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The War Nerd January 27, 2005
Super War Preview
The Iranian Suicide Bombers vs. The American Crusaders By Gary Brecher Browse author Email

Everybody's asking me what'll happen if we attack Iran. To get a quick preview, just do what this guy in my eighth-grade class did: put a firecracker in your mouth, hold it between your front teeth, and light the fuse.

"It's just like the homecoming game!" Bush settles in to enjoy the upcoming slaughter.

Your friends won't believe you'll go through with it. So when it blows up in your face, you'll expect them to be impressed. And you'll be surprised, just like this guy in junior high was surprised, when all you get is a perforated eardrum and a reputation as the biggest dumbass in the school.

Right now, Bush is standing there with a lit match and a big firecracker labeled "Iran" in his mouth. Except it's more like an M-80 or a whole stick of dynamite than a firecracker. Nobody believes he'll be dumb enough to light it, to actually attack Iran. Even the Iranians don't believe it; Khameini, their head Mullah, said last week "America is in no position to invade Iran."

He's right about that. Even the US Army brass admits we're "overstretched." We don't even have enough troops to control Iraq; a war with Iran would mean calling up every National Guard unit we have. Even then, it would take years to get them combat-ready.

And this time the Brits won't come with us. They've been making that clear, on the quiet. If we go in, it'll be as a coalition of one.

So Khameini's right; we can't attack Iran. But that doesn't mean we won't. Khameini was making the same mistake everybody's been making: assuming Bush and his cronies have a lick of sense.

The best way of guessing what Bush will do is asking, what's the worst thing he could do to America? Whatever it is, that's what he'll do. I think he's been possessed by bin Laden, because everything he's done has been exactly what Al Quaeda hoped for. Right now, bin Laden is praying to Allah that we'll be stupid enough to attack Iran. That would be the cherry on his halal sundae, the one thing that could actually finish us off as a Superpower.

In my "Quagmire Bowl" article I said the Iraq war probably wouldn't be fatal. It's definitely hurt us, but it won't mean the downfall of America. Well, if we invade Iran, that bet is off. All bets are off. People don't realize how fast a Superpower can fall. It only takes one invasion too many.

Napoleon was unstoppable before he invaded Russia. So was Hitler. Now France and Germany are "Old Europe."

Invading the wrong country can age you faster than driving a Long Beach bus on the night shift. Invading Iran helped end the win-streak of the best, biggest Empire of all, the Romans. It was in 260 AD, when emperor Valerius headed east to deal with the Persians who were kickin' up a fuss on the eastern border of the Empire. This Valerian would've risen high in Dubya's administration, because he was a real hard charger, a go-getter...and dumb as a half brick. He charged right into Iraq -- they called it Mesopotamia back then -- even though his troops were dying of plague all around him. The Persians sat back, watched Roman troops keeling over, and had a good laugh, eating pistachios in the shade while Valerian tried to figure out what to do.

Naturally, he decided it was time for bold action. That's the only trick these go-getters know. It reminds me of what one of MacArthur's aides said about him: "When it paid to be aggressive, he was aggressive. And when it didn't pay to be aggressive...he was aggressive."

Valerian figured a little proactive salesmanship would settle things, so he demanded a meeting with the Persian emperor, Sapor--who couldn't believe his luck. Sapor ordered the slaves to cook a big banquet, bring out the best silverware -- and had his troops hide in the banquet hall till he gave the signal. Valerian stomped in, Sapor snapped his fingers and Valerian ended up a live trophy, dragged around in chains through every city in the Persian empire till his purple robes were shreds.

There's a moral to this story: Persians are tricky, clever people. They've always had that reputation. You don't want people like that for enemies. Unfortunately, Bush won't be leading the charge the way Valerian did, so we probably won't get to see him dragged through Tehran in chains. But we'll see worse things: casualty lists that will make Iraq look like a beach volleyball game, American armies losing conventional battles, and after a few years, a humiliating exit.

Iran is scarier than Iraq in every way you can name. First of all, it's physically way bigger, three times the size of Iraq. The population is 65 million, nearly three times as many as Iraq. The Iranians are young, too. Their birthrate is way down now, around 2 kids per woman, but back in the Khomeini years it was one of the highest in the world. So right now, the Iranian population has a demographic profile that's a military planner's dream: not too many little kids to take care of, but a huge pool of fighting-age men -- about 18 million.

"Go War!" Bush the Yale cheerleader

And it won't be just young, fit men fighting us. Thanks to the invention of the suicide car bomb, guerrilla commanders will have someplace to send 70 year old volunteers: down to the garage to pick up a Plymouth packed full of fertilizer bomb. You don't have to be young to put the pedal to the metal.

