Wednesday, November 07, 2012

How I Tried to Bomb Iran Into The Stone Age


By Michael Peck,
Courtesy Of "Forbes"


Tell Me How It Ends is a computer game released today by the TrumanNational Security Project. The game puts the player in the role of the President of the United States as he chooses from various options for military action against Iran’s nuclear program. The game, which the public can play via Web browser, is intended to illustrate the consequences of a U.S.-Iran conflict, from rising oil prices to terrorist attacks against American civilians. I had a chance to play Tell Me How It Ends using various strategies. Below is a replay of what happened when I chose a strong military option:

Day 1: The time for talk was over. The time for action had arrived. Some of my advisers said yes, and others no. But they are not President of the United States. I was, and the decision for war and peace is mine alone. Our economy was still in recovery, and the American people were weary after a decade of war. Yet our intelligence community has concluded that Iran can build a bomb within a year, and as my White House Chief of Staff reminds me, our red line for action against Iran is 20 percent nuclear fuel enrichment. Despite economic sanctions, that line has been crossed. My duty is clear; we must use force to eliminate Iran’s nuclear capability. By moving forcefully and resolutely, I believe we can eliminate Iran’s threat to world peace at a minimal cost.
My first decision: does the U.S. go it alone, or do we assemble a multinational coalition to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities? As usual, the Secretary of State says a coalition is best, while my national security advisor and chief of staff prefer unilateral action. I don’t believe Russia and China will ever endorse a military option, Britain is too broke for another war, and I have no idea whose side France is on. The longer we wait, the closer Iran is to a bomb, so we’ll go it alone. I give the order, and after a sleepless night, I awake at dawn to reports of air strikes against nuclear facilities, air defenses and command centers. News reports estimate at least 800 Iranian deaths, though Tehran naturally claims thousands. 
We seem to have badly damaged some nuclear sites. But our intel has detected Iranian preparations to block the Straits of Hormuz with mines and missiles, which would bottle up oil tanker traffic and devastate the global economy. Oil prices have jumped overnight 25 percent, from $102/barrel to $127/barrel, since hostilities began. My budget staff calculates the conflict is costing us $200 million per day. We cannot afford this war to drag on. Decisive action is the call of the hour.
Day 2: My next decision: How do we keep the Straits of Hormuz open? The Secretary of State recommends containing the violence by limited strikes against Iranian naval and missile sites threatening shipping lanes, while the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs urges massive bombing of Iranian forces. A war half-fought is a war lost, I have always believed, so I order all-out bombing.
Day 30: After a month of combat, we have reopened the Straits of Hormuz, but Iran has retaliated by killing our diplomats in Baghdad and kidnapping contractors in Bahrain. More worrying is that the conflict has expanded beyond the Middle East;  truck bombs have killed dozens of Americans in Argentina and London. The price of oil has doubled to $200 per barrel, and U.S. gas prices are topping $6 per gallon. The war is costing us $300 million per day.
Another decision point: how do we respond to the wave of Iranian-backed terrorism across the world? The Secretary of Homeland Security fears attacks on American soil, my national security adviser wants to blast the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps that is orchestrating the terror campaign, but Defense warns that this will divert our already overstretched forces from destroying nuclear sites. I authorize strikes against the IRGC to stop the terrorism. I know I’m doing the right thing. Or am I?
Our aircraft play cat-and-mouse with IRGC troops and camps that appear and disappear. Yet two weeks later, the terror attacks continue. Ominously, Iran has expanded the war by firing three dozen missiles into Israel, while their Lebanese proxy Hezbollah shot a thousand rockets into Israel, and Islamic Jihad is bombarding southern Israel from Gaza. I can guess how Jerusalem would react, or how I would react in their shoes. Oil has soared to $218/barrel.
Day 45: A 3 a.m. call from Israel’s prime minister. He is characteristically blunt: Either the U.S. commits reconnaissance and ballistic missile defense assets to the defense of Israel, or Israel invades southern Lebanon and Gaza. My chief of staff says we need to back our closest ally, the Joint Chiefs warn this will overstretch our forces, and State just mutters that we’re in a tough spot. No kidding. Time for a cabinet reshuffle after this is over.
I want to honor our commitment to Israel, but I cannot place a heavier burden on our troops. Regretfully, I inform the Israelis that they are on their own. Within hours, they cross into Lebanon and Gaza. But report indicate that the IDF is now bogged down in southern Lebanon, and are taking casualties in Gaza. Thousands of Israeli and Arab civilians have died in fighting across the region.
Day 60: I need to end this. Our forces are overstretched and under constant attack. Iranian-backed terrorism continues across the globe. We have already poured billions of dollars into this war, the economy will probably enter recession and unemployment is sure to rise. Yet after spending all that blood and treasure, there is still no guarantee that Iran’s nuclear program has been destroyed. My options are three: end the war immediately and stand down our forces, contain Iran by maintaining a strong presence in the Persian Gulf and backed by occasional air strikes, or – the final option – launch an all-out ground invasion of Iran to overthrow the mullahs. My stomach churns, but I cannot commit the U.S. to a permanent state of low-level conflict with Iran for years. The U.S. must not be defeated, or the next generation of Americans will be faced with the Iranian threat.
I order an invasion of Iran. Marines land on the coast, supported by Rangers and Special Forces parachuting into southern Iran, while U.S. aircraft strike day and night, pounding  targets across the country. My advisers tell me that we will need 200,000 to 300,000 American troops to occupy a nation
as mountainous as Afghanistan, but more than twice the size and triple the population. We can expect at least an eight-year occupation, at an estimated cost of $400 million per day and a thousand American dead per year.
