Now that President Trump has shifted away from an immediate war with Iran, it’s time to step back and look at what a war with Iran might entail. I recently had a conversation with a former special forces veteran who offered insight into the framework around a potential war with Iran.
After the downing of an American drone, which triggered the most recent increased tensions with Iran, we have to ask whether a retaliatory military strike is wise as a long-term strategy?
Here are five key components to going to war with Iran that we need to build a dialogue around:
What is the long-term strategy for a war with Iran?
National Security Adviser John Bolton, among others, is rattling for a war with Iran that ushers in regime change. Yet, there is no specific plan for a regime change beyond offering resources and short-term support. Is there a contingency plan in place should the “regime change strategy” fall flat or derail?
Rumors in the military intelligence sector disclose that there is zero appetite for regime change. Many believe that recent U.S. actions have strengthened the resolve of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) hardliners. Just this year, for example, President Trump designated the IRGC as a terrorist organization, which resulted in further ideological escalation when Iran designated the U.S. military with the same title.
The sentiment among some military professionals (vs. pro-war neocon national security consultants) is that a regime change would likely yield a worse regime with the IRGC “superhero” Qassem Soleimani calling the shots. The result is inevitable: another generational struggle in the Middle East, and a second failed regime change in Iran, which would only amplify criticisms of U.S. intervention.
Would American allies offer coalition support for a strike against war? Would that coalition support translate into military support? Where do U.S. allies stand in the event that such strikes lead to an official declaration of war with Iran?
Given that Iran shares borders with Afghanistan and Iraq, would the Trump administration be prepared to escalate if Iran uses its forces to kill Americans in Iraq, Syria or Afghanistan? If so, is there a contingency plan to fight Iran across the region (i.e., not just within Iran but in Syria, Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan)?
What are the contingencies to fight Hezbollah?
Russia is Iran’s chief partner in the region, so a war with Iran would also become a proxy war with Russia. Given that U.S. special forces killed hundreds of Russian nationals (mercenaries) in Deir al-Zour, and given President Trump’s inability to address Russia’s malign actions in the U.S. and Europe particularly when it comes to sowing discord through social media channels, what are Russia’s goals? Would Russia join in the fight against America?
If the Strait of Hormuz is closed in a regional war and oil prices skyrocket globally, what will be the second-order effects of a war with Iran? Could a lack of access to oil crash sectors of the global and U.S. economies?
Given that President Trump avoided the attack on Iran proposed by his national security aides, it’s likely that his decisions on Iran are being guided by the sound military leadership of General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (and not Bolton).
It’s also likely that military planners raised the issue of escalation, which would necessitate the total destruction of the Iranian Navy in the Strait of Hormuz and bring with it reciprocal action in terms of halting oil shipments and launching asymmetrical attacks against the U.S. military in Syria, Iraq, and possibly Qatar.
Whatever the decision will be moving forward, there is one hard reality that must be factored in alongside the likely trillion-dollar price tag and possibility of another failed Middle East war: We have to consider that a boots-on-the-ground conflict with Iran will likely mean that, at some point in the future, children in elementary school today will be shipped off to fight another the generational war.
Editor’s note: The following map has been updated since the original publication of this article.