In the past 24 hours, there have been a few new facts about the alleged Iran plot to kill the Saudi Ambassador to the US and many more opinions and conjectures. The baseline, however, is still the way the US Government presented its case.
Given the fact that the US has only one Iranian-American, Mansoor Arbabsiar, in custody – about whom no one really knows much – and the courts have yet to decide whether he is guilty or not, it really is a stretch to blame the highest echelons of the Iranian regime for orchestrating the attack. Yet this is precisely what Washington did, not in the formal complaint against Arbabsiar and Gholam Shakuri, his supposed Revolutionary Guards handler, but in the declaration of indictments against three senior Revolutionary Guards officers, including the head of the force, for orchestrating the attack.
This is not a question of capability – the regime has shown in the past that it is capable of violence – but of complicity. Without presenting further evidence, the US Government cannot expect its narrative of confirmed guilt to take hold.
Yet in putting this narrative forward, the Obama Administration has polarised the response. Either you side with the official complaint and face the inevitable, „OK, now what next?”, in which the options can range from further sanctions to military attack, or you can dismiss that complaint and wear the label that you will never be prepared to take any action against Tehran.
That’s a false choice. Every single one of several analysts with whom I spoke answered the question, „Can the US go to war with Iran?”, with „No”. One laughed and said, “If America had the capability to go to war with Iran, it had enough reasons to do so a few years ago.”
Some important reasons why it won’t happen….
– Wars need strong economies, something the US desperately lacks.
– If attacked, Iran will attack every Persian Gulf nation’s oil and gas refineries and fields.
– The loss of life will be high – there will be no swift victory against a Tehran that has been preparing for an attack for decades.
But Washington, as it has polarised the options, has cornered iself. There can be no backing down from its allegation and conviction of Iran for conspiracy to murder. If punishment is not executed, then the albatross of weakness will shift from those who are questioning the narrative to a US Government which cannot back up its rhetoric.
None of this would have ever happened had the US Government had shown some candor. If they had treated this as a case that needed to go to court, rather than to be tried in public this week by Attorney General Eric Holder or Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the political game of chicken could have been replaced by a legal process of presentation and judgement of evidence.
For reasons about which we can only speculate, US officials came forward with allegations against Iran without providing that evidence to back up their assertions. Perhaps Washington will try to resolve this by implementing further sanctions. Perhaps they will try to present a justification to China and Russia to get them on board for the next round of economic measures on Iran.
But that will not free the Administration from difficulties unless tough questions are answered.
Questions such as “Exactly what evidence is there to link Mansour Arbabsiar with the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard?” and “How does Washington know that rogue elements within the Quds Force did not come up with this plot?”
A legal process can be a tricky matter. But a grandstanding political move can be even trickier.