By Sharmine Narwani
Analysts and pundits have spent the past two weeks puzzling over the alleged Iranian plot to assassinate a Saudi diplomat in Washington – in part because of a complete lack of either motive or benefit for the Islamic Republic. Iran, reputed to place much stock in cost-benefit analyses in its geopolitical calculations, clearly fails to gain materially or politically from any part of the allegations thus far. So what gives?
Instead of scrutinizing the “whys” of Iran’s involvement, it may be more illuminating to examine Washington’s motivation in advancing this bit of political theater. The criminal charges were followed by high-profile statements and sanctioned leaks from the White House, the US Departments of State, Justice, Treasury, Defense, the FBI and CIA, all well orchestrated for maximum impact. The U.S. government then sought to persuade the global community via the UN Security Council and “phone calls to many capitals” of the gravity of the charges.
Such fanfare went beyond the service of prosecuting a single crime. More likely, the charges being leveled at Iran came in the service of “public diplomacy” – an attempt to establish a broad narrative that serves a policy decision.
While pushing the narrative of an Iranian “bogeyman” is not unusual in US policy circles, what may be new is the urgent emphasis on this storyline in the aftermath of Arab uprisings throughout the Middle East.
Bring in the “Red Team”
In March, as the Arab Revolts swept through the Middle East and North Africa, the US military’s combatant command center (CENTCOM) for military operations in twenty countries – including Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain and Jordan – held a “Red Team” exercise to examine a narrative that perpetually pits Arabs and Iranians against each other.
CENTCOM’s Red Team was formed in 2006 to “think outside the box, offer contrarian thinking…sharpen the reasoning and force intellectual rigor” on critical issues for the benefit of senior military officials, a spokesman explained to me last year.
According to a source involved in the March drill, these are some of the specific premises and questions included in CENTCOM’s “Arabs versus Iran” exercise: (Note: The Red Team refers to Iranians as “Persians”)
- Premise: “The Arab-Persian dynamic is a divide. History, religion, language and culture simply pose too many obstacles to overcome.”
- Premise: “A general Arab inferiority complex relative to Persians means that many Arabs are fearful of Persian expansion and hegemony throughout the Middle East. In their minds, the Persian Empire has never gone away and it is more self-sufficient than most Arab states.” (more…)