Saturday, September 01, 2007
Taking down Iran in two easy steps
If we would attack Iran with a combination of air and naval power, we could neither expect victory through regime change (air attacks seem to harden the attacked government, at least temporarily) nor limit ourselves to this-or-that nuclear reactor (which would merely tick off more people while delaying the inevitable). Instead, an air-attack against Iran would have to aim at medium-term weakening of the government, with the specific goal of the Islamic Republic falling sometime after the end of hostilities.
While professionals may talk logistics, I'll stick to strategy, and note that Iran is open to attack, bordering American forces on the west (Iraq), the south (Persian Gulf / Gulf of Oman) and the east (Afghanistan).
With all this in mind, theoretical anti-Tehran air strikes should first seak to disable Iran's anti-air capabilities, and then (in no particular order)
- destroy every refinery in Iran. There have already been riots across the country because of fuel shortages. While Iran is rich in crude oil, years of American sanctions and international wariness of the Mullahs have allowed Iran's refinery capacity to disintegration. Already, Iran imports 40% of its gas and diesel fuel. Knocking out her refineries could more than double that number. Increasing Iran's reliance on imported fuel forces any post-conflict government to impose rationing and price controllers on her citizens, while starving her of much-needed cash that will go to buying new supplies.
- destroy communication links between ethnic regions of Iran. Persians in Iran are half again more numerous, as a percentage of the population, than Serbs were in the old Yugoslavia -- 51% to 36%. Further, much of the "minority-majority" areas border the heavily populated (and very easy for us to access) western portion of Iran, bordering Iraq: the Kurds, Lurs, and Arabs all live on the Iraqi frontier. Additionally, Iran has a sizeable Azeri population in the north-west, a restive Baluchi minority in the south east, and a Sunni minority near Turkmenistan in the north-east. We should not assume that an air war will spark secession. However, the goal should be to increase the stress and cost of national unity, diverting resources that could be used by the regime in other areas.
Other targets are more obvious (regime elements, military formations) or more tangentials (the ports on the Caspian Sea), but tremendous damage can be done to Iran's freedom-of-action by forcing them to become more reliant on international supplies of fuel and sub-national suppliers of security. War, when total victory is not militarily achievable, is ultimately about changing the correlation of forces. With this in mind, a war with Iran is certainly "winnable."
Sure it's 'easy' militarily... who do you think who has the political balls to do such a thing given what has happened after we went into Iraq (no matter how important doing so was) and would do so?
Posted by: Brendan | Saturday, September 01, 2007
What you say is a plausible scenario. It is also plausible that most oil shipments from the Persian Gulf would be stopped, at least temporarily, and the world would go into recession. Outside attacks often result in domestic enemies uniting, if only in the short term. Attacking oil refineries and other infrastructure in Iran would likely result in retaliation against our assets, which are extremely vulnerable and difficult to defend.
I only know a couple of Iranians (in this country as students), so my opinion is based on limited anecdotal evidence. They hate the mullahs, but they don't want their country attacked.
I'm hoping the approach taken will be to destabilize the Iranian regime by encouraging domestic Iranian dissent, along with disruption of their economy.
Posted by: Mystery Meat | Saturday, September 01, 2007
A reduction in oil from the Middle East would definitely have economic consequences. One reason for taking down their refineries is attempting to make any such disruption a two-way street.
Vulnerability-wise, we have a lower pain threshold, but Iran's regime would be in more absolute danger than we would.
Iran's in the midst of a large scale brain drain . My anecdotal impression of Iranians is the same as yours.
A better approach would have been to engage Iran as the least-screwy country in the region. Given our unwillingness to do that, though, other options must be open...
Posted by: Dan tdaxp | Saturday, September 01, 2007
Don't forget about the topography of Iran -- the Zagros Mountains (which stand between U.S. naval forces and bases in the Arabian Gulf and the Iranian strategic centers of gravity in Qom and Tehran) stand more than 4,000m high.
A force striking from the relatively-flat southeast (Chah Bahar region) would have a LOT farther to travel. And power projection near the international trade zones of Qesh'm and neighboring Bandar Abbas would be from an area with restricted maneuver space.
Not an easy military undertaking... And strategically even more daunting, with nearly triple the population of Iraq. Perhaps Leonidas's kin would have had a better chance contending with Persia, esp. after the strategic defeat they dealt Xerxes at Plataea.
