The Volokh Conspiracy

Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent

Volokh Conspiracy

A Modest Proposal on the Iranian Protests

Revenge is a dish best served cold


In the United States, the latest Iranian protests have sparked a kind of debate in which we argue fervently about whether the US should tweet its support or just shut up. At the risk of making the Trump administration look moderate, I think we can choose between more than waving our hands or sitting on them.

Remember, when the Iranian regime decided it didn't like US activities in Iraq, it found considerably more direct ways to express its disapproval.

It just started killing American troops.

A lot of them. According to CENTCOM, Iranian actors like Hezbollah and the Qds Force killed 500 US troops in Iraq – roughly ten percent of all our casualties. Iranian operatives used a variety of sophisticated tactics, but by far the most deadly was the introduction of explosively formed penetrators, or EFPs. EFPs are IEDs that use explosives to turn a carefully machined metal disk into a targeted, high-velocity slug of molten metal that can breach the most elaborate armor. Three hundred Americans died – and many more were grievously wounded -- because Iran introduced this weapon into the Iraq insurgency.

EFPs are particularly effective when used by lightly armed opposition forces that face well-armored government troops. EFPs are equalizers. Buried in the road and used against carefully selected targets, their impact on morale can be devastating.

If anyone in the world deserves to understand just how devastating, it's the folks who have used their monopoly on guns and tanks to kill protestors, especially since they're the same folks who brought EFPs to the streets of the Middle East.

I'm sure there are plenty of pearl-clutching reasons to think twice before we provide EFPs and related technology to Iran's protestors. It might crater the nuclear deal. It could lead to revenge attacks on American forces or leaders elsewhere in the world. It may violate some law professor's idea of what the law of armed conflict permits. Perhaps the Iranian opposition isn't ready, organizationally or psychologically, to use EFPs yet.

Maybe so. But to tell the truth, right now, all I really want is for the Iranian government and its murderous stooges to know that sending a few of Iran's EFPs back home is on our list of options.

NEXT: Short Circuit: A roundup of recent federal court decisions

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. The war mongers are always so surprised and hurt when the people America attacks have the temerity to fight back, as if they don't know that they're just supposed to lie down and die from the shock and awe of how much money the US spends on useless weapon systems and technology.

    If you want American troops to not die, stop sending them on stupid overseas missions based on fantasies of regime change and winning hearts and minds.

    1. Why don't you tell us all about the "weapon systems and technology" that you feel are "useless"? I'm sure it's less than you actually think.

        1. And what makes that "useless"?

          1. Cost is way more than any conceivable ROI and it malfunctions.

            1. To you, what is a acceptable return on investment?

              1. In a world with finite resources, less than a trillion-plus lifetime maintenance budget on a failed attempt at maintaining air superiority. I like weapons that improve our military. Why don't you?

                1. @NToJ ? Who says the F-35 is a "failed attempt at maintaining air superiority"? That's what will happen if we keep our 30+ year-old fleet of prior generation F-15s, F-15Es, F-16s, and F-18s. Those platforms will be obsolete within the next ten years; that's why they are scheduled for replacement. While some under-informed people scoff at the F-35's $1.5028 trillion price tag using 2070's currency value, that is actually a fairly good package deal (R&D, procurement, maintenance, etc.) for a fighter that will be in service for over sixty years, that eases the logistics of having to manage 15+ variants, and that provides added capabilities which current planes can't match.

                  I do say this with some knowledge on the subject. Evaluating military power was my profession for the last twenty years.

                    1. I plane that's still in the R&D phase isn't perfect? Imagine that! There are two years before before it replaces the F-18 for the Marines.

                    2. It's almost a decade behind schedule, it's wildly over budget, the only reason we don't scrap it is because it is too big to fail and is pork for dozens of Congressional districts, and it will be inferior to contemporaries and, by all accounts, even our enemies' older planes. It's a complete boondoggle.

