(What if) They Had a War and Nobody Came?

Even now, in a time when most troops are not seeing direct combat, the the volunteer force is struggling just to maintain numbers and standards. The Air Force, Marine Corps, and Navy are each short of a full quarter of their required fighter pilots. The Army recently announced that it is already 12,000 recruits behind on its recruiting goal for 2018 and will not make mission.

The Pentagon stated last year that 71% of Americans between the ages of 17 and 24 are ineligible to serve in the U.S. military, most for reasons of health, physical fitness, education, or criminality. The propensity of this age group to serve is even lower.

If we’re headed for regime change in Iran, get ready for a military draft. We’ll need one.

President Trump’s decision to scrap the Iran nuclear deal, established under President Obama, has major implications across the globe and for the White House. Just the FAQs

Our leaders seem interested in toppling Iran’s theocracy. But do they want a new U.S. military draft? Because make no mistake, that’s what it will take.

With U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, the installation of John Bolton as national security adviser, new sanctions and demands on Iran and a White House that appears committed to doing the heavy lifting for our friends and allies, regime change in Iran may well be back on the menu.

Should a serious public relations campaign for regime change begin, we will assuredly hear some familiar songs: the mullahs’ theocracy is weak and will swiftly collapse; our “man in Tehran” will be embraced by the people; the war will practically pay for itself; and most important, we won’t need to put any American “boots on the ground.”

All of these claims should be treated with enormous skepticism, but the last one is the most dubious.

Any serious effort to end the Iranian theocracy will not only require American troops, but will also almost certainly break our vaunted All-Volunteer Force If you like the idea of regime change in Iran, you had better love the idea of a new American draft.

We have seen for decades that American air power alone is insufficient to topple a government, whether it be Hitler’s Germany, Ho Chi Minh’s Vietnam or Saddam’s Iraq. (Bolton’s predecessor, Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, dubbed this idea “the vampire fallacy”). Our Sunni Arab allies are stalemated in Yemen and distinctly averse to sending troops to Syria. The idea that they would invade or occupy Iran is risible. The Washington regime change crowd’s preferred Iranian proxy is a hated cult called Mujahideen-e Khalq.

But if the mullahs are to be overthrown, it will be by American soldiers and Marines. Even if the Islamic Republic were to somehow collapse on its own, concerns about radiological material, the security of the Strait of Hormuz or another massive wave of refugees would probably drive the U.S.to intervene with ground troops.

U.S. politicians and generals sometimes like to point out that the volunteer military has successfully endured a decade and a half of sustained combat and a ceaseless cycle of deployments. This is not the whole story.

Despite the enormous amount of money expended there, Iraq was by historical measures a low-intensity war. Total combat deaths for American forces over eight years were about the size of a brigade, and losses in Afghanistan roughly half that.


Yet a modest increase in force structure required the military to greatly lower its standards, doubling felony waivers for Army recruits from 2003 to 2006, for instance.

A massive increase in the use of civilian contractors (more than 50 times the ratio in Vietnam) also hid the volunteer system’s cracks. The All-Volunteer Force was barely able to sustain two large, but low-casualty, campaigns — neither of which has resulted in anything resembling a U.S. strategic victory.

Occupying Iran would be a challenge of an entirely different magnitude than Iraq or Afghanistan. The Islamic Republic has a population of 80 million people — more than double that of either of its war-torn neighbors. However, it shares the ethnic diversity of those neighbors: only 61% of Iranians are Persian. This has caused some hawks to salivate, but it should instead provide another strong warning about the second- and third-order effects of regime change in Iran. As in Iraq and Afghanistan, removing Iran’s government could unleash the furies of sectarianism and communal strife. The odds are exceedingly low that U.S. troops will be “greeted as liberators.”

