After a decade of exhausting and demoralising
conflict between the United States and two of the weakest, most
impoverished countries in the world, Iraq and Afghanistan, many within
the US political establishment are calling for the country to engage in
yet another conflict; this time with a relatively powerful enemy in
In the past week alone, top Republican figures such as John McCain
and Joseph Lieberman have called for increasing belligerence towards the
Iranian regime, bringing the two countries closer to the brink of armed
The heightening standoff with Iran over its nuclear programme,
curious in itself for its recent rapid escalation given that leading
American and Israeli intelligence estimates have both concluded that
Iran has neither developed nor is planning to develop nuclear weapons, is leading to increasingly belligerent rhetoric out of Washington calling for war with Iran.
Leading members of the House and Congress from both parties as well as the closest advisers to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney have called for attacking Iran, with some high-ranking GOP advisers even suggesting that the time is now for a Congressional resolution formally declaring war on the country.
Romney and many other leading Republican figures have called for pre-emptive war against Iran,
and have continually upped the ante in terms of threats of military
action throughout the election campaign. This alarming and potentially
highly consequential rhetoric is occurring in a context where the
American people are still recovering from the disastrous war in Iraq and
winding down the US occupation of Afghanistan, while at the same time
coping with the worst economic drought since the Great Depression.
Public statements claiming that the extent of the conflict would be
limited to targeted airstrikes on Iranian nuclear facilities are utterly
disingenuous, ignoring the escalating cycle of retribution that such
"limited" conflicts necessarily breed. As did the war in Libya start off
with calls only for a benign "no-fly zone" to protect civilians and seamlessly turned into an all-out aerial campaign to topple Muammar Gaddafi,
any crossing of the military threshold with Iran would also likely
result in a far bigger conflagration than the public has been prepared
for by their leaders.
War with Iran would be no quick and clean affair, as many senior
political and military figures have pointed out it would make the Iraq
and Afghanistan wars, which cost trillions of dollars and the lives of
thousands of soldiers and civilians, seem like "a cakewalk".
The fact that it is becoming increasingly likely, inevitable in the
eyes of many, and that it is high on the agenda of so many leading
political figures warrants exploration of what such a conflict would
Conflict on an unprecedented scale
Not a war of weeks or months, but a "generations-long war"
is how no less a figure than former Mossad chief Efraim Halevy
describes the consequences of open conflict with Iran. In comparison
with Iraq and Afghanistan, both countries with relatively small
populations which were already in a state of relative powerlessness
before they were invaded, Iran commands the eighth largest active duty
military in the world, as well as highly trained special forces and
guerilla organisations which operate in countries throughout the region
| Empire - Targeting Iran - Video: Iran war games
Retired US General John Abizaid has previously described the Iranian
military as "the most powerful in the Middle East" (exempting Israel),
and its highly sophisticated and battle-hardened proxies in Lebanon and
Iraq have twice succeeded in defeating far stronger and better funded Western military forces.
Any attack on Iran would assuredly lead to the activation of these
proxies in neighbouring countries to attack American interests and would
create a situation of borderless war unprecedented in any past US
conflicts in the Middle East.
None of this is to suggest that the United States would not "win" a
war with Iran, but given the incredibly painful costs of Iraq and
Afghanistan; wars fought again weak, poorly organised enemies lacking
broad influence, politicians campaigning for war with Iran are leading
the American people into a battle which will be guaranteed to make the
past decade of fighting look tame in comparison.
A recent study has shown that an initial US aerial assault on Iran would require hundreds of planes, ships and missiles
in order to be completed; a military undertaking itself unprecedented
since the first Gulf War and representative of only the first phase of
what would likely be a long drawn-out war of attrition.
For a country already nursing the wounds from the casualties of far
less intense conflicts and still reeling from their economic costs, the
sheer battle fatigue inherent in a large-scale war with Iran would stand
to greatly exacerbate these issues.
Oil shocks and the American economy
fragile American economic recovery would be completely upended were Iran
to target global energy supplies in the event of war, an act which
would be both catastrophic and highly likely if US Iran hawks get their
way. Not only does the country itself sit atop some of the largest oil
and natural gas reserves on the planet, its close proximity to the
shipping routes and oil resources of its neighbours means that in the
event of war, its first response would likely be to choke off the global
supply of crude; a tactic for which its military defences have in fact
been specifically designed.
