Many Democrats are trying to whip up hatred for US President Donald Trump over the killing of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, who was taken out by a drone strike on January 3 near Baghdad’s airport.
The Democrat thesis is that Trump will guide America into a full-scale war with Iran and lead to the massive loss of US military personnel and bases.
These assumptions appear to be based on a faulty interpretation of what the Soviet Union used to call “the correlation of forces.” In this reading, America has put itself in a position to be victimized by the Iranians and there isn’t much we can do about it.
In effect, the Democrats’ argument is the same one Iranian leader Ali Khamenei advanced: the US “can’t do a damn thing against us.”
The facts don’t match either the bluster of Khamenei or that of some Democrats running for president. Candidate Tulsi Gabbard went so far to say that Trump’s action was “unconstitutional.” If she was right then virtually all US presidents would be guilty of similar offenses.
The US is in a very strong position versus Iran. It has a vastly superior air force including stealth bombers and fighter planes, modern and effective naval forces including aircraft carriers, missile defense Aegis cruisers and nuclear submarines. The US also has superb intelligence and situational awareness, something the Iranians lack.
Iran has short, medium and some long-range rockets, and the ability to use terrorism to its advantage. Beyond that, Iran has little else. The Iranian navy is worthless as a fighting force. Its air force is made up mostly of old planes that are hardly flightworthy. It does not have precision weapons.
Iran does have drones and aging Russian cruise missiles. It also has proxy forces that can cause trouble for Israel in the form of Hezbollah and, to a degree, Hamas. But not much more. (In fact, Hamas was celebrating the demise of Soleimani, handing out candies in the Gaza strip. After all, Soleimani killed countless Palestinians in Syria.)
The US has formidable allies in the region. Israel has a first-rate air force, missile defenses, submarines and strike naval assets. It has a well-disciplined and trained army along with civil defense to protect its citizens. Like the US, Israel has excellent situational awareness and intelligence assets, formidable command and control capabilities, and deep fighting experience.
Saudi Arabia, the UAE and other allies in the region also have frontline fighter aircraft and competent naval assets. Like Israel, they also have some missile defenses. They are supported by the US, have precision weapons, and in a setting of general war can be useful and effective assets.
Iran has none of these things. Its questionable allies – China and Russia – are not going to get into a war with the United States over Iran. The argument that China needs Iran’s oil doesn’t stand up: there is so much oil available from the Gulf states, Russia, even the United States that the argument makes little sense.
The Russians, for their part, have not prevented Israeli strikes on Iranian operations in Syria (Hezbollah plus Iran’s Revolutionary Guards). In fact, it can be argued that they have aided and abetted Israel to some degree. Why would they risk war with the United States? If Russia did so it would lose its growing support in Europe, trash any chance of a political settlement in Ukraine and probably end up going broke. Speculation about a combined Russian and Chinese intervention is unrealistic. Russians still understand what correlation of forces means.
Legally speaking, neither Russia nor China has a security agreement or defense treaty with Iran. Russia does have a military cooperation agreement, but the agreement says nothing about Russia coming to Iran’s aid. The cooperation agreement is not a defense treaty. Similarly, China has a military cooperation agreement with Iran, but it imposes no obligations on China and is not a defense treaty.
With President Trump’s clear threat to forcefully answer any Iranian action against the US, the critical issue is whether Iran would talk itself into a fight with the US.
Given the nature of the Iranian regime, its tendency toward extreme posturing and its ambition to dominate the Middle East and Persian Gulf, nothing can be ruled out.
But if Iran does go to war, there is a silver lining: heightened conflict could provide the opportunity to end the country’s budding nuclear ambitions.
If conflict breaks out, the US could use its bunker busters and precision weapons to annihilate as much of Iran’s missile and nuclear weapons centers as possible.
That would definitely end the Mullahs’ rule and the Middle East would be spared the growing threat of nuclear war.
Dr Stephen Bryen has 40 years of leadership in government and industry. He has served as a senior staff director of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as the deputy undersecretary of defense for trade security policy, as the founder and first director of the Defense Technology Security Administration, as the president of Delta Tech Inc, as the president of Finmeccanica North America, and as a commissioner of the US-China Security Review Commission.