Iran’s geography is equally daunting. At 636,000 square miles, it is effectively the size of Western Europe. Ringed by mountains, ocean, and swamp, Iran is a fortress. Most of its population lives in the mountains; the lowland salt flats and deserts are largely uninhabitable. American forces, dependent on motorized and aerial movement and supply, are particularly ill equipped to handle Iran’s military geography.

The force with which we would occupy Iran is also not as resilient as most Americans probably think. Even now, in a time when most troops are not seeing direct combat, the the volunteer force is struggling just to maintain numbers and standards. The Air Force, Marine Corps, and Navy are each short of a full quarter of their required fighter pilots. The Army recently announced that it is already 12,000 recruits behind on its recruiting goal for 2018 and will not make mission.

The Pentagon stated last year that 71% of Americans between the ages of 17 and 24 are ineligible to serve in the U.S. military, most for reasons of health, physical fitness, education, or criminality. The propensity of this age group to serve is even lower. The likely demands and casualties of a war in Iran would spell the end of the All-Volunteer Force, requiring the conscription of Americans for the first time since 1973.

There is ample evidence that American foreign policy elites haven’t learned much from Iraq or Afghanistan; one need only look at the latest headlines from Libya or Syria. But perhaps even our modern Bourbons in Washington can grasp one simple lesson from the post-9/11 campaigns: Wars have an uncanny tendency to take on a life of their own.

Regime change in Iran would bring a host of consequences, many of them unknowable, but almost all of them negative for America and the region. There is one outcome we can be sure of, however: Occupying Iran would be the death of America’s all-volunteer military and necessitate a return to a draft.

Gil Barndollar served as a Marine infantry officer from 2009 to 2016 in Afghanistan, the Republic of Georgia, Guantanamo Bay and Bahrain. He holds a Ph.D. in history from the University of Cambridge.

2 Replies to “(What if) They Had a War and Nobody Came?

  1. John Bolton wants regime change in Iran, and so does the cult that paid him

    March 24, 2018 by administrator

    John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, speaks during the American Conservative Union’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on March 3, 2016. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

    by Jason Rezaian,

    President Trump’s appointment of John Bolton as his new national security adviser has created a stir among foreign policy experts. He is known for expressing extreme skepticism about international institutions (including the United Nations, where he served as U.S. ambassador in the George W. Bush administration). He has advocated a preemptive strike against North Korea. And he has also repeatedly proposed “regime change” (meaning “war”) in Tehran.

    Since the latter issue is one of the trickiest facing the Trump administration, it’s worth taking a closer look.

    Bolton’s hawkish views on Iran mirror those of Israel, Saudi Arabia and one of his key ideological partners, the Mujahideen-e Khalq (MEK).

    Today the MEK bears little resemblance to the highly organized, influential and militant opposition force that it was in Iran while seeking to topple the shah during the 1979 revolution. Initially it worked in cooperation with the clerical government. In fact, children of several top officials in the Islamic Republic joined the MEK.

    When it became clear that the MEK could no longer coexist with the ruling Islamic Republic Party, some MEK members withdrew from the group, while others were imprisoned. They either recanted and returned to society or were executed.

    Those who were left fled to Iraq, where Saddam Hussein, who invaded Iran in 1980, gave them a haven. Many took up arms and fought against their Iranian countrymen, earning the group the unofficial nickname monafegheen, or the “hypocrites.” That title has stuck, and most Iranians inside the country, regardless of their political tendencies, refer to them as such.

    The group is loathed by most Iranians, mainly for the traitorous act of fighting alongside the enemy.

    But it is the group’s activities in the decades since that have cemented its reputation as a deranged cult. For decades its command center was a compound in Iraq’s Diyala province, where more than 3,000 members lived in virtual captivity. The few who were able to escape told of being cut off from their loved ones, forced into arranged marriages, brainwashed, sexually abused and tortured.

    All this was carried out under the supervision of the group’s leaders, Massoud and Maryam Rajavi, the husband and wife at the top of the organization’s pyramid. He has been missing since the U.S. invasion in 2003 and is presumed dead. She now runs the group and makes regular public appearances with her powerful friends from the West — such as Bolton.

