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War with Iran Could Kill Thousands of US Soldiers

(This is an op-ed we tried to submit to the New York Times and Washington Post. For the full story, check out yesterday’s post. With the P5+1 agreeing to a deal on Iran’s nuclear program last week, war with Iran seems much less likely, so we are running the opinion piece here.)

Writing in the Washington Post on March 13, foreign policy analyst Joshua Muravchik told America that the only realistic option to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons would be to bomb Iran. On March 26, former ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton repeated this argument in the New York Times, under the straightforward headline, “To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran”.

Neither man mentioned the primary cost America would bear in such a war: dead soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines.

While the US would very likely win a war with Iran, it could easily claim tens of thousands of American lives. Any advocates of war--from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Muravchik to Bolton--shouldn’t just talk about going to war; they should mention the cost, the likely thousands of dead Americans it could take to win. As a veteran who deployed to both Afghanistan and Iraq and who knows that over 6,000 Americans died in those two fights, I don’t think this is too much to ask.

Yes, a war with Iran could claim thousands of U.S. lives. In August 2012, I published a paper called, “The Costs of War with Iran: An Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield,” where I used my experience as a former Army intelligence officer to describe the possible options available to Iran in a war with America. While Iran likely couldn’t “beat” the United States, Iran could kill large numbers of U.S. troops and civilians. It could do so in a matter of weeks. And this is something war-hawks never mention.

How could a war with Iran kill 10,000 US soldiers? After studying the U.S. for the last 30 years, Iran learned its lesson: anyone who fights America traditionally will lose. Iran will use asymmetric tactics, including cheap, light weapons to defeat more expensive, heavier conventional U.S. weapons, waging this war across multiple fronts. For example...

...Iran could sink a U.S. aircraft carrier. It learned during Operation Praying Mantis in 1988 that it has little hope of conventionally defeating the U.S. Navy. Instead, it will use shore-launched cruise missiles, fast attack boats, mini-submarines, torpedoes, mines and even suicide boats to cripple, set fire or sink as many American ships as possible. The IRGC Navy can’t beat the U.S. Navy, but it could inflict thousands of casualties in a few hours.

...Iran could fire ballistic missiles at our bases in the Middle East, from Afghanistan to Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and Iraq. They could fire ballistic missiles at Israel or even southern Europe. Iran has the largest ballistic missile inventory in the Middle East. Most of these missiles aren’t very accurate, but they could still kill hundreds if they land in population centers or crowded military bases.

...Iran could launch terror attacks. Iran has funded irregular insurgent groups (like Hezbollah) around the world. It could encourage these types of forces to attack the Green Zone in Iraq, which still houses thousands of American diplomats and civilians. It could use proxies to wage a terror campaign across the Middle East. And, though I think it is unlikely, Iran could use proxies to try to attack Americans or Europeans on their home soil.

...and Iran could escalate the conflict. It could temporarily close the Straits of Hormuz, spiking gas prices. It could foment Shia revolts in Sunni dominated countries, like Bahrain or Saudi Arabia, causing unrest in oil producing nations.

But one option scares me above all else: if Iran provokes the U.S. to invade. Iran knows that an invasion will likely cause the most U.S. deaths since Vietnam. In both landmass and population, Iran is larger than Iraq and Afghanistan put together. Iran has better irregular forces than either of those two countries as well. In short, a ground invasion would quickly become a quagmire.

Anyone advocating for war should have to answer tough questions. I encourage every journalist from every network, from CBS to CNN to Comedy Central to ask the one tough question I implied above: how many lives will this cost? As a voting population, we deserve to know how many lives certain pundits and politicians are willing to sacrifice to stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

In my analysis, I believe that every pundit advocating war should be prepared to say this statement, “I believe going to war with Iran is worth the cost of 10,000 American lives.” If they can’t say that, then they don’t have the strength of their own convictions.

sixteen comments

A couple of things:

My favorite argument against war: Iran’s Navy probably has the best chance of sinking one of our ships. My second favorite argument: Iran is larger, in population and landmass than Iraq and Afghanistan…combined. They’re also better organized. Occupation is not an option.

Next, we do restate information we’ve written about before on the blog and in the paper. I’m afraid, now, of finding ourselves in a “Jonah Lehrer” situation. That said, we haven’t written about this in three years, most of this isn’t publicly known, and John Bolton basically rewrites the same op-ed about Iran every three years.

And still, I really wish more journalist asked the tough questions about the cost of this war. They didn’t on Iraq, and that worst case scenario happened in just about every way.


Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas claimed in an interview with Tony Perkins this morning that several DAYS of bombing would take care of the Iran nuclear program. If that is the pro-war belief/position then why are we even worried about this? He’s obviously delusional if he thinks aerial bombing for a calendar week will prevent iran’s nuclear ambitions in perpetuity. I guess he assumes Iran will not retaliate in any way? Fortunately we would never go to war without a plan……


@ C Gilmore – Especially since he compared it to bombing Iraq, a county that is half the size and did not have bases and bunkers like Iran…


Your approach is flawed, I believe.