Posted by: shane | Saturday, September 01, 2007
You can easily switch the 300 link to have the Iranians as Leonidas and us as the Imperial Persians. As the Goliath in this potential fight, any military success is complemented by political disaster. This was Van Creveld's whole point. Can you imagine what a Shi'ite version of al-Qaeda could do with weakened clerics as their sponsor?
A failed state in Iran doesn't serve our interests either. It sets us back by confirming to our enemies our identity that mosts threatens them, namely world empire. There probably wouldn't be many pieces to pick up after all is said and done.
Posted by: Steve Pampinella | Saturday, September 01, 2007
Taking down Iran is easy for US, but what comes after that is a problem, in any war which you are not prepare to occupy your opponent, you better not destroy or weakening their central government otherwise there are no one left to make a peace with and no one left to run a country and provide security. Basically you will have a international version of Iraq, without a central government in Iran, 70 million people will be raiding arm depots and everything else they can get their hands on and on top of that foreign fighters will be heading toward Iran to have their base set up in a lawless country and many with guns and no plan and leadership will move on to other countries from Central Asia to Africa, if US can't manage several thousand fighter in Iraq or Afghanistan you can reasonably guess what will happen with millions of these fighters loose around a Asia and Africa and European continent, have a nice war Dan!
Posted by: Joe | Saturday, September 01, 2007
Right dude, destroy their refineries and they will not retaliate, wishful thinking. Their likely plan will be to disrupt and destroy all the oil infrastructures around Persian Gulf, they only have to keep oil prices around $200 per barrel for couple of year before US if not the whole global economy collapses and if you think it's impossible to disrupt oil understructure for couple of years, look at Iraq oil infrastructure after 5 years with quarter million of US soldier guarding on top of it. It'll be WWIII
Posted by: Maq | Saturday, September 01, 2007
You sound like the guy who planned the attack at Pearl Harbor but never considered the question: "But then what?" Your notion that the US can bomb the Iranians into submitting to US policy is sick and twisted and disproved by the Vietnam War. You are really in way over your head, buddy.
Posted by: David | Saturday, September 01, 2007
Great comments all!
What did I say about logistics? :-p
The war would probably be a wash.  Those that hate us will hate us anyway. We very publicly punish a country that's very publicly opposed us. Yet Iran would have made a better friend than enemy.
You're right, of course. Without a central government to constrain the radical elements, Iran may become a base of operation for radical groups from Lebanon to Iraq to Afganistan... :-)
Of course Tehran can cause this-or-that nagging problem for the United States; the Washington has the ability to end Iran. After destroying Iran's infrastructure, for instance, a break down in material communication in the Persian Gulf raises the price of oil for the United States (annoying) and takes away fuel and petrol as factors of production for Iran (lethal).
The purpose of the war wouldn't be to force the Iranian government to accept this-or-that policy. It would be to change the correlation of forces, weakening Tehran and making it more dependent on both the broader world and other centers of gravity within her borders.
Posted by: Dan tdaxp | Saturday, September 01, 2007
General Dan, do you have a brilliant plan to bring Iraq and Afghanistan ongoing war to victorious conclusion for US of A before embarking on the next hypothetical war with Iran? or propitious wars and kaos is the plan!
Posted by: Agent KAOS | Sunday, September 02, 2007
I thank you for the stunning promotion to general (blogger-general, perhaps?)
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are primarily counterinsurgencies, which is the realm of the Army and the Marines. The attack on Iran outlined above would be a blitz, which is done in our system by the Navy and Air Forces. Different forces, different wars.
Now, if you would elevate me to Commander-in-Chief I'd declare victory in Iraq  while attempting to convert Afghanistan into a UN protectorate.
Posted by: Dan tdaxp | Sunday, September 02, 2007
Ok Chief, if "Shock and Awe" for Iraq turned out to be a "counterinsurgency" operation, doesn't logic dictate that "Blitz" will be turning up as another "counterinsurgency" operation? This time with no ground troops to counter Iranian insurgency and not to mention their martyrdom mentality and proficiency in guerrilla warfare as it was shown by their disciples in Lebanon!
p.s. pass the pipe chief :-)
Posted by: Agent Smart | Sunday, September 02, 2007
Is that an upgrade or downgrade from "general"?
"if "Shock and Awe" for Iraq turned out to be a "counterinsurgency" operation, doesn't logic dictate that "Blitz" will be turning up as another "counterinsurgency" operation?"