    The group was long a fixture on the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations for having killed American citizens. Bolton and others successfully lobbied to have the designation removed in 2012. That did little to change how average Iranians think of the organization.

    In the seven years I lived in Iran, many people expressed criticism of the ruling establishment — at great potential risk to themselves. Some hoped for regime change by military force, others dreamed of a return of the monarchy and many more wanted to see a peaceful transition to a secular alternative to clerical rule. In all that time, though, I never met a person who thought the MEK should, or could, present a viable alternative.

    But apparently that doesn’t matter to its supporters in Washington.

    Of course they were paid for their loyalty. “Very few former U.S. government officials shilled pro bono for the MEK,” said a former State Department official who worked on Iran. Among the long bipartisan list of people who have taken money from the group in exchange for speaking at its events are former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean. Bolton, the former official told me, was also paid.

    Their many efforts failed to the block the nuclear deal with Iran. Despite the long list of nefarious acts still carried out by Tehran, the biggest threat that Iran posed to international security — the issue that our allies and other world powers all agreed needed to be resolved — has been resolved.

    Based on U.S. assessments and those of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Iran appears to be complying with the nuclear deal.

    To those who claim that the nuclear deal isn’t working, regime change remains the only solution. For the MEK, and Bolton, if his words are to be taken at face value, the only path to that could be war. The group has long been prepared to do whatever it takes to see that happen, including presenting fake intelligence about Iran’s nuclear program.

    Source: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/global-opinions/wp/2018/03/24/john-bolton-wants-regime-change-in-iran-and-so-does-the-cult-that-paid-him/?utm_term=.ba1a62f32c47

  2. Daniel Larison
    Follow @DanielLarison
    Bolton and the MEK
    By Daniel Larison • March 27, 2015, 11:30 AM

    Re-reading part of John Bolton’s op-ed calling for war with Iran, I noticed something that I had overlooked the first time:

    An attack need not destroy all of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, but by breaking key links in the nuclear-fuel cycle, it could set back its program by three to five years. The United States could do a thorough job of destruction, but Israel alone can do what’s necessary. Such action should be combined with vigorous American support for Iran’s opposition, aimed at regime change in Tehran [bold mine-DL].

    Peter Beinart objects to Bolton’s op-ed in part because Bolton, who was a leading advocate for the invasion of Iraq, pays no attention to the possible negative consequences of a war with Iran. That’s a fair point. Hawks frequently ignore or minimize the costs and risks of the military action they’re urging the government to take, they exaggerate the efficacy of hard power to “solve” problems, and they often fail to anticipate or plan for unintended consequences of the wars they support. These are all good reasons to view any hawkish argument for war very skeptically, especially when it comes from someone with such an appalling track record. There is another reason to view anything Bolton has to say about Iran in particular with great suspicion.

    Bolton is hardly the only former official, retired officer, or ex-politician to do this, but for the last several years he has been a vocal cheerleader of the Mujahideen-e Khalq cult (and “former” terrorist group) and its political organization. He has been consistently misrepresenting a totalitarian cult as a “democratic” Iranian opposition group. When Bolton or someone else with this record talks about “vigorous American support for Iran’s opposition,” we can be fairly sure that he means that the U.S. should be backing the MEK in its quest for seizing power in Iran.

    This confirms Bolton’s extremely poor judgment and underscores how truly crazy his overall argument for war with Iran is. It also reminds us how oblivious Iran hawks such as Bolton are to the political realities inside Iran. Once again we have a hawkish demand for U.S. support for an exile group that has absolutely no support in its own country in order to achieve regime change. Indeed, the group that Bolton has been helping to promote is widely loathed in Iran for good reason and has no credibility at all with the domestic political opposition. It is Bolton’s embrace of the MEK as much as anything else that ought to discredit his views on Iran policy.


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