By: Rexhinaldo Nazarko
“Five days or five weeks or five months, but it certainly isn’t going to last any longer than that,” stated former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on the days predating the beginning of the Iraq War. Needless say we look back at this event in history and judge it as one of the most cataclysmic failures of the United States in the international stage. A war which consumed $2.4 trillion, 4,424 American lives, 500,000 Iraqi lives, and set the stage for a regional future of discord, violence, instability and chaos. The Iraq war was a monumental disaster of the grandest logistical scale, a total and complete miscalculation. The United States failed to take into account cultural factors, societal backlash, and proper intelligence on the geopolitical climate of the country. It made no use of expert opinion, and downplayed the role of state department officials with proper expertise on the issue. provided no blueprints for reconstruction, and no plan of action for stability and progress. To this day, Iraq remains a shaky country without rule of law or decent institutions. It is a destabilizing force for the region, a battlefield for global and regional interests, and breeding ground for terrorism. This scenario could potentially repeat.
Fast forward to 2019, The White House is on a path of further destabilizing the middle east by potentially initiating a conflict with the Islamic Republic of Iran. To the hawkish and rash minds of certain US officials, Iran out of the picture would result in a peaceful transition of power, an elimination of a potential threat to US allies, and a success for the country and administration. This narrative could not be further from the truth. Judging by the undisciplined conduct of the administration with regard to the issue, and its constant u-turns, it would not be a stretch to assume that the White House has failed to consult with different kinds of experts on taking fitting steps to ensure the success of any operation, be it military or diplomatic. While it is undoubtingly true that Teheran could not put up a lengthy direct fight against an American invasion force, its strength and danger lies elsewhere.
Iran has a wide network of proxies throughout the region which are loyal to the Ayatollah and the Revolutionary guard. In preparing for potential war-case scenarios, it has aggressively funded terror and insurgence groups in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Libya, etc. Were the mainland to fall, these groups have most likely been instructed to damage US interests, and wreak havoc far and wide. As Iraq and the Arab Spring have demonstrated, Teheran’s influence is great and rigid in certain areas, and its downfall would not be silent. Such terror groups have developed military hierarchies and tactics of their own, alongside strong bases of funds and training. While some may argue that with Iran out of the picture such groups will crumble, it is not so. Groups such as Hezbollah, The Mahdi Army, The Khazali Network etc, are more so ideologically tied to Iran, but otherwise have solidified institutional footholds in their respective countries and outside of them. Their bases are large, webs are complex, and guerrilla strength is worrisome. A war would trigger a chain reaction of violence and further unpredictability in the middle east.
It must also be noted that popular opinion in Iran is not heavily anti-regime. There is no ready-made opposition on whose behalf the United States can intervene, there is no side which could be paraded as a justification for intervention. Thus most likely, international opinion would fair against the United States and severely damage the country’s reputation in the eyes of allies and others. Damaged relationships and broken trust with allies could lead to potential complications in the future, possibly damning to American strategic interests.
Unprecedented war with Iran, at this very moment is not ripe nor right. While Teheran continues to be a destabilizing force in the region, an armed conflict would prove more devastating. In order to avoid the Phoenix effect with history repeating itself, the administration must be careful, develop a robust and comprehensive strategy which takes into account different fields of study, expert opinion, and ventures further than the DoD or the Situation room.