Saturday, April 15, 2006

Bluffing Iran With A Busted Flush

Ezra Klein has an interesting post today on the adverse effects of too much saber rattling:
Remember, first, that the Iranian government is not cohesive; it's fractured, with the populist maniac Ahmadinejad fighting for power against the Ayatollahs. His strategy? Nationalism. Persian pride. Every time America rattles its saber and declares what Iran can't do (which is obtain the same weaponry that America, and Israel, have), Ahmadinejad gets one more point in the polls. Each time that happens, he becomes more powerful vis-a-vis the Ayatollahs.

Now, in normal times, the Ayatollahs may judge the threat of American attack more compelling than the threat of opposing a broadly supported populist, but remember, Iraq has tied up our army, demonstrated our weakness, and made it look exceedingly unlikely that we'd risk a similar engagement against a stronger opponent. So they may gamble that America's bluffing, that it's all saber-rattling, and they should instead ensure they're not caught on the wrong side of Ahmadinejad's popularity. But we may not be bluffing. And therein lies the problem with such public threats: we make Iranian obstinance more popular, weaken those who could conceivably rein in Ahmadinejad, and risk a war borne from miscommunication.
Ezra gets the problem - you can't play poker with a haggler. The haggler will misunderstand every step of the way. And contrarywise, you can't haggle with a poker player. When the two come together without realising it, miscommunication is inevitable.

And of course, part of the point of bluffing is carrying the bluff all the way through to the final show of cards. It's a poor poker player who lets himself fold just because he knows he's bluffing. You have to act as if there was never a bluff at all - but in this case the fall of the cards could easily lead to war:
During an interview on CNN Friday night, retired U.S. Air Force Colonel Sam Gardiner claimed that U.S. military operations are already 'underway' inside Iran, RAW STORY has found.

"I would say -- and this may shock some -- I think the decision has been made and military operations are under way," Col. Gardiner told CNN International anchor Jim Clancy (as noted by Digby at the blog Hullabaloo).

Gardiner, who designed a war game in November of 2004 for Atlantic Magazine ("Will Iran be next?") which simulated "preparations for a U.S. assault on Iran," also claimed that Aliasghar Soltaniyeh, the Iranian ambassador to the United Nation's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), told him a few weeks ago that units who had attacked the Revolutionary Guard had been captured and confessed to working with Americans.
It is highly probable that these operatives are members of the MeK, the radical Marxist/Islamist group led by a would-be messiah figure which used to do Saddam's nasty jobs for him. They have been given a flag of convenience in accordance with a plan conceived by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld so that they could be "converted" into a military special ops team. As I said earlier today, the notion of using nutcases like the MeK in this way is certifiably insane. They will never be anything other than an implausibly-deniable loose cannon which could easily backfire on it's users now or in the future. But that seems to be the path this administration has chosen. Bluffing with a busted flush.

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