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Strategic Interests

Good strategy is like good engineering- it channels and diverts forces in such a way that a positive result comes of the structure. Like most engineering, though, there is planning, and then there’s reality. Intentions count for nothing if they are not followed through with results.

Now we hear about a possible attack on Iran on WMD sites. I know, the information may not be dependable, but we all know that Iran is on this administrations hit-list. Let’s pose a hypothetical: What if we go through with this?

It would be a mistake. I'm sure I'm predictable in saying that, but I'm not saying it to be contrary. If we get into a war with Iran, we'd better be prepared to take it all the way. That is, if we get into a war with Iran in the first place, which I don't think is the productive or necessary course of action at the moment.

I'm sure I'm predictable in saying that too. It's not that I won't go to war, but we are better off letting these idiots in the Middle East give us the excuse. By attacking Iran in force, we could very well radicalize moderates in the country. Not a good idea if our object is to extinguish the flames of terrorism. A war should be the means of last resort in sensitive cases like this.

I'm not a pacifist, but I know war to be messy, and it constitutes the kind of threat that can force people otherwise friendly to us to take sides against us. Some may carp that their willingness to side against us reveals their true position, but we must understand that loyalties to country can be a powerful motivation in other countries as well as it is in ours. It motivated us (unfairly, I think) to demonize our ally France, which did nothing so much as oppose us going into Iraq, a war many of us now regret and few can justify. So could patriotism polarize Iranians against us, fairly or unfairly, for or against their own good.

Iran is a country that may very well see a reversal of its old order of its own accord. The WMDs are a sticking point, and we could make it known to them that they gain less from developing them than making them our friends. Military options should remain on the table, but not as the first solution.

But what if we do need to go to war?

We need to steel ourselves. This war will be costly, it will gain us few friends, and it will be a bloody land war with a population involved which may already have learned the lessons of Iraq as to how to deal with our troops on the ground. It will be greater in scope and difficulty- Iran is larger, geographically speaking, and fresh to conflict, unlike Iraq, which we had been softening up for the decade before. Iran is literally a Texas-sized country, and its last war was sixteen years ago.

This notion of just going in with special forces and concentrated strikes is absolute idiocy. Even if it was a good idea to start so light in the first place, it would be absolutely stupid not to have the forces in place to respond to the inevitable counterattack. But worse, the very nature of an offensive first strike takes from us the initiative. We will have to prepare for many possible counterattacks. If we just sit on our laurels we'll get knocked on our ass. We will be in a total war from the moment we strike, and we will not be able to stop short of Iran's defeat or capitulation.

The point isn't merely to win a battle, but as Von Clausewitz would say, to win a decision, to gain an object. The decision, the object here depends on more than just taking out the WMDs. Winning the battle to take control from Saddam Hussein was not enough. What we failed to do was gain that control for ourselves. In Iran, the same thing will be true. Destroying Teheran's hold on the country will not be our victory in this case. We must either maintain their control on our terms, or establish for ourselves by our own devices.

We will be incapable of doing either if we fail to bring the soldiers in great enough masses. Regardless of how far technology advances, nothing replaces the presence of good old-fashioned infantry. Only their presence can establish law and order, and maintain the peace of an occupation.

The lessons of Iraq should be heeded in whether we decide to go into Iran and how we do it. If we fail to do so, we only stand to get more soldiers killed for less good effect. War should not be treated as a normal or easy means of reaching a goal. It is inherently difficult, and should not be pursued when the will, the means and justifications for it are lacking. These are not values that can exist forever, lacking for the support of material justification.

Bush has no business putting us into this situation half-ready for opposition, our resources strained, and our justifications fuzzy, vague pronouncements about security and freedom. To start our war from such a weak position is to virtually lose it before it even starts. Bush must understand that force or will is not the only thing that wins wars. Wars are won by good plans, not by self-righteous agendas, or high technology employed of itself.

Bush must learn there is more to winning a war than wishful thinking. If he's going to lead us into the wrong wars, he should at least do us the favor of fighting them to win.

Posted by Stephen Daugherty at January 18, 2005 8:27 AM