OCCOM BILL wrote:
Where Iraq could easily end up a worse enemy for our trouble; the Supreme Leader of Iran couldn't be much more anti-American than he already is
so I don't think winning the peace would be as imperative.
Yes, it's hard to imagine a more anti-American leaders than the current ones of Iran ... but no, that doesn't mean that things couldn't easily get worse than they are now.
I think it's pretty easy to argue that civil war would be worse than the current dictatorship, for one - both for the Iranian population and regional stability (and thus US security).
Not that I'm saying that civil war would be a foregone conclusion of the Iranian regime collapsing. There's a case to be made against its probability.
Eg, Iran has a relatively vibrant middle-class, which has much to lose with anarchy and will thus be more invested in avoiding it by all means than any part of the browbeaten Iraqi population was.
Iran also has a range of reformist and dissident civil society - intimidated and harassed by the government, for sure, but there
, and a possible incubator of organised action that could channel revolutionary change into relatively pacible transition.
Conversely, outside the Kurdish region, Iraq had no such civil society at all - only exiles who were no longer much trusted in the country itself, and the religious establishment, which has thus now taken over, in as far as anyone has.
So on those counts Iran looks much more hopeful, when imagining a post-regime reality, than Iraq did.
All of this also suggests some things to keep in mind when comparing the Iranian and the Iraqi regime though, by the way, and the consequences that implies for any suggested case that outright war and possible subsequent civil war is warranted from any humanitarian
or anti-dictatorial reason...
Furthermore, the case for
a probable civil war should the regime collapse is easily made too.
Eg, the above-mentioned middle class is practically defenceless if anarchy does break out: they have little access to armed defence. The popular/religious militias that do much of the regime's handiwork on the street are ideologically militant, and will not go down without a fight.
There's a distinct militancy in the working-class neighbourhoods too, which is easily harnessed by the fundamentalists (as Ahmadinejad's election victory showed), and could express itself in rioting targeted against the vulnerable, liberal-minded middle class.
Iran is also a huge country, and especially near the borders a mosaic of ethnic groups. Groups like the Azeris could easily try to secede if the country is engulfed in war anyway - even seek unification with Azerbajjan, would bring the Transcaucasian region into the chaos.
There is no comparison with the Kurds, who in Iraq, it's true, have so far been easily persuaded to work within an Iraqi state, because the Kurds there were being worked with by the US/West for years already. There are no similar channels of communication with whatever insurgent ethnicities crop up if Iran submerges into war.
Oh, and those groups would include the Iranian Kurds too; and any (very likely) effort by them to use the fog of war to secede would automatically drag the already unstable (to say the least) Iraq into a civil war.
Finally, imagine the zones of no-control that currently exist and are effortfully being kept limited in Afghanistan and Pakistan, expanded by a huge expanse of inaccessible Iranian countryside. And the hide-outs and operational bases that would facilitate for various extremist and terrorist groups.
In short, the havoc that civil war would wreck both in the lives of Iranians; for Iraq, Transcaucasia, Afghanistan; and in terms of global security could
also very easily make Khamenei and Ahmadinejad look like at least an overviewable danger, and one that common Iranians at least could somehow, in daily life, find their way around.
How big is the risk that toppling the current regime ends up in outright civil war? If the regime was to be toppled by popular protest from within, probably still relatively overviewable. But if the regime is to be toppled by enemy bombers flying in and blasting the country's infrastructure and centers of power to smitherees, nearly inescapable, IMO.