November 19, 2019

We Shouldn’t Let Saudi Arabia ‘Fight Its Own Wars’

“As the president considers how the United States should respond to a series of aggressive acts by Iran and its proxies in the Middle East, one fact should be clear: There are no good options.

Inaction is unacceptable. A passive posture would invite more aggression, and the pattern of escalating Iranian provocations suggests the Islamic Republic could miscalibrate its attacks in a way that would require a broad and conclusive response from the West. But even a measured military response to Iranian attacks entails risk. While neither the Western world nor Iran and its roguish allies want to see a full-scale military confrontation, the mechanisms for de-escalating such a conflict once the shooting starts are untested and unreliable. Iran would retaliate, potentially against American military and diplomatic targets, compelling the United States to respond in kind. That’s how cycles of violence spiral out of control. The choice before President Trump is an unenviable one, but this is the job he wanted.

Although the menu of options before the president consists entirely of unpalatable selections, there is one that is worse than the others. Via NBC News:

[A response] could entail a strike by Saudi Arabia, whose oil facilities were hit Sunday in an unprecedented attack, that the U.S. would support with intelligence, targeting information and surveillance capabilities — but without the U.S. actually firing any weapons at Iran, one person familiar with the planning said.

This approach preserves the patina of American non-involvement, which is valuable to those who insist that the United States should withdraw from its myriad global commitments. But protest as they might (the American president was once among those who insist that we should let the Saudis “fight their own wars), the United States will continue to protect its investment in the post-Cold War order, the free navigation of the seas, and the stability of the global economy. And allowing the Saudis to conduct a retaliatory strike on Iranian targets would only compound the threat Iranian aggression poses to U.S. interests.”

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