That which I feared has come to pass. The war has become a quagmire that will afflict America for years to come. I believe my actions were correct, and yet the results were not. The war on Iran has failed.
Lessons learned from the game: Don’t initiate a military campaign against Iran’s nuclear program in the expectation of quick victory. Escalating the violence only led to even more violence. As the title of Tell Me How It Ends suggests, don’t begin a war without a clear exit strategy.
On Monday, the War Games blog will replay this simulation with a different strategy. In the meantime, try the game yourself – it’s a free browser-based game – at  Let us now how well your strategy works.
Day 1. America cannot afford another quagmire like the Iraq or Afghan Wars. Our declared policy is not to allow Iran to build a nuclear weapon. Iran has crossed the nuclear fuel enrichment threshold, and I have no choice but to act. Now that the UN has failed to authorize military action, my first decision is whether  America should act alone, or build a multinational coalition. I order every effort be made to assemble a coalition, and Britain, France, Canada, Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic agree to commit their forces, while the Gulf states agree to provide bases and logistical support. Reports indicate some damage to Iranian nuclear sites, with several hundred Iranians reported dead. As expected, oil has jumped from $100/barrel to $122/barrel, and my budget staff estimates the conflict is already costing us $170 million/day.
Day 3: Iran has now vowed a crash program to develop nuclear weapons. More worrisome is that our intelligence has detected Iranian preparations to use mines and missiles to block the Straits of Hormuz to tanker traffic. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs recommends a massive bombing effort to disrupt those preparations, but the State Department hopes that limited strikes might reassure Iran that we are not seeking a wider war. I opt for limited attacks.
Day 30: Limited strikes against Iranian forces have failed to reopen the Straits of Hormuz, bringing tanker traffic to a standstill and driving oil prices to $244/barrel. U.S. casualties have thankfully been light, but ripples are being felt across the U.S. economy. Meanwhile, Iran has launched a terrorist campaign across the world. American diplomats and contractors have been killed or kidnapped across the Middle East, and I have just received word that truck bombs have destroyed U.S. facilities in Argentina and London. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps is directing these terrorist attacks, and myNational Security Adviser urges me to strike the IRGC, which hopefully will degrade their operations. But the Secretary of Defense wants to focus on destroying Iran’s nuclear capability and keeping the Straits of Hormuz open. I want to keep this war from spiraling out of control, so I order our forces to ignore the IRGC.
Day 45:  Iranian terrorist attacks are expanding, and Tehran has just launched three dozen missiles at Israel, while Hezbollah and Hamas are firing rocket barrages. Israel has mobilized its army. I receive a 3 a.m. phone call from the Israeli prime minister. He warns that unless the U.S. commits reconnaissance and ballistic missile defense assets to protect Israel, he will be forced to order an invasion of Lebanon and Gaza. My chief of staff reminds me that we have pledged to support our ally, but the Pentagon warns that this will overstretch our forces that are already committed to fighting Iran. But multiple Israeli invasions will expand the conflict, and while it will strain our resources, I order that U.S. troops be immediately sent to Israel. This quiets the Israeli-Arab front, but our air and naval commanders are privately telling reporters that supporting Israel has deprived our troops in the Gulf of vital assets. If there is any good news, it is that oil prices have fallen to $195/barrel, still double their pre-war price.
Day 60: I have to end this. The world and American economies are reeling, gas prices are at $6.25/gallon, and despite all our efforts, our experts report that Iran can probably rebuild their nuclear capability within three or four years. I can try to finish the war by toppling the Iranian regime with a ground invasion, I can try to contain Iranian ambitions with a continual low-level air campaign, or I can just end the war unilaterally. With a heavy heart, I opt to end the war. Iran will resume its nuclear program, and Turkey and Saudi Arabia will follow suit. Using force to stop the Iranian Bomb has failed.
Tell Me How It Ends is an op-ed masquerading as a game. Whether a player chooses all-out war to destroy Iran’s nuclear program, or opts for a limited military effort, the outcome is the same. Iran retaliates with a global terror campaign, Iran’s nuclear program is damaged but not eliminated, the U.S. economy is devastated by soaring oil prices, and the war is judged a U.S. failure (though the game can end with different levels of oil prices depending on the options chosen). This was not poor game design. The Truman National Security Project, the Washington thinktank that designed Tell Me How It Ends, argues that the U.S. had better think carefully about an exit strategy before it resorts to force against Iran.
It’s a sensible warning about rushing into a quagmire, especially in light of a decade stuck in Iraq and Afghanistan. And while the game is somewhat narrow (there is no scenario for Israel attacking Iran, and then the U.S. entering the conflict), it’s frighteningly plausible. The game’s cause-and-effect, where U.S. military action is met by Iranian retaliation using the asymmetric warfare tools such as terrorism, quite possible. I don’t know that Iran would be able to build a nuclear bomb in four years after a pounding by U.S. bombers, and I don’t that Iran would risk Israeli retaliation by firing missiles at Israel in response to an American attack. But it’s a sequence that is very possible.
Still, I’m troubled by the concept of what McGill University professor Rex Brynen calls a “simuvocacy”; using a game to advocate an argument. The essence of games, and why they’re such good teaching tools as well as entertainment, is that they offer choice. You know the odds are against you at a Las Vegas blackjack table, but there is always a chance that you can win, and that your decisions can affect your chances of winning. Seeing how the different choices that you make have different outcomes – like taking another card when you have an ace in blackjack, versus hitting when you have a 19 – is how you learn. As advocacy groups increasingly use games to make their points, I fear that we will see more games where all decisions lead to the same outcome, and the same lesson that the advocates want you to learn. There is a line between games as education and games as propaganda.

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