politics, history and the war on terror
Wednesday, July 21, 2004
Taming the Tiger 

With Iran’s involvement in the 9-11 attacks now public knowledge, we must consider what the next step is in the War on Terror. Iran’s overtures with al Qaeda and its complicity with facilitating the 9-11 hijacker's movements through its territory require a response by America. In yesterday’s post, I advocated a high level strategy for dealing with Iran.

The next president must act against Iran by demanding the release of al Qaeda members and Iranian officials involved with 9-11 to American custody, demanding the complete disbandment of Hezbollah and an accounting of its international operations, and insisting on the complete dismantlement of the Iranian nuclear program with full verification. Absent of these actions by Iran (Iran is highly unlikely to comply with these demands), America must support domestic Iranian opposition to the theocratic regime and prepare for military strikes on Iran’s nuclear programs, as well as prepare for the possible overthrow of the Iranian government by American force.

The first step would be a concerted effort to convince the United Nations, the European Union, NATO and the international community of Iran's involvement with 9-11. While this may seem like a thankless and impossible task, it must be done to provide cover for any potential allies and to allow the U.S. formally state our case. The U.S. should push for immediate sanctions to isolate Iran and issue the ultimatum demanding al Qaeda in country and Iranian operatives that assisted the 9-11 conspirators, and demand for the immediate dismantlement and verification of Iran's nuclear program. The U.S. should invoke its right of self defense as outlined by Article 51 of Charter of the United Nations.

Article 51

Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security. Measures taken by Members in the exercise of this right of self-defense shall be immediately reported to the Security Council and shall not in any way affect the authority and responsibility of the Security Council under the present Charter to take at any time such action as it deems necessary in order to maintain or restore international peace and security.
Just as the Taliban refused America’s demands to hand over Osama bin Laden and other al Qaeda members sheltered in Afghanistan, we should not expect Iran will hand over al Qaeda members hidden in their nation. Nor will Iran agree to dismantle their WMD program and turn over members of the Iranian government and military guilty of dealing with al Qaeda.

The next step would be to work to undermine the existing Iranian government by supporting the indigenous democracy movement. The reform movement within the Iranian government was once very popular with the people of Iran, and large majorities of declared reformists were elected to the Iranian parliament but its influence has now fallen among the Iranian people. The reformists lacked the statutory power in Iran’stheocratic government, where the Mullahs have a final say on all policy and have direct control over the security apparatuses. The last election had a poor voter turnout and the reformists disputed the election results, as their members were barred from running for office. While the political reform movement is dead, the grass roots democracy movement is alive and well, and represent by high profile leaders such as Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi, who believes Islam and democracy can coexist, as it does in Indonesia, Turkey and Malaysia. There are other opposition groups that are strong supporters of democracy and freedom from religious rule. Numerous demonstrations, organized by student groups, occur yearly and result in violent clashes with Iran's security services and military.

As Iran has an established freedom movement, we would be well served to back them with money, communications equipment, organizational assistance, vocal support from the U.S. government, and assistance with setting up news programs, blogs, newspapers, and other forms of media to further the message of freedom. A similar strategy was instrumental in the success against communist regimes in Eastern Europe.

If diplomacy and the support of indigenous Iranian opposition fail, America must be prepared for open conflict with Iran. A variety of options short of a full scale invasion would be available, from arming and training Iranian resistance in neighboring Iraq and Afghanistan to special operations and airstrikes against nuclear sites, the Iranian leadership and al Qaeda bases in Iran. The attacks on the nuclear facilities must be completed prior to the reactors going fully online to prevent the risk of nuclear fallout.

Ideally, the actions outlined above would lead to the fall of the Iranian theocracy, but the recent history in Iraq demonstrates that some dictators are unwilling to relinquish power until they are removed by full military force. The above proposals would give the United States plenty of time to prepare for the worst-case scenario: a full-scale military invasion of Iran.

Currently the United States Army is actively engaged in Iraq, Afghanistan, Korea and elsewhere; with about half of its active duty combat brigades and one-sixth of the Army National Guard combat brigades committed to overseas deployments. Most of the other brigades are slated as replacements in the deployment rotations. The U.S. Marines are in a similar situation. There is no doubt the Iraq war has tied up a significant amount of active American ground combat power, but the troops are now forward deployed in Iraq, Iran's neighbor, if needed. To free up American combat brigades, the U.S. must focus on improving the security situation in Iraq and move forward with training the Iraqi army and security services to shoulder the burden of policing and rebuilding Iraq.

