May 05, 2006

Recalling the Twelfth Imam

Unless you have been under a rock or in New York City public schools, you are probably aware that Iran has engaged in the development of a nuclear program.

Iran has publicly stated that this is so that Iran can create nuclear power plants, a claim viewed with great suspicion by most of the world, as Iran sits upon vast petroleum reserves that will meets the nation's energy needs far into the future. Iran's parallel development of indigenous long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles and purchase of similar systems, as well as their claims of developing multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles (MIRVs) that are used only to deliver nuclear warheads, show that Iran's uranium enrichment program has the ultimate goal of obtaining multiple nuclear weapons.

Why do we care?
Consider that Iran is a major state-sponsor of Islamic terrorism, and successive Iranian leaders have repeatedly threatened to exterminate Israel. Recently, Iranian government officials went far enough to state that they could destroy Israel with nuclear weapons and absorb an expected Israeli nuclear counterstrike.

Tens of millions of people throughout southwest Asia would be likely to die in such an exchange.

No, why do WE care?
Other than being philosophically opposed to genocide and nuclear war on a scale never before imagined?


  • years of nuclear fallout carried around the world on prevailing winds;
  • a nearly complete an long-term disruption in international oil supplies, resulting in major economic upheaval;
  • increasing the possibility of international conflicts over reduced oil supplies;
  • the dehumanization of all Muslims as a result of this mass genocide, perhaps leading to retaliatory strikes, mass internment, and deportation campaigns to eradicate the religion, particularly in western Europe and China.

There is also the possibility that Iran may even provide nuclear weapons to a terrorist group, such as the Iranian-funded Hezbollah.

Don't they know if they use nukes, they might get nuked back?
"Might" doesn't come into the picture. They will be nuked back if they launch a first strike. Iran's population is concentrated very heavily (60%) in urban areas (Tehran: 7.1 M, Mashad: 2.8M, Tabriz: 1.5 M, Karaj: 1.4 M, Shiraz: 1.3, etc), and even a partial nuclear response by either Israel or the United States would cause Iran to cease to exist.

It would be incredibly stupid for them to launch a nuclear attack, then.
You're thinking like a westerner. In many Islamic countries, there is no separation of church and state. Church is state to varying degrees, with Islamic theology making laws and defining policy, again, to varying degrees. A sub-sect of Shia Islam rules the Islamic Republic of Iran, and this sect's eschatology believes that the near-term messianic return of the 12th Imam can be brought about by an apocalyptic event.

What is more apocalyptic than a nuclear war?

So they think that by getting nuked, they'll go to heaven?
You might call it nuts, and I might agree, but good prosecutor would call it "motive."

So when would they attack?
Based upon their eschatology and public pronouncements thus far, one would be wise to assume that they would launch a nuclear attack just as soon as they had enough warheads to provide a good probability of success. Their definition of "success" is probably somewhere between annihilating Israel and making sure they get struck back with apocalyptic force in return. Two thermonuclear warheads would probably be enough to guarantee that result.

That's nuts.
You ain't just whistling "Dixie," Sparky, but that's what their top leaders believe.

Well, they better not get nukes then.
I thought you'd see it that way.

So how do we do that?
Remove their ability to enrich uranium.

You're talking political and economic sanctions right?
Yeah, they worked so well on Saddam, and we had them on Iraq for a dozen years before they almost completely fell apart. Some experts say Iran needs only about two years to build nuclear bombs. No expert thinks it will take longer than ten.

Besides, explain to me what kind of threat economic sanctions are to leaders hoping to trigger a thermonuclear Armageddon.

Uh, not much?
Right you are.

So that leaves...
Destabilizing the Iranian government and hope it will be deposed by another Iranian group that are more earthly-focused and less enthralled with continuing down the path of uranium enrichment. At least that's the best option. The other option is the use of military force to terminate the Iranian nuclear program.

