Yesterday I wrote natural disasters, comparing Katrina of 2005 with the cyclone Nargis which hit Myanmar last weekend. However, it seems that as summer approaches, there are a variety of storms on the horizon, perhaps presaging difficult times ahead.
In Beirut fighting has broken out which threatens to reignite the Lebanese civil war. It started when Hezbollah’s telecommunication system was declared illegal and a ‘national threat’ by the Lebanese government. Hezbollah, claiming that this system is what enabled them to defeat Israel in the summer of 2006, called trying to illegalize it an act of war. Hezbollah is supported by and aided by Iran. Right now Hezbollah has taken control of West Beirut, and dominates huge swathes of both Beirut and parts of Lebanon.
The United States, meanwhile, continues to put pressure on Iran, as Israel warns that Iran could start “military use” of uranium enrichment within a year. The US not only is concerned about Iran’s nuclear ambitions, but also realizes that as long as Iran is so active in the Shi’ite parts of Iraq, aiding various militias and even governmental bureaucracies, the US will never be able to have any real success in Iraq. Iran is so embedded in Iraq, however, that’s it is difficult for the US to know the extent of Iranian influence. They do see Iranian weapons on Shi’ite militants, and believe that American deaths are directly caused by Iranian meddling. Iran, for its part, considers the US to be the real outside meddler, and they are trying to keep the US off balance so the US can’t launch an offensive against Iran, or have Iraq as a long term American ally on the Iranian border. US rhetoric has ratcheted up, Hillary Clinton even threatens to ‘obliterate Iran’ and the Pentagon draws up war plans it hopes it will never have to use.
Oil is now over $125 a barrel, a price that not long ago would have been the stuff of fiction novels involving Mideast crises. As demand growth meets stagnant production levels, countries like Iran not only have the material capacity to counter the US, but are wooed by actors like China and the EU who need oil. This undercuts American pressure on Iran. Meanwhile the Saudis, who before simply increased production to stop out of control prices, have made friendly gestures to the Iranian, refused American demands to up production, and are putting on hold plans to make investments designed to increase production by about 25%. Perhaps they can’t increase production; no one really knows how much oil they have left, or what the state of their oil fields are.
Meanwhile in Afghanistan the Taliban continues to gain in strength, and the CIA concludes that al qaeda is at least as strong as it was pre-9-11. The war on terror has not, apparently, weakened al qaeda, even if we may be better prepared to stop a planned attack (emphasis on may be). And, of course, there’s Iraq. The US surge is basically over, but any success it had could be fleeting. It was based on taking the original Sunni insurgent groups and making deals with them to fight the foreign fighters of al qaeda in Iraq on the one hand, and a truce from Moqtada al-Sadr on the other. The former are now growing more distrustful of the government and threaten violence, the latter’s cease fire could break at any time, as the government is unable to disarm al-Sadr’s Mahdi army. Internal Shi’ite fighting further fragments a country the US wants to see united, but looks increasing torn asunder.
All these are little storms, with limited damage. Yet there are connections…Israel to Hezbollah to Iran to Iraq to oil to the US to Afghanistan to al qaeda. If these were to somehow coalesce into a major storm this summer, worries about what Obama’s preacher said or how Hillary talks about ‘white people’ may suddenly seem pathetically unimportant.