The insurgents' DMV test will be real simple: "OK, Grandpa, can you make out the silhouette of a Bradley or Humvee, and aim your car at it?" Do that and you pass. They hand you the keys, and you get a quick, painless martyr's exit. Everybody will want to get in on the fun: Grandpa, Grandma, even the cripples, with specially adapted pedals so they can chin-pilot their car bombs into our patrols.

The suicide car bomb is a good example of why I don't worship hardware like most war fans do. These cars are actually no-tech guided surface-to-surface cruise missiles--and damn effective. We've found that out the hard way. All it takes is a driver who's willing to die for the pleasure of killing the enemy. Put him (or her) in an old jalopy stuffed with fertilizer and detonators and you've got a highly accurate, fire-and-forget missile.

They're especially deadly in urban warfare, because they're perfectly camouflaged till they actually blow up. And all for the price of a used car and a few bags of Miracle Gro.

Our cruise missiles are real showpieces, ultra hi-tech. They can be launched from subs, surface ships, planes and ground launchers. They can guide themselves over hundreds of miles, they cost millions apiece (usually hundreds of times as much as the huts or sheds we aim them at)--but they're useless to us in Iraq, whereas the suicide car-bomb cruise missiles are hurting us every single day.

It's the software inside people's heads that wins wars nowadays. You hardware freaks are going to have to face that fact one of these days. And it's this brain-software that we're hopeless at programming. Iraq has proved pretty clearly we don't have a clue how to use the Middle-Eastern brain OS. In fact, we've actually done the impossible: reprogrammed the miserable, cowardly Iraqis into fierce warriors.

Remember Gulf War I? Remember those pitiful fags crawling up to our soldiers to surrender on their hands and knees, sobbing like babies? Two years of occupation by Bush's morons has turned those cowards into fearless kamikazes in Oldsmobiles.

So just imagine what the Iranians, the original Islamic suicide squads, will do when we invade. There'll be traffic jams, ten-mile backups, outside every US base, thousands of car bombers honking and changing lanes trying to get to the front of the line and make that final commute to Paradise. It'll be like the San Diego freeway on a Monday morning, except the fenderbenders will be a little more serious.

The Iranians, unlike the Iraqis, have always been willing to die for their country. In the Iran-Iraq War (1980-89) thousands of Iranians volunteered to charge across Iraqi minefields, knowing they were going to die. It scared the Hell out of the Iraqis. They threw everything at those crazy Persian suicide charges, even poison gas. And the Iranians just kept coming. If you want a more complete account of that war, read my column, "The War Nobody Watched" in eXile #178. The short version is simple: Iranians are brave, determined people. Don't mess with them.

Of course all the NeoCon crazies are peddling the old story that "once we invade, the people will rally to the cause of freedom."

Yeah. Just like they did in Iraq. If we couldn't get people on our side after deposing a monster like Saddam, what chance do you think we have of winning hearts and minds in Iran? The kids in Iran are pissed off at the way the old Mullahs won't let 'em rock and roll, but the idea that they'll support an American invasion because they're bored is totally insane. It's like imagining that the kids in Footloose would've backed a Soviet invasion of Nebraska because John Lithgow wouldn't let them hold school dances.

The argument between Mullahs and kids in Iran is a classic family fight. And you know what happens when some intruder crashes in on the middle of one of those: the whole family unites in about a millisecond and tears him apart.

The Iranians already hate us. They have since 1953, when the CIA staged a coup to get rid of a popular Lefty Prime Minister, Mossadeq. Way back in the 70s, when most of the world still kinda liked us, crowds in Tehran chanted "Marg bar Amrika," "Death to America."

We're also getting told we'll be able to exploit the ethnic divisions inside Iran. The fact is, Iran's ethnic problems are nowhere near as bad as Iraq's. More than half of the population is ethnically Persian. The next-biggest group is the Azerbaijani, about a quarter of the population. They squabble with the Iranian majority from time to time, but they're fellow Shi'ites, they intermarry all the time- there's no real hatred between them. There are a few Arabs in Western Iran, maybe 3% of the population. But if you're thinking we could bring them over to our side, forget it. Saddam already tried that during the Iran-Iraq War and got nowhere. And if they're not going to rebel for a fellow Arab who lives next door, you better believe they won't rise up to help us Christian Crusaders.

That leaves us with the Kurds, who are about 10% of the Iranian population. There are all kinds of factions in Kurdistan, all of them armed and ready to kill each other, so we might be able to sign up a few of the really crazy gangs to work with us. But they would have zero chance of controlling a country as big, fierce and clever as Iran.

Face it: we have no friends left in Iran. Thanks to Bush, we have no friends left anywhere in the Muslim world, except a few sleazes like Allawi -- and he'd be torn to pieces if he showed himself in the street without Delta Force bodyguards.

If we attack Iran, that'll make three Muslim countries invaded in three years. We may as well dress our soldiers in white tunics with red crosses on them, like they did in the Middle Ages.