The Strait of Hormuz, located in the Persian Gulf is the shipping
point for more than 20 per cent of the world's petroleum. Iran is known
to have advanced Silkworm missile batteries buried at strategic points
around the strait to make it impassable in the event of war, and has developed "swarming" naval tactics to neutralise larger, less mobile ships such as those used by the US Navy.
While Iran could never win in straightforward combat, it has
developed tactics of asymmetrical warfare that can effectively inflict
losses on a far stronger enemy and render the strait effectively closed
to naval traffic.
The price of oil would immediately skyrocket, by some estimates
upwards several hundred dollars a barrel, shattering the already tenuous
steps the US and other Western economies are taking towards recovery.
Former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski has said a war with
Iran could drag out years and would have economic consequences "devastating for the average American"; but these facts are conspicuously absent in public discussion of the war.
Every conflict has blowback, but if US politicians are attempting to
maneouver the country into a conflict of such potentially devastating
magnitude, potentially sacrificing ordinary Americans' economic
well-being for years to come, it would behoove them to speak frankly
about these costs and not attempt to obfuscate or downplay them in order
to make their case.
Conflict across borders
Finally, a war with Iran would be not be like conflicts in Iraq,
Afghanistan and Libya where the fighting was constrained to the borders
of the country in question. Despite widespread resentment towards the
country due to the perception of it as a regionally imperialist power as
well sectarian animosity towards it as Shia Muslim theocracy, Iran
maintains deep links throughout the Middle East and South Asia and can
count on both popular support as well as assistance from its network of
armed proxies in various countries.
| Empire - Targeting Iran - Video: Iran, Israel and the US
In a report for Haaretz,
Ahmed Rashid noted that an attack on Iran would likely inflame
anti-American sentiment throughout the region, across both Shia and
Sunni Muslim communities. Despite Iran's poor human rights record and
bellicose leadership, polls have consistently shown that Iranian and
Iranian-backed leaders such as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hassan Nasrallah remain among the most popular figures throughout the Arab and Muslim world.
This popularity comes not necessarily out of respect for Iranian
ideology, but from a perception that Iran is the only assertive power in
the region and is the target of aggression from the United States and
In Rashid's analysis, both the Middle East and South Asia would
become unsafe for American citizens and their interests for years to
come; popular anger would reach a level which would render these area
effectively off-limits and would cause grave and immediate danger to
both American businesses and troops based in the region.
Again, this would be a situation quite different from the other wars
of the past decade, fought against isolated regimes without the ability
to call upon large and often well-funded numbers of regional
sympathisers; a fact also rarely mentioned by war advocates.
Not a political game
Going to war with Iran would be an elective decision for the United
States, but it is for too grave and consequential a choice to be left up
to the whims of politicians seeking to win the approval of lobby groups and one-up each other to appeal to influential campaign donors who would like to see a war with Iran.
Make no mistake, the possibility of war is very real and has become
eminently more so in recent months. Many of the same politicians and
political advisers responsible for engineering the Iraq War have
returned to public life and are at the forefront of pushing a new
American conflict with Iran.
Mitt Romney's closest foreign policy
advisers include leading hawks from the war with Iraq, including John
Bolton, Eliot Cohen and Dan Senor. Many of them have enthusiastically
and publicly expressed their desire to engineer a US military
confrontation with Iran and have already begun to tout the inevitability of this action in a Romney presidency.
What few figures on either end of the political spectrum are doing
however is giving Americans an honest picture of what such a war would
mean for them and their future. Not coincidentally, some of the leading
voices against military escalation with Iran have come from high-ranking
figures within the US military, including even the Chairman of the
Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey who has expressed his desire that the US not be "complicit" in any attack against Iran.
This reticence is reflective not of goodwill towards the Iranian
regime, but of a recognition that such a war would be catastrophic to
American interests and would have serious implications for continued
global stability. Americans are being goaded and misinformed by cynical
political maneouvering which is attempting to steer them into another
disastrous and assuredly bloody war for the sake of interest group
politics and short-term political expediency.
If there is to be another pre-emptive war of choice, this time with
Iran, American politicians must openly and honestly acknowledge what
this would mean for Americans and for the world and allow them to make
their decisions thusly.
War is never a choice to be taken lightly, but the potential
consequences of a war with Iran would be unprecedented - the dangerous
game being played at present by many US politicians is one which could
take Americans down a ruinous path without their informed consent.
As the rhetoric continues to dial up, it must be remembered that this
is an issue bigger than politics and it is the pressing interest of the
American people that it be treated as such.
Murtaza Hussain is a Toronto-based writer and analyst, his work has appeared at Salon.com.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial