Why Invading Iran Would Be a Military Disaster (Worse Than Vietnam)
What would a war with Iran look like? In sum, it would be the gravest mistake in U.S. foreign policy since the Vietnam War. Yes, even worse than the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
In the wake of a rollercoaster week of escalatory and de-escalatory signaling between the United States and Iran, both sides appear to have taken a step back from the abyss. Iran’s retaliatory missile barrage did not kill any U.S. personnel and President Trump has not signaled any plans to escalate beyond the killing of General Qasem Suleimani. But the core political stakes of the contest have risen. In response to the killing, Iran sloughed off the remaining limits on its nuclear hedge. Trump reflexively tightened sanctions.
No new status quo has emerged from the latest episode that suggests the future will be more stable. Neither side may seek war, but both wish to demonstrate that they are willing to risk war over the stakes—and, most importantly, that they are willing to stomach more risk than the other. Under such circumstances, observers should brace for more of the same.
President Trump has indicated that he does not want another war in Middle East. But in the delicate dance underway of signaling intentions and resolve, neither side is in perfect control. Escalations can be miscalculated, misperceived, and accidental. The belligerents may even deliberately use such risk to communicate their resolve. In its latest attack especially, Iran embraced a certain degree of chance that its missile would kill Americans on Iraqi bases. Unless coordinated with the adversary, any attack runs some risk of casualties.
Under these circumstances, it is worth peering into the abyss. What would a war with Iran look like? In sum, it would be the gravest mistake in U.S. foreign policy since the Vietnam War. Yes, even worse than the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Operationally, a war for regime change in Tehran will be much more complicated than the Iraq War. In the 2003 march to Baghdad, the brunt of the ground campaign was carried by one armored division and one Marine division (the 3rd Infantry Division and 1st Marine Expeditionary Force). These are very low force-to-space ratios (a comparative measurement long used by military analysts), permitted by precision air power covering their flanks in the desert.
Iranian territory is, by comparison, two-thirds larger than Iraq and Afghanistan combined and covered in both deserts and mountains. The geography is likely to provide ample cover and concealment for dug-in local forces or dispersed insurgents.