Furthermore, Tehran doesn’t take U.S. military threats seriously. The United States still possesses enough military power to cripple if not destroy the Iranian nuclear program. What it cannot do, however, is fight an expanded ground war in the Middle East. Tehran reads the political tealeaves and understands that this administration, while good at killing terrorists with drones, is not about to expand the U.S. military commitment in the Middle East. Tehran would likely respond to an aerial assault by pouring troops into Iraq and Afghanistan, resulting in an American Dunkirk if not a disaster akin to the loss of the Philippines in 1942.
Ultimately, this administration is left with the naïvely fanciful strategy of containment. Unfortunately, what worked with the Soviet Union won’t work with Iran.
During the Cold War, containment worked because the United States had a credible deterrent. I know from personal experience as a nuclear-targeting officer at Headquarters, Strategic Air Command in the early 1970s, that we were ready, able, and willing to unleash a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union. Likewise, we knew the Soviet nuclear deterrent was equally credible. During a four-decade strategic stalemate, 100,000 Americans died on Cold War battlefields, mostly (but not exclusively) on the Korean peninsula and in Southeast Asia. Nevertheless, the nuclear component of deterrence worked because neither the United States nor the USSR were willing to destroy the future for the sake of the present. Iran has no such cultural or moral imperatives.
Iran is determined to dominate the Middle East. Accordingly, Tehran’s strategy is to force an American withdrawal from the region, one that is already underway. In addition, Tehran’s goal is to destroy Israel, which is becoming isolated from the United States. Once Tehran has shielded itself with a nuclear umbrella, it can unleash its forces against a weakened Iraq as a first step in establishing a New Persian Empire. Across the Gulf, the states of the Arabian Peninsula will be vulnerable to Tehran-inspired subversion if not outright aggression.
The ultimate nightmare resulting from the naïve stupidity behind any policy allowing Tehran to obtain nuclear weapons may manifest itself in an alliance between Iran and its religious kindred state Syria, a nuclear-armed North Korea, and Venezuela.
The current administration is politically incapable of confronting the Iranian threat. If the current policies continue beyond January 2013, Iran will establish a New Persian Empire, and there will be hell to pay.
Earl Tilford is a retired Air Force officer and college professor who lives in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He is the author of several books on the air war in Vietnam. His latest book, Turning the Tide: The University of Alabama in the 1960s has been accepted for publication by the University of Alabama Press.