Armed Conflicts, Global Geopolitics

The US Strategy for Regime Change in Iran: A Dangerous Game

DENVER, May 17 2019 - With the further recent escalations involving US and Saudi accusations of Iran’s involvement in damaging four commercial carriers in the Persian Gulf, and the US military plans to send 120, 000 troops, the US has raised the stakes in the dangerous game of trapping Iran to take steps that can justify US attack on Iran. Some US politicians like the Republican senator Tom Cotton from Arkansas talk about “two strikes—the first strike and the last strike,” that will presumably lead to the end of the current detestable rulers of Iran. How plausible is this scenario and what is likely to happen geopolitically if and when the US belligerence leads to an actual military confrontation with Iran? Furthermore, even if an Iraq-like initial scenario results— not a sure bet, to say the least— will ordinary Iranians greet the North American invaders as liberators?

Haider A. Khan

Politics of pacification through the winning of hearts and minds aside, even in purely military terms, Iran would be much more difficult in operational terms than Iraq was. Iran is more than three times the size of Iraq with a population that is also more than three times that of Iraq. Its topography is very different from Iraq’s. The invaders will face a rugged mountainous terrain; but the bigger factor will be political. The Battle of Baghdad could be avoided because instead of leading the urban resistance Saddam Hussein fled ignominiously. Consequently, the infamous police and the army also did not resist. Indeed, the repressive as well as the ideological state apparatuses all simply disintegrated. This made the initial takeover more of a cakewalk than it might have been. Even so, the “peace” was never won by the US forces The people in Iraq on the whole resent the US presence. Politically, the Shias have gained and are in a tacit alliance with Iran.

Although many Iranians hate the regime of the Islamic Republic, the threat of a foreign invasion with memories of 1953, will present them with a cruel dilemma at best. To support the US invaders with the prospects of a long civil war, or to resist the invaders as patriotic citizens of Iran will put them between the rock and a hard place, or for those who prefer classical analogies—- between Scylla and Charybdis.Given Iran’s history and the cruel record of perfidy of the US, many will choose the latter option.Thus a US invasion will most probably result in a bloody Battle of Tehran, resembling the battle of Stalingrad, or at the very least, the battle of Algiers.

Furthermore, although it may not be so clear to Bolton, Pompeo or Trump and neocon chauvinists, the US power relatively speaking is in decline. It is highly unlikely that US will get any diplomatic leverage over Russia or China. More likely, these two powers will support Iran diplomatically, logistically and behind the scenes even militarily.

With this further escalation using not just bullying rhetoric but also accompanying military moves by the US fleet and semi-lunatic invitations to Iran to make conciliatory telephone calls to the White House through the Swiss intermediaries, the situation is likely to worsen. If the most recent episodes are accurate indications of things to come , then there will soon be other manufactured incidents and allegations. No proof will be offered by the US rulers even to the allies or responsible committees in the congress.

Senator Sanders and a few other voices are so far the only voices of sanity in the US legislature. Will the Trump administration be transparent? Will Bolton allow an open debate before manipulating the administration to launch a strike against Iran? His record with Iraq and his consistent support for the neoconservative program of regime change can not be very reassuring for those who support a more pragmatic US foreign policy.

Any sane person would wish things to be different from what they appear to be in Washington. But as matters stand, the above is pretty close to the scenario we have now with potential for rapid deterioration. It is a reasonably good guess that the Iranian hardliners are also doubling down and are preparing for an asymmetric war—something they have announced already as a possible scenario. Given Iran’s military weakness vis- a- vis the US and its regional allies, such a response will seem to these military minds to be eminently rational in terms of military tactics. Anyone familiar with the recent developments in non-cooperative game theory will be able to understand this response as a logical deduction in the environment that the US has created with the series of moves that began with the US unilateral withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. One can only hope that Iran will not make the first move inviting disaster for the Iranian people and the region.

And what will the US, Israel or Saudi Arabia really gain geopolitically from a war with Iran? A long drawn out bloody war will destabilize all. Saudi Arabia is much weaker than Israel. So is UAE. These polities will face severe internal strains and external threats. Israel may be able to contain things better in the short run; but it too will face problems with many of its adversaries in the region. Thus, it is hard to see a clear geopolitical winner once a shooting war begins even if Iran is invaded and partially occupied by the US troops.

The writer is a Professor of Economics, University of Denver. Josef Korbel School of International Studies and former Senior Economic Adviser to UNCTAD. He could be reached by email

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