Wednesday, June 24, 2009


We may never know for certain the role, if any, the CIA and MI6 has played in fomenting the Iranian protests, but I do think these two items are linked in some way:
TEHRAN, Iran (CNN) -- Iranian authorities said Wednesday they have arrested several foreign nationals, some with British passports, in connection with the country's post-election unrest.
WASHINGTON — President Obama hardened his tone toward Iran on Tuesday, condemning the government for its crackdown against election protesters and accusing Iran's leaders of fabricating charges against the United States.
Obama fancies himself a pretty good poker player (by all accounts I've read, he is) and so what I'm seeing here is a classic bluff: caught with his friend's hand in the cookie jar, Obama is trying to fishtail his pursuers by divesting himself of any knowledge of the British nationals in Iran. He attempts this by amping the pressure on his opponent, "upping the ante" as it were. 
Despite all appearances, poker is not a card game. It's played with cards, but it is a really good test of one's ability to size up someone else's behavior, and as such is far more psychological than a mere game of chance. You don't win with your hand, you make the other guy lose with his.
Many in the popular press have said this was Obama's capitulation to the Republican party, that the pressure on him to upgrade his rhetoric is his way of getting the GOP off his back.
Bollocks, to continue the British theme. Re-read that article about Obama's poker strengths, and then consider this:
Diplomacy is the art of letting someone else have your way. (wish that was original with me, but it's a paperweight on my desk)
In other words, making him lose with his hand.
President Obama has very carefully made the case for supporting the opposition uprising without making any overt attempts at interfering with the democratic process or sovereignty of another nation, no matter how anathemic that nation is towards us. This was the lesson lost on both Bushes (you may recall that Bush the Elder goaded the Kurds into rising up against Saddam Hussein, only to abandon them after Gulf War I).
Thus, Obama has left the patina of propriety against Iran's charges that Obama has meddled in its internal affairs. Ahmadinejad's words carry weight within Iran and to an extent the Muslim world, but beyond that, cooler heads recognize that Obama has been scrupulously careful in his choice of words.
Let's assume that I'm right (usually am) and that the CIA has been operating behind a curtain to instigate an uprising. We would not expect Obama to come out and pre-emptively admit that he has done this based on the capture of some British nationals. On the other hand, not ramping up the rhetoric, particularly in light of the death of Neda Agha Soltani, would have been viewed in many quarters as a singular admission of complicity.
The Republicans, for sure, would have gone after Obama hard on this. After all, millions have witnessed her death on YouTube and the nightly news now. But her death occured four days earlier, certainly in time for Obama to have his posse make the rounds of the Sunday morning talk shows to condemn Iran more forcefully.
And yet, he waited. And then the Brits were captured.
I suspect this broadside was fired in order to return attention where it rightfully should be focused: On Ahmadinejad and the Ruling Council, and their attempts to tamp down what is clearly a significant minority if not a majority of Iranians. Ironically, none of this was necessary as Ahmadinejad probably won the election in the first place, albeit not by double digit pluralities.
Politicians make mistakes, especially when they believe they are beyond reproach.
So, under the political cover of his domestic critics (see, they aren't useless idiots!), Obama was able to lash out at Iran with little to fear in terms of repercussions, and should an American turn up in the Iranian net, well, that's just a decoy now, since Obama has raised the stakes.
Another chip in the pot.
It's hard to say where this is headed. For one thing, no matter who won the election, Obama is going to have to deal with the Ruling Council through their stooge. For another, Ahmadinejad would have a strong voice, even a shadow government, should Mousavi prevail, and Ahmadinejad would have to be confronted eventually. Obama's hand seems fixed.
Now, it's just a matter of getting the Iranians to lose with their cards.