Foreign Policy‘s Marc Lynch has been all over the hawks’ cries for war with Iran, which they’ve based on a couple leaked cables of dictatorial Arabs wanting military action (or talking tough about it, at least).

As more and more diplomatic cables become available, and as real analysts review them, it will become increasingly apparent that many of the early reports on the perspectives of a handful of hawkish Arab leaders are without critical context.


Iran hawks have been gloating that the quotes from a few Arab leaders in the initial cable release vindicate their analysis and discredit skeptics of military action against Iran. It doesn’t. [U.S. Defense Secretary Robert] Gates’ comment about the Saudis needing to “get into the game” came almost two years after [Saudi] King Abdullah’s now-famous “cut off the head of the snake” comment. And another cable from January 2008 shows Abdullah telling [French President Nicolas] Sarkozy that Saudi Arabia “does not want to inflame the situation,” recommends “continued international engagement” with Iran and “is not yet ready to take any action besides diplomacy.” Maybe, just maybe, those private remarks weren’t actually a very reliable guide to what the Saudis will really do in public?

The way the Iran hawks have been leaping at a few juicy quotes while ignoring the entire well-known context only shows the ongoing poverty of their analysis. I would expect better from the serious analysts on the hawkish side, but, well, there you are.

In this post, Lynch expands upon points he made the day before on the media’s emphasis of the hawkish views of regional leaders:

The point here is not to say that the cautious views matter and the hawkish ones don’t. Nor does it say that Arab leaders haven’t been calling for tough measures against Iran, since they have been doing just that for years. It’s to say that Arab leaders are divided and uncertain about how to deal with Iran, and fearful of taking a strong position in public. In other words, it would be a mistake to “make too much of the private remarks of selected Arab regime figures, without considering whether those remarks reflect an internal consensus within their regimes or whether they will be repeated in public in a moment of political crisis.” That’s pretty much still where we are today.