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Tuesday, August 15

Uh oh. Uppity puppet farts at puppeteer.

"Dear Pundita,
I hope you listened to Yossef Bodansky's report last night [on the John Batchelor show]. He said that Tehran is upset that [Hassan] Nasrallah has become a superstar in the region and throughout the Muslim world because of his stand against Israel's military! I thought of your Uppity Puppet essay and I started laughing.

If Iran indeed pushed Nasrallah to war in order to take him down a peg then it seems their plan backfired, although Bodansky doesn't think that was their reason for telling Nasrallah to instigate war with Israel.

However, it seems you were right in that Tehran fears the power that Nasrallah and Hezbollah have gained since the Syrians were thrown out of Lebanon.

I won't ask how you came up with that idea but can you tell what you see happening next? Do you think the truce will hold?
Jan in Reston"

Dear Jan:
Remember that Seffy is an intelligence gatherer; he reports not on what he thinks but on what he has learned about what the enemy is saying and doing, which makes him a very valuable source.

Feel free to ask how I came up with the idea. I didn't know why Tehran told Hezbollah to start a war but I asked, "Why now?" When I looked at the landscape I saw Hasan Nasrallah towering over his traditional competition in Lebanon, which was the Syrian government. So then I asked myself, "If I were an Iranian general, how would I perceive that situation?"

I've noted before that American analysts need to find ways to think outside the American viewpoint when asking why the enemy does things. I seem to recall dedicating a post to a discussion of what I call Common Sense Reasoning, which is trying to place yourself in another's shoes and thinking things through from that vantage point.

CSR isn't always right, of course; if you've never been in someone else's position it's unlikely you'll hit a bull's eye. But there are always shared elements of experience in any situation because we're all the same species. By following the thread of something about the situation you can emotionally connect with, you can sometimes get into the ballpark about why another does things.

CSR is no substitute for informed analysis but engaging in the exercise can break up ossified ways of looking at a situation and reveal angles that one was blind to before.

I can't think like an Iranian general but I do know how I react when I'm facing uncertainty everywhere I look. Under such circumstances I do what most humans do, which is attempt to assert control over any kind of situation.

That's why in the midst of grief over loss of a spouse the surviving member of the couple can do things that seem out of context to the situation, such as deciding to repaint the entire house. That's why a sales manager can develop an obsession for golf in the face of tanking sales numbers.

The US push for democracy in the Middle East, when met with the repressed aspirations for democracy in the region and the US toppling of Saddam's regime, created a high level of uncertainty for the Iranian regime and its military.

Before then Iran's military could predict and control to a great degree the actions of the key players in Lebanon; the Palestinian Authority; Syria; and the militant organizations they controlled, such as Hezbollah.

Then came the assassination of Rafik Hariri, which led to the Lebanese demand that Syria quit Lebanon, and Israel's disengagement from Gaza, which unleashed the full power of the Uncertainty Principle.

The militant organizations controlled by Iran saw avenues to power open that had been closed to them. Being human and all, they could allow themselves to wonder for the first time what they needed Tehran for.

So put yourself in the place of an Iranian general. In all that uncertainty was there some avenue of action over which they could exert great control, and which could produce predictable results?

They could still exert great control over Nasrallah so he didn't go getting the uppity idea that the power vacuum left by Syria meant he could run Lebanon if he cut enough deals with France.

If you observe that there was no way the Iranians could predict the outcome if they instigated an all-out military confrontation between Israel and Hezbollah -- well, you can't improve your sales figures by improving your golf swing, nor can you bring back the dead by refurbishing the house. But there is no reasoning with human nature when it seizes on a way to bash uncertainty back over the line.

As to whether the truce will hold -- according to what Seffy said last night, it seems Tehran wants to see it broken. But the question now is what Nasrallah wants. Seffy also said Tehran is angry that Nasrallah accepted the cease fire proposal, so another question is how far they'll push Hezbollah to break the truce.
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