Can the turmoil in the Middle East affect US elections in November 2012? What are the top five scenarios that could feature in the US election campaign?
Sharp Rise in Oil Prices: The credibility of US presidential candidates will largely be judged by their record on economic management, and few developments could be more detrimental to the tentative economic recovery in the US than a sharp spike in global oil prices.
The stand-off with Iran over the country's nuclear program has the potential to do just that. New sanctions targeting Iranian oil industry have been adopted by the US and the European Union, while Iran threatened in retaliation to impose its own embargo on oil exports to Europe. Any strain on global oil supply can cause instant jitters on international markets.
Israeli Attack on Iran: An Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities could present the US with a major crisis. 40% of all US crude imports pass through the Strait of Hormuz, a narrow water passage partly controlled by Iran. The main fear is that Iran would respond to an attack by closing Hormuz, causing the global oil prices - and the price of US gasoline - to skyrocket. Iran could also employ its ally Hezbollah, a Lebanese Shiite militia, to launch rocket attacks on northern Israel.
President Barack Obama has made it clear he favored a diplomatic approach to Iran to a potentially costly and unpredictable military campaign. But any reluctance to support Israel, the United States' closest regional ally, would be hugely damaging to Obama. His Republican challengers have consistently denounced the White House for being too soft on Iran.
Read more on whether Israel can destroy Iran's nuclear program
Escalation of the Syrian Uprising: Other foreign policy setbacks would have a lesser direct impact on the US elections, but could yet play a role in a tight race. The anti-government uprising in Syria look set to escalate into a full-blown civil war. Although some US lawmakers have called for military support for the Syrian rebels, Obama has shied away from closer involvement in the crisis, knowing that the US public doesn't want to get entangled in another war in the Middle East.
However, Syria, Iran's chief Arab ally, has huge strategic significance, and chaos there could spill over to neighboring Iraq and Lebanon. In this case, the US would find itself with another foreign policy headache that would be difficult to manage at the peak of the election season.
Read more on the Syrian uprising
- Spike in Violence in Iraq: Obama will take the credit for ending the unpopular military mission in Iraq in late 2011. And yet, the security situation in Iraq remains fragile and a dramatic upswing in violence in the run-up to the US election would expose Obama to criticism that he has mismanaged the withdrawal and left Iraq with a government that is openly friendly to Iran.
Read more: Al Qaeda in Iraq
Fresh Clashes in Libya: The US was a reluctant participant in the 2011 NATO-led air campaign which helped Libyan rebels remove the regime of Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi. However, the security vacuum and a strong presence of prominent Islamists, such as Abdel Hakim Belhadj, remain a cause of concern in Washington.
An outbreak of fighting among rival Libyan militias vying for power could hurt the credibility of the US role in the Middle East and find its way into the US election debates.