                    3. hear hear!

                      The F 35 is more than wasteful. Per Goins, We are being too quick to attack it for its failure to perform when its only a decade behind schedule, because they might have it all fixed within the next two years? Please.

                      'not perfect' is an incredible understatement, its failing on many many levels.

                      It should be scrapped immediately.

                    4. And what system should replace it? Keeping our mixture of 1,800 F-15s, F-15Es, F-16s, F-18s, and F-22s will cause us to be lose air superiority in less than twelve years as that is the end-of-service date for all five planes.

                    5. Scrap the F35. Its pocket-knife design turned out to be a mistake, too much into it, like a modern-day Bradley. The F35, as conceived, can't compete with our last generation fighters.

    2. In this case, it would be Iranians killing US forces in Iraq. Hardly "fighting back" against someone the US attacked . . .

      1. Well, no, in this case it would be Iranians supplying weapons to people who killed US forces in Iraq. Which would be a completely proportionate response to American material support for Iraq in the Iran-Iraq War. Roughly 1 million Iranians died in that war, so I think it's unlikely that the American death toll in Iraq from Iranian weapons (roughly 200) exceeded the Iranian death toll in the Iraq-Iran war.

  2. Generational war?poverty, drugs, terror?is the most expensive endeavor we have undertaken. In the rather accurate words of President Trump, "we've spent six trillion dollars in the Middle East [when] we could have rebuilt our country twice." Getting involved with Iran with only exacerbate the situation.

  3. Can anyone point me to a libertarian site, or at least one that doesn't act like a bullhorn for authoritarian causes such as costing America the moral high ground; relying on 'pre-emptive strike' to invade the wrong country (and then compounding the immorality with endless detention without trial, and torture of innocents); supporting lethal belligerence and butchery around the world (so long as it is right-leaning belligerence and butchery); and supporting the disgusting likes of the Saudi, Turkish, and Uzbeki governments.

    1. If Reason is supposed to be the height of libertarian thought, then I am thoroughly unimpressed with both the authors and commenters.

    2. This is one writer who's been writing for less than a month for a self-controlled subset of the site. You shouldn't condemn the entire thing based on one man who clearly won't be fitting in, and probably won't be staying long. I don't believe I've ever seen any Reason writer advocate violent interference in the Middle East before.

      1. My comment was an indictment against Reason, not the independent Volokh Conspiracy. A perfect example of this idiocy would be today's article by Scott Shackford. In part, he wrote that the police "went straight to the well-worn '[t]he officer thought he was reaching for a weapon' defense [to justify the shooting] even though we all know by now that he was just some random guy." That is some third rate thinking right there.

        I'll also point out that Mr. Baker has been a Conspirator for years even though he took a long intermission.

        1. About what aspect of Shackford's quote are you complaining?

          1. The article was about holding the caller and the police officer criminally responsible for the incident. The portion I quoted uses the anachronism of hindsight to determine the legal culpability of the individual who fired the shot. Common sense and longstanding jurisprudence tell us that police shouldn't be held criminally responsible for their split second decisions provided that they appeared reasonable given the facts as they were understood at the time. In the case of Andrew Finch, the police were dispatched for an active shooter/hostage taker armed with a handgun. The police arrived at the address they were given, the deceased came out, ignored clear commands to show his hands, reached for his waistline?a common handgun hiding spot?, and moved his arms out toward the officers in a threatening fashion. (This is gleaned from the grainy body cam footage and the police chief's statement.) Given the facts as I have laid them out above, was the decision to shoot objectively reasonable given the circumstances as they were understood at the time? That should be an unfortunate "yes."

            1. gunned down for showing his hands after being ordered to. Yep, nothing wrong with what happened there.

              Oh, and then they handcuffed the other victims of the crime outside for no reason, which was a nice touch

      2. You have not read enough. Harsanyi, for example, is another neo-con

    3. This is not a libertarian site. This is a Republican site. Hence the neo-con bent.

      If you are lucky, there is Cato occasionally pretending to be one.