The Iraq War began with the explicit goal of regime change before the cessation of hostilities. My post proposes that hostilities end with the Islamic Republic still in power.
Posted by: Dan tdaxp | Sunday, September 02, 2007
After the attack on Iran, millions of Shi'ites overrun US forces in Iraq. An entire army is captured. The federal government loses any credibility with a majority of Americans. Federal office buildings, especially IRS offices are firebombed. Events could spin out of control, like they always do. And I would love it.
Posted by: Mark | Monday, September 03, 2007
"Federal office buildings, especially IRS offices are firebombed... And I would love it."
By whom? You? And why?
This is the sort of comment I really don't know whether to delete or respond to. It's worthlessly vague by itself, and requires a follow-up. However (as seen in the above thread) very few queries are actually answered.
Posted by: Dan tdaxp | Monday, September 03, 2007
I suspect Mark is both a tad young and something of an anarchist. My apologies if I'm wrong on either account.
That said, is this a speculative post, Dan, or have you tossed the towel in as far as the US and Iran playing nicely in the same sandbox and are advocating this action in light of a "too late and so here's what's left" sort of fashion?
Posted by: Jay@Soob | Monday, September 03, 2007
A war with Iran wouldn't matter [1,2,3], as compared to the status quo. I think both an Iran War and what we now have are worse than what could have been  --- but you exist as a nation with the administration you have -- not the administration you might want or wish to have at a later time.
Posted by: Dan tdaxp | Monday, September 03, 2007
I don't think Iran will fight straight up (2GW or3GW) the US Armed Forces. Mind you, I hope they would, because they would loose. More likely, they would go the 4GW route (offensive guerrilla operations aka light infantry plus terrorism) coupled with a pr/infowar offensive...and the US is getting better at that slowly.
"Federal office buildings, especially IRS offices are firebombed."
Well maybe. That would expose the Hezbollah (and I assume leftist aka useful idiot supporters) cells and they would get taken out. Hezbollah in the US has mostly been about raising money and running pr/info war through fronts. If Hezbollah comes out into the lite they will get hurt real quick. I think you overstate their support.
Also, a weakness for the US has been most Americans really don't think we are war right now. A terrorist campaign across the US by Hezbollah et all would settle that issue. A United USA on a full spectrum war footing would not be a good thing for Iran. The last two nations the US fought that way had their regimes an political instructions totally destroyed.
"And I would love it."
Thank for letting us know what you side you are on. Are you a totalitarian Muslim, a Leftist, or something else?
Posted by: PurpleSlog | Monday, September 03, 2007
Any play-nice-with-iran tactic has a better chance of succeeding if Iran knows the US has other options. Think of this as the US BATNA (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Best_alternative_to_a_negotiated_agreement).
Posted by: PurpleSlog | Monday, September 03, 2007
Iran's most likely response would be sponsoring global terror, and not in simply proxy wars against the Sunnis and the Israelis, but against us. Unlike Mark, I think exposing ourselves to additional targeting by global terrorists would be a phenomenally bad thing. It would mean more government control and more intrusion, all in the name of security. More pointless war means more militarism, which comes at the expense of democracy and the health of our Republic.
Further, it would confirm to the Shia of the world that we are in an endless war against them. For them, the war will not have started in Jan 2008 but in 1953 with the overthrow of Mossadegh. We don't want to instigate this kind of grudge. If we are serious about Shrinking the Gap, this is completely counterintuitive. Picking a fight with the Iranians will push them so far away from us that they will never consider returning to the Core.
We should keep our enemies closer, and make peace. Otherwise we will further degrade the stability of the entire region to a point where we will have no interests left except simply killing those who want to kill us because they 'know' we want to kill them. We're playing into our own Hobbesian, collective self-fulfilling prophecy.
Posted by: Steve Pampinella | Tuesday, September 04, 2007
I lay out a possible disastrous scenario for the US and get personally attacked for it by statist simpletons. I thought the denizens of this site were better than that. No, I'm not young, but middle aged and have seen enough of the world to know the USG is a corrupt monstrosity that is overreaching, perhaps fatally. I was right about one thing: anyone who supports the gov't is rotten to their core.
