in these cases represented by various factions within Iraq and Afghanistan) blend in with the populace, launch hit-and-run style ambushes, are often willing to commit suicide-attacks, and are so informalized that they are nearly impossible to wipe out.
While this style of warfare has become associated with the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, it would be incorrect to assume that they have always been fought in this manner. The invasion of Iraq began in March 2003 with the goal of “regime change,” i.e. overthrowing the government of Saddam Hussein. It must be noted that this mission was accomplished by the end of May the same year, with Hussein himself captured in December 2003. The Afghanistan War, begun in late 2001, is murkier than its Iraqi brother, as the stated mission was to not only overthrow the Taliban government but to also prevent terrorist forces from using the country as an operating base. While the Taliban government itself was successfully overthrown by 2002, the unrealistic goal of preventing terrorist forces from operating inside the country has been the cause of the United States’ continuing involvement in the twelve-year conflict.
Keeping in mind that the Iraq and Afghanistan endeavors only went bad when the American military had successfully defeated the organized opposition militaries, there is reason to believe that an Iranian war may not fare too badly. With a good commander-in-chief, one who does not let mission creep set in, the United States and Israel could potentially launch a successful invasion of the Persian nation. But there are several factors which must be taken into account.
The United States, naturally, has the second largest military in the world (behind China) with over a million and a half active duty soldiers, with another million and a half in reserve. Now, of course, all these troops would not be mobilized, but for a conflict of this magnitude it is fair to say that at least half a million troops would be sent in; the comparison being Iraq in which the United States sent in one hundred and thirty-five thousand troops, but with a larger coalition than would likely be available against Iran and against a smaller military than Iran possesses. The coalition which the United States would be able to muster for an invasion of Iran would include Israel and likely few other nations, at least not in major roles. Additionally, Iran’s military is over twice the size of Iraq’s was at the time of the invasion, so many more American troops would likely be mobilized.
While the Iranian military would have the advantage of home-field, it would likely be mitigated by America’s technological superiority, both in terms of weapons and surveillance. The United States’ drone program has yet to see much combat action against a formal military, but one can reason that it would be even more effective than it already has been against terror suspects. Additionally, America’s vast naval superiority would provide both firepower and a blockade of Iran’s substantial coastline, enabling the United States to at least partially strangle the nation, preventing it from selling its valuable oil resources.
The invasion would even further benefit from correspondence with Iran’s democratic supporters both within and without the country. By working with these native Iranians, the United States could generate a civil response against the Iranian government which could help weaken the military during the invasion and create a quicker transition towards a true democratic government. This would additionally provide more legitimacy for the invasion on the international stage.
The purpose of this column is not to condone an invasion of Iran, nor to state its inevitability. Instead, I simply seek to point out why such an event may not turn out as poorly as many claim that it will; for with good leadership, the worst-case scenario usually does not happen. However, whether or not the United States and Israel current have the leaders to successfully pull off a Persian invasion remains to be seen, although one must hope that circumstances do not force the hand of Washington and Jerusalem.