In the past two years, there have been small escalations in the cold war between Iran and Saudi Arabia in the Middle East. Both nations are regional powers vying to increase their influence in the Muslim world.
The Saudis are in Yemen, leading a coalition of Arab states like Jordan and Egypt and launching an offensive against the predominantly Shiite Houthis, who are also in Yemen.
In the Saudi capital of Riyadh, the prime minister of Lebanon, Saad Hariri, resigned. There have been numerous reports that the Saudis had him under house arrest, or that the Saudis essentially forced him to resign for not being strong on Hezbollah, a political party in Lebanon that receives support from Iran.
Hariri also said that he fears assassination because his father Rafic Hariri, a former prime minister of Lebanon, was killed by alleged Hezbollah members. Saad Hariri is quoted as saying on Saudi television, “Wherever Iran settles, it sows discord, devastation and destruction, proven by its interference in the internal affairs of Arab countries.”
Having Saad Hariri out of power in Lebanon creates instability and perhaps a serious power vacuum throughout the region. Lebanon could very well be another Yemen, a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia. The Saudis recently had a significant change in power with the young Mohammed bin Salman being named Crown Prince, the male heir to the throne, of Saudi Arabia.
He is fairly young for a world leader at the age of 32 and may not be thoughtful in making significant foreign policy decisions. The prince has been occupied with the war in Yemen, but it should be mentioned that while he may seem assertive on foreign policy, he has a modern vision for the state of Saudi Arabia.
Bin Salman wants to remove the gender barriers which the Saudi kingdom is notorious for and return to a “moderate Islam” which is a giant victory for reformists in the West.
The United States will undoubtedly be involved in the cold war between Iran and Saudi Arabia. President Donald Trump’s administration has been very pro-Saudi and anti-Iran.
It is in the national interest of the United States to have a peaceful Middle East.
The Houthis rebels in Yemen have nowhere near as much military strength as the Saudis who have the backing of the United States.
The conflict in Yemen, if anything, is hurting the civilian population severely. The Yemeni War should pretty much be a win for the Saudis, but the civilian population is being caught in the crossfire.
The United States should only cooperate with the Iranians and their allies, the Russians or Syrians, when they both are faced with a collective problem like terrorism or climate change.
The proxy war is not an instance of a collective problem. It is in U.S. national interest to minimize war and instability in the Middle East. It is also in U.S. interest to introduce pro-Western ideas to the Middle East, and the Saudis are the last nation to bring them.
Riyadh wields way more influence on the Muslim world as it is Sunni and it now has a fairly modern leader who is proposing Western ideas. Reducing the influence of Iran and Hezbollah also reduces the threat to another key ally of the United States, Israel, which is also very pro-Western.
The United States benefits far more by having an alliance with NATO, the European Union, Saudi Arabia and Israel than it would by allying with Iran, Russia and Syria. Both the Russians and Iranians have long been anti-United States and it would be ridiculous to side with them in the war.
The United States should increase defense and military capabilities relative to other states to ensure minimal risk to its citizens. In these times, when the United States is on the side of a conflict supporting its allies, there will always be somebody trying to do harm.
Because of the U.S. support for Saudi Arabia, there could be possible repercussions and the United States must do everything to reduce these contingencies. In Lebanon, there is the potential of having another strategic ally in the Middle East which could curb the Iranian influence in the region. However, this does not mean that the United States should install a leader but rather it should let the Lebanese people decide.
It is highly unlikely to have a Hezbollah leader installed as the party has very little power in the parliament of Lebanon.
There is clearly a positive Western influence on the Middle East culturally, especially since the Arab Spring in 2011. If the United States chooses to be neutral, there is a risk of having less influence and security for its allies in the Middle East and elsewhere in the future.