How I Tried To Bomb Iran Into The Stone Age: Part II

Michael Peck – Forbes.com Oct 23, 2012

The outcome was disaster last week, when I played Tell Me How It Ends, a computer simulation of U.S. military action against Iran‘s nuclear program. Stepping into the role of the President of the United States, I ordered an all-out strike against Iranian nuclear facilities, that escalated into a ground invasion and a costly U.S. occupation of Iran. This week, I’m going to experiment with a limited strike, in the hopes that I can stop the Iranian Bomb without triggering a massive war.
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 my National 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.

Analysis

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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