So how do we start destabilizing the Iranian government?
Supply dissident groups within Iran with monies and if necessary, munitions. Find ways to place pressure on the Iranian government, and exploit dissatisfaction within the Iranian population to engineer a coup.

How long would that take?
Years, if it ever worked at all.

So our remaining options are?
Doing nothing, and taking the huge risk that they won't do what they've been promising for years, out of a sense of preservation they don't have, or we take steps to reduce their nuclear program.

You mean using military force?
Unless you've got a better idea.

But how can we fight Iran when we're already bogged down in Iraq? Won't we have to start a draft?
While we can debate the whole question of whether we are "bogged down in Iraq" or not, the short answer is no, we won't need a draft, not in the least.

Why not? I've read on several web sites we'd have to have a draft because we don't have enough soldiers in the military to invade Iran, unless we draft them first.
You want the long answer, or the short answer?

Uh, the short one?
Good choice.

Our current fight in Iraq and the kind of conflict we'd engage in with Iran are two completely different kinds of warfare. Our goal in Iraq was to depose a tyrant, uncover and dispose of WMDs, and then help install a democratic government.

To do so, we had to defeat their military, topple their government, establish security and rebuild their government. Because we had this particular set of goals, we had to stage a land invasion using (over time) hundreds of thousands of soldiers and Marines to hold physical land in Iraq for long periods of time.

A use of military force on Iran has a different set of goals entirely.

What do you mean?
In Iran, we are not seeking to control territory or (directly) overthrow a government. What we're doing is eliminating materials at approximately 400 fixed locations as our primary mission, while at the same time making sure we are in a position to fight a defensive war against a country that has a large but mostly one-dimensional conventional military (no real modern navy or air force to speak of), and a significant asymmetrical warfare capability via the use of Hezbollah terrorists and al Quds Special Forces units.

In English, please?

We're going to bomb them. We don't need to invade, because we aren't trying to control land, just break things.

We will be using a U.S. Air Force that isn't doing too much right now, as well as U.S Navy carrier airwings, submarine and ship-launched cruise missiles. The United States has the most advanced bombers and weapons in the world, including more conventional dumb and smart bombs, and exotic but still conventional ground-penetrating "bunker buster" bombs that would take out about 99% of Iran's nuclear sites. Israel has been building the IDF Air Force for this exact mission for over a decade, and I'd be quite surprised if they passed up the chance to use the aircraft and weapons systems they've acquired, especially when it is their very survival that is on the line. A handful of the most important sites, however, are buried so deeply that it might take a far more risky special forces insertion to damage the sites, or as the possibility has been mentioned before, a small thermonuclear ground-penetrating bomb.

Whoa, cowboy. You're talking about nuking Iran? That's evil, unconscionable and un-American.
What is evil, unconscionable and un-American is listening to Iran say time and again that they intend to wipe Israel from the face of the earth, and then acting that they won't carry out their threat. When we said "never again" after the Holocaust, I hope we meant that. An Iran-Israel nuclear war would wipe out close to 100 million people in hours.

Israel would be gone. The Palestinians would be gone. Iran would be gone. Jordan, Syria and Lebanon would suffer millions of casualties from the blast and intense fallout from the Iranian strike, and the Israeli counterstrike would likely blanket most of the 'stans, as well as China and India with a plume of radioactive fallout, exposing close to a billion people both indirectly and directly to fallout to airborne fallout and food-borne consumption of the same for many years to come.

As you may expect, a glowing Middle East wasteland would destroy the global energy market, collapsing economies around the world, including our own. No human on this planet would be untouched by the effects, which could take decades to recover from, if ever. It would also make Muslims hunted around the globe, setting the stage for a crusade the likes of which the world has never imagined. Islam, and what remains of 1 billion Muslims, would be targets for an entirely different kind of genocide born of fear.

Yeah, "wow."

