April 05, 2012

Capability ≠ Intent

Reuters reports that the U.S. intelligence community is worked up about the potential that Hizballah could attack U.S. civilians in the United States in the event of an attack on Iran:

There is a big difference between capability and intent, obviously. It would not be in the interests of Hizballah to attack U.S. civilian targets on the U.S. mainland. That would be incredibly dumb, actually, and would carry with it potentially catastrophic consequences for Hizballah's constituency. I write more about Hizballah's calculations regarding an attack on Iran here in case anyone is interested, and I think my analysis from last week remains sound.

That having been said, let's get real for a moment: there is an argument to be made, of course, that Iran might underestimate what a U.S. response to an attack would be. After all, Iran played a big role in killing at least 1,000 U.S. servicemen in Iraq, continues to support the insurgency in Afghanistan, and has carried out failed attacks on Israeli targets elsewhere. The response by both the Obama Administration and the Bush Administration before that has been to ... well, not do a hell of a lot. 

That's just one interpretation of Iranian thinking, though. Another interpretation would be to look at stuff like Stuxnet, the assassination of scientists, and crippling sanctions as an aggressive U.S.-led campaign against the people of Iran. 

And that's the trouble with perception and misperception in international politics. It's tough to know how the other guy sees the same things you do. Someone should write a book about this