Harry J. Kazianis
It would not be pretty.
The above is only a very small sample of what is an excellent, but frightening, report. CSBA deserves credit for showing what such a conflict would look like, and did not get nearly enough credit when the report was released. While slightly dated, since it was written towards the end of 2011, any defense or national-security wonk should sit down and read it cover to cover. After reading the whole report, along with just a quick parsing of many other documents and resources on Iran’s military over the years, one can easily come to the conclusion that Iran’s forces, when confronted close to its shores, would not be easily subdued. What is referred to commonly as the “tyranny of distance,” combined with Tehran’s growing A2/AD capabilities, creates an interesting challenge for U.S. warfighters if the unthinkable ever came to pass.
The facts are simple: Washington and Tehran are locked into a long-term geopolitical contest throughout the Middle East that will span decades—a similar contest in many ways to Washington and Beijing’s battle for influence in the Asia-Pacific and wider Indo-Pacific regions.
Over the long term, the U.S.-Iranian struggle throughout the Middle East could very well be a mini-Thucydides trap, to steal the phrase from my beloved Harvard’s resident geostrategic guru, Graham Allison—the classic tale of how when a rising power meets an established power, war is oftentimes the most common result (eleven out of fifteen times, per Allison).
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Taking such a long view of U.S.-Iranian relations only reveals stormy seas ahead. No serious foreign-policy or national-security mind can see a long-term partnership beyond maybe short-term alignments in Iraq and decreased tensions from Iran putting its nuclear program on ice for ten years (Remember, folks: In ten years, Iran can slowly expand its nuclear program, and in fifteen years, it has no restrictions on the amount of uranium it wishes to produce…then what?).
Looking at any map reveals a whole host of challenges.