By Juan Cole (the nation)
The rise of the Houthi movement in Yemen, the militias of Iraq, Hezbollah in Lebanon and even the Syrian Arab Army of Bashar al-Assad are being configured by many analysts as evidence of a wide-ranging Iranian Shiite incursion into the Middle East. The Saudi bombing campaign in Yemen, Israel’s recent bombing of Hezbollah bases in southern Syria, and Gulf Cooperation Council unease about Iraq’s Tikrit campaign are all a result of this theory of “the Shiite Crescent,” a phrase coined by King Abdallah II of Jordan. But is Iran really the aggressor state here, and are developments on the ground in the Middle East really being plotted out or impelled from Tehran?
It is an old fallacy to interpret local politics through the lens of geopolitics, and it is a way of thinking among foreign policy elites that has led to unnecessary conflicts and even wars. Polarized analysis is only good for the military-industrial complex. The United States invaded Lebanon in 1958, ostensibly on the grounds that Druse shepherds protesting the government of Camille Chamoun were Communist agents. A retired State Department official once confessed to me that many in Washington were sure that the overthrow of the Shah of Iran in 1979 by Ayatollah Khomeini was planned out in Moscow. On the other hand, I met a Soviet diplomat at a conference in Washington, DC, in 1981 who confessed to me that his country simply could not understand the Islamic Republic of Iran and was convinced that the CIA must be behind it. I would argue that Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu and many Saudi and Gulf analysts have fallen victim to this “geopolitics fallacy.”