The President rattled some more sabers against Iran yesterday in a speech before the American Legion. Glenn Greenwald has a long post today raising the alarm anew.
It's hard to know what to make of this. Under normal circumstances I wouldn't be too worried. The downsides of a war with Iran are so profound, the chances of success so slim, that one should be able to dismiss the thought out of hand. Yet Bush, and the various other actors pushing for this war, have a demonstrated record of recklessness so extreme that nothing can be taken off the table.
And clearly, as president and commander-in-chief of the military Bush has it within his power to simply order acts that will necessarily bring on a war. One can argue that this is not what the founders intended and shouldn't be so, but it's the current reality.
Unless the Iranians are utter fools they will avoid any overt act against the United States, so the most likely scenario is an American attack on Iran that will attempt to destroy their WMD, air defense and command & control infrastructure. It may even be a surprise attack, in order to enhance its effectiveness.
Now, for some reason, even though the Bushies and Neocons claim Iranians desire freedom like Americans and everyone else, they can't seem to absorb the fact that Iranians are also proud and patriotic people who love their country like everyone else. When the Japanese launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor they ended all debate in America and unified us in a grim determination to prevail at any cost. It can be argued that Japan "lost" the war through this one act, in that there was no chance they would achieve their war aims. Can there be any doubt that an American attack on Iran, especially a surprise attack, will fail to unify the Iranians and fill them with an intense resolve to avenge themselves?
We are currently fighting two wars. The one in Afghanistan could be going better, but the long-term prognosis is pretty good, especially once a new administration takes office if it devotes sufficient attention and resources to success. The war in Iraq is not going well, and we're unlikely to leave under happy circumstances. Our political failures in Iraq will have negative consequences for years to come, despite our military successes.
Starting a new war with Iran, however, raises the real possibility of military defeats for us. Iran is much weaker than America, of course, and there's no chance Iranian troops will be marching down Pennsylvania Avenue. But it's idiocy to think defeat requires that scene in order to be a defeat.
Iran is a big country. It has a capable military establishment. And, aroused by an unprovoked U.S. attack (in their eyes), they will be formidably motivated. While powerful, the U.S. cannot use all its power. The Army and Marines are tapped out. There's only so much the Air Force can bomb. Iran is a land-based power the Navy cannot subdue, especially if the Iranians have the support of the rest of the world.
If substantial numbers of Iraqi Shiites turn against us our troops in Iraq will be placed in an untenable position. It's possible entire units could be captured or besieged, especially if regular Iranian units assist the Iraqis. The Iranian Navy has been studying for years how to fight the U.S. Navy. We must be wary that they've succeeded in finding ways to hurt us. Sinking or severely damaging an aircraft carrier would be an tremendous political victory for them, despite its military unimportance.
And the American People, already disillusioned with our current wars, will not be enthusiastic about a new one brought about through questionable circumstances. Wars, even just and successful ones, always involve setbacks. The American people will not be in a proper mood to absorb them in this case.
There is a near certainty of disaster and a minimal chance of success, minimally defined. We would call a man a lunatic if he played Russian Roulette for a buck. What do we call a man who starts a new war when he's failed to win the ones he's already started? The last dudes who did this back, in the 1940s, brought catastrophe. (And the analogy is apt. Japan started its war with the U.S. and Britain despite an ongoing war in China. Germany launched its invasion of Russia despite a defiant, undefeated Britain still in the fight.)