The Israeli government isn't alone in using the "Iran is wildly unpredictable" frame as the basic prism for mediating reality. The American
media likes that frame. The lead paragraph of a piece published in Thursday's edition of The New York Times cited the terrorist attacks, along
with, "renewed posturing over its nuclear program and fresh threats of economic retaliation" as evidence that "Iranian leaders are responding
frantically, and with increasing unpredictability, to the tightening of sanctions by the West."
To its credit, the story did go on to quote an expert noting that all of these Iranian actions could be viewed as a coherent package: "These are all
facets of the same message," said Muhammad Sahimi, an analyst and professor at the University of Southern California. "Iran is saying, 'If you hit us,
we will hit back, and we are not going to sacrifice our nuclear program.' " Or, to paraphrase Mr. Sahimi: "The lead paragraph of the New York Times story you are reading right now is misleading."
But the New York Times piece wasn't done yet. On the same day that Iran had engaged in "renewed posturing over its nuclear program"--that is, it
had unveiled (and hyped) some advances in its nuclear program--an Iranian official said Iran was ready to engage in a new round of talks on the nuclear
standoff. Now, you might argue that this was the most important news of the day, and belonged in the lead paragraph. Or, at the very least, you
might ask that this news be depicted as counteracting the Iran-is-wildly-unpredictable meme. But no--from the standpoint of The New York Times, this was
just more evidence that Iran is a bundle of contradictions. "The intentions of Iran's divided leadership are notoriously difficult to divine, and even as
Mr. Ahmadinejad declared defiantly that 'the era of bullying nations has passed,' another Iranian official said Tehran was ready for new talks on the
Are these statements by two Iranian leaders really at odds, making Iran a nation whose intentions are "difficult to divine"? Here's an
alternative view: When Iran announces, under the pressure of intense economic sanctions, that it is willing to return to the negotiating table, that
overture is likely to be seen--by both its domestic audience and its foreign audience--as a sign of weakness. Iran doesn't want to be seen as weak by
either audience. So it might make sense, from Iran's point of view, to couple this announcement with demonstrations that it won't be
intimidated--whether Ahmadinejad's declaration that Iran wouldn't be "bullied" or the announcement (complete with pictures of Ahmadinejad in a lab coat)
of advances in Iran's nuclear program.
The New York Times
may have found this perplexing, but not everyone did. Wednesday around noon--roughly the time the Times piece was being written--Ali Vaez,
director of the Iran Project for the Federation of American Scientists, wrote in an email, "Iran is projecting strength by organizing a nuclear show on
the same day that it responded to Ashton's letter [i.e. the same day it agreed to return to the bargaining table]. Iran is signaling to the West that
they will not come to the negotiating table under unprecedented pressure and give up their rights. If Washington does not understand this, the new
round of negotiations is doomed to fail."