To point at costs is sane and rational, but in an acute battle against warmongers such warnings will only make the warning pundit look weak, timid, cowardly – while the hawks look stern, brazen, decisive, daring, courageous by comparison.
And that would be a 180° wrong messaging effect.

Call them out as what they are: Fearful pussies, cowards, small children scared by imaginary threats in the locker.
Follow up with the fact that Iran hasn’t attacked another country since long before the U.S. was founded. That the U.S. killed Iranians by the hundreds, destroyed their long-grown republic with a CIA-supported coup that led to an absolutist monarchy, that Iran has religious ruling declaring nukes immoral and outlawed, that Iran has never violated the NPT, that the U.S.Navy almost routinely attacked Iranian forces during peacetime and violated Iranian territorial waters, that the CIA is suspected to support a secessionist terrorist group in Iran – follow up with the fact that Iran has good reason to fear the U.S., but the U.S. has no reason to fear Iran.
And thus, politicians and pundits warning about Iran are pussies.


The MSM are lap dogs for the “Power Elite”, (see C.Wright Mills”) they simply want to assure a seat at the table, or under it.
But no worries, We Will, In Fact, Be Greeted As Liberators.
I didn’t notice the small print at the time but the statement is a reference to the Halliburton Board of Directors


@ S O – All I can say is yeah…but? I mean, I think we fundamentally disagree on this point—I don’t think Americans have an appetite for war, as we saw with Syria just a two years back—and pointing out the costs could make America stand up and say, “No”.

This an “agree to disagree” point, not some huge disagreement. Not to mention, I really hoped this post would be one of our most popular in a while, and it wasn’t. (I really hoped it would get more retweets. We should have a piece coming out in a popular news website this week or next, but, sigh, it’s on Luttrell and Chris Kyle, again instead of Iran. (And after that piece, we’re done on that subject.)

So in terms of reach, don’t worry about it. Most Americans didn’t see it.

I actually wholeheartedly agree with what you wrote, and we wrote the same thing in our original series on Iran:

Which Country Do You Prefer? Putting Iran’s “Evil” In Context http://www.onviolence.com/?e=606 A choice quote, and a point you didn’t make that adds to your argument: “Iran crushed elections in 2009, but Saudi Arabia doesn’t even have elections to crush.”

We Can’t Be Allies with Iran…Iran Is So Mean! http://www.onviolence.com/?e=606 Choice quote: “Most Americans don’t remember or even care that America overthrew Iran’s democratically-elected government in the fifties. (How would Americans feel if China installed a dictator in Washington D.C.?)”

But we’re going to keep writing about Iran, so in future posts, we’ll definitely consider this tactic.


@ John Patterson – Oh, I don’t think the media fails on this issue because of financial self-interest. It’s more a complete and utter dependency on access to the military.

Well, I guess that is a financial motive.

But like I wrote yesterday, I think it’s genuine. I think the media runs glowing stories on super-human SEAL operators because they genuinely admire what they’ve done. That actually scares me more.

But I appreciate the comment.


@ S O – thinking about it later (and I normally try to avoid writing this much in the comments section, but I’m pumped on this topic) I found a better tract than calling them pussies:

Call them idiots.

I mean, it would only take extreme idiocy to support another war in the Middle East.

The bigger issue, the trump card to be used, is the first Iraq war. We created a power vacuum. Bush—and any Neocon—arguing for war with Iran already strengthened Iran with their first war in the Middle East. They also, inadvertently, created ISIS.

I say repeat these idiocies ad nauseum. That would make people discount them. Every talk show should just repeat this.

And, in terms of messaging, it’d be relatively easy. Just ask, “Was the first war in Iraq a mistake?” Either way they answer, they come out looking stupid.


They don’t call it “another war in the Mid East”. They will call it “decisive action”, or “American leadership”, “talking through strength” or “surgical strikes”.

Warmongers dominate in the U.S.’ sunday TV shows because those shows and the editors who allocate op-ed space have a preference for the warmonger’s schtick, pretense and style. And once fools following warmonger advice have hurled the shit into the fan, the mass media has a huge mess to report and discuss about again and again and again.
It’s like people claiming on TV that to set buildings afire is a good idea and once the buildings burn the media reports about the fire and its victims.

Expose the warmongers in their naked emperor’s clothes. Expose their ants brains. Destroy them as pundits as much as possible, so they don’t return and return and return, for such persistence is what slowly establishes the Big Lies in the people’s brains.

There’s no need to ponder about how to defeat warmongers in an intellectual, rational debate. Those idiots lose it by default.
What’s necessary is their defeat in the public arena.
Problem is, a few of them mastered that arena AND have the network to enter it often.


@ S O – Controversial question: what role do you think many military/foreign policy analysts play in all of this? I’m specifically thinking about bloggers, pundits…hell, even a lot of academics. And a lot of the people discussing things on Twitter. “Serious thinkers”

Frankly, for as long as we’ve been blogging, we’ve felt like we’re on the outside. First, regarding counter-insurgency theory. Now, regarding foreign policy.

(Check out the comments section of this post, by the guy who runs “War on the Rocks”. http://onviolence.com/?e=814 It’s looney tunes.)

