While many Americans have focused whatever political attention they pay squarely on the premature presidential primaries and the ongoing debate over Iraq, other events in the Middle East bear watching. Particularly, recent activities by Iran, Israel, and Syria as well as events in Gaza and Lebanon suggest an increase in tensions in an already tense region.
Iranâ€™s recent promise of a â€œfinal responseâ€ against Israel on October 12th is but the latest in a series of activities by all sides that frames this tension. In fact, since July of this year, the Iran-Syria alliance has been ratcheting up the stakes, even as Israel moves to counter what it sees as a clear threat to its very existence.
We now know that dozens of Syrians and Iranians were killed in July trying to mount chemical warheads on Scud C missiles in cooperation as part of their mutual defense pact. Further, evidence indicates that Syria received some amount of nuclear material or processing capability from North Korea, either on Iranâ€™s behalf or as part of their own nuclear program.
Israel, apparently in return, bombed a military facility in northern Syria and has made flights over areas in southern Lebanon controlled by Hezbollah, an Iranian proxy. Further, Israel recently declared Hamas, a longtime ally of Syria and enemy of Israel, and Gaza an enemy entity, clearing the way for military action in Gaza should it be needed.
The need to pay attention is borne out of the need to be prepared, at least mentally, for the possibility that things could get much worse in the Middle East, and by proxy here in the US, without much warning. This need is not to suggest that anyone should worry about events they cannot control, rather that they should understand what the stakes are and who the players are in making the Middle East the way that it is.
This need to pay attention factors directly into the American obsession with the Iraq debate and the presidential primaries. Too often the news on these events is presented in a vacuum, as if events related to Iran, Israel, and Syria have nothing to do with Iraq or presidential elections. In fact, these events factor directly into the debate over Iraq and the presidency as they are part of the fuel that continues to help Iraq burn and make American politics so polarized and vociferous.
Americans need to pay attention to what is going on outside of Iraq and the presidential primaries because those issues must factor into how we make decisions about who will lead us and what we, as individuals, will do during these trying times. We cannot pretend that Iran, Israel, and Syria or that al Qaeda, Gaza, Lebanon, Pakistan, and Somalia have no bearing on what we do and how we do it. To ignore those issues is to place ourselves in the worst kind of jeopardy.
These things form the context for the decisions that Americans must make in the next months and years. These circumstances are the defining issues of our time, and failing to understand them in context threatens to undermine our ability to deal with them effectively. We can try to pretend that the upcoming presidential election is about Iraq, but it is really about the entire Middle East, perhaps the entire Muslim world. We ignore that scope of events to our own peril.