Vantage point

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Sit Tight

Columnists have bled their pens dry comparing the current US-Iran impasse to the days preceding WW1 when a small spark, that of the Archduke's assassination, set off the fire.

Such sparks can work only when both sides are just itching to have a go at each other. In this case, it would certainly seem so. The Bush government, which seemed more hawkish in Rumsfeld's days, now seems more mawkish in Gates' days in all matters related to Iran. Ahmedinejad himself is rattling sabres like a modern day Zorro. He plans to boast about their nuclear capabilities later this week. And he is doing everything to provoke the US, emboldened after the Iraq mess about his country's chances. And now this has happened.

For all we know, this could be an Iranian ploy to fabricate an excuse for doing something retaliatory.

Ahmedinejad seems to have read his hand very shrewdly. There are risks, but the game is in his favour. He knows that the Iraq war has become very unpopular. He knows that the Democratic aspirants for '08 all want to get out of Iraq. And he knows that after the Congress results, it is unlikely that Republicans will win in '08. In fact if he keeps Iraq burning for the next couple of years and more soldiers die, the war will become even more unpopular, and Bush's ratings will plummet even further. He is betting on political considerations ensuring that America will not actually attack, at least not with full force.

But he needs to be careful he does not overplay this hand and not crank it up too high. Another 9/11 could change the political compulsions in the US overnight.

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