CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- If it becomes necessary to attack Iran, we should profit from what we have learned in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Iranian leaders' blind religious zeal makes it only an even shot that President Obama's sanctions will work.
A surgical strike on nuclear facilities will not permanently cripple Iran's nuclear ambitions or deter Iran from deadly strikes against American shipping, missile attacks on Israel or mining the Persian Gulf. However, the one thing that will give Iran pause is a formal declaration of war by Congress. Such a declaration would allow a full-scale assault on all of Iran's defense facilities. The great advantage of a declaration of war or threat of such a declaration, is that Iran's leaders below the top might realize we are serious. The Iran-Iraq war went from September 1980 until August 1988, making it the longest war of the 20th century, yet in eight years with hundreds of thousands of casualties, Iran could not subdue Iraq. We took out Iraq in two weeks!
The big mistake we made in Iraq was to attempt to bring "democratic government" while rearranging the tribal power structure. To these ends we disbanded the Army and the ruling political party, leaving the country to chaos and civil war. A far better plan for us would have been to call the military leaders in Iraq, with whom our military was already in cell phone contact, and inform them that they now worked for us or they wouldn't work at all! Thus, units that displayed white flags and refused to engage us would not have been attacked and the commanders and officers would still have had jobs.
The whole "democracy" thing is an illusion because "democracy" is not the first step in modernization. The first step in modernization is separation of church and state -- the reason that Turkey is the only mid-Eastern country prospering in the 21st century. The second step is "constitutionalism," a concrete plan for whatever government one chooses for the moment. The third step is a rule of law: enforcement of contracts, pre-defined crimes with pre-defined punishments, predictable regulation, and efforts at honest enforcement. The final step is separation of powers.
At the beginning of the 20th century no women could vote, and in the South virtually all blacks were disfranchised, while elsewhere poll taxes kept out the poor. Yet Americans generally believed that they had a government they could get rid of and that government more or less worked for the welfare of the governed.
Strangely, a Congressional declaration of war might make a real war unnecessary. It we are going to eliminate Iran as a threat to world stability, we should take out its entire air force and we should take out every single naval installation on the Persian Gulf and destroy all of its fleet, particularly its fast attack boats. We should also take out all of its missile emplacements, radar stations, and other war making facilities. I stop short of deliberately killing soldiers and sailors who are not necessary collateral damage in the destruction of these facilities. Unfortunately, if Iran does not acquiesce to forebear in nuclear proliferation, only real war will stop them permanently. And real war means something that looks like U.S. v. Germany circa 1944.
America has something to show its military budgets. The notion that with American air power there will still be "fast attack boats" run by the Republican Guard in the Persian Gulf is a pacifist fantasy. Although we don't have the LSTs and massive fleet that we had at Normandy, we have sufficient Marine facilities to mount a landing in Iran and then bring in ground troops by a combination of land and air. Furthermore, there is a substantial constituency in Iran for regime change, and although the Americans might not be met as liberators, there will be a large contingent of Iranians eager to collaborate.
In Iraq, we made the mistake of taking out lots of civilian infrastructure in our efforts at shock and awe -- something that greatly hampered our development efforts later on. In Iran, it will be sufficient to take out all military targets, giving the military personnel ample time to evacuate.
Iran is a serious menace to the world, not just to Israel, but also to the economies of nations far distant from the range of its missiles. To whom would Iran give nuclear weapons? Would Iran have nuclear "suitcase" bombs? North Korea is really China's problem, and we expect China to demand rational conduct. No similar great power is calling the shots in Iran. Immediate presidential consultations with Congressional leaders concerning the mechanics of getting a declaration of war might, like the prospect of being hanged, focus Iran's mind.
Neely is a former artillery captain who served on a senior staff in Vietnam and a retired chief justice of the West Virginia Supreme Court.