Best Served Cold: Responding to the Iranian Protests

By Stewart Baker
Wednesday, January 3, 2018, 12:00 PM

Editor’s Note: Lawfare’s Board of Directors has published a post regarding this article and our editorial standards here.

In the United States, the latest Iranian protests have sparked a kind of debate in which we argue fervently about whether the U.S. 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 and sitting on them.

Remember, when the Iranian regime decided it didn’t like U.S. 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 U.S. Central Command, Iranian actors like Hezbollah and the Quds 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 improvised explosive devices that 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 in the hands of 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 protesters, 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 protesters. 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.

UPDATE: Benjamin Wittes’s note about this piece deserves a short reply. I have no quarrel with his decision to exercise greater editorial control over Lawfare. It is a remarkable, energetic, and indispensable resource only because of Ben’s daily personal commitment to it. He can edit it as he sees fit.

As for his critique, I agree that the post was written to make just one short point: The Iranian regime now being challenged in the streets killed hundreds of Americans in brutal fashion a decade ago, so as we ask ourselves how to respond to its suppression of dissent, we should bear in mind the deaths and mutilations it visited on our soldiers. In ahistorical times, I think that’s history worth remembering.