While Iran-hawks in Washington are quick to casually throw around mentions of the “military option” or, as some call it, “the kinetic option,” many realists and military strategists have been trying to call attention to exactly what a war with Iran would entail. But a new article written by a Washington Institute for Near East Policy fellow offers one of the more in depth discussions of what to expect if the U.S. chooses to pursue a military strike against Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons facilities.
Jeffrey White, a defense fellow at WINEP, starts by putting to rest the concept that a military strike could somehow be a contained event or have a predictable immediate outcome. His American Interest article reads:
[It is] disingenuous to try to frame military action against Iran as a simple “raid” or even a broader “operation.” We are talking here about war, with attendant potential high costs to all combatants in terms of military casualties, civilian damage and economic disruption.
White emphasizes that war has “an emergent logic of its own” and that “even a minor attack would likely become a major test of strength involving not only the United States and Iran but also a host of allies and associates.”
In terms of the actual military conflict, White is insistent that a military strike on Iran wouldn’t remain isolated to whatever narrowly defined goals the U.S. prescribes.
It seems fairly clear then that a conflict with Iran is unlikely to be an isolated event in which the U.S. strikes, Iran retaliates, and it’s over—with Iran either left with a viable nuclear program or not. War is far more likely to be a series of actions played out over time at varying levels of intensity and with a strong potential for escalation.
And he questions the U.S.’s readiness for such a conflict:
It is by no means clear, either, that the U.S. government is structured to effectively prosecute such a war, or that its intelligence capabilities are oriented properly toward supporting it.
White offers a long list of unpleasant scenarios that could result from a military strike on Iran. None of them should be thrown around lightly.