Iran could once again determine the outcome of the U.S. presidential election. It happened in 1980. It could happen in 2012.
Prior to 1979 Iran was an ally of the United States, using its military power to take care of Western interests in the Persian Gulf. Then, early in 1979, the pro-Western Shah of Iran was overthrown, and Iran's monarchy was replaced by a revolutionary theocratic state under the direct rule of Islamic ayatollahs.
During the upheaval of the revolution, American embassy staff were held hostage by revolutionaries in contravention of all international norms and agreements. Their captivity lasted 444 days. After failed attempts to negotiate a release, the U.S. military attempted a rescue in April 1980. The mission failed—with the loss of eight American lives and two military aircraft.
This military venture and the failed negotiations over a long period contributed to the defeat of President Jimmy Carter in the 1980 U.S. presidential election.
Carter was perceived as weak in the face of Iranian intransigence, while the one who defeated him, Ronald Reagan, was seen as being willing to do whatever was necessary to end the hostage situation without further American humiliation. It was no coincidence that the Iranians released the hostages only minutes after Reagan was sworn in as the new U.S. president.
Today, the current U.S. president, Barack Obama, is perceived by some as weak on Iran. While the Iranians move toward acquiring nuclear weapons, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warns of the growing threat to both Israel and the West from Iran, President Obama has strengthened sanctions but has seemingly done little to meet the danger of a nuclear-armed Iran.
That, or other developments with Iran, could have significant impact on the coming U.S. election in November—and on the world at large.
Oil access and fuel prices
If Iran attacks Israel or a U.S. target in the Middle East in the months ahead, it could powerfully influence the American election. The same would be true if Israel attacks Iran. Even continued unease could influence the outcome of the election, as instability raises the international price of oil, increasing the cost at the pump, a major issue in American politics.
Higher fuel prices means everything is going up, especially food. (Ironically, neither gasoline nor food is included in the official U.S. inflation figures, as both are considered seasonal.)
Iran has repeatedly threatened to block the narrow Strait of Hormuz, through which about 20 percent of the world's oil is transported in giant tankers. All it would take is attacks on a few to cause insurance costs to skyrocket, likely bringing shipping to a halt in that area. Of course, this would automatically spike the price of oil around the world, inevitably contributing to global economic chaos and possible worldwide recession.
The New York Times reports: "Iran and the West have been at odds over its nuclear program for years. But the dispute has picked up steam since November 2011, with new findings by international inspectors, tougher sanctions by the United States and Europe, threats by Iran to shut the Strait of Hormuz to oil shipments and Israel [having] signaled increasing readiness to attack Iran's nuclear facilities" ("Iran's Nuclear Program," March 8, 2012).
And a recent article in Newsweek highlighted the fact that Iran, battling international sanctions against the country, has hit back by imposing its own sanctions on six European countries. Europe is more dependent on Iranian oil than the United States, though any negative effect on Europe would also impact the United States, as the world price of oil determines U.S. gasoline prices.
Interestingly, Iran's sanctions were imposed on France and five of the so-called PIIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain)—countries already struggling to cope in the eurozone debt crisis. The article, written by Harvard history professor and noted author Niall Ferguson, speculated that Iran's goal is to bring these countries down, which would have a ripple effect globally, toppling the international economic system:
"Energy dependency has geopolitical consequences—like reducing your leverage in any row with an oil exporter. If even the rumor of an Iranian export ban could send the price of oil above $120 a barrel, what would a full-scale showdown between Iran and Israel do? Answer: it would inflict yet more economic misery on Europe, which gives Brussels a big incentive to avoid such a showdown" ("Iran Uses European Oil Dependence as Blackmail on Nukes," Feb. 20, 2012).
Iran's widespread influence
While the West is preoccupied with the impact Iran's nuclear program could have on Western countries and Israel, nations in the Middle East have wider concerns, going back over 13 centuries.
While most Muslims are of the Sunni branch of Islam, most Iranians are of the Shia branch. The feud between these branches goes back to the seventh century. As Shiites are a minority, an Iranian nuclear power would, at last, give them the upper hand over the majority Sunnis.
This possibility is leading Sunni Muslim nations in the Middle East such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt to contemplate nuclear weapons of their own to deter an Iranian attack. In an extremely volatile region, the existence of multiple nuclear powers may well, in a short period of time, lead to nuclear war.
Iran is not isolated among Islamic nations. The Iranians dominate an arc of countries that extends both northwest of Iran and eastward. It now includes Iraq, which has a majority Shia population—a population previously kept under control by its late president Saddam Hussein, a nominal but mostly irreligious Sunni Arab. The new democratic system established by U.S. and coalition nations resulted in the majority Shia gaining dominance. And they naturally look to fellow Shiites in Iran.
Saddam Hussein had also kept Iran in check in the region. His removal and the long war in Iraq have resulted in Iran emerging as a much stronger regional power—one of the worst possible outcomes for the West.
Syria's beleaguered regime is dominated by the minority Alawites, a sect of Shia Islam. In the current crisis, Iran naturally supports the status quo. If President Bashar al-Assad is overthrown, it is likely that a majority Sunni government would replace him. This would go against Iran's interests and sever its land connection with Hezbollah, a terrorist group it sponsors in Lebanon. Iran also supports and influences Hamas, a terrorist group that operates in the West Bank and rules Gaza. Hezbollah and Hamas are virulently anti-Israel.
In the other direction, Iran's influence extends to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Indeed, in February, the leaders of all three countries met. As the latter two are theoretically U.S. allies in the war against radical Islamists, their meeting should be a serious warning to the United States. The meeting was given little attention by American media.
