Friday, October 14, 2011

On Knee-Jerk Bomb-Iran-ers . . .

There are not that many commentators whose stuff I make a point of reading and bookmarking - but Paul Pillar is one of them.  His latest essay at The National Interest spotlights the useful idiots who seize upon virtually any incident as pretext to call for harsh measures against Iran.  And as he notes, this latest incident - of the US's alleged discovery of an Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the US - as well as bomb the Saudi and Israeli embassies - is such a botched piece of work as to call into question the nature of any Iranian involvement in it.
Another salient feature of the plot as detailed by the Justice Department is that it appears to have been designed with the intention of being discovered. This is related to the overall inept tradecraft but in particular to the sending of traceable quantities of money into the United States and the spilling of beans about supposed Iranian government involvement in open telephone calls to untrustworthy foreigners. If the plot was intended to be discovered, then presumably the motive of whoever concocted it was to escalate further the tension between Iran and the United States. A couple of possible instigators outside Iran come to mind; the most plausible ones inside Iran would be rogue elements. Whoever the instigator was, for the United States to respond by pressuring Iran more, and thus raising further the tension in the relationship, would be playing right into the intentions of whoever put the plot together.
A number of other expert commentators have weighed in with similar misgivings.  

  • Juan Cole (at Informed Comment), who also cites former CIA agent Robert Baer in support, finds that the whole thing "makes no sense."
  • Patrick Cockburn of The Independent claims that "This bizarre plot goes against all that is known of Iran's intelligence service."
  • The WaPo's David Ignatius is - characteristically - more willing to accept the official US version and assignation of blame, but his essay about "those Keystone Iranians" suggests that he finds the entire episode rather cockamamie. (And for those not of a certain age, the "keystone" reference is to the prat-falling "Keystone Cops" of the silent-movie era; yes, kids, there was a time when movies had no sound.  Would that some actors took note.)
  • Even Vali Nasr, who always plays his cards close to the vest when addressing a topic might incur the ire of the White House, hedges his remarks about the big mistake the Iranians might have made with the proviso, "If true."

As usual, Tony Karon nails down some of the colder realities of the situation:
The plot allegations . . . are unlikely to be a game changer in the long-running effort by the U.S. and its closest allies to isolate and pressure Iran over its nuclear program: Those already on board with that effort -- such as Britain and France -- are backing U.S. calls for action on the embassy plot; those skeptical or opposed to that effort appear less certain of just what the evidence presented thus far by the Administration actually means. 
It should come as no surprise that a scheme whose spectacular hokeyness is difficult to square with everything that is known about Iran's well-established methods for staging terror attacks -- and for which it's hard to provide a rational motive even in the context of Iran's intense regional power struggle with Saudi Arabia -- is proving difficult to pin on the Iranian government's decision makers. 

But, in need of some red meat to feed those (like Rick Perry) who find him weak in confronting "terror" and US enemies - and in backing Israel to the hilt - Mr. Obama is hardly about to look this gift horse in the mouth.  Karon again:

Obama's rhetoric was tough, insisting that Iran be made to "pay a price" the plot and warning that "no option would be taken off the table" in responding, which is code for the threat of military action.  Washington certainly seems to be scooping up everything it can find on alleged Iranian malfeasance to throw into the p.r. battle. U.S. and Saudi intelligence officials told the Washington Post that they believe that Iran was behind the May 16 killing of a Saudi diplomat in the Pakistani city of Karachi. Saudi officials are even taking the opportunity to blame Iran's Quds force for instigating the Bahrain democratic uprising -- a claim that is more likely to undermine the credibility of the p.r. effort than it is to enhance it, with the Saudi-led crackdown in Bahrain enjoying limited sympathy beyond those who support Riyadh's role as sectarian pugilist and enforcer of Arab autocracy.
U.S. military officials also told the New York Times that Quds-forced trained and funded militants had fired rockets at an American position in Iraq, Wednesday, wounding three G.I.s. Perhaps that's just coincidence, but a case seems to be being made that Iran is on the offensive, requiring a response.

And the usual AIPAC-bought, Israel-at-all-costs suspects are piling in.  Thus, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, chair of the House Foreign Relations Committee:

“On October 11th, 2011, the United States approach to the Iranian regime should have undergone a major change,” yet “the administration does not plan to alter its course of pressure and persuasive engagement with the Iranian regime.”
“Let me be blunt,” Ros-Lehtinen added. “This planned murder-for-hire must serve as a wakeup call regarding the determination and capability of the Iranian regime.”

Chiming in, Islamophobe New York Congressman Peter King, who
 "called the Iranians’ alleged scheme to kill the Saudi ambassador to Washington “an act of war” against the United States and Saudi Arabia." 
Misgivings or no, we can expect a full-court press from the GOP/neocon/Fox News crowd.  No chance, of course, that they'll heed - or even read - what the Leveretts have to say at CNN, in a piece titled Iranian Plots and American Hubris:
Iran's national security strategy ultimately depends on appealing to the Saudi public not to support attacks against Iran, by harnessing popular anger over Israeli actions and U.S. overreach in the war on terror.
Killing a Saudi Ambassador would have exactly the opposite effect. Whatever Mansour Ababsiar and his cousin may have talked about, it is wholly implausible that the Iranian leadership decided that this was a smart thing to do.
The Obama Administration's calls for more concerted action against Iran will ultimately backfire-because they will be seen in most of the Muslim world (outside Saudi Arabia and Gulf Arab monarchies closely linked to Saudi Arabia) as the United States yet again leveling dubious life-and-death charges as the pretext to contain or even eliminate another Muslim power.
President Obama, his advisers, and all Americans need to ask themselves if this is really the time to bring the United States even closer to another Middle East war fought in blind defiance of the region's strategic realities.

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