The reporting on Monday's Petraeus-Crocker testimony focused heavily Iran. The WP ran an op-ed piece about "the Iran problem". Apparently, the US mission in Iraq these days is to counter Iran. WP columnist David Ignatius argues that "...Somehow, the next president will have to fuse U.S. military and diplomatic power to both engage Iran and set limits on its activities. A U.S.-Iranian dialogue is a necessary condition for future stability in the Middle East."
Will someone please tell me what America's interests are in the Middle East and with Iran in particular? Is Iran or any Middle Eastern nation attempting to invade the US? Is Iran trying to replace our Constitution with fundamentalist religious law? I understand that some factions and organized groups in the Middle East and South Asia want to kill Americans and westerners in general but aside from the particular and relatively limited threats they pose (which is still a big deal if you’re happen to be killed or maimed), they cannot fundamentally alter or change American or western society. Their most potent weapon is our own overreaction and panicked response.
Iran, on the other hand, is a significant economic and military power in the region. That works for Iran because the region is home. I expect Iran, like any nation, to keep a close watch on its "near abroad" because that is where its most vital interests are likely to be affected most seriously. Iran also has a long history of power and influence in the larger region, including the nation currently know as Iraq, dating to well before western civilization figured out that the earth was not flat. I fully recognize and understand Iran’s interests and aspirations in the region.
So I keep hearing about vital American interest in the Middle East but I have difficulty understanding them and why they are vital as to take us to the brink of war. Maybe I'm just being obtuse. I realize that the United States is a World Power of Great Consequence and Significance but it seems that we are trapped in the myth of our own greatness so that everything is in our interest. Like any nation, we have a near abroad, where our most vital interests lie. (I include preserving individual and Constitutional liberties within that near abroad; I do not limit it to geography and strategy. Mexico would be an important geographic near abroad.) But when everything affects us, we quickly find ourselves at risk to others who may have strategic and economic advantages that offset our supposed super power. We end up stretching ourselves too thin in resources, insight, skill and nuance to address even our most vital interests effectively. It's a strategy any insurgent facing a powerful adversary quickly learns.
Of course, I know we want the East oil (and everyone else’s) for our own economic growth. We want to ensure continued access to that oil. Desperately, because that's all we know. It's always been so cheap and plentiful. Of course, in a true global market we would just buy what we need. Oops! I keep forgetting we don't have any money any more. We do still have some military left, we have chosen to establish a strong presence in the Mid-East and are pursuing that mission at whatever it costs.
America unconditionally supports the State of Israel, which pisses off most Arab and Muslims who still resent being forcibly driven from their homes when Israel was established, the continuing expropriation of Palestinian for Israeli settlements and Israel’s increasingly militarized response to the legitimate national aspirations of an indigenous people, aspirations not unlike those that inspired the State of Israel. Smarter people than me have failed to resolve this conflict so I don’t even pretend to have an answer. I will venture to say that almost a century of violence and oppression in that region will not end because one side or the other gains a temporary advantage by force or guile. And remember, temporary in that part of the world is measured in decades and centuries.
Aside from the specifics of our own national interest, Americans also claim a broad interest in freedom and democracy throughout the world, so maybe that's why it's so necessary to send our troops to die in Iraq or Iran. Of course, it would have been easier to have left the democratically elected Iranian government in place back in 1953 but that government was hostile to our specific economic interests (read: oil), which trumped the more vague freedom and democracy interest.
Confused? Don’t feel bad. If you were a US soldier you could be confused and then dead. No one will ever be sure why.