Today, I read an blog article over at Hot Air in which Allahpundit expressed confusion over Iran's choice to conduct a failed terrorist operation in the Middle East. Allahpundit isn't the only one who is confused by Iran's actions. A lot of people are.
However, I highly recommend a book called Why They Hate Us: Middle Eastern Politics and the Principle of the Strong Horse, authored by Lee Smith. The title of the book, according to Lee Smith comes from Bin Laden’s observation that when people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature, they will like the strong horse.
Lee Smith gave a long interview with Michael Totten in January 2010 in which he talked about his observation about Middle Eastern politics. I will be using quotes from this interview to explain why Iran made a sloppy and poor attempt to conduct terrorist attacks against the United States.
Osama Bin Laden's observation reveals alot about how the Middle East works. Its also relevant to understanding why a nation like Iran would conduct a sloppy terrorist organization in the United States.
In order to understand how Bin Laden's observation applies to Iran's botched terrorist attempt, you have know how crucial violence is in Middle Eastern culture and politics:
Given how central violence is to the Middle East politics, it become easy to see why these countries use violence to maintain national security within that region:To say that Lebanon is held at gunpoint by an armed gang, or that Lebanese journalists are assassinated for their work, Syrian intellectuals and Egyptian rights activists are typically thrown in prison and tortured, and regional minorities like the Shia, Druze, Alawi, Christians, Kurds and Jews have often been the target of purges and political violence all in the name of Arab nationalism, a corporatist ideology that seeks to erase communal as well as individual difference, is not to say that Arabs only understand force, but that violence is a central factor in Arab political life and it is impossible to understand the region without taking this into account.
Instead I tend to see 9/11 like this: Middle Eastern regimes, almost all of them, but most notably Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia use various so-called non-state actors to advance their regional interests and deter each other. For instance, Syria’s relationship with Jordan’s branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamic Action Front, and Jordan’s friendliness toward the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, means that these two states effectively deter each other—if you use Islamists against me, I will unleash Islamists on you.
Understand that terrorism a national security tool that Middle Eastern states use and can be considered a unofficial branch of their armed forces:
The jihadi movement, what is often referred to as a transnational network of rogue or non-state actors, is a function of Arab regimes and their security services.
As a result, according to Lee Smith, terrorism is a foreign policy tool of the Middle East:
Islamist terrorism, is a function of states. Yes, it is an ideological movement with its own history and sources and political ambitions that run counter to the current nation-state system of the Arabic-speaking Middle East; but it is a movement that is sustained by Middle Eastern regimes and their intelligence services who use terror organizations to advance their own strategic interests and deter other states from using terror organizations against them.
However, despite the fact that Middle Eastern countries use terrorism to project power as well as for foreign and domestic policy reasons, it reveals a major weakness that actually demonstrates how weak these nations really are:
The fact is that Arab states are weak as it is, and I’m not referring to their inability to provide a better life for their peoples. I mean they can’t defend themselves. The fact they use Al Qaeda to protect them from Iran, and each other, is evidence they are feeble affairs. The Saudis and Egyptians and the rest of the Arabs are waiting on the Israelis to strike the Iranian nuclear program because they can’t do anything about it themselves. As I was saying above, the Arab moment is over, by which I mean the Arabs no longer set the tone and tempo of the region, nor are they even capable of shaping their own destiny. If the Israelis do attack the Iranians it will reveal for all to see what is quite clearly the case: the major regional nodes now are Israel, Iran and perhaps an ascendant Turkey. That’s who is calling the shots in the Middle East today, not the Arabs.
Despite the fact that terrorism reveals how weak Middle Eastern states are in projecting power and maintaining national security, many of these countries still use terrorism as a tool to achieve its foreign policy goals and to prevent other states from achieving their foreign policy goals against them because it is still effective and useful to many of these Middle Eastern nations.
Here's why I think people shouldn't be so confused as to why Iran would conduct a poor terrorist operation.
Everyone assumes or expects Iran to carry out the operation succesfully and professionally.
The fact that Iran didn't conduct this mission successfully or professional wasn't the point. The point was to send a message the United States government that it could conduct terrorist attacks unless America agrees to whatever demands Iran is requesting through official and unofficial diplomatic channels.
However, while Iran's botch terror attempt was designed to communicate a message to America, the real or actual intended recipient of this message wasn't for our country. Iran was sending a message back home to its Middle Eastern neighbors in which it was letting other countries know that they are the strongest horse in the region because it dared to attack the America. As a result, this is a message warning other nearby states not to mess or interfere with Iran. This message could be because some Middle Eastern nations have joined the international community in preventing Iran from getting nuclear weapons.
If you think this idea is bizzare, check out Lee Smith's reason for why Iran is involved in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict:
The same holds true for the Islamic Republic of Iran. Why does Iran care so much about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict? They don’t share a border with Israel, they have not taken in Palestinian refugees like Lebanon, Syria and Jordan, nor are they even an Arab state. Sure, it is a Muslim power and Jerusalem is important to Muslims, but Indonesia is also a Muslim state and it is not anywhere near as vocal as the Tehran regime on this subject; nor of course does the Indonesian government provide many hundreds of millions of dollars of financial support to armed groups that fight Israel, like Hezbollah and Hamas, as the Iranians do.The reason Iran has inserted itself in the Arab-Palestinian crisis is in order to project power in the region by shaming Sunni states, like Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. All of these states, US allies, either have peace treaties with Jerusalem or have opted out of any active participation in the war against Israel. The Iranians calculate that the Arab masses prefer resistance to reform, accommodation and compromise, and so Tehran has picked up the banners of war that the Sunni states have put down. Again, this is not to say that Iran’s rhetoric about destroying Israel is all a put-on, I don’t think it is. But the main reason they are ratcheting up the noise is because they see resistance ideology as a way to get a leg up, as you put it, on their real regional adversaries, the Sunni Arab states. And these countries, along with Israel, are all part of the US-backed order of the Middle East, which means that Iran’s posture toward the Sunnis, as well as Israel, is an enormous issue for us, our major strategic concern right now in the Middle East, bigger than Afghanistan, bigger than Iraq and much bigger than the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
With a little extra understanding of the "strong horse" concept in Middle Eastern politics, Iran's actions aren't really that confusing.