The cost of occupying Iran

I think we’re going – been wrong on the timing already, but there’s still too much drive in the political streams to think I’m wrong. So I thought I’d look at some of the cost.

Here’s one that most people don’t get to – the occupation. Let’s assume we win. We’ve tossed out the current government, we’ve suppressed the College at Qom, and we’re headed into phase IV. Let’s assume we do it right this time – establish immediate control (martial law) and governance, keep the body in place while only firing the head of each of the already-organized structures (and employ them as much as practical), that sort of thing. We’re looking at five to ten years of occupation, of which the first two or three are pretty much full-cost, and of which the remainder are gradually declining. (If we get the same talk we did about Iraq, saying “less than a year”, then we know it’s wrong. Again.) Anyway, let’s use these assumptions for our ballpark.

The first thing to determine is how many bodies we need. All other costs are dependent on this.

We had, between military and civilians, pretty close to 250,000 people in Iraq for the first year. It wasn’t enough, which means we have a data point for too few. Iraq had approximately 25 million people at that time. Iran has approximately 70 million people. The first ballpark – scaling by population – says therefore that 700,000 people (civilian and military) is too few.

On the other hand… 1945 occupied Japan’s population was vicinity 72 million people, not too far from that of Iran’s population. Total occupation forces were approximately 400,000 people for the first few years. Which tells us that in proper context we have a working floor of 400,000 people, or a bit more than double what we used in Iraq.

The second measure of the need is area to cover. Iran has almost four times the land mass Iraq had. It’s a little over five times that of Japan’s mass. Now a large chunk of Iran is pretty close to uninhabitable, but unfortunately that’s only about a third, maybe a quarter, of the whole. Worse, it’s a consolidated area more-or-less in the middle. Which means travel to support and reinforce any particular area of the nation requires going from edge to edge. What this means is that we cannot use a centralized ready reaction force. And decentralization increases personnel needs (though it tends to balance with faster response times). So by land mass, we’re going to need, oh, three times as much force as Japan/Iraq. Call it a million people (4 times 250, 3 times 333).

One more measure, returning to the population comparison. The more individual the nation – the more it’s respondent to autocratic authority – the less oversight you need (so long as you get a clear transfer of authority from the previous autocracy). The problem with Iran is that despite many illusions, the national character is very resistant to autocracy. This in turn supports the Iraq “floor” over the Japan “success” value for estimated forces.

With these thoughts in mind, I cannot see needing less than one million people for at least the first two, and possibly the first four years of occupation.  By the end – be it five or be it ten years – I see it having drawn down to a more circumspect 250,000.  Or as many people as we TOPPED in Iraq in the first year.

How many bodies begins to tell us the other costs.  To begin, how do we put a million bodies in Iran for a few years?  Where in our current structure do they come from?  Sure, a lot can be draftees.  But a lot more can’t.  Because what we’re doing is nation rebuilding, and while we need a lot of snuffies to act as patrolmen and ready combat forces, what we need a LOT of is builders and teachers – people who teach by example what kind of government we have and want while helping the nation rebuild its infrastructure.

We’re talking serious money.  If we can avoid the degree of combat we’ve had in Iraq we can reduce the proportion factor, but we probably can’t spend less than double what we spent per year in Iraq.  MAYBE that money can come from oil, but counting on that for the first couple of years is relying on a single point of failure.  All an insurgent need do to keep the frustration high is keep the oil-flow troublesome.

Frankly, it boils down to a simple choice.  For the US to remain the country we like to think it is, we have to get other nations to share the load.  If we try to do it unilaterally – assuming we get to the occupation phase – we have to draft and tax for sufficient bodies and funds.  And by draft I don’t mean young cannon fodder.  I mean experienced professionals in a number of fields, too.  Which in turn means we’re cutting our internal production capacity at the same time we’re putting a heavy load on it.

That’s the cost for success:  Impairment of the United States for a decade.

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One thought on “The cost of occupying Iran

  1. Some time ago, Josh Marshall pointed out a subtle flaw in using Japan (or Germany) after WW II as a reference point. Those societies had been profoundly traumatized by defeat in total war – they’d had the stuffing beat out of them, and were psychologically ready to “embrace defeat.” The problem with a successful lightning invasion, in a sense, is that it doesn’t do *enough* damage to shatter the target society and render it malleable.

    As possible counterexample, how many German troops occupied France in WW II? In spite of Resistance mythology, my impression is that the occupation was hardly bleeding the Germans white. On the other hand an argument can be made that France had been traumatized by victory in 1918, due to the dreadful cost.

    In the case of Iran, there’s been no trauma; many Iranians may be disgusted by their government, but resistance to occupation should be expected, and Iraq of course has given everyone a seminar in how to fight American occupiers.

    I doubt that a ground invasion and occupation are intended. (With what army?) But that doesn’t make attacking Iran any less stupid. We can break some of their toys, but the Iranian liberal opposition will also be broken, perhaps for decades to come, while the Iranians are in an easy position to make the occupation of Iraq completely unsustainable.

    Has anyone tried coming up with a crackpot conspiracy scenario whereby US policy is being secretly directed from Tehran? Because pretty much everything we have done for the last four years could scarcely have been better calculated to build up Iran as regional dominant power if it HAD been master-planned by the Iranians …

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