January 29, 2024
Note: This article was published by the Miami Herald on January 29, 2024, but was written earlier. See the update below regarding the most recent events that have happened since it was written.
For months now, there have been news reports that the Biden administration has been trying to prevent the war in Gaza from expanding into a wider war in the region.
Yet the war has continued to widen. On Monday, the US and UK again struck the Houthis, bombing eight locations in Yemen. The Houthis have endured a long and devastating civil war that took hundreds of thousands of lives, with the US helping Saudi Arabia and the UAE against them. They have been attacking shipping in the Red Sea in response to Israel’s war in Gaza.
Trying to avoid a wider war makes sense for a number of reasons, but the biggest political reason in the United States is sitting like an elephant in the middle of the room and has somehow escaped discussion.
The simplest and perhaps surest way for the Republicans to take the Congress and the White House in November is with a widening war in the Middle East. It doesn’t take much imagination or knowledge of anything other than very recent US political events to see how this could happen. Just visualize one of those gas station signs that you have seen 1,000 times on TV since the spring of 2022, with $5.00 as the price of a gallon of regular.
Do Republican leaders get this? Ask one of their most prominent US senators, Lindsey Graham: “I’ve been saying for six months now: hit Iran. They have oil fields out in the open.” And previously: “Take it to the Iranians … it is now time to take the war to the Ayatollah’s back yard.”
Picture those gas station marquee signs with $6.00 a gallon; maybe more.
Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley said: “We need to go and take out their [Iran’s] infrastructure …”
One might question how much Republicans can do to help expand the war enough to clinch the election for them. They certainly have some power in the media — not only Fox News and social media, but people like Lindsey Graham on the biggest network news programs — to get their message out.
But they also have friends who would like to see the Republican Party capture the US Congress and the presidency. And these friends, in Israel’s government, can widen this war pretty much by themselves.
There are no conspiracy theories here. It’s just an interest that is clearly shared by extremists on both sides of the Mediterranean.
It also seems clear that the longer the war in Gaza continues, the more likely it is that it will spread further. In addition to the US/UK strikes against the Houthis, there have been exchanges of fire between Israel and Hezbollah, a major political party and armed group in Lebanon. Hezbollah, and the Houthis, are supported by Iran. And there are US troops in Syria and Iraq, where they have been coming under attack from militias almost daily.
At the same time, there is substantial evidence that most of the other attacks and the most dangerous threats of escalating war in the region would subside if that mass killing stopped.
It has been more than three months since the Hamas attack that killed about 1,140 Israelis and took several hundred hostages. Since then, more than 25,000 Palestinians have been killed by Israel, Palestinian health officials report; this figure does not include everyone who has died from the loss of food, water, and vital medicines and medical care.
The majority of those killed have been children, women, and other noncombatant civilians. There is no excuse for this kind of mass killing of innocent people, and it is a crime under international law and treaties that the United States is a party to, including the Geneva Conventions’ prohibition of collective punishment.
But it is the US government that has the power to convince Israel to put an end to this war, and like most elected governments in the world, ours will respond to electoral realities. They need to be shown, every day in every possible arena, how likely it is that this war can determine the results of our next election.
Since this piece was written, 3 US service members were killed and at least 34 wounded by a drone attack on a US military outpost in Jordan.
In the United States, Republican leaders have stepped up their calls for military action against Iran, in response to the attack:
Senator Lindsay Graham: “I am calling on the Biden Administration to strike targets of significance inside Iran … Hit Iran now. Hit them hard.”
Senator John Cornyn: “Target Tehran.”
Iran has stated that it “had no connection and had nothing to do with the attack on the US base.”