Just a quick little post as we wait for the State of the Union, entertaining the question: why would Iran seize 10 American Sailors only hours before the President was scheduled to give his final state of the Union address.
The most obvious single answer is: in order to humiliate President Obama.
“What”, one may ask, “Does Iran gain by humiliating Obama?”
The answer is manifold, but there are three obvious benefits to Iran;
First: Iran has an audience for this action that is far larger then either the Iranian or American public. Iran is engaged in a ‘Game of Thrones’, so to speak, with other Islamic actors for the ascendancy in the Islamic world. That is, other state and near state actors, such as Saudi Arabia and ISIS, advance claims that they are the inheritors of Islamic leadership, the heirs of Mohammed, so to speak.
Osama bin Ladin famously stated that ‘people that see a weak horse and a strong horse will instinctively be drawn to the strong horse.’ By showing that they are able to seize American servicemen with impunity, and then having the President of the United States put on a mask of good humor, the Iranian regime not only shows Obama to be weak, but themselves to be strong. In this game, humiliating Obama is a relatively low-risk way for Iran to demonstrate that they can bend the ‘great Satan’ to their will.
Second: As I mentioned above, there is a larger audience for this action, specifically Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Arab states. The Gulf Arabs, led by the Saudis, are engaged in a regional conflict for control of the Middle East and the Persian Gulf. The Saudis are, let’s say, not generally considered to be a serious military thread to Iran. Saudi Arabia instead must rely on the good will and military umbrella of the United States.
By humiliating Obama Iran sends a clear message to the Saudis and other Gulf Arabs that the United States which they rely on for protection may, in fact, be a paper tiger.
Third: Finally, Obama’s hope for a ‘Legacy’ rest entirely on the behavior of Iran in the following year and the years to come. This humiliation reminds Obama that it is Iran, not him, that holds the whip hand when it comes to how Obama will be perceived in the future. It cannot be forgotten that Iran is on the threshold of a 100+ billion dollar payoff; if Iran feels they want to have extra insurance, they can reliably estimate that Obama is the kind of man that will be moved to compliance, as opposed to defiance.
That alone should tell the neutral observer everything they need to know about Obama’s reputation on the world stage: Iran believes that seizing American Servicemen makes it more likely, rather then less likely, that they will receive 150 billion dollars from the United States.
Postscript: Iran apparently aired footage of their ‘arrest’ of the American Sailors (what, don’t ‘partners in peace’ do that?);
Oh, and just as a reminder,