Monday, November 5, 2007

Setting Ourselves Up

Conservative groups from several countries with faith in the efficacy
of simple-minded military solutions are making the Persian Gulf situation more

A long-term contest for supremacy in the Persian Gulf is being fought by a number of players, with Iran, Israel, and the U.S. currently pouring gasoline on the troubled waters. But making the situation even more dangerous is a second level of short-term goals being pursued by conservative groups who believe in the efficacy of simple-minded military solutions. The fact that these groups, all supported by religious fundamentalists in their respective countries, are currently in power in Washington, Tel Aviv, and Tehran makes the situation particularly dangerous. Hubris on all sides is pushing the situation to the point where a miscalculation or the intentional intervention of some third party could easily provoke a war even if the three parties to the dispute decide to pull back from the brink. This is not, to put it politely, rational behavior: all three parties are setting themselves up.

It is not even the case that one can say, “At least we have a 50-50 chance of being the winner.” The range of potential outcomes is huge: there are all sorts of other players who may seize the opportunity to twist things to their advantage. Al Qua’ida, which would no doubt dearly like to provoke yet another war in the Persian Gulf, is only the most obvious. Moscow is working hard behind the scenes to contest Washington’s push for control over global oil resources. Beijing can certainly see the opportunity to improve its ties with Iran presented by the contest over the Persian Gulf. Indeed, Moscow and Beijing are being pushed in the direction of a new alliance by pressure from the world’s only superpower. Saudi Arabian leaders have their own calculations, including a desire to limit Iranian influence over the region and a fundamentalist Sunni antipathy for Shi'ite Iran.

One can imagine many outcomes of a war with Iran that are uncomfortably believable –

  • despoiling the environment of the Persian Gulf region
  • a war harming the economies of all three countries
  • a regional collapse into the type of chaos we are already seeing in Iraq and Palestine
  • the resurgence of al Qua’ida
  • a region-wide Sunni-Shi’ite religious war that might well involve Pakistan…

The truth is that whatever the outcome of the Washington-Tel Aviv-Tehran contest, if emotions are not brought under control, it will most likely be an outcome to the disadvantage of all three.

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