With U.S. President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announcing that major cuts are coming to the Defense Department, hawks seeking to stop nuclear weapons development by Iran by any means necessary will soon have less “means” to call upon. With the Army set to shrink by approximately 80,000 soldiers, and a broad swath of cuts set to affect every service, “Operation Iranian Freedom” may be far less likely than many hawks had previously hoped.
The diminished prospect for a military confrontation with Iran is particularly bad news for some considering that Secretary Panetta just last month suggested that Iran could – although it was unlikely – have a nuclear weapon before 2012 is over.
Yet while few outside the Iranian regime see a nuclear Iran as desirable, any decision that could lead to war between the United States and the Islamic Republic deserves considerable discussion before the American people. Simply beating the war drums so loudly as to drown out the voices of any opposition is a poor substitute for real debate.
Five points deserve particular consideration as decision makers consider the United States’ option. They are particularly important as the 2012 election gets closer and calls for a military solution increase.
First, Iran possesses what is likely the most capable military the United States has faced in decades. Iran is no Grenada, Panama, Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Serbia, Afghanistan or Iraq. In all of these examples, the U.S. military defeated an adversary incapable of competing with superior American land, naval, and air forces. The Iranian military is far more competent and capable, and after watching the war in Iraq for a decade has a good understanding of U.S. tactics and strategy.
For example, Iran's regular navy is adept at littoral combat and may be capable of closing the Strait of Hormuz for sufficient duration to wreak economic havoc. The recent naval exercises by the Iranian navy illustrate a clear strategy that would seek to close the strait while attempting to sink American combat vessels that enter the area. This would result in a significant loss of commercial shipping and cause the price of oil to skyrocket.
If it comes to war, the proliferation of advanced air defense systems to countries like Iran may give it one of the best integrated anti-aircraft defense systems the United States faces in combat. They may be capable of inflicting casualties on American airpower not seen since Vietnam. And with a declining bomber force, losses could be unacceptable.