    4. I see the Rev has made the transition from WaPo. The way you define 'libertarian' should take you back to your favorite sites like Thinkprogress or Raw Story.

      You know well & good that Volokh is separate editorially from Reason just as they were at WaPo. There is no requirement that they stick to some 'true' form of libertarianism (no true scotsman?) with all of their authors.

  4. Here's another "modest proposal" along the lines of the one suggested by Mr. Baker, who appears to have a long and illustrious career in law and public service: When we find terrorists, instead of capturing and trying them or killing them quickly with a bomb or a gun, let's keep them for a few days and then cut off their heads. Or put them in a cage and burn them alive. That'll show them!

    Mr. Baker, you're an inspiration to us all.

  5. "According to CENTCOM, Iranian actors like Hezbollah and the Qds Force killed 500 US troops in Iraq ? roughly ten percent of all our casualties."

    Did you read the article?

    "But data from U.S. Central Command, which runs U.S. military operations in the Middle East, suggests the actual toll is far less. According to the first comprehensive accounting, between November 2005 and December 2011, 1,526 EFPs killed a total of 196 U.S. troops and injured 861."

    And what's this "roughly ten percent" stuff about? There were around 35,000 US Armed Forces casualties in the Iraq war. Even the trumped up 500 number would be about 1.5%.

    1. You've got your numbers all jumbled up, mixing up casualties with fatalities. The official number was 4,424 total deaths, so even using the lowest estimate that is 4.4% not 1.5%.

      And I find those numbers you quote very unrealistic that the death to casualty rate was 1:4.3. I would think there would be a lot more wounded in proportion to that many fatalities.

      1. It's be around 1,000 total casualties from Iran in a 35,000 casualty war. There's a wikipedia article with US casualty count.

      2. You're correct, I did jumble casualties and fatalities. In my defense, Stewart Baker did, too:

        "Iranian actors like Hezbollah and the Qds Force killed 500 US troops in Iraq ? roughly ten percent of all our casualties"

        There's no way to make sense of this claim unless Baker was treating "killed" and "casualties" as identical. He obviously meant "10 percent of all our total deaths" rather than casualties. But his number was wrong, and 196 is not 10 percent of total deaths, as you note. If we are going by casualties, it's around 3%.

        Here are the statistics on fatalities, if you want to check the numbers.

        1. *casualties, not fatalities. Sorry.

  6. "It just started killing American troops."

    Notice the jump from Iranian regime "started killing American troops" to " Iranian actors like Hezbollah and the Qds Force killed 500 US troops" (which is a lie), to "because Iran introduced this weapon into the Iraq insurgency." Iran supplying weapons used to kill Americans transforms into Iranians killing Americans. How do you think the US would hold up under that treatment? We'd start looking like Hezbollah's worst anti-american caricature.

    "...especially since they're the same folks who brought EFPs to the streets of the Middle East."

    WTF do you think we brought? Nerf or nothing? Are you 12?

    "I'm sure there are plenty of pearl-clutching..."


  7. I think the problem with introducing IEDs into the Iranian demonstrations at this time is that it would just provoke the Iranian Revolutionary Guard into slaughtering the dissidents en masse. They aren't going to show as much restraint slaughtering their own people as we show slaughtering our enemies.

    1. Upvote.

      I can think of other reasons as well, but surely this one is important.

      On top of that, what is the justification for meddling here at all? It seems to be an internal Iranian matter.

  8. To beat a terrorist regime, you gotta think like a terrorist regime.... how satisfying.

    1. The regime will change it's game once we start playing the same game... genius strategist!!!

      1. Are you so insecure that patting yourself on the back makes you feel better?

        1. I'm not insecure, I'm angry when government officials would remember wave after wave of America soldiers and innocence casualties, and hope the same cruelty be inflected on others in the new year.

