It’s an honor to feature a contribution today by occasional IPS contributor and a leading expert in Iranian politics, Farideh Farhi, who teaches at the University of Hawaii.
U.S. Officials Scrambling to offer Motives for the Assassination Plot Mimic Their Iranian Counterparts
While the Obama administration has publicly and directly blamed Iran for seeking to kill the Saudi ambassador in Washington, the question of what Tehran would have gained from such dangerous conduct remains a nagging one.
This is an important question because, while various pundits have entertained the possibility of rogue elements within the Quds Force being involved for reasons that range from embarrassing Khamenei to making money, this has not been the position of the Obama Administration.
It continues to insist that at least some Iranian leaders were aware of the alleged plot based largely on their analyses and understanding of how the Quds Force operates.
Officials who spoke on conditions of anonymity to Reuters even go as far as saying that it was “more than likely” that Iran’s leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and Quds Force commander Qasem Suleimani had prior knowledge or approved of the suspected plot.
The insistence that this was not a rogue operation is in fact central to the frenzied way the plot was revealed to the world and the threats of punishment have since ensued against Tehran. After all, if the US government had entertained any possibility of rogue elements being involved, then a better way of revealing the plot would have been doing it in such a way that would not have completely foreclosed the possibility of the Iranian government cooperating in identifying those rogue elements.
So what is the U.S. officials’ explanation for the Iranian motives? What do they think the Iranians were trying to accomplish by engaging in conduct that was quite likely to be traced to Iran because of the money trail left behind? The answer is that they have no answer to the question of motives.
What the White House offers, through its most reliable note-taker, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, is instead an explanation of political conditions is Iran. “The Iranians are stressed, at home and abroad, in ways that are leading them to engage in riskier behavior,” senior U.S. officials told Ignatius.
Note that there is no attempt to explain what the riskier behavior is intended to accomplish. It is risk for the sake of risk generated out of perceived political conditions and not risk for the sake of an objective that, despite the risk involved, is still worthy of pursuing.
What is interesting about this argument is that it reveals that the Iranian and American officials are almost carbon copies of each other in the way they perceive conditions in the other country.
U.S. officials, in Ignatius’ telling, think that Iran is in such dire political and economic turmoil that authorities have become prone to taking on risky operations just because extreme turmoil is conducive to risk-taking with or without regard to specific strategic objectives.
Iranian officials, in turn, think that the United States is in such dire political and economic situation that its officials have to rely on strange and desperate stories in the hope keeping the country from falling apart. In the words of Iran’s foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, “Americans are trying to divert attention through fabricating such scenarios because their country is faced with many internal problems. These days we are observing a wave of popular demonstrations against the U.S. government’s policies, a rise in poverty, and the descending graph of the U.S. economy.”
It is hard not to see the rather ironic twist in all this. Given the U.S. government’s inability to establish a motive for the alleged Iranian conduct, the Iranian government has now been given the perfect opportunity to make the case that the US government is using the ploy of Iranian terrorism to deflect attention from domestic economic woes and popular mobilization against its disintegrating and corrupt capitalist system, and to tighten its already securitized environment even more.
It must surely be considered ironic that it was not long ago – during the 2009 post-election turmoil when the Iranian government was arresting people on the charge of plotting a soft revolution against the Islamic Republic with the help of the United States – that the US government was making a similar case against the Iranian government. This was while it was also entertaining the possibility that the government of Iran was about to fall because of internal contradictions and popular mobilization against it.
It is now the turn of the current Iranian leadership to respond in kind.