The Bow Ramp

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Iran - What To Do?

The other day, Josh Manchester at The Adventures of Chester asked the blogosphere about what options do we have in Iran? This was a follow up post after live blogging the Fox special "Iran: The Nuclear Threat." A number of options were explored. The Fox options included:

Isreali surgical strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities

American surgical strikes

A naval blockade

An outright invasion

Chester added the option of fomenting revolt within Iran. Certainly, the mullahs have created an environment in Iran that has left many people dissatisfied with the regime. Unfortunately, there are also a lot of people who are fully supportive of the existing government – and they are the ones with all the weapons.

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (the Pasdaran) is somewhat analogous to Saddam’s Republican Guards. They are a military force separate from the regular armed forces and are more trusted than the regular military. They are the ones that control the strategic missiles and would control any WMD.

The Basij, are a paramilitary force similar to the Saddam Fedayeen. They are lightly armed and not as well trained as the regular military and Pasdaran. The regime frequently uses the Basij for internal security and putting down riots. These are the ones that would make it difficult for an internal revolt to succeed.

Even though the various Iranian armed forces are numerically very large, like Saddam’s were, they are no match for the U.S. military. A single U.S. Navy carrier battle group has more firepower than the entire Iranian Navy and Air Force combined. Apparently, the Iranian government is planning on fighting a protracted guerilla war and hoping the rough terrain of Iran will slow our advance and bleed us dry.

I’ve been thinking of another possible angle. Mind you, this particular course of action could be troublesome on a number of points. It is precisely the opposite of what our policy has been to this point. It has the possibility of getting out of hand. Like any other major undertaking, the unintended consequences might not be to our ultimate liking. That said, I think we should at least investigate this potential course of action.

In Afghanistan and Iraq we have been involved in nation building. We’ve been trying to stitch together viable societies from bits and pieces lumped together within artificial borders drawn by 19th Century colonial powers. Iran is no exception. Instead of nation building, we might try a bit of nation dismantling.

There are several regions of Iran that are inhabited by various ethnic groups that have more in common with the people on the other side of the border than they do with the dominant Persians. There are several specific areas that could be exploited in this way.

The Southeast corner of Iran is sparsely settled and inhabited by the Baluchi people. Although ethnically related to the Persians, they have a distinct language and culture. They are also Sunni Muslims. Directly across the border in Pakistan and along the southern rim of Afghanistan are the rest of the Baluchis.

In the Northeast, along the shore of the Caspian Sea, are the Turkmen. There was an attempt to revolt 25 years ago and serious violence there as recently as 1983. On the opposite side of the border are their ethnic brethren in Turkmenistan.

Along the Northwest border of Iran is the country of Azerbaijan. The Azari people are ethnically related to the Turks but like the Iranians, they are Shia Muslims. Only a third of the Azaris live in Azerbaijan. The other two thirds live in Iran. In fact nearly 30 percent of Iranians are ethnic Azaris.

The Kurds are a large ethnic group residing in Syria, Turkey, Iraq and Iran. They are Sunnis. There have been Kurdish independence movements in all four countries for many years. Now that Iraqi Kurds have achieved a great deal of local autonomy the governments of the other three countries are becoming increasingly concerned about the Kurds within their own borders.

At the head of the Persian (Arabian) gulf, directly across the Euphrates River from Iraq is the Iranian province of Khuzistan. This is the area that contains the majority of Iranian oil fields and is populated by Shia Arabs. There has been rioting there in just the last few weeks.

As I see it, the hopes for some sort of “velvet revolution” within Iran are not very high. The mullahs just aren’t going to give up power and they don’t care how many people are jailed or disappear in the process. Neither do I believe that there will be a successful armed uprising – not without help that is. Rather than encouraging a nationwide uprising with no chance of support, we might try chipping off a few regions by clandestinely or overtly supporting the reintegration of various ethnic groups with their brethren in other countries.