Posted by: Mark | Tuesday, September 04, 2007
There will be no war between US and Iran, they just made a deal on Iraq to give a Bush a kind of victory he wants by putting a leash on Sadr militias for a six months and Iran is the only state in that region which fully supports US installed government in Iraq, so I don't see how they want a war while progress being made in security meeting between US and Iran in Iraq.
Posted by: Joe | Tuesday, September 04, 2007
I wish you would have responded to my questions instead of claiming victim-hood.
"anyone who supports the gov't is rotten to their core".
I think that if you take extreme positions like that above using emotional/non-reasoned words, you will have problems conversing with anybody who does not share your world view fully.
May I respectfully suggest that you just dial-it back a notch and reason/converse with us. Just ignore what you consider to be personal attacks gently debate with the written word. That's what I do (or at least I tell myself that I do - don't read my recent post on assholes!).
Posted by: purpleslog | Tuesday, September 04, 2007
I agree with Steve, the entire idea is a bad one especially if connectivity is paramount to stability. We've seen the results of marginalizing the unsavories in Gaza and simply pounding them with bombs (Lebanon.) It doesn't make sense to me and would have global repercussions that we simply cannot afford. I'd also disagree that the sum of the whole would be a "wash." Quite the contrary it'd turn every pro-western Iranian into an instant hyper-active Persian partisan and revitalize the current increasingly archaic imams to pre and post '79 fervor.
It'd also (in line with p'slog's comment) complete the ideological loop that the US is out to stamp out Islam and further fuel any fanatical loon in any given mosque on any given street corner within any given country.
Remember, bin Laden and Abdullah Azzam built a formidable Arab mujihadeen based solely on the prospect of the Soviets controlling a non-Arab Islamic state. Imagine a spreading sectarian unity on a global scale in the same fashion.
Not sure how my observations (which included an apologetic amendment should I be, as I partially was, wrong) amount to an attack.
I am sure my reaction, when considering your concluding "and I would love it," was a lot more polite than it could have been. I'm not much for the advocacy of the fall of my nation state however pathetic our current government is.
Posted by: Jay@Soob | Tuesday, September 04, 2007
I would have thought everyone's interest in 4GW and 5GW would lead to the inevitable conclusion that the nation-state is obsolete and harmful, and is at the beginning of a painful death. One should welcome such events. What do you think will happen when Hillary or Obama (!) is president, there is world-wide deflation and a lost war? How much support for a dysfunctional, tax-grubbing, corrupt system will there be then? And who, if they are decent human beings, would support it?
Posted by: Mark | Tuesday, September 04, 2007
"I would have thought everyone's interest in 4GW and 5GW would lead to the inevitable conclusion that the nation-state is obsolete and harmful, and is at the beginning of a painful death."
I certainly don't agree with the above.
"One should welcome such events. "
Why? Perhaps if I was some type of postmodern-anarchist or GGist. The state system is a better option for security and prosperity then any alternatives I have seen.
"What do you think will happen when Hillary or Obama (!) is president,..."
The US survived Carter, Clinton, Harding, Pierce, etc. It wil survive a bad Dems presidency. There are a lot of checks one what a Presdient can do and lots of things just happen on auto-pilot.
"there is world-wide deflation and a lost war? How much support for a dysfunctional, tax-grubbing, corrupt system will there be then? And who, if they are decent human beings, would support it?"
Blah, blah blah. Why deflation? The war isn't over yet (or do you mean just Iraq) and won't be for some time. How is it dysfunctional (give me whys and I'll I;ll suggest counter-measures)? tax-grubbing (yeah, my taxes are too high, its less then they would have been 25 years ago)? Corrupt compared to what other system? Are you saying because there is some corruption it must fall? Do you think there will be less corruption in a post-state system?
One final question for you Mark: Is you hate the state system, and you know/want it to fail...what do want or see will replace it?
Posted by: PurpleSlog | Wednesday, September 05, 2007
It seems clear that Mark is an enemy of the state, though whether his focus is the United States or merely the stte system since the Peace of Westphalia is unknown. That said, his arguments may be write or wrong. Noam Chomsky famously is an anarcho-syndicalist, but his thoughts are all the more powerful when seen in the light of the generations of war.
The Military-Industrial-Complex, and God willing the Sysadmin-Industrial-Complex, thrives in spite of elections and operates through the parties, between and among them. 
"Remember, bin Laden and Abdullah Azzam built a formidable Arab mujihadeen based solely on the prospect of the Soviets controlling a non-Arab Islamic state."
