The Coming Conflict with Iran - America's Misadventures in the Middle East Continue
Updated: Oct 3, 2019
For months now it has seemed that we are edging ever closer towards finally reaching the tipping point in our relationship with Iran. A summer of escalation featuring the seizing of oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz and the downing of an American drone has been capped off by the most recent escalation - what appears to be an Iranian drone strike against a Saudi Arabian oil refinery. Even with the recent departure of John Bolton, Trump's national security team is loaded with Iran hawks that have been more or less salivating at the thought of finally having a go at the Islamic Republic and this drone strike seems to have given them the perfect opportunity.
I'm not even sure where to begin in listing the reasons as to why this war would be catastrophic and largely the result of deliberate antagonization by the Trump administration towards the Iranians.
I feel I must start with the fact that Iran's recent escalations, which are reprehensible and should rightly cause outrage, are entirely the result of the Trump administration's abandonment of the 2015 Nuclear Deal (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA). Nuclear non-proliferation should be a top priority for US policymakers in the Middle East and the limits that the plan placed on Iran's nuclear program made the region inherently safer. All of the excuses that the Iran hawks have laid out for cancelling the deal, e.g. it freed up funds that Iran has used to arm proxy groups throughout the Middle-East that are causing havoc, should be second to the fact that this deal was helping curb Iran's nuclear program. Imagine a Middle-East where Iran, Israel and presumably Saudi Arabia (as they would never feel secure without a nuclear weapon if Iran has one) all have nuclear weapons. In a region that is so inherently unstable and constantly one miscalculation from a conflict that would disrupt the global energy supply, the thought of the most powerful and antagonistic states all having nuclear weapons is unthinkable.
Pulling out of the nuclear deal unilaterally also took any moral advantage in our relationship with Iran away from the United States, as we had now reneged on an agreement made in good faith that would have encouraged the moderate elements within the Iranian regime and assisted in boosting the economic fortunes of everyday Iranian people. Instead we are engaging in economic warfare against a regime that was pleading with the other signatories to the deal to help them find a way to still benefit from the deal while still abiding by the restrictions on its nuclear program. At this point I'm not sure what other options were left for the moderate elements within the regime other than to kowtow to the hardliners who had been opposed to the deal from the beginning. We have irreparably damaged our standing in the world and have poisoned any chance of ever pushing the Iranian regime to moderate from within, which would have resulted in a more stable and prosperous Middle-East.
Finally, a military conflict with Iran would be a disaster. The American people have no appetite for another ground war in the Middle-East, particularly one against a much more formidable opponent than either Saddam Hussein's Iraq or the Taliban in Afghanistan. Iran has a population of over 80 million people, a mountainous terrain that would make mechanized warfare difficult and give an advantage to guerrilla fighters, and proxy groups spread throughout the Middle-East that could cause incredible amounts of damage to US military bases, allied countries, and energy supplies throughout the region. This war would drag on as the expenses and bodies of soldiers piled up, as American air power has proved to be incapable of dislodging trenchant, autocratic regimes in the Middle-East and would only further provoke anti-American sentiment and jihadist recruitment in the region.
Bottom line, a war with Iran would be expensive, bloody and further destabilize a region that is already barely holding itself together. Take the money that would be wasted in a war of our creation and spend it on more important things in the United States like investments in R&D and early education that will enable us to compete with rising global competitors like China, rather than continuing to erode our global leadership by foolishly wasting our resources destroying another Middle-Eastern country.