In the summer of 2016, I was honoured to be asked by former US national security advisor Stephen Hadley and former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to help design a wargame, or a simulated crisis, to test whether more or less US engagement in the Middle East would be more beneficial for US interests and regional security.
The crisis revolved around a fictitious incident at sea between Saudi and Iranian naval forces. We postulated that several small attack craft belonging to the Iranians confronted a Saudi frigate in the Arabian Gulf southwest of the island of Abu Musa.
One Iranian boat sank, and one Saudi sailor went missing. Each side believed the other to be responsible for initiating the clash, and both placed their military forces on alert.
Throughout the crisis, we tested how greater, and reduced, US involvement might have defused the situation and deterred, or not, Iran from escalating. The biggest takeaway, which shouldn’t have been surprising, was that the level of US involvement was less relevant than the effectiveness of US involvement.
Of course, the fact that the United States had military assets stationed in the region mattered a great deal because it gave Washington response options. But the number of these assets was less crucial.
This meant that the size of America’s military presence in the region – more specifically, its troops and equipment – while necessary, were not a determining factor in the success of US involvement. A second major takeaway from the wargame was that Iran was most likely not deterred by a greater US military presence or show of force.