Coronavirus has taken over, quite literally, everything. Even if it isn’t the topic of conversation, it’s likely that some aspect of whatever is being discussed is directly impacted or influenced by coronavirus.
It’s the most disruptive thing most of us have ever experienced.
The 24-hour news cycle doesn’t help. If it’s not all we’re talking about, it certainly seems to be all the media and the politicians talk about.
Don’t get me wrong — we should be talking about it. The death and destruction wrought by this invisible enemy has been absolutely overwhelming to every person on the planet. So I want the people in power to be talking about it. I want the wisest people in the room figuring out the best way for our communities to beat this thing and for life to resume some semblance of normalcy.
So it’s absolutely essential that we keep informed. But there’s a danger in this singular focus. The world is still spinning and things are still happening that aren’t related to coronavirus at all. And if we aren’t careful, we’ll find ourselves completely unaware of what else is happening out there.
For instance, the U.S. and Iran are at it again. Of course it feels like forever ago when the trending Google search was “World War 3” but it was really just the beginning of the year when it seemed like military conflict with Iran was inevitable.
It was just a little over three months ago. How strange time feels at the moment.
Remember the assassination of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani and the airstrikes at the American airbase in Iraq? It seems like ancient history but really just weeks ago. And while coronavirus may have distracted Iranian anger and Iraqi frustration for a moment, it was just that — a distraction.
While our communities were, for the first time, considering things like social distancing, the U.S. military and Iranian-backed militia groups were exchanging rocket fire. At the beginning of this month, both sides of the conflict recommitted to military posturing — the U.S. claiming that Iran was planning some kind of sneak attack against U.S. troops or interests in Iraq, warning Iran of the consequences of any kind of strike. Iran responded with its own retaliatory threat.
With both countries crippled under the weight of this worldwide pandemic, it seems like a foolish time for military conflict. And yet it seems both the U.S. and Iran are itching for some kind of fight.
Iran is trying to establish its dominance in the region and its influence over a now significantly less American-friendly Iraq. This comes at a strategic point for Iran who is being pushed out of influence in Syria as Russia and Turkey are taking center stage. And let’s not forget, Iran wants revenge — not only from what it deems an unfair American pull out of the nuclear deal and suffocating sanctions. Iran is not over the death of Soleimani. Coronavirus may have taken the collective eye off significant retaliation for a moment but that moment will not last. Even this week a dozen Iranian naval boats were filmed harassing U.S. Navy ships in the Persian Gulf, coming within 10 yards of the warships.
Iran isn’t the only one looking to make the most of what it sees as a strategic opportunity though. Many high level advisors in the U.S. government see now as the perfect time to increase pressure on Iran. Not only is it in the throes of the coronavirus but the recent collapse in oil prices, that has American citizens loving gas for less than $2 a gallon, has caused a lot of problems for Iran’s own oil market.
This seems like a recipe for disaster. Any military action against American soldiers or assets in Iraq will be justified cause for direct action by the U.S. military. And the last thing we need is a military conflict in the middle of a worldwide pandemic, a presidential election and the 2020 census.
It’s a situation we should give more than a passing glance. We can’t afford to look the other way or pretend it doesn’t matter. Coronavirus is here and it’s devastating. But while it feels like the “pause” button has been pushed on our lives, foreign policy is still running at full speed.
So, yes, pay attention to all the news about coronavirus. Continue to follow the measures prescribed to us by our leaders. Stay informed. But don’t forget that while all of this is taking place, other important political and military decisions are being made. And we don’t want to be caught off guard.
Cortney Stewart is a 2003 graduate of Lecanto High School. She has bachelor’s degrees in political science and international affairs, a master’s degree in intercultural studies and is currently working on her Ph.D. in international conflict management. She most recently spent two years teaching and training students, teachers and government officials in Baghdad, Iraq. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.