The year has begun with Iran and the United States circling each other in the Straits of Hormuz; like two boxers before a bout, seeing who will strike first and working out where a blow could land.
The immediate cause has been Iranian manoeuvres in the Arabian Gulf, and a visit to the area by the American aircraft carrier USS John C Stennis. Iran's army chief has said that his country will take action if a US aircraft carrier returns to the Gulf. Oil prices have shot up as a result.
This could be the worst time to goad a Democratic president facing pressure from those Republicans currently trying ‘out hard’ each other in Iowa. Barack Obama has, throughout his tenure, tended to ignore bullyboy behaviour. But being seen as weak against Iran will undermine his planned ‘I got Bin Laden’ routine.
Tempting as it may be to send the warship back to the Gulf in defiance of Iran's illegal threats, a better option for the US would be to push ahead with sanctions and then assemble a multinational flotilla with France, Britain and other European allies, before heading back. This would help undermine Iranian rhetoric of a US-only action — and perhaps even make Tehran think twice about this scrap.