The massive sale of arms to Saudi Arabia and its neighbors in the Gulf and the increase in military aid to Israel are the U.S. response to the Iranian threat, and the flow of arms from Russia to Iran and Syria. Each arms-supplying power has its own interests: the Russians want to deter the U.S. and Israel from bombing the Iranian nuclear facility - therefore, they have supplied the Iranians with advanced air defense. Such systems will also be supplied to Syria in the coming year. The Americans like to talk about democracy in the Arab world, but they believe that strengthening armies is the most efficient way to protect stability and maintain pro-Western regimes in the face of extremist Islam.
That is definitely the crux of the matter and it's also the reason why, in the midst of these crises, all Condi Rice is doing is talking about some sort of vague upcoming meeting to address the ME peace process. The Bush administration firmly believes in the use of force, not diplomacy or democracy, as was most recently evident in its funneling of money to Mahmoud Abbas in an attempt to get rid of Hamas and its military aid to Israel during the failed 2006 Israel/Lebanon war.
The ME road map died a long time ago, and while Tony Blair is the latest in a string of envoys who is supposed to make sense of the situation, it seems he may have to start by addressing the problem of stray cats in Jerusalem first before he moves on to the bigger picture. (No, I'm not kidding.)
Meanwhile, back at the cold war ranch, some members of the US congress have said they'll try to block the arms sale to Saudi Arabia but they will obviously need to walk a fine line since the sales are included in the bill that increases aid to Israel as well. The majority of Republicans and Democrats would not risk alienating the Israel lobby or its supporters and if the bill is amended, Bush will probably veto it or create yet another signing statement to get what he ultimately wants anyway. In other words, Saudi Arabia will get the arms. It's basically a done deal.
Robin Wright, writing for the Washington Post in, U.S. vs. Iran: Cold War, Too, suggests a "Green Curtain" in the ME as opposed to the old Soviet-style "Iron Curtain", but the implications are the same.
When the first Cold War began, in 1946, Winston Churchill famously spoke of an Iron Curtain that had divided Europe. As Cold War II begins half a century later, the Bush administration is trying to drape a kind of Green Curtain dividing the Middle East between Iran's friends and foes. The new showdown may well prove to be the most enduring legacy of the Iraq conflict. The outcome will certainly shape the future of the Middle East -- not least because the administration's strategy seems so unlikely to work.
And this analyst's points simplify the current situation: the Bush administration has created a monster:
"The difference now is that Iran is feeling its oats because of the increase in oil prices, Iraq's weakness since the fall of Saddam, and the successes of Hezbollah and Hamas," noted Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, who ran the State Department's policy planning shop during Bush's first term. "In contrast, the U.S. is feeling stretched by the very same high oil prices and its difficulties in Iraq and Afghanistan."
The roots of Cold War II lie in the Bush administration's decision to remove regimes it considered enemies after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The first two targets were the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein in Iraq -- coincidentally, both foes of Iran that had served as important checks on Tehran's power. The United States has now taken on the role traditionally played by Iraq as the regional counterweight to Iran.
And by doing so it has also weakened Israel's tenuous position in the ME, thus the need to ride in and pour even more arms into that country.
The neocon philosophy seems to be just arm everybody and let them sort it out. That attitude was also reflected in the recent US nuclear deal with India meant to be a buffer against China and a weakened Pakistani political position where Musharraf's (nuclear-armed) government has been the target of numerous attacks and protests - not to mention its ongoing failure to deal with the Taliban in the northern provinces, where the US military has threatened to intervene.
Keep in mind that behind of all this Iran has been cooperating with the IAEA and, more importantly, does not have nuclear weapons - unlike Israel, Pakistan and India. Mohamed ElBaradei must be banging his head against the wall as he watches the US follow the same strategy it did in the run up to the Iraq war - blustering, lies and fearmongering to justify a future military "intervention". Will we witness yet another Colin Powell-like moment at the UN? Time will tell. But this time, the world is that much wiser - or so we hope.
No matter what happens, one thing is certain: Smedley Butler must be rolling over in his grave because the modern day war profiteers - arms dealers, oil men, military-industrial complex businesses - will all walk away that much wealthier for Bush and Cheney having been in control of the American Empire.
And the wars will go on. And people will continue to die.
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