The United States is on course for a war with Iran. The roots of such a war have built over decades, but the Trump Administration seems more inclined to have it play out. While rhetoric makes it seems such a war would be effortless, data tells a different story. War with Iran would be more disastrous than the war with Iraq, and perhaps the most disastrous military campaign the US has taken part of in decades.
Examining a war with Iran takes in multiple factors. Wars are complicated engagements. Understanding potential wars are just as complicated. The largest mistake made in US, perhaps world, is not understanding the dynamics of the invasion of Iraq in 2003. We can’t afford to make the same mistake with Iran. The results could be far direr and lasting.
It has to be noted for all to understand; Iran is not Iraq. A war with Iran could lead to implications the US and its allies would not be able to save face. When examining this hypothetical conflict, we must discuss certain key areas. Geopolitics, Geography, Capability, and Economics must be analyzed.
Iran, geopolitically, is not as isolated as Iraq was in 2003. While Iran has been under a harsh sanctions regime by the United States and its allies, it is not cut off from international partners. Iran has strong friends. Russia and China, while not officially allied with Tehran, seem unwilling to allow the US and its allies to arbitrarily overthrow the Iranian government.
If Iran was attacked, Russia and China could throw their diplomatic weight behind them. Russia, especially, is more assertive in opposing US foreign policy goals. Russia was a floundering state in 2003, unable to oppose the invasion of Iraq in any significant way. However, Russia in 2017 is a different story.
It is unlikely that Russia, or China, would intervene directly into a theoretical US-Iran war. The Russians have sent Iran advanced weapons systems. Russia’s S-300 and S-400 anti-air missiles are among the most advanced in the world. The missile systems are advanced enough to shoot down stealth-aircraft and objects in space. Russia has held off on selling Iran such weapons, but if the US attacks Iran this could change. Russia could also send other weapons, such as advanced anti-tank weapons and anti-ship cruise missiles.
Iran also has non-state allies that it could call upon. Hezbollah is one of Iran’s proxies, and would likely launch unconventional attacks against the US and its allies in the region. These proxies would be a major headache to US operations, and also puts its allies (such as Israel) at greater risk.
Iran, unlike Iraq, is in a better geopolitical position to resist a US attack. While the US may have a large military, Iran has friends in high and low places that could derail an attack.
The geographic situation of Iran is much different then Iraq. Iran has more territory than Iraq. Iraq is essentially an open desert. Such an environment makes the movement of large mechanized armies easy, and also makes it harder for targets to hide from airstrikes. Iran is quite different.
Iran is mainly made up of mountain chains. Its borders with Iraq and Afghanistan (the two potential points of invasion for US troops) are made up of large mountain ranges. The Zagros mountains, which border Iraq, and the Dasht-e lut mountains which border Afghanistan. Both mountain ranges are extensive, and would make quick deployment of mechanized armies difficult.
Mountains also make hiding weapons and units more effective, as opposed to the open deserts of Iraq. Iran only has two areas in its borders that are flat lowlands. Any attempt by the US to invade Iran by land would be difficult, if not improbable. Even Iran’s coastal areas are fairly rugged, making invasion by sea just as difficult.
Iran has a larger population than Iraq. Iraq’s population in 2003 was 25 million people. Iran’s population in 2017 is 80 million, and it has a wide range of ethnic diversity. Iran is also a mainly urban country, with 84 percent of its population living in urban centers. This makes a potential occupation more difficult. It would require a force at least three times larger than the force that invaded Iraq to invade and occupy Iran.
Iran has been preparing for a US attack for nearly 40 years. The level of preparation has been extensive. Iran has a 500,000 strong Army. While Iran’s military is small and less-capable compared to the US, its strategy does not require it have such capability. Iran hasn’t had an aggressive military strategy in 200 years. Iran’s strategy is defensive in nature.
Iran doesn’t have a military as technologically capable as the US. As history has showed, technological superiority is not always the deciding factor for victory. Also, Iran’s military in 2017 is not the same as Iraq’s in 2003. Iraq’s military in 2003 was still reeling from its near destruction in the 1991 Gulf War. Iran has not fought in a major war since the 1980s, with the exception of some of its troops aiding the Assad government in the Syrian Civil War. It’s military capability, unlike Iraq, is not decimated.
Iran’s ability to defend itself is much better than Iraq in 2003. Also, as mentioned earlier, Iran could have potential access to more advanced military weaponry from Russia. US capability is extensive, and it could inevitably win a war with Iran. However, Iran has a strong ability to defend itself, and would make a potential war with the US a battle of wills.
War with Iran would have disastrous consequences for the world economy. In the event of war, Iran would shut down the Strait of Hormuz. The Strait of Hormuz has 40 percent of the world’s oil pass through it. If Iran closes the Strait of Hormuz it would affect the price of oil worldwide, skyrocketing gas prices. Consumers would be hit the hardest by this result.
The shutdown of Hormuz would cause drastic economic implications immediately. It could also potentially expand the war into the coasts of Yemen and West Africa. With Hormuz closed, it could force the US and its allies to search for alternative oil resources, much of which is located off the coast of Yemen and Somalia. The economic disaster could lead to the war widening, which makes the prospect of a quick war improbable.
Any US official claiming that war with Iran would be quick is either uninformed or deliberately misleading. We are told such a war would require only a few airstrikes and would last a few weeks at most. Same thing they said about Iraq and Vietnam.
However, any airstrikes would quickly escalate into naval and ground operations, which the US is ill prepared for. US planners have run scenarios of a war with Iran for years, and none of them have given favorable results. A conventional war with Iran would more than likely fail or cost many lives to attain victory.
The worrying aspect of this is the possibility that a war with Iran would be waged by non-conventional means. Since US planners see little chance of total victory in a conventional war, some have even raised the possibility of using nuclear weapons on Iran in the event of war. To say this is terrifying is the understatement of a lifetime.
Now that a bill to allow a preemptive attack against Iran has passed the US House, signs are growing more concerning over the prospect of war. War with Iran would be a failure of epic proportions and could escalate into a conflict much wider and bloodier than what we saw in Iraq. Iraq was an abysmal failure. War with Iran would be more than a failure; it would be a global nightmare and the only winners in such a war are arms dealers and oil companies.