So what can we do to stop it from happening?
Well we could start by hoping that the Iranian leadership would back away from this game of nuclear chicken, but considering their espoused hatred of Israel and open threats against it, along with their particular religious doctrine actually encouraging them towards Armageddon to call forth the 12th Imam as their Messiah, that possibility doesn't seem to be a rational one. They don't seem to want to stop on their own, and so we must make them.

So you're saying we need to launch a preemptive regional war to stop a genocidal world war?
I guess so, though it won't be a "regional war" as we've come to define them.

What do you mean?
We tend to picture regional wars as something like Korea, or Vietnam, or more recently, the Iraq War. We're thinking boots-on-the-ground, long-term and rather conventional ground campaigns. A war with Iran won't be like that.

Part of a war with Iran with likely occur in a set region, with coalition air power taking the fight to Iran. Within a few days, perhaps several weeks, the 400 sites would be destroyed, severely damaging the Iranian nuclear program.

The Iranian air force, low on spare parts with few operational modern aircraft and woefully under-trained by our standards, would offer little credible resistance. Iranian air-defense missile systems including the newly purchased Soviet TOR-1 faces the same training and equipment problems. Our anti-missile and anti-radar systems have a longer range than does their Iranian adversaries, allowing American HARM (High-speed Anti-Radiation Missiles) armed aircraft to knock-out Iranian air defense units before the aircraft come into range. The Iranian Navy has been reduced to a fleet of small craft and aging ships that poses no real threat to U.S. warships, and should be able to be neutralized within days.

The greatest potential conventional threat would be from Iran's Army, which on paper, is 350,000 men strong. The majority of those however, are conscripts, with little training or discipline. Some of the best units would be keep near the Iranian government to protect it from potential coups, and so the Iranian soldiers, while outnumbering their American counterparts, would come in with far less experience, far less capable commanders, and outmoded equipment and tactics.

Factor in U.S air superiority and the Iranian practice of massing for attacks, and you have very inviting targets for American air support to operate against, choosing massed targets to destroy at will in a very lopsided, bug vs. windshield campaign between the world's most advanced and experienced combined arms military, against an enemy with World War II tactics and only slightly more advanced weapons systems.

So the ground war in Iran/Iraq won't be pretty is what you are saying.
Neither there, nor on border between Israel and Lebanon. Or at home.

Say what?
Iran will also fight a proxy war against Israel, and we can expect substantial rocket attacks and perhaps other terror attacks against northern Israel from Iranian-backed Hezbollah terrorists in Lebanon, and perhaps even in Syria. The IDF will be able to handle it, as will the Israeli people. They've had a bit of practice in their short history.

No, the "at home" part.
Iran promises that Hezbollah is more powerful and better organized to carry out attack on the United States than al Qaeda was. I wouldn't completely discount that possibility, but it is a risk we still must take.

We simply can't take the chance of Iran going nuclear. Charles Krauthammer writes about the clearly impending Holocaust today in Never Again?.

We can't let another 1938 pass unchallenged.

Posted by Confederate Yankee at May 5, 2006 11:39 AM | TrackBack

Better yet, read the Book of Revelations.

When you get to the part where one third of the earth is consumed by fire, see if you can figure out which third it might be.

Posted by: Steve O at May 5, 2006 09:17 PM

I believe in a glorious hereafter for the believers too, but I don't think I need to kill anyone to obtain it, indeed I could lose it that way. But if they are so anxious to go is a little push in the right direction such a bad thing?

Posted by: Shoprat at May 6, 2006 09:56 PM

I've always thought that some of the bizarre horrors in Revelations that are supposed to befall the Earth sound eerily like they could be a consequence of nuclear or biological war.

More alarming, though, is guess where modern-day Babylon is?

Posted by: Amber at May 6, 2006 10:01 PM

Very well done Q & A. This about sums it up for those too absorbed in reality shows and the lives of Britney, Jessica, and Tom Cruise to have time to pay attention to what is going on in the Real World.

(yeah, that is a bit of a pun ;-) )

Posted by: Phil at May 15, 2006 12:27 PM