Avoid the Next 'Dumb' War
JCPOA, or No JCPOA, War With Iran Is a Non-Starter
While on the campaign trail, President Trump labeled the 2003 invasion of Iraq a “dumb war,” and the “worst decision” in American History. These statements should have received praise from Americans on both sides of the political aisle. Now, however, I’m not so certain that Trump is following through on his promises to avoid the next “dumb” war.
This week, the president announced his intention to pull out of the Iran Deal, or the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The deal was, no doubt, flawed, but it did provide an inspections regime to limit and delay any Iranian attempts to go nuclear. Perhaps, being a creation of the Obama administration, the JCPOA was doomed from the start.
Iran is a mid-level menace. It aggressively pursues its interests through various proxy forces in the Mid-East—a sign of its weakness as much as power. The Islamic Republic has a burgeoning ballistic missile program (not covered by the JCPOA) and sometimes threatens Israel. This is all cause for concern and requires the U.S. military to balance and, perhaps, contain Iran. However, the Islamic Republic is decidedly not an existential threat to the United States. A more realist foreign policy must take this into account and avoid disastrous war.
Iran is nowhere near able to launch a (non-existent) nuclear weapon at Tel Aviv, let alone New York. Furthermore, as I have previously noted, Iran spends about as much on defense annually as the U.S. does on a single aircraft carrier. Iran’s GDP is about $427 billion, and it spent some $11.5 billion on defense in 2016. U.S. allies, like Saudi Arabia and Israel, spend $66.7 billion, and $19.6 billion, respectively. Standing behind them is the U.S., which plans to spend $716 billion on defense in 2019, or $300 billion more than Iran’s entire GDP.
Moreover, the U.S. military faces two significant problems: Iran presents a formidable obstacle to invasion, and American forces are already desperately overstretched.
Remember back when Americans were assured that the invasion of Iraq would be a “cakewalk?” We all know how that turned out. Iran is larger, more populous, and more mountainous than Iraq. It also has a fiercely nationalistic population, which, not-so-long-ago used human wave attacks to clear Iraqi minefields. Any U.S. invasion of Iran will require more troops and more years of patience than Washington or the populace have on hand.
America’s formidable military is already spread thin, deployed in nearly 70 percent of the world’s countries. Our ground and air forces actively engage in combat in Niger, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. The U.S. Army is also busy sending brigades to deter Russia in Eastern Europe and to shore up defenses in South Korea. Meanwhile, the Navy is patrolling the South China Sea, and ensuring access to the Persian Gulf and Red Sea. Bottom line: America’s warriors are quite busy.
The last thing Washington should do is take its eye off the ball in some seven ongoing shooting wars to start a new conflict with Iran. ISIS is not yet defeated, Iraq is far from politically stable, and—despite optimistic pleas to the contrary— the war in Afghanistan is failing. The best bet is for the U.S. military to cut its losses, avoid more counterproductive interventions, and cautiously disengage from the region.
The last thing American servicemen and women need is to fight a new, exhaustive war in Iran, with existing enemies to their rear. That would defy just about every sound military maxim on the books. Worse still, if we think Iran’s proxy forces are a problem now, imagine what will happen in the case of war, when Tehran would undoubtedly unleash them against U.S. bases and supply lines across the region.
Personally, this combat veteran trusts President Trump’s instincts more than those of his advisers. Secretary of State Pompeo and National Security Adviser Bolton are well-known Iranophobes with an ax to grind. Ditching the Iran Deal was definitely a win for these two. Still, scuttling the JCPOA does not have to mean war.
Trump eventually saw the invasion and occupation of Iraq for what it was: an unmitigated failure. Let’s hope he applies that instinct and avoids what promises to be an even more costly war with the Islamic Republic.
Mr. President, hundreds of thousands of us, overstretched veterans of 17 years of perpetual war in the Mid-East, are counting on a new deal.
One that doesn’t include a new war.
[Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author, expressed in an unofficial capacity, and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.]
Danny Sjursen is a fellow at Defense Priorities. He served combat tours with U.S. Army reconnaissance units in Iraq and Afghanistan and later taught history at his alma mater, West Point. He is the author of a memoir and critical analysis of the Iraq War, Ghostriders of Baghdad: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Myth of the Surge. Follow him on Twitter at @SkepticalVet.