Thursday, October 13, 2011

The "Iranian" plot: is the ineptness of the alleged plot all the more reason to attack Iran?

I'd like the think that the almost comic implausibility of the alleged Iranian plot busted this week would make it useless as war propaganda. Then I think back to 2002-3 and Iraq's plywood drones of death, their hydrogen-gas trucks of doom, a horror like we've never known before, the smoking gun that could be a mushroom cloud. And I realize that even bad propaganda can be effective enough with determined war advocates and a broken media culture.

This article by James Kitfield, Iran Containment Cast in Doubt National Journal 10/12/2011, made me realize that, from the viewpoint of advocates of war with Iran, the unlikeliness of the alleged Iran/Zetas plot may be a feature, not a bug. Kitfield lays out the case for why the seeming recklessness and unconventionality of the alleged attack is even more reason to attack Iran:

A Tehran willing to engage in such high-risk behavior defies the "rationale actor" presumption that lies at the heart of nuclear deterrence. In Washington, Riyadh, and Jerusalem, governments are reconsidering their Iranian strategies and recalibrating their “acceptable risk” calculations relating to Iran’s nuclear program.

"State-sponsored terrorism is not new territory for Iran, which in the past has been guilty of assassinating Iranian dissidents in Europe and directing terrorist bombings in Argentina in the 1990s and against U.S. forces in Lebanon in the early 1980s," said Brian Michael Jenkins, a longtime terrorist expert at the RAND Corporation. “But if the Quds Force is truly behind this latest plot, it has raised the stakes into a totally different category by plotting attacks on U.S. soil. An Iranian government that is willing to take that kind of risk is pretty close to reckless, and that raises serious questions about how they would act with nuclear weapons.”

Washington, D.C., has arguably not witnessed such an act of state-sponsored terrorism since 1976, when Chilean strongman Augusto Pinochet ordered the assassination of former Chilean official Orlando Letelier, who was killed in a car-bomb explosion in the capital. The risk of direct U.S. military retaliation is also inherent in such terrorist plots. When Libyan agents bombed a disco in Germany frequented by U.S. service members in 1986, for instance, President Ronald Reagan sent long-range bombers to Tripoli. Bill Clinton responded to al-Qaida attacks on U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998 with cruise-missile strikes on terrorist facilities. In the post-9/11 era, it has been understood that a state-sponsored terrorist attack on the United States would be considered paramount to an act of war.

“Iran has been in a tense showdown with Saudi Arabia, and it has been simultaneously emboldened by the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq and frightened by the Arab Spring democracy movement that has destabilized its ally Syria,” said Daniel Byman, a counterterrorism and Middle East expert at the Brookings Institution. “Given that Iran has historically approved such Quds Force operations at a very high level, if the plot is true, it may suggest that all those forces and pressures are making Tehran much more risk tolerant.”

One possible explanation is an increasingly tense power struggle inside Tehran between Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Given that he is losing that battle, a desperate Ahmadinejad could conceivably believe that provoking an attack by the United States could allow him to consolidate power as the defender of Iran against "the Great Satan." But even given Ahmadinejad's history as a firebrand and ideologue, the plot to launch multiple bombings in Washington at this time seems uncharacteristically reckless.
Strip out the details and this is the same case made against Saddam Hussein: the regime is completely irrational and therefore containment can't work; if he gets a nuclear weapon, he's sure to use it, and even use it against the US in a nuclear 9/11. Remember Condi-Condi and "we don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud"? Here we have, "An Iranian government that is willing to take that kind of risk is pretty close to reckless, and that raises serious questions about how they would act with nuclear weapons."

We've been down this road before. The outcome was not good.

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