We'd be fighting on three fronts: the conventional war against the Iranian armed forces, guerrilla war in the territories we'd conquered, and worldwide terror attacks by every group that sympathizes with Iran.

The third front, international terror attacks, would be the scariest of all. Because unlike Iraq, Iran actually does have terrorist connections. Very good ones, with some very scary people. Iran is the only country where Shia Islam is the state religion, so Shiites all over think of Iran the way old-time Catholics used to think of Rome. Attacking Iran would drive them insanely angry, not that it takes much to get Shiites in a crazy, suicidal mood.

Would America Do A Thing Like That?

"The possibility of a U.S. attack against Iran is very low. We think America is not in a position to take a lunatic action of attacking Iran,"

Iran President Mohammed Khatami said. January 19, 2005.

"The Americans aren't coming. They wouldn't do a thing like that."

Manuel Noriega, on the eve of the US invasion of Panama, 1989. (Quoted in Commanders by Bob Woodward, page 158).

I've written before about how Shiites see the world ("Shi'ite! Holy Shi'ite!" eXile #197). They love martyrdom, and don't care whether they win or lose as long as they take a few of the enemy with them. So you can't "shock and awe" them with superior firepower, or discourage them by inflicting a lot of casualties. They're the perfect suicide bombers -- in fact, it was the Shi'ites in Lebanon who perfected the suicide car bomb. The first time it happened, a 16-year-old girl drove a car full of explosives into an Israeli APC. The Israelis were shaken; in 25 years of fighting the Arabs, nobody else had done that to them.

Eventually, the Shi'ite Hizbollah guerrillas in Southern Lebanon drove the Israelis out. They were just more willing to take casualties than the Israelis were, even if the exchange was 20 or 30 dead guerrillas for every Israeli killed.

And guess which guerrilla group is closest to Iran? That's right, Lebanese Hizbollah. Iran is tight with all the Shi'ite militias in Lebanon, in the Bekaa Valley and Beirut as well as the South.

We'll also be pissing off the Iraqi Shi'ites, 60% of the Iraqi population. Right now they're cooperating with us -- not because they like us, but because we're helping them use their majority to take over Iraq.

It's a laugh, the way Bush's people say the Shi'ite enthusiasm for voting proves that "democracy is taking hold" in Iraq. All it proves is that Shi'ites can count. They've got 60% of the vote sewed up, and we're riding shotgun for them, absorbing all the violence the Sunnis can dish out, while the Shia go out and grab power by the ballot box. But if we attack Iran, they'll turn on us like Sadr's boys did in April 2004, and cities like Karbala, Najaf and Basra will be on the front page every day. It'll be a Shi'ite tsunami, with terrorism in places you'd never expect. Lots of excitable Iranian expats are going to wire up their Mercs with HE. They'll be the richest, best-groomed suicide bombers in history -- Armani suits instead of death shrouds, and Ferraris instead of old clunkers. It'll put terrorism in a whole new income bracket.

Meanwhile, what'll happen in the big battle between us and the Iranian forces? Iran's conventional forces are the LEAST scary part of the problem. They're in bad shape: lots of men (400,000, with another 120,000 in the Revolutionary Guards) but starved for materiel. Most of their old stock was destroyed in the war against Iraq, and we've been discouraging suppliers from sending replacements. Russia, China and North Korea have been Iran's suppliers lately--a big switch from the 70s, when the Shah preferred to buy his weapons systems from the US and UK.

They claim to have 1500 tanks, but the bulk of their MBTs are old and rusty. Since 1989, all they've acquired was 500-odd T-72s, with about that many BMP-2 APCs. That's not much armor for such a big force, and the T-72 hasn't exactly covered itself in glory in the two Gulf wars.

Their air force, which used to be the second-best in the Mideast (after Israel, obviously) is in even sorrier shape, with a couple squadrons flying MiG-29s and Su-24 CAS fighter/bombers. The rest is rusting hulks left over from the Shah's buying sprees.

One cool bit of trivia: the Iranian AF used to be the only one outside the US to fly the F-14. Most were grounded when we embargoed Iran, and a few were lost in the Iraq War, but I haven't been able to find out what happened to the rest. Anybody know?

Other items they've been buying should be worrying us much more. For instance, they've invested heavily in Chinese anti-ship cruise missiles, which have been fitted on ten new, fast coastal-attack ships. In a column of mine a couple of years ago ("U Sank My Carrier" eXile #156), I talked about the very scary outcome of a Persian Gulf war game, when USMC General Paul van Ripen, who was playing the part of Iranian commander, managed to sink half our Persian Gulf task force, including a carrier, with simultaneous attacks by small planes and fast attack craft.

