Three months into the growing Middle East crisis, the U.S. remains in search of a strategy. Its only response, Operation Prosperity Guardian, has had uneven results at best.
The Biden administration’s fixation on escalation management, intended to mitigate the odds of conflict, is having the opposite effect. The longer the crisis continues, the more likely it becomes that the U.S. faces a major regional war down the line — one that threatens its interests and involves its forces. Preventing this escalation spiral through the careful use of force today is crucial to prevent American overextension.
The U.S. faces pressure in each of Eurasia’s regions in what is unmistakably a coordinated assault on America’s strategic position.
In Europe, Russia has not changed its objectives. Its ongoing peace offensive, designed to trigger leaks and opinion pieces in Western media implying the Kremlin might negotiate, is simply meant to freeze the U.S. and its allies in place as Russia bombards Ukraine and seeks to overwhelm it. Russian battlefield victory is exceedingly unlikely, but Russia’s Soviet-style effort to erode Western support is a long-term plan. Putin would place himself in position to swallow Ukraine whole later and subsequently carry the war to Europe.
In Asia, China menaces Taiwan, with Xi Jinping again stating that Beijing will bring the island republic under its dominion. China does not yet hold superiority over the U.S. military and its allies in the Indo-Pacific, and it is unlikely to achieve superiority for the next ten years. However, the margin of error is increasingly slim. The degree of pressure China has applied to Taiwan since the late 2010s — violations of its airspace, multiple large-scale military exercises, and two visible rehearsals of a blockade against Taiwan — would have been unthinkable even a decade ago, when U.S. military superiority was unquestioned.
Xi’s generals will never deliver a guarantee of victory. But the closeness of the military balance, along with the Chinese communists’ overloaded central decision-making mechanism, implies that China opportunistically act to tie down American assets.
This context explains the stakes of the Middle East crisis. Iran is a full-fledged member of the revisionist coalition that seeks to destroy the U.S.-led security and economic system in Eurasia. Its ideological goal is the ascent to Islamic leadership, and the propagation of its 1979 Islamic revolution. The only way to achieve this objective is through the destruction of the U.S. security presence in the Middle East and, in tandem, the destruction of Israel, the only regional power with the capability and will to challenge Iranian expansion.
The Oct. 7 attack was the beginning of a new, active phase in this contest. Iran seeks to win through attrition, placing Israel in an indefinite state of crisis. Threats from Gaza, the West Bank, and Lebanon and Syria are intended to undermine and eventually snap Israeli society. By broadcasting Israel’s supposed atrocities to the world, while also pressuring international maritime traffic through its alliance with the Yemeni Houthis, Iran also hopes to undermine U.S.-Israel cohesion.
The Biden administration surged assets to the Middle East following the Oct. 7 attack. But it has done little beyond this. It has conducted a handful of strikes in response to Iranian-backed militia attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria — forces that play a critical strategic role disrupting the Iranian logistics system through the Levant to the Israeli border.
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Seth Cropsey is the founder and president of Yorktown Institute.