We have learned, one would hope, not to wade into another war blindly optimistic about what it might accomplish or what costs it might entail. Given the rhetoric and bluster bandied about regarding Iran, however, some have learned those lessons less well than others.
A group of foreign policy experts calling itself the Iran Project has undertaken a study of the potential benefits and costs of military intervention against Iran by the United States and Israel. Its work has been endorsed by well-known figures in the foreign-policy field such as former U.S. Sens. Sam Nunn and Chuck Hagel, former national security advisers Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft, and seven former generals or admirals with extensive military experience in the Middle East.
The report, available here, takes as a given that “a nuclear-armed Iran would pose dangerous challenges to U.S. interests and security, as well as to the security of Israel.” It simply attempts to lay out in clear fashion both the potential benefits and costs of attempting to solve that problem through military means.
Among their findings, authors of the report suggest that a military attack by Israel would succeed in delaying Iran’s nuclear program by two years at best. The United States, with its additional resources, could set the effort back by as long as four years, but would then be forced to repeat the process on a fairly regular basis over an extended period of time. Once undertaken, such attacks would greatly reduce the chances of eventually ending the program by non-military means.
“In fact,” the report states, “we believe that a U.S. attack on Iran would increase Iran’s motivation to build a bomb, because 1) the Iranian leadership would become more convinced than ever that regime change is the goal of U.S. policy, and 2) building a bomb would be seen as a way to inhibit future attacks and redress the humiliation of being attacked.” It also concludes that resistance within Iran to the current regime would all but disappear as the Iranian people rally against outside invaders.
The authors also warn that “In addition to costing the U.S. economy hundreds of billions of dollars yearly, a sustained conflict would boost the price of oil and further disrupt an already fragile world economy.”
Given their backgrounds, we can assume that the authors of the report are privy to discussions in Washington that the rest of us are not. That makes one section of their report particularly chilling:
“Privately, some national security experts and advisors may have embraced the more modest objective of delaying Iran’s ability to build a nuclear weapon, as a step toward prevention; but some others may have embraced objectives that are far broader than official statements currently suggest. Even in order to fulfill the stated objective of ensuring that Iran never acquires a nuclear bomb, the U.S. would need to conduct a significantly expanded air and sea war over a prolonged period of time, likely several years. If the U.S. decided to seek a more ambitious objective, such as regime change in Iran or undermining Iran’s influence in the region, then an even greater commitment of force would be required to occupy all or part of the country.
Given Iran’s large size and population, and the strength of Iranian nationalism, we estimate that the occupation of Iran would require a commit- ment of resources and personnel greater than what the U.S. has expended over the past 10 years in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined.” (emphasis original).
In addition to the significant financial costs of conducting such attacks, the report warns, “serious costs to U.S. interests would also be felt over the longer term, we believe, with problematic consequences for global and regional stability, including economic stability. A dynamic of escalation, action, and counteraction could produce serious unintended consequences that would significantly increase all of these costs and lead, potentially, to all-out regional war.”
The decision to use military power, to put American lives on the line and to make ourselves vulnerable to the unknowable consequences that war always brings, must never be made lightly. Certainly, such a profound decision must never be subcontracted out to the leadership of another country. And while leaders who want to take the American people to war have an obligation to be honest and forthright, citizens have an equal obligation to educate themselves as well as possible about its potential risks and costs.
It is, after all, our sons and daughters, and those of our friends and neighbors, who will be asked to carry out that policy.
– Jay Bookman