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Sunday, September 22, 2019
US Military Options in Iran
By George Friedman - Sept 17, 2019
The United States has openly accused Iran of being behind the drone and cruise missile attacks on Saudi Arabia’s largest oil refinery. Now the question is what the United States will do in response.
The U.S. is in a difficult position. The attacks did not directly affect the U.S., save for the spike in oil prices, which actually helps the American oil industry. There is a temptation to let the attacks slip into history. But the United States has formed an anti-Iran alliance in which Saudi Arabia is a key (though weak) player. Saudi Arabia is under internal pressure from members of the royal family who oppose Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and low oil prices have undermined the kingdom’s political cohesion. Doing nothing would call the U.S.-sponsored coalition into question. Saudi Arabia is an important player in the Sunni Arab world – and that world is the main threat to Iranian expansion. Failing to respond to an Iranian attack on a vital Saudi facility could help Iran increase its power throughout the region. During Donald Trump’s presidency, the United States’ inclination has been to avoid initiating direct military action in favor of applying economic pressure instead. He has maneuvered to minimize and halt active military engagement. Military action against Iran, therefore, would both endanger the alliance structure and cut against U.S. strategy.
An alternative option would be to introduce new sanctions, but there are two problems with this move. First, sanctions do not have the psychological impact military action does. The psychological impact would be on both Iran and the Sunni world, and the logic of the situation requires it. Second, the U.S. has already imposed painful sanctions on Iran’s economy. Any further sanctions would have limited effect and insufficient heft.