Usually, when someone is bluffing, it means that someone has to do something. A response is usually in order. And so it is with Iran’s latest threats to shut down maritime traffic through the Straits of Hormuz. American economic sanctions (far preferable to a military strike) aimed at curbing their nuclear program are about to strike the Islamic Republic, making it near impossible to settle economic transactions with Iran or its commercial entities, thus prompting the threat. While the United States has (laudably) traditionally unilaterally committed itself to maintaining open shipping lanes throughout the globe, the time for us to do nothing, surprising as it is, has come.
Our natural instinct to Iran’s throwing down of the gauntlet is to take them up on their challenge. Let’s send a carrier fleet to the neighborhood, or just send the one we already have in the Persian Gulf out for manoeuvres. Right? Wrong. For once, let them do precisely as they want. Let them develop their nuclear ‘energy’ program. Let them shut down the straits of Hormuz and all shipping through the Persian Gulf. While this may seem detrimental to us, it really isn’t. It isn’t because it’ll force others, notably Saudi Arabia, China and Russia to take action on the issue, while we won’t have the lift a finger. If the government of Iran goes ahead with the blockade, it’ll hurt China, the biggest purchaser of Iranian oil, far more than it’ll hurt us, who buys very little, if any at all.
And that, more than anything, should become our default response to many of the hotspots in the world. Be it Sudan or the Persian Gulf, because the Chinese are increasingly more reliant on those energy sources than we are, they’re more vulnerable, and, therefore, more inclined to take the initiative, while we stand by, for once, letting someone else do our dirty work. China’s rising, and it should be China who does more of the heavy lifting. Now would be an excellent time to start letting them practice.