MORE IRAN….Following up on my post last night about radicalizing Iran, Kim Murphy of the LA Times reports from Tehran today that hawkish rhetoric from the United States has been a godsend for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who had been losing popularity until recently:
A large number of parliamentary deputies signed letters this year demanding answers from the president on the nuclear issue and the economy. But new, strong language from Washington starting in January that hinted at the possibility of a military strike quickly took the wind out of their sails.
Independent legislator Akbar Alami, who had circulated a letter, said he stopped getting signatures almost immediately.
If Iranians perceive a foreign threat, he said, “they don’t pay attention anymore to differences, and the problem they have between parties and governments doesn’t matter anymore.”
To the contrary, said former central bank governor Mohammad Hossain Adeli, it mobilizes the Iranians and ratchets up the conflict.
“The foreign pressure is counterproductive and radicalizes the domestic environment,” he said. “And then this radicalization results in more confrontational positions on the part of Iran.”
Of course, it’s more complicated than this, since in this case “foreign pressure” includes UN sanctions designed to bring Iran’s nuclear program into compliance with international rules. Ahmadinejad may well be able to use the UN’s actions to his benefit, but that doesn’t mean anyone thinks the UN should back off. Quite the contrary.
But even so, that still doesn’t make this kind of thing any less crazy:
“[George Bush’s advisors] intend to be as provocative as possible and make the Iranians do something [America] would be forced to retaliate for,” says Hillary Mann, the administration’s former National Security Council director for Iran and Persian Gulf Affairs….A second Navy carrier group is steaming toward the Persian Gulf, and Newsweek has learned that a third carrier will likely follow. Iran shot off a few missiles in those same tense waters last week, in a highly publicized test. With Americans and Iranians jousting on the chaotic battleground of Iraq, the chances of a small incident’s spiraling into a crisis are higher than they’ve been in years.
This is from Newsweek’s cover story this week, “The Hidden War With Iran.” I’m not sure it’s really all that hidden, but the story itself is worth reading. It’s a pretty good summary of what’s happened on both sides to make war more likely over the past five years.