After our nation's easy victories against Iraq, and our ability to bomb any country such as Sudan (Clinton bombed a factory there) and Serbia (Clinton dropped a whole lot of bombs there), people have come to believe that the U.S. military is invincible, a big change from the immediate post-Vietnam era when people thought the opposite about our military.
I believe that Iran will be our most challenging enemy since World War II. Iran clearly has a strategy in which they think they have a chance of hurting us, and it makes a lot more sense than Saddam's non-strategy. As you recall, Saddam just let us bomb him in two successive wars without mounting much of a challenge. Defensive wars don't work very well when modern weapons are involved. The French learned that in WWII. Iran plans to go on the offense.
Iran's strategy is surely to take control of the Persian Gulf, where the U.S. always maintains an aircraft carrier group. To attack our fleet, Iran has both air launched and surface launched anti-ship missiles, including French Exocet and newer Chinese Silkworm missiles. Iran has dozens of these missiles, several for each U.S. ship that needs to be sunk.
Additionally, Iran has several submarines which will launch torpedoes at our ships. And to top it off, Iran has a fleet of approximately a thousand small attack boats, you may call them "suicide boats." Iran will use these boats to swarm our ships and Iran hopes that some will make it adjacent to a ship to detonate its payload. These boats also have machine guns mounted on them.
Yes, our ships have defenses, but can we simlutaneously defend against dozens of missiles, torpedoes, and a thousand suicide boats? If we are unable to defend, then our Persian gulf fleet will wind up being completely obliterated and Iran will have won the first naval victory against us since WWII. After defeating our Persian Gulf fleet Iran will mine the straights of Hormuz, blocking off the Gulf from both inbound and outbound naval traffic. This will, of course, wreak havoc on the world economy because no oil will be able to get out.
To prevent the above scenario, the U.S. will have to remove its ships from the Gulf, which is not something our military will want to do because they are need to support our Iraqi operations, and we need them to conduct our miliary campaign against Iran. The second way to protect our fleet is to attack first and destroy as much of Iran's military as possible. Once we establish air superiority, we can attack anything we see sailing out of Iran or any airplane we see flying off the ground. Unlike Saddam, who let us attack first, I think that Iran won't be so stupid and that they will launch the first attack. The U.S. will surely give adequate warning, with a vote of Congress authorizing some sort of action, and a lot of ultimatums issued by George Bush.
Long range missiles
Iran has hundreds of long range missiles, including as many as a hundred of the newer Shahab 3 missiles which can deliver a 2000 pount warhead to Israel. These are built with Russian and North Korean technology. Iran will surely want to launch these before we attack and destroy them the way we did Saddam's Scud missiles. These Iranian missiles are much better than Saddam's Scud missiles, they user newer technology and are better designed for long range. Thousands of Iraelis would be killed if Iran simultaneously launched all of its missiles at Tel Aviv. What would Israel do if faced with such an attack? Iran hopes that Israel would somehow get involved in the war and this would unite the Islamic world behind Iran.
I should point out that it will not be easy for Israel to retaliate. Isreal does not possess an armada of conventional missiles, just a few nuclear armed missiles. It would be difficult to launch airstrikes against Iraq becuase it is a long flight, requiring the flyover of unfriendly countries and in air refueling. And Israel faces the danger that its planes might be shot down by Iranian air defense missiles.
Iran can also use its long range missiles against the oil facilities of neighboring countries deemed to be helping the United States. This would include Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, and this would have a horrible economic impact because millions of barrels per day of oil production would be taken offline for many years.
Are you scared?
Our own armed forces might indeed be afraid of the consequences of military action against Iran, which is why I deemed it more likely than not that the U.S. will just acquiesce to the Iranian nuclear program, which in my opinion would be a big mistake. The longer we allow Iran to build up its military, the harder it will be to attack them.