The Middle Eastern Cold War

On Thursday, February 25th, President Joe Biden authorized his first military action of his presidency in the form of an airstrike. The airstrikes targeted infrastructure utilized by Iranian-backed militia groups Hezbollah and Sayyid al-Shuhada. The United States is certainly no stranger to military action in the Middle East, but this particular incident is significant as it represents a continuation of US involvement in the Middle Eastern Cold War. American Presidents have long used this conflict to secure access to resources in the region, and it looks like nothing will change with the Biden presidency.

You could have easily gone your whole life without learning about the Middle Eastern Cold War, but this conflict is essential to understanding the others that have engulfed the region. Throughout the mid to late-twentieth century, Saudi Arabia and Iran have competed for influence and relevance on the world stage. Saudi Arabia sought to become the representative of Islam on the world stage, often catering to favor with Western nations. On the other hand, Iran focused on countering Western imperialism, becoming a fierce supporting of Palestinian independence and opposing the US on the international stage. Furthermore, the religious differences between the two nations, Saudi Arabia being majority Sunni and Iran being majority Shia, only served to exacerbate tensions. But, in spite of their fierce ideological and diplomatic conflict, the two nations never went to war, fearing intervention by the United Nations. As a result, the situation has evolved into a Cold War-esque conflict in which the two nations fight proxy wars to battle for influence over the Middle East.

So, what does this have to do with the United States? Well, the Middle East has been a strategically important area dating back to the Cold War (the one between the US and the Soviet Union). Both Washington and Moscow had, and have, a vested interest in control over the region. As a result, both nations have involved themselves in the conflict. The United States primarily backs Saudi Arabia while Russia primarily backs Iran. Many of the conflicts that have occured in the Middle East since the late ’70s can be explained by this battle for influence. Understanding the Middle Eastern Cold War is essential to interpreting US military action in the region.

The point of all this is to show that the myriad of military interventions undergone by the United States has little to do with combating terrorism or fighting for democracy. Instead, it has to do with maintaining power in the region. If the Department of Defense really cared about either of these things, they wouldn’t continually support the Saudis. Saudi Arabia is both an authoritarian regime and a state sponsor of terrorism, two things that the United States is supposed to be against. Our continued involvement in these wars has proved to be a humanitarian disaster, and, while Biden is certainly not unique in his participation in the Iran-Saudi conflict, that does not exempt him from guilt. The best and most moral course of action would be for the US to withdraw its support from Saudi Arabia and cease involvement in the Middle East. So long as we continue to play this game of power, we are culpable in its results.