Iran has a voice

American actions against Iran will not occur in a vacuum; Iran will have a say in how the conflict plays out. Iran currently possesses the world's eighth largest military. But Iran's military is not as strong as it was prior to the Iran-Iraq war that spanned the 1980s. Iran's Air Force is a hodge-podge of homemade designs, cannibalized airplanes from the era of the Shah and imported aircraft from China and North Korea of vintage Soviet design, and is unable to perform a role other than air defense. Its Army has been reduced by half since the Shah's overthrow and also uses a mix of Western and Soviet weapons systems, which make logistics and repairs difficult. The Iranian Navy is little more than a coastal defense service. Iran's true threats lay in its unconventional
assets: Hezbollah, ballistic missiles, and chemical and biological weapons arsenals. Iran's missiles would be able to strike American forces in the region, and tipped with chemical or biological agents, pose a great threat.

The Party of God

No action against Iran can be considered without accounting for Hezbollah, the premier terror organization in the world. Hezbollah has true global reach and has successfully conducted many overseas operations in the past 20 years. Military attacks on Iran would surely be followed up by attacks on American and Israeli interests throughout the world. Hezbollah's Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah openly declared America as an enemy just prior to the Iraq war, and hinted at what is in store for American if it became further involved in the region.

The people of this region will welcome you with guns, blood, weapons, sacrifice for the sake of Allah and even acts of martyrdom… Death to America is not a slogan. Death to America is a policy, a strategy and a vision. In the past, when the Marines were in Beirut and the fleets were in the Mediterranean, our mouths shouted in the suburb [i.e. southern suburb of Beirut] ‘Death to America’. And now, the region is full of hundreds of thousands of American soldiers and fleets… What do the Americans expect in this region? The same that happened to the Israelis in Lebanon.”
American Power

But it is not the size of the military that matters, it is the quality. The United States outspends Iran in military purchases by a factor of thirty. The United States military has no equal, its training, personnel, equipment and doctrine are unmatched. America possesses the state of the art in weapons systems that have been combat tested on the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq. And American soldiers are combat ready, well schooled in the arts of maneuver and asymmetrical warfare, two skills that would be needed to conquer and pacify Iran. By no means will the military conquest of Iran be easy. The size of the nation, its difficult terrain and the fanatical fighters loyal to the theocracy will make the mission difficult. It is doubtful Iran's government will fall in three weeks, like Iraq, but the military achievement in Iraq was unprecedented in history. The experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq will be crucial in devising and executing a successful military campaign and occupation of Iran (if needed).

What to do?

The strategy outlined in this post is by no mean complete, nor is it very detailed. It is a high level look at the threat Iran poses, the challenges we would face engaging Iran in combat, and possible consequences of our actions. Iran's involvement with 9-11 requires action by America; without action we are demonstrating our lack of commitment to the War on Terror. We have two choices: we can do nothing, pretend the threat of Iran will go away, and maintain the status quo with Iran; or we can act to affect change.

Maintaining the status quo is a strategy we have tried for years, and the result of this policy was the attack on 9-11. By not acting against Iran, we are clearly communicating our weakness and lack of resolve. Iran will continue to sponsor terror attacks against America and Israel, and will rush further to develop nuclear weapons. This would likely lead to a more deadly conflict in the future, as the Israelis will not tolerate a nuclear armed Iran. And it would be a matter of time before Iran backs another attack of the magnitude of 9-11 or greater.

Acting against Iran is fraught with risk. It is highly likely American casualties would exceed those in Iraq, and if an occupation was required the cost to America would be enormous. But this is what sacrifice is all about. America has never shied away from a threat or refused to fight tyranny because of the price tag. We must all remember the price 3,000 citizens paid on 9-11. And America has sacrificed its finest citizens defeating the totalitarian ideologies of fascism, Nazism and communism in the Twentieth Century. We must not shy away from defeating the totalitarian ideology of Islamic terrorism because we are unwilling to pay the price for victory.

Posted by bill roggio @ 1:10 AM