September 24, 2019
The last thing the United States needed was to add Iran as a fourth war to the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria that already make up its “long wars.” That, however, seems to be what has already happened. If one looks beyond the most recent round of the attacks on Saudi Arabia, the outcome seems to be American participation in yet another long-term conflict with no clear path to victory, lasting stability, or some clear end. For all the current focus on the details of the oilfield attacks and Saudi Arabia’s air defense capabilities, the most recent attacks are only likely to be another episode in a lasting gray area or hybrid warfare between the U.S. and Iran.
Iran has been a source of extremism ever since the rise of Khomeini. While it was initially the victim of an Iraqi invasion when the Iran-Iraq War began in 1980, it became the aggressor and sought to invade Iraq after 1984. Ever since, it has sought to increase its influence in the region by providing military support to non-state actors like the Hezbollah, through a series of terrorist attacks, by seeking to acquire nuclear weapons and missiles, and by exploiting the tensions between Arab Sunnis and Shi’ites. Its Supreme Leader and Revolutionary Guards had repeatedly taken hardline position, and sometimes used force instead of words.
This fourth war did not, however, begin with Iranian aggression, but with an exercise in diplomatic bluff and bluster by the United States. The U.S. unilaterally withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on May 18, 2018 – an agreement that called for Iran to end its nuclear weapons program in return for an end to U.S. and international sanctions. It did so at a time when there seemed to be some real-world possibility that the agreement could not only end Iran’s nuclear efforts but gradually trade its return to a normal economic position for its efforts to expand its military influence in the region.