By lex, on October 16th, 2011
I didn’t comment on last week’s story about the Iranian government’s purported plot to assassinate a Saudi ambassador here in the US because I was pressed for time, and the story didn’t immediately make a great deal of transparent sense to me. In the millennial campaign between Saudi Arabia’s majority Sunni branch of Islam and the Persian-led Shia minority, it was clear that somehow the US had come to be a battlefield. But who were the players in this contest, and what were their aims? It wasn’t clear to me at the time, and still isn’t.
The Sunni/Shia breach goes back to shortly after the death of Islam’s final prophet, when a struggle broke out between the followers of Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib, cousin and son-in-law of Mohammed and first male convert to Islam, and the partisans of Abu Bakr. Bakr was a close companion and military adviser to Mohammed – whose favorite wife was Bakr’s nine year old daughter Aisha – and the first “elected” caliph of the Ummah. A series of caliph’s – eventually including Ali, before he was murdered – roiled the political pot ever after, and the effects of that succession campaign echo to this day.
Ever since the Iranian Revolution, the Shia mullahs have been trying to export their vision of an Islamic theocracy across Arabia and the broader Islamic world. At around the same time, perhaps activated by an Arab/Persian enmity which predates the Prophet’s own giddy visions of conquest, the Saudi Kingdom countered by planting the seeds of their sere Wahabbist faith throughout the Islamic world by establishing madrassas, including those which today fuel the troublesome Pakistani Taliban.
A series of historical accidents, at least with respect to their ultimate outcomes, have placed the US and Iran at daggers drawn, despite the fact that Iran’s is a proud and ancient culture, and the country is at least nominally a democratic one, where both men and women have real choices in their own rule (albeit elections with “approved” lists of candidates screened by a theocratic guardian council).
Other accidents have placed the US in the position of allying itself alongside the otherwise repugnant Saudi kingdom, whose civil servants prefer to watch young school girls burn to death rather than them sully their modesty by escaping the flames sans hijab, and whose indolent princes expiate their sins in Paris and Bahrain by funding the same schoolhouses that send drugged teenagers to heaven via suicide bombs strapped to their torsos.
So at one level, the tension playing out between the Iranian vision of the future and the Saudi one could be just what it appears: Hurtling along with its own Islamic Bomb and contemptuous of the waning power of an exhausted US military and political establishment, perhaps Tehran meant, by murdering the Saudi ambassador here in the US to demonstrate that there is no benefit for Sunni Islam by allying with the US. See? Even in the belly of the Great Satan there is no safety.
Except that the Quds Force are no amateurs, they report directly to Iran’s ordinarily conservative supreme leader, and this supposed plot was both exceptionally radical and amateurish. And we are expected to believe that the vessel into which these religious zealots and well-trained butchers placed their faith and funding was a half-wit failure of a womanizing used car salesman with a taste for the drink. Who just happened to reach out to the one Mexican drug cartel member who was actually a US DEA informant.
I’m not ordinarily content to take on faith the reassurances of Supreme Iranian Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Nor am I keen on donning my tinfoil hat, which has spent most of its time gathering dust in the upstairs closet. But Occam’s Razor suggests a simpler explanation, if we but have the courage to tease it out.
With the impending withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, Mesopotamia is once again set to become the piece in play between Persia and Araby. So concerned is the House of Saud about Iran’s nuclear program that they have reportedly green-lighted an Israeli strike on the complex. If they are ready and willing to play one civilizational enemy against another, what would they do for their “friends”? And our own Department of Justice is no doubt eager to change the subject from the very bad news of US-bought AK-47s traipsing down south to wreak mayhem hither and yon to the good news of Dedicated Public Servants fortuitously averting a plot coming the other way with mischief of its own.
None of this is necessarily true. But it makes as much or better sense than the currently unfolding official narrative, and it has the added benefit of simplicity.
It also leaves the rest of us wondering whether we are once again stuck playing chess on an ancient board not of our choosing, by players who are far better at it than we ourselves.