Danger in the Gulf: What the Attack on Saudi Arabian Oil Means for America

Alireza Ahmadi

For hawks like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, American power, as the Bolshevik adage goes, cannot fail, it can only be failed. For many of his ilk, the superiority of American power means the willingness to project it is the only thing needed to earn the capitulation of foes and the only way America loses is if it chooses to relent. Donald Trump, however, watched George W. Bush’s presidency burn in the Iraq war and is unlikely to embrace the chaos of war heading into an election year. President Trump would be wise to heed the lessons of the most recent volatile security episode in the Persian Gulf region, especially as it pertains to his administration’s campaign against Tehran.

After the strike on the Abqaiq oil processing facility in Saudi Arabia, Secretary of State Pompeo charged that the strike was not conducted by Houthi drones but rather by cruise missiles fired directly by the Iranian military from inside Iran or Iraq. The Houthis have claimed the attack and Iran has vociferously denied Pompeo’s claim. The material evidence, in the form of satellite pictures the U.S. government claimed would establish Iran as the direct culprit, as the New York Times put it, “did not appear as clear cut as officials suggested.” Much of the rest of what is provided is in the form of claims from unnamed U.S. officials, even as the Pentagon seems disinterested in supporting Pompeo’s claim despite this being a military matter. Rather than focusing on the web of charges and retorts, it may be better to look at the strategic impacts of these scenarios.

Strategic Consequences (Choose Your Own Adventure) 

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