What Would the Consequences of a US-Iranian War be?

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo defended the US drone strike against Iranian general and leader of the Quds Force (the Iranian military abroad), Qasem Soleimani, in Baghdad in order to prevent him from endangering American lives in the Middle East.

Tensions between both sides had already escalated further following the death of a US civilian contractor in Iraq that prompted violence outside the US embassy in Baghdad, which US President Donald Trump blamed on Iran.

Tehran immediately condemned the attack and warned of consequences while protesters in the country have taken to the streets, burning Israeli and American flags.

Meanwhile, the US President tweeted: ‘Iran never won a war, but never lost a negotiation’, which is a direct attack on Barack Obama’s 2015 Iran Deal. His tweet was also a taunt towards the Iranian Government.

As relations between Washington and Tehran continue to worsen, it seems like war is becoming increasingly inevitable between both sides. Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, said that harsh revenge awaited the “criminals” who killed Soleimani. It is unclear what he means by this, but the US embassy in Baghdad has made a sensible decision by urging US citizens to depart immediately following the Iranian general’s death. They are most at risk if war breaks out between both nations.

However, neither side has anything to gain from war. The Bush administration labelled Iran as part of its ‘axis of evil’, but following the 2003 Iraq War, they retreated from the idea of a full-scale invasion of the country. Both Iraq and Libya have taught US administrations that if they invade a nation, they need an exit strategy and they should ensure that there is a stable government in place when they do eventually leave. Almost twenty years after the War on Terror started in Afghanistan, US soldiers are still there. This shows how complex Middle Eastern conflicts can be.

Vox’s Alex Ward anticipates that a US-Iranian conflict would be ‘one of the worst conflicts in history.’ This is because the US would require overwhelming air and naval power to beat Iran into submission. Iranian forces could destroy an American oil tanker travelling through the Strait of Hormuz, a crucial waterway for the global energy trade. The Trump administration would feel compelled to respond in kind. But with no direct channels between both sides, no red lines are being drawn which means the crisis could continue to deepen until both countries declare war.

It is unlikely Trump would have the support of his NATO allies if he went to war with Iran. Many of them deserted Bush during the Iraq War and Britain, the US’s closest ally, seems unlikely to support America this time. The British Government has consistently disagreed with the President’s decision to scrap the Iran Deal. UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab issued a statement in response to Soleimani’s death, urging all parties to de-escalate. Countries like Germany and France also opposed the Trump administration’s decision to end Obama’s deal, and they are also unlikely to support a war.

Trump was elected on a pledge to avoid ‘unnecessary’ conflicts. With an election looming this year, he must ensure he does not break his promise, otherwise his opponents could use it against him. War could cost him the support he needs in what could be a close election.

Both sides have more to gain from opening a direct channel of communication and from the US cancelling all its sanctions in exchange for Iran ending its nuclear missile programme. This is what French President Emmanuel Macron has urged both Washington and Tehran to do, and both the US and Iranian governments should seriously consider this option.

The consequences of war would be devastating, but it is not too late for the US and Iran to reach a peaceful conclusion.