Like we’ve discussed in email, it’s so damn hard to find respectable anti-war view points. It seems like many club dissenting views down, using international relations theory as a club.

Anyway, sadly, I agree with a lot of your points. Perhaps this post is an example. If we rewrote with a more “I-told-you-so”, these-guys-are-idiots snark, it may actually get somewhere. (Humor works.)

Believe it or not, when we write screenplays, we actually focus on comedy. (We were sketch writers for the CBS Diversity showcase in January. We did really well. We sell jokes to comedians.)

Michael C and I decided long ago not do that, on this blog. (It sneaks in.) The topics are too serious, felt the tone would clash. Plus so much political discourse descends into that level; we didn’t want to sink down to that level.


The first German security policy blogger was a kind of ministry of defence watchdog. The employees in the ministry read his blog all the time. He was a professional journalist and had worked for a parliament caucus as staffer for years. He was as close as one could be without being inside.
On a meeting in a restaurant he told me to never expect influence from blogging. He had none. He documented a poor drone acquisition program in a long series of blog posts and they still bought a handful of shitty drones – the ones that the military itself didn’t prefer.

There was a German party of 68ers, founded 1980 – the greens. They spent the 1980’s complaining about nukes and NATO and the 1990’s complaining about militarized foreign policy. Then they became junior partner in the new Schröder administration.
Months later, they supported the bombing of Yugoslavia without UNSC mandate and based on largely false accusations (the 1999 Kosovo Air War was mas much rested on lies as the 2003 Iraq invasion). So we can forget about politicians.
http://defense-and-freedom.blogspot.de/2..

The third option is to influence the media. And this means to feed them with approaches that satisfy the media’s thirst for spectacle while getting the facts right.
An objective discussion about pro and contra is boring, a warmonger fantasizing about doomsday scenarios isn’t. And some of them wear suits and look like ‘very serious people’.

So instead of pursuing the losing approach I’m in favour of giving the media, the public debate, what it wants: Spectacle. Let’s strip the ant brain warmongers naked and chase them through the alley, it’ll be entertaining enough for the media.
—-
About inside/outside; there IS an establishment of funded institutions and people earning their pay inside: An especially annoying one is a ‘transatlantic something’ think tank that’s pushing for an Americanization of German foreign policy. You got Heritage at al.
I actually guest-posted some harmless pieces in some such establishment places, such as CIMSEC. You can easily place something harmless such as a warship design topic in there, but I establishment doesn’t even discuss the wisdom of interventionism and large military budgets. It’s self-evident to them. There’s no debate, to them it’s a debate already concluded: ‘More is better.’
——-
I use [Fun] bog posts in between to lighten the mood of my blog.


As a pedantic point, Iran has in fact invaded another country since the US was founded. Iran initiated a war with Russia in the 1820s. But that just reinforces the point that Iran is not, historically, an aggressive nation (though they have certainly engaged in proxy wars supporting regional Shia allies).

One possibly naive question that I have is this: Why exactly is Iran still considered an enemy? I understand why Israel considers them an enemy (but Israel isn’t a formal ally of any western nation as far as I know, so there’s no formal obligation to aid them in time of war), but why the rest of the west? Sure – Iran wants its region as free from western influences as possible, but that’s hardly regionally unique. Nor is Iran an actual threat to western nations in that there is no Iranian expeditionary force rehearsing plans to storm the Gulf of Mexico. As for nuclear development, the US is responsible for that genie thanks to the mind boggling Atoms for Peace program. It can’t be oil, because the ME exports less to the west than most people realise, and its not the repressive domestic politics because plenty of nations are similarly repressive and continue to exist unheard of and unknown by most US lawmakers and citizens. I can see why Iran likely doesn’t qualify for Most Favoured Nation status, but “evil,” and the subject of casual conversations about turning it into the latest Air Force Test and Training Range puzzles me.


I was hopeful for a more coherent Mideast strategy after hearing Sec Kerry talk about negotiating with Assad in Syria, only to have the statement all but retracted the next day. Is it insensitive (or some other adjective) to ask whether Assad was justified in his crackdown on the so-called Arab Spring when ISIS and the Nusra Front are he only organizations capable of toppling his government? I feel as though we have decided Assad is evil and now we are incapable of reevaluating in light of facts on the ground. Is Assad even still capable of defeating the extremists?


OK, I overlooked those Russo-Persian conflicts, but in my defence; the sovereignty of the khanates there is a fuzzy topic.

Anyway, “since 1828” is long enough.


This Joshua Muravchik is a foreign policy analyst? His argument for war with Iran is lame beyond belief. Even with my complete ignorance of the details, in all reason, logic, and most importantly morality, even I can see this is absolute nut job lunacy. If these apparently sane people have the influence to move the machine towards war, then they should be considered the greater threat to US national security (and I would add, to world peace). Do they have some sort of twisted death wish? What a bunch of arrogant fools.


“One possibly naive question that I have is this: Why exactly is Iran still considered an enemy?”

I would think it has something to do with the fact that Iranian government erected commemorative structures in 2004 for the perpetrators responsible for the 1983 bombing of the Beirut USMC barracks.