Where War With the Islamic Republic of Iran Could Lead
The Islamic Republic of Iran, founded on April 1st, 1979, was built on a foundation of extremism. Its first leader, the white-bearded, piercing eyes, Ruhollah Khomeini, didn’t just want his “Islamic Revolution” in Iran, he wanted it across the world. While American citizens were held hostage in the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, he referred to the United States as “The Great Satan.”
In the beginning, the support for Khomeini was vast. Returning to Iran, his caravan was swarmed by thousands of Iranians, thrilled to take part in fanatical religious activism.
They believed that he spoke for God, calling him, “Imam Khomeini.” Following an ideology called wilayat al faqih, they fervently accepted the idea that he and other religious figures in Iran were chosen to restore uncompromising Islamic rule to the country. He delivered on that promise, enforcing a strict code of morality, suppressing freedom of speech, and torturing and murdering dissidents. According to Grand Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri, who has since passed, but at one point was believed to be his successor, more than 30,000 political prisoners were executed in 1988 alone.
Outside of the Islamic Republic, Khomeini would back high-profile assassinations, help with the initial financing of Hezbollah, who bombed the U.S. Embassy and Marine Barracks in Beruit, Lebanon, and continue to support other terrorist groups like the Palestinian Liberation Organization.
A number of other things happened during Khomeini’s rule, including the Iran-Iraq War, where a sea mine would lead to a swift response from the U.S. Navy. In 1988, the Iranian Navy laid sea mines in the Persian Gulf. The USS Samuel B. Roberts, a missile frigate that was in the area, hit one of the mines. It blew a twenty-one-foot hole in the hull and severely injured several sailors. In response, the United States dealt a crippling blow the Iranian Navy, sinking the largest warship since WW2, speedboats, and gunboats.
Khomeini passed the following year. His successor, Ali Khamenei, was one of his closet associates and followers. He rules the Islamic Republic of Iran with a blood-stained fist today. But there are things that even a man with his power isn’t able to silence — how technology gives a voice to the voiceless. And how having access to more than state driven propaganda and education has led Iranians away from the beliefs many of their parents clung to with Khomeini and his hollow promise for a more just world.
They see that the better world, at least under the leadership of Khamenei, doesn’t exist. So they take to streets and protest shouting, “Marg bag dictator.” Death to the dictator. They take to social media platforms like Telegram and Instagram, cursing their government. As a result, many find themselves targeted, imprisoned, or worse. Still, the number of Iranians who oppose the government remains large and it grows daily.
Meanwhile, the Islamic Republic of Iran continues to fund terrorism all over the world.
It supports Hezbollah, a U.S. designated terrorist organization. It supports Hamas in the Gaza Strip. It supports Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, who is responsible for atrocities beyond human imagination. It supports Shi’a militias in Iraq, who test the U.S., firing rockets in the Green Zone and most recently near Camp Taji, where U.S. forces are stationed. Militias who were also responsible for the deaths of 603 U.S. troops during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
It supports the Houthis in Yemen, who are ideologically aligned and have unsuccessfully fired at U.S. Navy ships. It has attacked oil tankers, escalating maritime tensions. But the Islamic Republic of Iran took things to a different level shooting down an RQ-4A drone over international waters on Wednesday. And that’s where we are right now. The drums of war are beating.
While the idea of using military force to topple a government that has created such chaos, death, and destruction seems like a good one, especially considering such brutal history, we have to acknowledge all of the consequences when thinking about such actions.
First of all, Iran has a population of eighty-one million people. It is not Afghanistan. It is not Iraq. It has the capability to strike back. And it has a highly educated populous.
Sure, a lot of the people there want something different. A semblance of freedom or at the very least a choice in who their leaders are. But the moment the U.S. ends up killing civilians, which inevitably happens in a war, most of those people who hate Khameini go to fighting us instead. And now you have an insurgency on your hands that is unlike anything we have ever seen.
Speaking to a friend in Iran earlier today about this very issue, the conversation went like this. He was excited about escalating tensions because he wants us to overthrow the dictator.
“Bro, when are you going to attack us? So we can have that freedom? I will help the Marines!” he said with a smile.
“My friend, it is not that simple. First of all, while I know many you don’t like the regime, tell me what would happen if a friend or a family member of yours died in an airstrike? Would you still want to help America?” I responded.
“Oh bro,” he said with a sigh, “I didn’t even think of that. Yeah, you’re right. Khameini is a piece of shit, but if I lost someone, if I suffered like that, I would fight for the regime.”
“Yeah, I know, the insurgency would be a thousand times worse than Afghanistan or Iraq,” I replied.
“Shit bro,” he said. “You are right, and many Iranians would do the same.”
“Yeah, I know,” I replied.
In a conversation a few weeks ago with a former top U.S. intelligence official, we discussed another concern: Hezbollah sleeper cells in the United States. We talked about how a war with Iran would lead to targets being hit here. But Hezbollah would do a lot more sophisticated attacks than Al Qaeda or ISIS. That they would likely target infrastructure for long term damage.
To be clear: I study and track Shi’a extremism for a living, and could literally list off radicals here in the United States to you like you do items on your grocery list. There is a wide network of support here for what we discussed earlier — wilayat al faqih and extremism. I see things daily that make me cringe and develop a deeper loathing for the Islamic Republic of Iran and how it has exported its twisted ideology all over the world.
However, I think any lasting change in Iran is going to come from within. More protests. More dissent. More resistance. The moment we decide to be a major part of it we will find ourselves in a war with no end in sight. Many Americans will lose their lives. Many of our allies will, too. Many innocent Iranians will be caught in the crossfire. And it could lead to an even much bigger conflict on a global scale. Is it worth it?