With the escalating tensions threatening to break out into active military hostilities between the US and Iran, it’s important to remember one crucial fact: Iran is the biggest problem in the Middle East. In all of the drama and commentary, this seems to get lost. Iran is the number one state sponsor of terrorism. That’s right! The Iranians have proxies all over the Middle East right now fomenting wars, destabilizing governments, and attempting to take advantage of a region awash in bloodshed and chaos.
If one was watching the media hoopla around Donald Trump’s aborted strike in response to the downing an American drone, then you’ve no doubt heard the criticisms of Trump’s engagement with the Iranians and his Middle East policy. Trump, as well as Barack Obama, does not have a clear policy and therefore will not have a clear response to the complicated mess in the region. Throw on top of that a mercurial personality, and there is definitely reason for concern. But what is lost in all of this pontificating on the virtues and failures of Trump’s strategy or lack thereof is that it is Iran who is actively pouring gas on the bonfire and starting new ones wherever they are able.
Trump’s critics seem to imagine he is to blame for all the chaos in the Middle East and the conflict with Iran. Oh, were that the case! If it was all on us, then we could just solve it ourselves, but it’s not. Iran is the sole country responsible for more of death and destruction than any other.
Let us count the ways Iran is now fomenting chaos and destruction in the Middle East. Much has been made about the Russian support of Bashar al-Assad, president of Syria and the butcher who has presided over the deaths of hundreds of thousands of his own people, using barbaric weapons such as chemical weapons and barrel bombs. While the Russians have been important, Hezbollah, a militant Shia Islamic political party based in Lebanon with Iran’s support, has been essential in providing Assad’s forces with weapons and soldiers in the civil war in Syria.
Let’s turn to the other major war being waged in Yemen. When we hear about Yemen, it’s usually to criticize the Saudis, and for sure the Saudis deserve their fair share of criticism. But if one were to listen to the American media, you would be led to believe the Saudis instigated this war for no other reason than to carry out bombing sorties. However, the war with Yemen is much more complicated. The Houthi rebels, who instigated the civil war, are supported by and answer to—who else—the Iranian government.
And we know that currently in Yemen thousands of people are living without food, adequate medicine, and basic essentials. These innocent people—men, women, and children—are dying. And why are they dying? In large measure because the Iranian government is supplying the Houthi rebels and allowing them to continue fighting. This is not an apology for the ways the Saudis have prosecuted this war. I think criticisms of the Saudis is necessary. But if all we focus on is the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, which seems to be the obsession of the American media, then we fail to see things as they are.
Part of the reason I have been so strong in my opposition to the obsession over the killing of Jamal Khashoggi is that he was one person. He was a relatively wealthy and privileged journalist. Where are the stories of all the regular people who are the real victims of these wars? Where is all the outrage over the actions of Hezbollah or the Assad regime? They kill thousands, often brutally, with impunity, and barely a whimper is offered.
We have not even touched on Iraq or Qatar, where the Iranians are busy sewing more chaos. The recent bombings of oil tankers in the Straits of Hormuz, most likely carried out by Iran, are just more of the same from a regime that must be opposed by political pressure or the military if its ambitions for regional domination are to be thwarted.
The Middle East has a lot of problems. I get this. Iran is not the source of every problem, but in a region awash with instability, the Iranians are the ones who are most aggressively seeking to destabilize the Middle East. They are the problem. We must not forget this.
Daniel Strand, PhD, is a faculty member in the Air War College. He serves as an assistant professor of ethics in Department of Leadership and Warfighting. Prior to his appointment, he was a postdoctoral fellow at Arizona State University (2015-19) in the History Department and the Program in Political History and Leadership. At the Air War College, he teaches courses on the just war tradition, ethics and leadership, and contemporary political ethics. Strand’s research interests include the political and moral theology of Augustine of Hippo and the Augustinian tradition, ethics and foreign policy, the just war tradition, bioethics, and moral theory. He is the author of the forthcoming Gods of the Nations (Cambridge University Press), a historical study of Augustine’s political theology in City of God. He has published articles and book chapters on Augustine of Hippo, Hannah Arendt, and the ethics of euthanasia. He is a contributing editor at Providence: A Journal of Christianity and American Foreign Policy. He received his BA from the University of Minnesota, MDiv from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and PhD in religion and ethics from the University of Chicago.
Photo Credit: Quds Day rally in Tehran, Iran, on May 31, 2019. By Tasnim News Agency.