After the big kerfuffle at Columbia over Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit, the issue of Iran’s nuclear program has once again come to the fore of media attention (though it hasn’t seemed to make in onto Mr. Ahmadinejad’s blog recently). Besides the utterly bankrupt position of hiding your head in the sand and pretending it isn’t so (much like Mr. Cline on Obama’s run for the presidency), the number of options remaining on Iran have dwindled tremendously. Here they are, as I see them and why they’re all bad. In our long standing tradition of multi-part series on complicated issues, I’ll be looking at America’s options in four parts. Unfortunately for us in America, they range from bad to worse…

Option #2: Invade Iran.

The neo-conservative blowhards like Norman Podhoretz have their own solution for Iran: invasion. We can repeat invasion of Iraq, only this time Iran really has WMDs! Wait a minute, the National Intelligence Estimate says they probably don’t. Nevermind. As the Angry Political Optimist pointed out, the NIE can be conveniently ignored because we know Iran’s history as a bunch of very bad people.

The irony is that the neo-conservatives aren’t the only one to be rattling their sabers. Even Bernard Kouchner, the French foreign minister and avoid socialist (and founder of Doctors Without Borders) has come out in favor of preparing for war with Iran. Mr. Kouchner said, “We have to prepare for the worst, and the worst is war.” His boss French president Nicholas “Look-at-my-supermodel-mistress” Sarkozy, noted that the world faces a choice between “an Iranian bomb or the bombardment of Iran.” You know, when Mr. Sarkozy isn’t hitting the bottle at the G8 summit. Over in London, the ex-prime minister Tony Blair has refused to take the option of invasion off the table.

The problem is that this option is a non-starter. Since it’s suspected that Iran has a secret nuclear program and we have no idea where those facilities are (assuming they exist at all), there’s no way a Israeli-style air campaign could eliminate Iran’s nuclear capabilities. Likewise, no matter how bad-ass the British SAS is compared to those pussies in the US Army Rangers (so the Brits’ claim), without accurate intelligence on the location of Iranian SNM (that’s special nuclear material), all of the Richard Marcinko’s in the world aren’t worth a hill of beans.

This means that any invasion of Iran would need to involve lots and lots of ground troops. According to our friends over at globalsecurity.org Iran has about 350k troops in their army. Now granted, 200k of those are conscripts who probably can’t fight for shit, but that leaves them with about 150k serious professional soldiers. This is no third world bunch of thugs with guns like in Somalia, the Iranians are well-trained and outfit with *lots* of kit — medium tanks, main battle tanks, sophisticated anti-tank weapons, missiles combat helicopters and aircraft. Most frightening is that the upper ranks of the Iranian officer corps knows how to conduct a serious fight — after all, they were all junior officers in the war against Iraq. Any ground invasion of Iran will be very, very messy, and lots of young men will be coming home in flag-draped coffins.

So, despite the saber rattling that’s been coming out of London and Paris, the UK and France cannot credibly threaten Iran by themselves (especially with the British forces tied down in Iraq and Afghanistan). US involvement is required to invade Iran. And with the US Army and Marine Corps also tied down in Iraq and Afghanistan, the only way the US can invade Iran is to abandon Iraq to the militias, insurgents and al-Qaeda. While the irony of the neo-conservative Iraq hawks endorsing “cut and run” for the purpose of throwing down with Iran is amusing, the utter chaos that would be unleashed on Iraq as a result of such a policy would not be.

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