In the American mind, Iran is an unassailable, unpredictable power. Its position to the north of the Persian Gulf and commanding the Strait of Hormuz grants Iran the potential of shutting down the region’s oil exports and hurling the globe into recession. Since the Americans use energy access to power their trade-based alliance network, Iran in essence commands the kill-switch.
Or at least it used to.
As the Americans disengage from the wider world – and especially as shale energy makes the Americans care far less about global energy markets – Iran’s strategic leverage evaporates. No longer is the Persian Gulf the chink in the American armor. Instead, it is the United States that might want to interrupt shipments in order to short-circuit a rival.
In such a world, Iran actually is among the world’s countries most vulnerable to a competent sea power such as the United States. More than 90 percent of Iran’s oil exports flow from a single point: Kharg Island (see picture). A single sortie would be more than enough to simply eliminate Iran from global oil markets. And because Kharg Island lacks a bridge to mainland Iran, Iran would find it impossible to restart its exports without American approval.
For more about the intersection of energy, geopolitics and the changing nature of the American alliance network, see Chapters 7 and 10 of The Accidental Superpower.