Those ‘crazy’ Iranians

Arthur Zimmermann was really quite a clever man. A lifelong diplomat and professional scowler (he was Prussian, after all), Zimmermann served as Germany’s state secretary for foreign affairs during World War I–and was known for concocting outlandish international plots that (he hoped) would deliver victory. He conspired with Russian communists to overthrow the czar, urged Irish revolutionaries to attack the British, and plotted with Indian radicals to subvert "the Raj". Some of this worked (he shipped Lenin back to Petrograd), but a lot of it didn’t: Irish rebel Roger Casement was hung when he returned from Berlin and the "Hindu-German Conspiracy" was ruthlessly crushed. Alas.

But Arthur had a zanier side. In 1917, he sent a telegram to the German ambassador in Mexico instructing him to make an offer to the Mexican government, to wit: if America were to enter the war on the side of the British, Zimmermann said, Germany would support an expedition to reconquer Mexico’s lost territories of Texas and Arizona. This was rich stuff for the British, who intercepted the telegram and gleefully (their soldiers were dying just then, in windrows, along the Somme) passed it on to the Americans. The Americans were "enraged", used the telegram as proof of German "perfidy" and, after the Germans started blowing holes in passenger ships, dispatched an expeditionary force to France to make the world safe for democracy. How’d that work out?

The Zimmermann Telegram has gone down in history as a major diplomatic pratfall, despite Zimmermann’s protest that his proposal (the Mexicans, smartly, scurried away), was merely intended to lay out a possible option should America actually enter the war. He should have known better–for what seems like a good idea to diplomats at the time can have unforeseen, long-term and even bloody consequences, viz. Lenin. Which is only to say that, no matter how improbable, it’s not out of the question that the Iranian government recruited a used car salesman to plot the assassination of the Saudi ambassador to the US–with a Mexican drug cartel as a shadowy intermediary. After all, and manifestly, crazier things have happened.

Still, you have to wonder. The plot comes at a particularly auspicious time for the White House, which is scrambling to mend America’s frayed relationship with the Saudis at the same time that it hugs Israel. The United States has been delicately squaring this circle for 60 years–and has learned there’s no better way to do it than by identifying an enemy common to both. It used to be the Godless Bolsheviks, now it’s the God-addled "mullahs". Then too, this is an easy sell to the American people, a disturbingly large number of whom believe their birthright is threatened by Iran-controlled Hamas conspirators whose goal (get this) is to impose "sharia law" on an unsuspecting public. If we’re not careful, we’ll all wake up Muslim.

In truth, there’s nothing new here. A cursory survey of my country’s history reveals serial fears that unnamed creeps are always "infiltrating" from Mexico (they never seem to come from Canada, for some reason), in order to gnaw away at our values, plant bombs or subvert our freedoms. Sadly, the response to these threats is also predictable, with our tireless law enforcement and intelligence agencies leaving no stone (or pebble, as the case may be) unturned: the Federal Bureau of Investigations looks into critics of Israel in North Carolina, grand juries are called to intimidate anti-war activists in Chicago, the police arrest 17-year-old Somalis in Minneapolis, and our intelligence agencies track grifters who claim to be working for unnamed Iranians.

This might be as laughable as a Mexican invasion of Texas, if it weren’t so damned dangerous. The talisman of just how perilous this has become was evident just this week, during a debate among Republican candidates for the presidency–all of whom (excepting one), think it would not only be just dandy if Israel attacked Iran, but even better if we helped them. One of them, Newt Gingrich (he’s the smart one, we’re told), even argued that the US should support an Israeli conventional attack on Iran because if we don’t then Israel will feel "abandoned"–and use "multiple nuclear weapons" to eliminate the Iranian threat. This startling, er…position passed without comment, apparently because the idea that Israel might actually be blackmailing us is somehow viewed as just okay. So here we are: our unshakable, unbreakable and unquestioned support for Israel is not predicated on shared values, but on the belief that they might be as crazy as the guys who hired a failed used car salesman to assassinate a Saudi ambassador with a non-existent pipe bomb. And you thought Zimmermann was loony.