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To pick up on Kevin's point below, one of the rationales for sustaining American predominance in the Persian Gulf is to preemptively thwart a similar bid from China. If we are the arbiters of oil security, the theory goes, the Chinese will be reliant on the U.S. as she becomes ever more dependent on the stuff for her economy.

With Secretary Clinton's swing through the Middle East, we're calling in those chips:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton flew to the Gulf on Sunday to seek oil-rich Saudi Arabiaâ??s help in pressing China to join the US drive for sanctions against Iran, aides said. The US chief diplomatâ??s three-day trip to Qatar and Saudi Arabia is also aimed at enlisting broader regional support, including Turkeyâ??s, in a drive to stop Iranâ??s sensitive nuclear work, her aides told reporters.

Note that we're not using our leverage over the region's oil producers to actually weaken China. Instead, we're cashing in our leverage in the Middle East in a desperate bid to.... maintain our leverage in the Middle East. We are, in effect, asking China to support an American policy designed, at least in some measure, to keep China in a state of strategic dependency vis-a-vis the United States. I guess we're about to see whether the Chinese value the emergence of another power in the Middle East or whether they like seeing America bogged down "policing" the place.