There are so many doubts and questions surrounding the alleged Iranian-sponsored assassination plot against the Saudi ambassador, that for Barack Obama to take a prominent role in announcing the case may prove to be a serious political and diplomatic mistake.
The American public loves intrigue and simplistic narratives, good versus bad. What they don't like is to be lied to in the narrative. We were fooled once by the Iraq-WMDs "mushroom cloud" campaign orchestrated by Bush-Cheney. As a result we are still fighting two seemingly endless wars in the Middle East.
By highlighting a "terror" plot that involved a Mexican drug cartel, the Saudi ambassador to the US, and a highly unstable potential assassin, Obama brought us Bush-Cheney, the Sequel.
As Obama announced the Justice Department action, he promised "strong sanctions" against Iran. The Justice case alleges that an Iranian-American, Manssor Arbabsiar, was introduced to a man he thought had a connection to a Mexican drug cartel, very bad guys with assassination skills. Arbabsiar's "contact" to the cartel was, in fact, an undercover US Drug Enforcement official, who was was apparently setting up what IPS writer Gareth Porter describes as a standard FBI "sting."
The indictment also includes Arbabsiar's cousin Ali Gholam Shakuri, an officer in the Iranian Qods Force. It is that elite army unit that allows the Department of Justice to claim that the plot has ties to the "highest" levels of the Iranian government. Obama said there was evidence that additional connections were made, but they have not been included in the indictment, and may never be, on security grounds.
(Language note: In Arabic, Jerusalem translates as Al-Quds; in the Persian language, Jerusalem translates as Al-Qods. Qods or Quds with the al is Jerusalem; without the al, the word is translated as holiness, sacredness, sanctity, sanctuary or sanctum. The spelling for the Iranian Qods Force in this posting, employs the Iranian army's spelling.)
A "sting" most often targets a major player believed to be a serious threat to American peace and security. Arbabsiar may yet emerge as a serious player, but that is no reason why Barack Obama should be in the White House as the nation's lawyer, announcing the case. He has an Attorney General to perform those duties. Criminal case announcements should be made in the Justice Department, not in the White House.
Instead of waiting for these criminal charges to make their way through the US judicial system, President Obama used a press event in the White House East Room, to address his domestic audience with tough talk about "sanctions" against Iran, a largely meaningless threat since we already have saddled Iran with "sanctions."
Who is this dangerous Iranian-American at the center of this "terror plot thriller"?
The Washington Post spoke with an Arbabsiar friend, Tom Hosseini, a store owner in Corpus Christi, Texas. Hosseini has known Arbabsiar since the late 1970s, when both came to the United States as students. The Post profile on Arbabsiar portrays the alleged assassin as someone who did not appear to be capable of carrying out a sophisticated death plot.
"Hosseini wonders how anyone, especially an elite military organization such as Iran's Qods force ... the unit the US Department of Justice alleges was running Arbabsiar would be involved with his long-time friend.
"'It's a puzzle,' Hosseini said. 'Maybe somebody offered him some money. He doesn't have the brain to say no.'
"Within the small Iranian American community in this Gulf Coast city, Arbabsiar, 56, was well known and well liked. But he was also renowned for being almost comically absent-minded, perpetually losing keys, cell phones, briefcases, anything that wasn't tied down. He failed at a succession of ventures from used cars to kebabs.
"'He was just not organized,' said David Tomscha, who once owned a car lot with Arbabsiar."
University of Michigan Middle East scholar and well-informed blogger, Juan Cole, finds the government's case against Arabsiar, "falling down funny."
Under a heading that recalls a movie about public gullibility and a TV show about a less than competent secret agent, Wagging the Dog with Iran's Maxwell Smart, Cole wrote on his Informed Comment blog: