Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The Gift of Ahmadinejad, it just keeps on giving.

While I was lying in bed this morning thinking it was too cold, too rainy and too nasty to get out of bed, I heard Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on the BBC say that the 15 kidnapped UK sailors and marines would be released after he got done with his press conference. This news got me out of bed because I figured W. wouldn't be able to turn this incident -- at least -- into an excuse to start World War III. It was also heartening to realize that skillful diplomacy and sanity had finally prevailed, despite the scarcity of these two elements in the Middle East most days. The release of an Iranian diplomat held by a shadowy Iraqi intelligence outfit with links to the CIA might have had some connection to the good news, though I'm sure that was purely coincidental. [And if you believe that, I've got some property for sale in Florida.]

I have to say, I couldn't help laughing when I heard crazy Mahmoud say the impending release would be his gift to the English people. Classic!

Can't you just see the potential for an ad campaign?

"As we celebrate the birth of the Prophet, give your loved ones the gift they'll always remember: The Gift of Ahmadinejad. Yes, the Gift of Ahmadinejad, brought to you by the people and government of the Islamic Republic who ask you not to punish those who admit that they transgressed into Iranian waters. Your children will love you for it and you'll thank yourself for having accepted the righteousness of Iran's pursuit of peaceful nuclear technology ."

I don't mean to make light of this -- not too much anyway, Ahmadinejad is such an easy target -- I'm sure the families of those being held have been going through hell. I'm happy for them that they'll finally be able to rest easy. Hopefully, their young sailors and marines will be allowed to go home for a while and not be returned straight back to their duties.

The question now is: what just happened? What were they thinking in Tehran? Over the past week or so there's been a lot of analysis in the media about Iran's power structure and who's really pulling the stings, yet up until a few days ago it appeared that everyone in charge -- pragmatists and fire breathers -- were out of town for the holidays. It was really starting to look like the adults had left the kids home alone. The kids in this case being the Revolutionary Guards; they pulled off this caper and they had control of the hostages. Bizarrely, though, they didn't go out of their way to stoke up the populace. From what I've read and heard, the domestic media hardly covered the story and those ridiculous video "confessions" were shown mainly on Iran's Arabic language propaganda stations.

What the hell was the point of this whole thing then; to show the "Arab street" that Iran had their back? Were they sensing that the fuzzy glow in the Sunni world left over by Hezbollah's "victory" over Israel in the Summer War was beginning to fade? Was the thought process going on here that capturing and humiliating the US' top ally would somehow translate into swaying Sunni Arab opinion back to their side?

Not very freakin' likely! If you think about it, things really haven't really been looking up for Iran in its efforts to win the hearts and minds of the Sunni man on the street lately. They may have hit a highpoint back in the summer, but since then they've played their cards poorly and have badly overreached. The sectarian blood-letting in Iraq hasn't helped either. (This realization probably has more to do with the reduction of dead bodies on the streets of Baghdad than the Surge does.)

And internationally, Tehran's needs a total imagine make over. The Russians have lost patience with their antics and, amazingly, despite all the bumbling and warmongering, the US has scored some significant successes at the UN and in the region at Tehran's expense. What's most astounding is that the Saudis are now actively working with the Jordanians and Egyptians to counter the threat of the so-called "Shiite Crescent" [Particularly in Lebanon.]

Getting the Arabs to agree on what day it is difficult enough, getting them to form a coherent policy in their common interest is a miracle. Condi Rice and her faction within the administration get some of the credit for this; since they've had some success in convincing W. to give diplomacy a chance. Of course, it's a task that's been made much easier thanks to the mess they've created in the Middle East in the first place. Keep in mind, W. & Co. did Iran a real favor by eliminating two existential threats on their borders -- the Taliban and Saddam -- Iran's subsequent emergence as a regional power, however, because of that fact is the alarm bell focusing everyone's minds.

So, you see, Condi & Co. don't get that much credit. I think what's happening is that all sides are panicking about how bad things are going and they know that light at the end of the tunnel is a train with Pandora piling on the coal. If they don't so something, quick, their regime's days are numbered. Right now, the idea is to stem the bleeding and try to hang on until W. and Ahmadinejad are out of office. Surely, their successors couldn't do a worse job, right?

But, just when you think you've got hold of the tiger’s tail -- here comes Kirkuk and the Turks. More on that later.


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