Furthermore, Iran's influence is not limited to the Middle East. It extends to Venezuela and Cuba, close neighbors of the United States. There has even been speculation that Iran intends to aim its first nuclear devices at America's East Coast, launching missiles from one of the two countries.
And Iran's increased military power has support from two old enemies of the United States—Russia and China. Any action against Iran by the United States could result in a clash with either one or both of these nations.
With all this in mind, it's surprising that Iran isn't the number one issue in the U.S. election. Of course, there's still time for that to happen. While the economy is the top issue in the United States right now, when Iran impacts the U.S. economy in a bigger way it could have a major impact on the election. If, for example, gas rose to $5 a gallon (approximately $1.25 per liter), the psychological blow could greatly influence the vote.
(As this magazine is an international magazine, it should be stated that $1.25 per liter would be the envy of most consumers around the world. On a recent visit to the United Kingdom, I noticed that the price was closer to $2.25 or £1.40 a liter—about $9.00 per U.S. gallon—an amount likely to increase further with the growing tension in the Middle East. European countries are already in recession—and any increase in the price of oil could tip them into a deeper economic crisis.)
Of course, President Obama's perceived failure to deal with Iran thus far would not be the only way Iran could factor into the U.S. election. If he decides to take military action against Iran shortly before the election, as some maintain he will, that might sway the vote his way—many Americans being wary of "changing horses in midstream," as the saying goes. There is, however, no evidence as yet of such a strategy on his part.
A coming Mideast clash
As detailed in our free Bible study aid booklet The Middle East in Bible Prophecy, the Bible foretells the coming clash of "the king of the South," from what is today the Islamic world, and "the king of the North," leader of a revived Roman Empire composed of a union of nations centered in Europe.
Daniel 11:40 prophesies, "At the time of the end the king of the South shall attack him; and the king of the North shall come against him like a whirlwind, with chariots, horsemen, and with many ships . . ." The "time of the end" referred to is the period immediately prior to Christ's return. The wording here, written in Aramaic in the sixth century before Christ, implies a major military force hitting back at the territory of the king of the South.
The North is portrayed as responding to an action of the South. The king of the South will "attack" the North or, as the King James Version of the Bible renders this, "push at" the North.
The "push" may imply something other than a direct military attack on Europe. It could be terrorist actions. Or it could be an economic threat. Blocking the Strait of Hormuz or otherwise choking off the West's oil supplies would certainly come into this category. Europe is far more dependent on Middle Eastern oil than the United States. It's also possible that American reluctance to take needed military action could be a cause leading to European intervention.
This is not meant to identify Iran as the king of the South—for the southern power may well rise from the majority Sunni Arab nations. Yet Iranian actions could be a catalyst for this.
Continuing in Daniel 11, the prophet states, ". . . and he [the king of the North] shall enter the countries, overwhelm them, and pass through. He shall also enter the Glorious Land, and many countries shall be overthrown" (verses 40-41).
The North's counterstrike leads to forces of this European leader invading and occupying various nations of the Middle East. The "Glorious Land" is another term for the Holy Land.
When asked, "What sign will there be when these things are about to take place?" (Luke 21:7), Jesus told His disciples, "When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near" (verse 20).
Jerusalem is at the heart of Bible prophecy. It has been well-documented that Iran's leadership is intent on destroying the nation of Israel, and various other Muslim leaders have proclaimed this desire this as well. Bible prophecy shows that Jerusalem will be at the very center of the end-time events that lead to Christ's return.
In a prophecy about this period of time, God spoke these words through the prophet Zechariah: "For I will gather all the nations to battle against Jerusalem" (Zechariah 14:2). And also: "Behold I will make Jerusalem a cup of drunkenness to all the surrounding peoples, when they lay siege against Judah and Jerusalem. And it shall happen in that day that I will make Jerusalem a very heavy stone for all peoples" (Zechariah 12:2-3).
The reference to "a cup of drunkenness" shows that nations will be irrational and unpredictable in their manic desire to destroy the Jewish nation of Israel. This describes accurately the insanity of the Iranian regime—an intent few in the West can fully appreciate.
Leaders seeking global conflict
The theocratic nature of this Islamic state needs to be better understood by Western nations.
The hatred and self-destructive tendency in the leadership is tied in with the expectation of the return of the 12th imam of Shia Islam, who is destined to lead the Muslim faith. About 85 percent of Shia Muslims are Twelvers. They expect the imminent return of the 12th imam, who disappeared in the ninth century. Many believe that they must stir up trouble in the world to hasten his return. Western countries are not dealing with a rational power when they deal with Iran's current leadership.
It's interesting to note that Twelvers are expecting the return of the 12th imam, the Mahdi or "[divinely] guided one," a messianic figure, at the same time that conservative Christians are expecting the second coming of their Messiah, Jesus Christ. Twelvers believe the Mahdi will work with Jesus—whom they consider to be a Muslim who will force Christians to convert to Islam—to establish a just and perfect universal society.
It should be clear to all that Iran is set on an intransigent course and cannot be dealt with in the same way other nations are treated. Whether or not Iran attacks Israel or the East Coast of the United States, or simply continues to stir up trouble as opportunity presents itself, remains to be seen. But increased tension is likely, and Israel or the United States may take military action in the shrinking window of time before Iran acquires nuclear capability.
Whatever the case, Iran's theocratic regime could turn out once again to be a powerful factor in this year's U.S. presidential election.