Their missile forces are another worry -- not for what they could do to our troops but for the havoc they could start up if the Iranians, under attack, lost their cool and started targeting countries supporting the US. Once again, nobody's really sure exactly what missiles Iran has, or what quantities they've got. They definitely do have plenty of our old friend the Scud -- maybe 250 Scud B (range 285-330 miles depending on warhead; accuracy zero) and another 350 Scud C (range 500-700 miles).

As we found out in two Gulf wars, Scuds are all hype -- unless you have the guts to fit them with chemical, biological or nuclear warheads. Saddam never did. (Though he did fire chemical shells against the Iranians and the Kurds.) The Iranians just might. They've got the chemical weapons: mustard gas, cyanide, and the scariest of all, VX, a very potent, hard-to-clean-up nerve gas.

One of the big arguments right now is whether the Iranians can actually field their Shahab-3, a newer better missile designed by North Korea and also supplied to Pakistan (where it's called the Ghauri II). As usual, the warmongers are claiming Iran has 'em and plans to use 'em on us. Cooler heads say that's unlikely; so far there have only been a few failed test flights, with the Shahab-3 blown up mid-flight (which is usually a sign the test failed).

After we all got suckered into believing Saddam could gas London with 45 minutes warmup, I'm not buying the scare stories till I see some proof. We know the Iranians have Scuds; we know they have chemical warheads. That's more than enough to worry about. Because these people aren't cowards like Saddam; I can see them being real sore losers if the US invades and defeats their army. The kind of sore losers who press every Doomsday button they can.

Of course, nobody is claiming the US is going to launch an all-out invasion of Iran. The rumors coming out of the Pentagon say it'll be a mix of air strikes and quick, small special ops raids on nuclear sites and key military installations. The idea is to destroy as much of the military infrastructure as we can, and crush their nuclear program before it can produce working nukes.

The biggest, scariest nuclear site is Bushehr, on the Persian Gulf. It worried the Iraqis so much they bombed it before the two reactors were brought online. The Iranians learned a hard lesson from that raid, and started dispersing the nuke program all over the country. They're working on 15 sites, which they say are going to be used for "peaceful purposes." I love the way nuclear scientists talk about "peace." That was Stalin's favorite word, and the nuclear-science types mean it about as much as he did.

Of course the Iranians want nukes. They're surrounded by traditional enemies, they know the US is itching to attack, and they consider themselves Allah's representatives on earth. If you were in that situation, wouldn't you be going all-out to get some nukes?

The experts all say there's no way Iran could have any nuclear weapons yet. Maybe they're right; even experts have to be right once in a while. So the question is how much time it will take them to develop nukes. Estimates go from a year to six years. The trouble with these estimates is that they're always bent to help somebody's agenda. For instance, the Israelis are the ones saying Iran may go nuke in a year or less. That's because they want us to panic, so we'll do the dirty work of blasting Iran's nuke sites for them.

The six-year estimates are coming out of Europe, because they're such wimps they'll say anything to avoid trouble. Truth is, I have no idea how close the Iranians are to a working nuke, and I don't believe anybody else does either. If the CIA was any good, we'd have a clue, but those poor bastards couldn't infiltrate a public library, let alone an Iranian nuclear plant.

If we do go in with quick commando raids and air strikes, we might get away with it. The Iranians would definitely try to retaliate by proxy, getting Hizbollah and the Iraqi Shi'ites to attack Americans anywhere they go. But we could handle that. The real worry is that these lightning raids are never as simple and quick as they're supposed to be. Remember the all-day firefight in Somalia, where we lost 18 Rangers? That was supposed to be a lightning raid: chopper in, grab Aidid, get out before the locals could react. A few hours later, the whole US force in Somalia was engaged against the whole population of Mogadishu.

Remember the lightning raid by Delta and the Rangers on Mullah Omar's house? That didn't exactly come off according to plan either. Once a raid goes bad, soldiers want to go in to rescue their buddies. Then they're trapped, and more guys go in to rescue them. And without ever meaning to, you've got a conventional battle going on deep in the enemy's homeland. And once that happens, the situation is out of control.

If the Iranian army and revolutionary guards play it smart, they'll harass and retreat, trading land for time the way the Russians did in WW II. In the territory we did control, we'd have a massive insurgency. With the Iraqi Shia all fired up, we'd have garrisons pinned down all over Iraq, and all through whatever chunk of Iran we occupied. And no real guarantee we wiped out all the nuclear sites, because our intelligence is so lousy we might never have heard of the most secret labs (which may well be underground in the Iranian desert).

And we're actually thinking about doing this. Incredible. It's like a man with a pit bull chomping on his leg purposely opening the door to a kennel where there are a dozen rottweilers ready to tear him apart.

In fact, it's such a stupid idea, and it'd be such a total disaster for America, that Bush probably will do it. Anybody else starting to wonder if he and Cheney are actually Al Quaeda moles?

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Gary Brecher
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