That gathering drumbeat you hear could be the sound of World War III, or it could be 10,000 journalists still Googling facts about Iran following the assassination of Qasem Soleimani. The internet is a bluffer’s paradise, but it also means that everybody— not just the hacks — now feels a strong impulse to talk knowledgeably about the Middle East when news happens. You have to know your Shiite, as they say, your IRGC from your Kataib Hizbollah. Don’t muddle Khamenei with Khomeini. But more importantly don’t be afraid! The Spectator is here with some handy phrases to get you through any difficult Twitter spat or pub chat.
1) Say ‘Iran’s proxies in the region’ a lot
The word ‘proxies’ is bluffer gold-dust so sprinkle liberally. You don’t even need to know what a proxy is! The very word makes you sound like you understand what the various factions are (when you don’t), plus saying ‘region’ gives the impression you know Middle Eastern tensions (when you don’t). If pushed, or asked to expand, just say ‘look at Yemen’ or ‘What happens in Lebanon will be interesting.’
2) ‘The real winners here, of course, are China and Russia’
You are a bigger picture guy, so deploy this phrase when the chat gets a bit too into Iranian or Iraqi politics. Talk also about ‘great powers’, or ‘the 21st century great game’, or ‘power blocs’.
3) ‘People forget that Iran shares a large border with Pakistan’
Have some of that! You aren’t forgetting anything, you and your geography. Advanced bluffers can try ‘let’s not even get into the politics of Turkmenistan.’
4) ‘This could be a Sarajevo moment’
Now you’re talking. You understand what happens when America meddles in complicated regions (yes, regions). Not for you, the naive talk about George W. Bush and the Iraq invasion, you go back to the 1990s. After saying this, you can then talk more broadly (and vaguely) about ‘the problems of Balkanisation.’
5) ‘Soleimani really was the mastermind behind Iran’s recent expansionism’
Stress the word recent there: it suggests a lot of deeper learning that doesn’t exist. Refer obliquely to the 1979 revolution, and speak with sadness about the ‘the overthrow of the Shah.’
6) ‘We have this incredibly simplistic idea of what Iranian society is like’
You don’t, no sir! Talk about Iran’s surprisingly secular and liberal middle classes, about the cool nightclubs in Tehran as if you’ve been to them. Then throw in some dark contrasts and say ‘theocracy’ in a sombre way.
7) ‘The Iran deal was an attempt to stop the inevitable’
Say how difficult it is to stop a country that is absolutely determined to acquire a nuclear weapon — as though you yourself have tried. Then talk wistfully about the failure of the Obama administration, mention Donald Trump, and raise your eyebrows.
8) ‘There is a clear tension between the hawks in Trump’s administration and his more anti-interventionist base’
If in doubt, retreat to America. Trump won in 2016, you can say, not just because he promised to build a wall, but because he told Americans that he would end endless wars. Yadda yadda yadda.
9) ‘In fact, without the bellicose John Bolton in his administration, Trump may be MORE likely to attack Iran’
You appreciate the paradoxes of power. You know that John Bolton wants to bomb countries and that he resigned last year. That’ll do.
10) ‘This doesn’t have to be a Franz Ferdinand moment’
Let others make the facile 1914 allusions and sound more intelligent. Add that ‘the one rule of history is that it doesn’t in fact repeat itself.’ Sound enigmatic — and walk away. Who was that guy?