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Published on September 1st, 2011 | by Jasmin Ramsey

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Lieutenant Colonel Leif Eckholm on Invading Iran: Lessons from Iraq

Peter Crail has a post up on the Arms Control Association’s blog, Arms Control NOW, summarizing a recent analysis by Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Leif Eckholm which compares the invasion of Iraq with possible Iran invasion scenarios. As Crail notes, the comments made by Eckholm and other U.S. generals (not to mention former Mossad Chief Meir Dagan) who have seriously considered the “military solution” against the Islamic Republic point out the serious challenges and consequences of pursuing this route by ground or air.

Writes Eckholm:

Proponents of a more comprehensive military intervention will argue that a full-scale invasion is the only means by which to crush the regime and its military apparatus, guarantee total elimination of the Iranian nuclear enterprise, and create a window for democratic change. But the price of invasion would be astronomical, and the nationalistic reaction would be fierce; thus, the projected cost in life and treasure must be weighed against the envisioned, yet unpredictable, advantages of a new regime in Tehran.

Crail ends by noting that:

So when members of Congress say we should consider military force, or presidential candidates talk about a “military solution” to Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions, it is important to ask just what kind of military action they propose, and whether they have also addressed the types of consequences that military leaders and defense analysts describe.

In doing so he is also alluding to the fact that the majority of U.S. intelligence and military analysts are opposed to invading Iran, which raises the question of why certain members of congress and presidential candidates keep bringing the “military solution” up. Who are they being influenced by and who are they trying to please by adopting this kind of aggressive posturing?

Read Crail’s entire post below.

The Military Option on Iran: Be Careful What You Wish For

By Peter Crail

TIME Magazine has recently highlighted an analysis entitled “Invading Iran: Lessons from Iraq” by Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Leif Eckholm, who works in the Strategic Plans and Policy Directorate for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (the analysis was published by Stanford’s Hoover Institution, where Eckholm served as a defense fellow).

As the title suggests, the analysis examines many of the challenges in securing a post-invasion Iraq, and how they would be similar, different, or magnified in the context of Iran.

One of the key takeaways, however, is a brief cost/benefit assessment of the decision to attack Iran and a recognition that the only sure-fire way that military force could stop Iran’s nuclear program is through an Iraq-style invasion and occupation:

Should tensions over nuclear ambitions rise to the point of military intervention, an air campaign seems a more likely course of action. Military airstrikes provide a stand-off capability that could severely hamper or delay Iran’s march towards weapon production without bearing the cost of occupation and reconstruction, but not without a price of its own. Targeting the key nuclear infrastructure sites like the Bushehr Research Reactor, the Arak Heavy-Water Reactor/Plutonium Separation Facility, the Natanz Uranium Enrichment Plant, and the Esfahan Nuclear Technology Center would certainly be a major setback to Iran’s nuclear ambitions, but the regime has devoted considerable effort to hide, diversify, and protect its nuclear assets, and the regime’s determination to acquire nuclear weapons actually may well increase after such a strike. Furthermore, the regime would remain in place and likely benefit from a nationalistic reaction that would strengthen domestic political support. Proponents of a more comprehensive military intervention will argue that a full-scale invasion is the only means by which to crush the regime and its military apparatus, guarantee total elimination of the Iranian nuclear enterprise, and create a window for democratic change. But the price of invasion would be astronomical, and the nationalistic reaction would be fierce; thus, the projected cost in life and treasure must be weighed against the envisioned, yet unpredictable, advantages of a new regime in Tehran.

This assessment echoes the acknowledgement by former Joint Chiefs Vice Chairman General James Cartwright during an April 2010 Senate hearing that the only way military action would end Iran’s nuclear program would be through invasion and occupation. Cartwright went on to say during the hearing that, while the United States military could carry out such an operation, “there would be consequences to our readiness and the challenges that we already face in this nation economically to pay for war.”

It is important to note that an air campaign against select nuclear facilities wouldn’t be a walk in the park either, as former DIA analyst and Washington Institute Defense Fellow Jeffrey White said during an ACA event in June:

I think there are a lot of issues – important issues – related to an “attack,” in quotes, on Iran and so it would be very complicated, problematic in some ways.  I think the desired levels of destruction could be achieved, especially by us.  But it would not be an easy operation and it is, I think, in my mind kind of in a last resort category.

Discussing Israel’s own military option, Former Mossad Chief Meir Dagan was even more straightforward, saying it was “the stupidest thing I have ever heard.”

Lt. Col. Eckholm’s analysis provides an important contribution to answering questions that were not adequately addressed prior to the Iraq invasion, including what are the likely consequences and is it worth it? Military leaders naturally need to prepare for the possibility that they would be asked to undertake such operations. At the same time, those who are or aspire to be in a position to order those operations need to be aware of the extent of the military and economic commitments they, and ultimately the American people, would be making.

So when members of Congress say we should consider military force, or presidential candidates talk about a “military solution” to Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions, it is important to ask just what kind of military action they propose, and whether they have also addressed the types of consequences that military leaders and defense analysts describe.

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Jasmin Ramsey is an Iranian-born journalist based in Washington, DC.



4 Responses to Lieutenant Colonel Leif Eckholm on Invading Iran: Lessons from Iraq

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  1. avatar Jon Harrison says:

    Normally I’d spend the time to read this piece, but the fact is there is zero, repeat zero, chance that the U.S. will invade Iran. The very notion is preposterous. It’s a very different world from 2003, in case you haven’t noticed.

  2. avatar blowback says:

    “Iranian regime’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and its fierce anti-Americanism create the imperative to consider a future where diplomatic and economic coercion is exhausted”

    He lost me right at the beginning.

    What evidence is there that the Iranian government is pursuing an actual nuclear weapons program? None that I can see or even the latest NIE. Iran may be positioning itself to be able to move quickly to acquire nuclear weapons though the evidence for that is circumstantial and the US’s position isn’t helped by all the crap “intelligence” such as the “computer of death” and the latest “computer of mega-death” that seem to appear on a regular basis out of Mossad’s headquarters in Israel. Whether Iran moves to a full-blown nuclear weapons program is up to the US and it’s lickspittles such as the UK, France and others. Continue to threaten and interfere in Iran and, in light of what happened in Libya, it will surely happen. Respect the fact that Iran is a sovereign country that has been f”£$%^ over by the West on a number of occasions and the government in Iran will have no reason to go there.

    As for the fierce anti-Americanism, the majority of the World’s population is probably anti-American government policies but probably likes Americans (at least most of those with the gumption to travel abroad). Iran is probably no different. So yet again if America stops interfering in Iran as it agreed to do in the Algiers Accords, there should be little to worry about. Instead, Americans should look very carefully at their relationships with Saudi Arabia and the other GCC countries as well as Israel.

  3. avatar Eric Bloodaxe says:

    Iran would like Israel to get rid of its Nuclear arsenal and make the Middle east N free

  4. avatar Oso Politico says:

    Zionist Occupied Palestine will start it and expect the U.S. to mop up.

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