Henry Kissinger once claimed, "The U.S. doesn't have a Middle East policy, it only deals with crisis management." If such an approach is still the case, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will find herself rather overwhelmed heading into 2012.
For all the wars, revolutions, and conflicts that have defined the region's modern history, 2012 is shaping up to be the most chaotic in the Middle East. With Syria and Yemen on the brink of civil war, Palestinians pressing for statehood, the progress in Iraq unraveling, the Egyptian and Bahraini regimes brutally cracking down on democratic protests, and the new governments of Libya and Tunisia unknown, the vast majority of the Middle East is engulfed in turmoil and uncertainty.
Yet of all the crises which Clinton must resolve, there is one growing provocation that the U.S. would be wise to tune out: Iran threats in the Persian Gulf.
The Iranian saber-rattling that has commenced in the Straight of Hormuz has left many in Congress unsettled. Talks of U.S. air strikes and even military intervention abound. Such dialogue deepens fabricated aggressions and the intentions of the Iranian regime.
Contrary to what many on Capitol Hill might want Americans to believe, the Arab Spring has weakened Iran and its allies. Judging by Iran's response, Iran is scrambling to remain relevant and dictate the agenda.
For Iran, the revolutionary zeal that has spread through the region is a dangerous threat to its own regime. So far, Iran has managed to avoid the fate of other toppled authoritarian governments, yet doing so has come at a price, as Iran has been forced to up the resources and money used to protect itself from internal dissent.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, one of Iran's closest allies, has not had the similar fortune of avoiding unrest. The Syrian government is hanging on for dear life against the growing opposition and should it fall, Iran could be without its strongest Arab partner. Similarly Hezbollah, Iran's terrorist proxy, is losing support and using its resources as it has been forced to defend Assad.
In Bahrain, Iran had initially hoped to make headway and increase its influence in the Shi'a-dominated Gulf island by riding the tails of the uprising against the monarchy. In response, an alarmed GGC sent troops to stamp out the protests and stifled any Iranian progress.
Nervous at home, having failed in Bahrain and watching their strongest ally crumble in Syria, Iran has resorted to a charade of desperate moves.
First, it was the reports of the foiled assassination attempt of the Saudi Ambassador to the U.S., which was bizarre and staggeringly elementary. Then there is Iran's increasing courtship of Latin America. That Iran is seeking the good graces of Bolivia and Venezuela doesn't speak highly of its sphere of influence or world might.
Lastly, there are the bellicose remarks over the Persian Gulf. For Iran to threaten to close the Straight of Hormuz, indicates two realities. One, that the sanctions are effective and squeezing the Iranian government, and two, that Iran needs a war, which is exactly why the U.S. should ignore the rancorous ultimatums coming from Tehran.
For Iran, a war with the U.S. is a godsend, for America it'd be a complete disaster. Any aggressive warlike act on the part of Israel or the U.S. would immediately turn international sympathy in Iran's favor. It would provide Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Assad the perfect cover to rally their people against one common imperialist enemy. Perhaps most worrisome a strike would embolden and unleash Hezbollah, a scenario that would put Israel's security in grave danger.
From an American standpoint, a strike would strengthen a weak enemy, imperil an ally, and tarnish any remaining credibility in the region.
Iran will continue to goad and prod the U.S. Instead, America should ignore the posturing and manage the multitude of crises elsewhere.
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