Well, free-riding on a massive international conspiracy, including participation by the United States, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Israel (!), China (!!), Yugoslavia (!!!), Czechoslovakia (!!!!), and others certain'y didn't hurt.
Further, it now seems that bin Laden was able to form a light infantry battalion capable of 3GW (blitzkrieg/infiltration tactics). al Qaeda is thus far a failure at 4GW, and six years after the greatest insurgent gamble in years, they have failued at near- (sustaining the Taliban in Afghanistan, installing the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan in Tashkent), medium- (a single Qaedist revolution in the Middle East), or far- (removing American influence from the region) objectives. Indeed, the best "victories" they've had are entirely the work of other actors (the American overthrow of Baath in Iraq, the Hamas overthrow of Fatah in Gaza) -- and in both cases, the new regime are competitors to al Qaeda (the Muslim Brothers, the Shia) and not friends!
PS: Thanks for the link! 
Your logic is impeccable.
Sadly, the Bush administration seems to prefer realism to reality at this point...
"Iran's most likely response would be sponsoring global terror, and not in simply proxy wars against the Sunnis and the Israelis, but against us"
So are you thinking of this as a rounding error on Sunni terrorism, or something greater?
"the war will not have started in Jan 2008 but in 1953 with the overthrow of Mossadegh"
I'm suspicious of historicist arguments. "For this-or-that group, the battle did not start in whenever but actually far-longer-ago." That a Gap nation temporarily focuses on one trauma or another may be interesting in a pop song sort of way , but it does not explain much.
"to a point where we will have no interests left except simply killing those who want to kill us"
The fundamental difference between the middle east and Africa, in terms of American interests, is that the middle east has oil. The other difference, which only exists because of the first, is that Sunni Arab is not just backward, but modernizing in a backwards manner. 
Posted by: Dan tdaxp | Wednesday, September 05, 2007
Dan, if I've got my facts straight you seem to be referring to the tacit support of the Afghani mujahideen. The Arab variant was quite divided from the conspiracy you refer to being both built and funded by Azzam and bin Laden sans nation state collaboration via their effective NGO, the Services Office.
The failure of al qaeda has as much to do with their murderous collapse of the World Trade Center towers as anything else. In short, Ahab caught his whale and his whale then fell upon him and sunk his ship. Ahabs shipmates decided Ahab was the harbinger of their own demise and so decided Ahab should board their vessel no longer.
My point was if two men and a few million dollars can (arguably) tip a war in the favor of a guerrilla resistance through ideological conscription what will an entire region, united by the age old "my enemies enemy is my friend" adage accomplish?
Posted by: Jay@Soob | Wednesday, September 05, 2007
"The failure of al qaeda has as much to do with their murderous collapse of the World Trade Center towers as anything else. In short, Ahab caught his whale and his whale then fell upon him and sunk his ship. Ahabs shipmates decided Ahab was the harbinger of their own demise and so decided Ahab should board their vessel no longer."
Well, al Qaeda was an extremely weak entitty, so it's no surprise that they had to take greater risks. That their risky behavior catches up to them is not an accident, but rather the probable developmental outcome.
"My point was if two men and a few million dollars can (arguably) tip a war in the favor of a guerrilla resistance through ideological conscription what will an entire region, united by the age old "my enemies enemy is my friend" adage accomplish?"
First, realism dampens idealism.
Second, al Qaeda benefited from very large Sunni Muslim world in which to travel. Even though a very small percentage of the population could be expected to be trustworthy, the demographic and geographic spread of the host population allowed them to shuttle between Afghanistan, Sudan, Pakistan, Indonesia, etc.
The Shia population is much smaller and geographically isolated. This tips the terror equation even further against structuralist radicals like al Qaeda, and to more inherently political radical organizations (like Hezbollah and the Revolutionary Guards)
To answer your question, what can they accomplish, we know the answer  and have been living with it .
Posted by: Dan tdaxp | Thursday, September 06, 2007
You're talking about Effects Based Operations (or EBO). Its what we did to Iraq in 1991 and what Israel tried to do to Hezbollah last summer. Through air power you try to induce a series of critical failures in systems essential to "stateness". Very effective in causing a regime to collapse, but its a two-edged sword. You want to collapse the regime not the state. Go too far and you have a whole different (maybe more complex) problem set on your hands.
Posted by: andrew | Thursday, September 06, 2007