This interesting quote was in Monday’s lead WaPo piece on the Middle East:
“It’s really a proxy war between the United States and Iran,” said David J. Rothkopf, a scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and author of “Running the World,” a book on U.S. foreign policy. “When viewed in that context, it puts everything in a different light.”
Well, I suppose it does. But is this a productive illumination? What are the consequences of viewing the current violence as a US-Iranian proxy war? It seems to me that it may raise more questions that it answers. Some quick thoughts:
First, of course, if Hezbollah is a proxy of Iran, Israel must to some degree be a proxy of the US. It depends how we define proxy, but an argument can be made that military assistance constitutes a degree of support on either side. Control is a whole other issue though, and is likely limited for both. This deterministically dichotomous characterization also certainly has implications for a potential mediated settlement. Does this mean that the US and Iran will be the principle actors in a diplomatic solution? Will we see a US-Iranian middle eastern summit, with Israel and Hezbollah relegated to ‘proxy’ status? While this is highly unlikely, the proxy war idea as it relates to US support of Israel is surely representative of a shift in potential US ‘honest broker’ status.
Second, perhaps more problematic, is that prioritizing the proxy war label supposes that Iranian-US relations are more destabilizing to the region than the issues that have been at the centre of the conflict for the past 30 years. Of course this dynamic has been present, but certainly not the principle antagonising factor. How does this escalation, if indicative of a proxy, interrelate with the main historic elements of the conflict?
Third, how does this characterization fit with Bush’s wider regional policy? While there are to some degree competing harder and softer versions, an overarching push towards large scale change in the region is a cross cutting element. Iran, I suppose, could be playing a hearts and minds response to this desired democratic reform/regime change. If this is the case, they are likely succeeding, with public opinion in the region becoming more aggressively pro Hezbollah. How, however, does this impact the manner in which the conflict will be resolved and how does is effect broader US regional policy? The two may not be complementary, as the former may a have long term negative impact on the latter. Certainly it should alter the calculus regarding civilian casualties? It also alters the US strategic consequences of the shifting democratic will of the region.
Other thoughts? Is this escalation just a US-Iranian proxy war? Is this a useful lens with which to view the present violence?