          1. Really? You made seven initial comments or replies to your own.

    2. The proposal flies in the face of the proven elements of strategy.

      Be nice: cooperate, never be the first to defect.
      Be provocable: return defection for defection, cooperation for cooperation.
      Don't be envious: focus on maximizing your own 'score', as opposed to ensuring your score is higher than your 'partner's'.
      Don't be too clever: or, don't try to be tricky. Clarity is essential for others to cooperate with you.

      If only Stewart Baker were controlling of the levers a power during the last uprising, we would have turned the tide on ISIS already.

      1. "But to tell the truth, right now, all I really want is for the Iranian government and its murderous stooges to know that sending a few of Iran's EFPs back home is on our list of options."

        Good-cop/bad-cop (no matter how pathetically played), only reduces clarity, and casts doubt on America's intentions towards Iran.

        I wise man once said "speak softly and carry a big stick". The wisdom hear is the stick speaks for itself. Shaking a stick only sows confusion and hostility. You aren't telling the Iranian regime anything they don't already know (though you may be enlightening several others)

  9. Sounds like someone who thinks Iran-Contra was a good idea, but just needed to be executed better.

  10. The original post is the sort of thing a troll would write to cause people's heads to explode and make them say truly awful things.

    Well, it certainly worked!

    And to think it was written under the person's actual name.

    1. If you could help explain what the reasoning is, other than blood-lust, I'd like to hear it.

    2. I using the game strategy element of "being provocable"

  11. Sigh. Really?

    Were we to arm the students, youth, idealists, housewives, and shopkeepers protesting the cruel regime in Tehran, and urge these untrained civilians to engage the battle-hardened and viciously murderous Revolutionary Guard in warfare, what outcome would you expect? And would the resulting slaughter sate your anger?

    How would mining highways help these people win their freedom? And should the protesters turn to terrorism, do you really think they would have any realistic chance of winning the support of either the Iranian or international community?

    This is the silliest thing I've read today. But then again, I am yet to read Trump's more recent Tweets.

  12. You can't cleanse blood with blood.

  13. On the plus side, we've finally found an authoritarian regime Mr. Trump doesn't like.

  14. The original modest proposal was satire. This, alas, seems sincere.

    The best policies are always spite based to the point of being blind to collateral damage!

    Good lord, when the colonial British can take the moral highground against your tactic, maybe check yourself.

    1. Baker's law. Without a clear expression of intent, it is impossible to know whether Stewart Baker is engaging in satire.

  15. This is crazy. You are asking for a massacre.

    1. Don't get all snowflakey on us, that tactic totally worked in Fallujah,

      1. Falllujah was a contested area where we could give military support to an insurrection. Tehran is in no way similar. This dumbass strategy will just get potential allies killed.

  16. I don't know if it matters to anybody at the Volokh Conspiracy, but Lawfare Blog ran this story, too, and as a result they are changing how much editorial control they exercise (i.e., from "none" to "some").

    1. The Conspiracy appears to be prideful (and purposeful) with respect to its disregard for traditional ("elitist") publication standards.

  17. While not noted here, this was also posted on Lawfare, which has disavowed it:

    "To be clear, we believe the topic of Stewart's post is a proper one for analysis and debate. It is perfectly acceptable, in our view, to analyze how the U.S. government should best support the Iranian protest movement, including the possibility of covert action, and even the possible supply of weapons to revolutionaries or insurgents. The problem with the post is that it does not treat the issue with the soberness or seriousness it requires. It contains no legal analysis and very little, if any, policy analysis. Except for its recitation of prior Iran-sponsored violence against U.S. forces in Iraq, it does not enhance our readers' understanding of the current situation in Iran, or of U.S. policy toward Iran. And it can plausibly be read to advocate violence with potentially indiscriminate weapons in an emotive, too-personal fashion, and without any argument other than revenge."

Please to post comments