What Happens if America and Iran Go to War?

David Axe

U.S. president Donald Trump on Jan. 2, 2020 ordered the killing of Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps militia and one of the country’s top military leaders.

A U.S. Special Operations Command MQ-9 drone fired on a vehicle carrying Soleimani and a deputy militia commander at Baghdad’s international airport, killing both men.

War could result. And it almost certainly would be catastrophic for everyone.

Against the backdrop of mass demonstrations in the aftermath of the attack, Soleimani’s successor vowed to retaliate. In return, Trump threatened to order U.S. forces to bombard 52 Iranian targets including cultural sites. U.S. law forbids military attacks on such locations.

The Pentagon in the days after the killing rushed 3,000 additional Army troops plus a Navy amphibious ready group to the Middle East. The Eurasia Group in New York City estimated the chance of “a limited or major military confrontation” at 40 percent.

“The best-case scenario is that Trump’s bluster and Iran’s weakness translate into no retaliation serious enough for Trump to lose his temper again,” Daniel Drezner, a professor of international politics at Tufts University, wrote in The Washington Post. “The worst-case scenario is the repeated misinterpretation by U.S. and Iranian policymakers of the other side’s red lines.”

Any eventual clash likely would be “asymmetric,” BBC correspondent Jonathan Marcus wrote. “This term suggests a war of the weak against the strong -- two sides with very different goals and very different metrics for success.”

If a war does break out the U.S. will seek to pummel Iran's armed forces. It would probably go about it in its time-honoured fashion; initially taking down Iranian air defenses and so on. But the Iranians simply need to do enough damage to turn U.S. public opinion against the conflict -- to make it appear open-ended and uncertain.

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