Lynch: the ‘ongoing poverty of Iran hawks’ analysis’

Foreign Policy‘s Marc Lynch has been all over the hawks’ cries for war with Iran, which they’ve based on a couple leaked cables of dictatorial Arabs wanting military action (or talking tough about it, at least).

As more and more diplomatic cables become available, and as real analysts review them, it will become increasingly apparent that many of the early reports on the perspectives of a handful of hawkish Arab leaders are without critical context.


Iran hawks have been gloating that the quotes from a few Arab leaders in the initial cable release vindicate their analysis and discredit skeptics of military action against Iran. It doesn’t. [U.S. Defense Secretary Robert] Gates’ comment about the Saudis needing to “get into the game” came almost two years after [Saudi] King Abdullah’s now-famous “cut off the head of the snake” comment. And another cable from January 2008 shows Abdullah telling [French President Nicolas] Sarkozy that Saudi Arabia “does not want to inflame the situation,” recommends “continued international engagement” with Iran and “is not yet ready to take any action besides diplomacy.” Maybe, just maybe, those private remarks weren’t actually a very reliable guide to what the Saudis will really do in public?

The way the Iran hawks have been leaping at a few juicy quotes while ignoring the entire well-known context only shows the ongoing poverty of their analysis. I would expect better from the serious analysts on the hawkish side, but, well, there you are.

In this post, Lynch expands upon points he made the day before on the media’s emphasis of the hawkish views of regional leaders:

The point here is not to say that the cautious views matter and the hawkish ones don’t. Nor does it say that Arab leaders haven’t been calling for tough measures against Iran, since they have been doing just that for years. It’s to say that Arab leaders are divided and uncertain about how to deal with Iran, and fearful of taking a strong position in public. In other words, it would be a mistake to “make too much of the private remarks of selected Arab regime figures, without considering whether those remarks reflect an internal consensus within their regimes or whether they will be repeated in public in a moment of political crisis.” That’s pretty much still where we are today.

Ali Gharib

Ali Gharib is a New York-based journalist on U.S. foreign policy with a focus on the Middle East and Central Asia. His work has appeared at Inter Press Service, where he was the Deputy Washington Bureau Chief; the Buffalo Beast; Huffington Post; Mondoweiss; Right Web; and Alternet. He holds a Master's degree in Philosophy and Public Policy from the London School of Economics and Political Science. A proud Iranian-American and fluent Farsi speaker, Ali was born in California and raised in D.C.



  1. Yeah, but what they say in private counts for more than any public statement. If a “moment of political crisis” should occur, they won’t need to sharpen their public rhetoric. The U.S. or Israel will not act based on the public statements of Arab leaders. On the contrary, in a moment of crisis what these leaders say in private is what we will be most attentive to.

    The point is well made, though, that Arab attitudes are more complex than the neocons and their ilk have been saying.

  2. RE: “in a moment of crisis what these leaders say in private is what we will be most attentive to.” – Jon Harrison
    SEE – “Bush: Mubarak Informed US that Iraq Had Biological Weapons” ~ By Diaa Bekheet, VOA, 10/11/10

    (excerpts)Former U.S. President George W. Bush says Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak informed the U.S. that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction…
    …”President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt had told [general] Tommy Franks that Iraq had biological weapons and was certain to use them on our troops,” Bush revealed in his newly-released book.
    The former president said Mubarak “refused to make the allegation in public for fear of inciting the Arab street.”
    So far, the Egyptian government has issued no reaction to Bush’s claim.
    Bush explained that the “intelligence from a Middle Eastern leader who knew [former Iraqi president] Saddam [Hussein] well had an impact on my thinking.”
    “Just as there were risks to actions, there were risks to inaction as well,” he wrote in Decision Points…


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