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May 2, 2012 11:44 am

Irrational Rationality: Iran’s Leadership

avatar by David Schimel

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Ayatollah Khamenei. Photo: Wiki Commons

“We are of the opinion that Iran is a rational actor” – General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the United States Joint Chiefs of Staff.

In the debate about the best course of action to end the Iranian pursuit of nuclear weapons, the major assumption of those advocating diplomacy armed with the pressure of economic sanctions is that Iran’s conduct reflects a reasonable mindset.

This line of thought holds that the Iranian theocracy is like any other conventional nation state that makes reasoned calculations based on its national interests.  Accordingly, with the right mix of incentives and disincentives the Iranian regime’s leaders will respond in a positive fashion and therefore, not only can an unpleasant if not costly military conflict be avoided but also for all practical purposes it should be deemed unnecessary.

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This is a questionable assumption underlying a question of potential life and death.

One of the major questions posed by historian Robert Andrews in his book The Storm of War: A New History of World War II was what led Hitler to make major errors that ultimately led to his defeat.  His miscalculations in judgment included gratuitously declaring war on the United States after Pearl Harbor thereby bringing in the heretofore isolationist American behemoth that would otherwise have been focused exclusively on Japan; the decision to invade Russia before finishing off Britain thereby fighting an unnecessary two front war eventuating in the disastrous winter campaigns on the eastern front; and the decision to divert important transportation and human resources to the unrelenting program of exterminating the Jews when such resources were much needed in the war effort – not to mention the loss of fleeing talented Jewish scientists that could have assured Germany getting the atom bomb long before her adversaries.

Andrews’ answer can be summed up in just four words: Hitler was a Nazi.  “Many of his worst strategic blunders were the result of his ideological convictions rather than military necessity.” That is to say that Hitler was a fanatic who fervently believed in Nazism and its racist ideology and the superiority of the so-called Aryan Übermensch.  Accordingly, Hitler held his enemies in contempt while convincing himself that they could not withstand Germany’s superior forces thus leading him to grossly underestimate his foes.

That did not mean, however, that Hitler was irrational in the sense that he could not deploy logical reasoning and think both tactically and strategically in approaching various problems, both politically and militarily.  He was clearly able to engage in duplicitous diplomacy, taking advantage of many of those in the West during the nineteen thirties who felt they could do business with Herr Hitler by dismissing Nazi ideology as so much propaganda for the masses.

Today we are facing an Iran that is a radical Shi’ite theocracy led by clerical leaders who are messianic driven fanatics dedicated to bringing about the return of the hidden 12th Iman-Mahdi through an apocalyptic war against the infidels, most notably the Jews living in Israel.  In this ideological context, the attainment of nuclear weapons by this regime is problematic to say the least.

This does not mean that the Iranian mullahs will not occasionally make moderate sounding statements or shrewd tactical adjustments when necessary.  They are not suicidal per se.  They are ‘rational’ when it comes to taking whatever steps are necessary to preserve their power in pursuit of their ultimate religiously driven objectives.

Sometimes, for example, this has taken the form of engaging in talks with the West about their nuclear program in order to fend off pressure while buying time to reach their goal.

But it is a mistake to downplay or ignore the religious ideology of Iran’s political leadership. While economic sanctions may lead them to make tactical adjustments, it would be a temporary action in the spirit of ‘two steps forward one step back.’

There are those who believe ( and hope) that sanctions inflict major economic hardships and will lead to regime change via an uprising among the Iranian people. The last time a popular uprising occurred, after the fraudulent 2009 elections, the regime did not flinch from brutally suppressing dissent.  And regrettably the United States turned its back on the Iranian people. Everyone would like to believe that regime change could be brought about by a popular revolution that will spare the West from having to disarm the Mullahs through force.  But don’t count on it.

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  • Matt

    Otherwise the government, I should say governments would be negligent in it’s duties to protect its citizens. The really argument is between those that know of the phase 2 plan and see no need for the phase 1 plan to be implement a strike to prevent Iran going nuclear.

    But Israel will have no choice but to have a test, at the moment there are no nuclear powers in the Middle East and Israel has said it will not introduce nuclear weapons into the region. But if the other party does have them, then you have to make it clear that you also have them. Otherwise they will think it is disinformation and psychological warfare and may think it is safe to attack or hand a missile to terrorists.

    Then if you have intelligence that says they have built the bomb but not declared it, then you have to test anyway for the same reason, in which the perspective is that you have introduced weapons into the region. So you have to go public with the intelligence first to justify the decision.

    There are parallels, people do want to hear about this stuff, just as they also do not want to acknowledge the dangers of a nuclear Iran. People don’t want you think a nuclear Iran is dangerous and they don’t want the public to know what steps have been taken in relation to that threat.

    The safest situation is a non nuclear Iran, and Israeli MAD doctrine in relation to Iran is providing safety in an unsafe situation. The end result the endgame the outcome is far more dangerous, than phase 1. Due to the fact that is not conventional.

    If that is what the world decides then that is the decision. On the surface it may appear that war was avoided and the threat is reduced. But the threat level is far higher and the risk of war is greatly enhanced.

    That is what they don’t want you to know, they don’t want Iran to know because it may ruin the face saving deal that means nothing.

    Israel is not dangerous, Iran is dangerous and the situation is unpredictable and dangerous.

    The example is at the moment if a soldier gets kidnapped or shot on the border at worst it will be a conventional war. With a nuclear Iran that situation changes, it could result in nuclear war.

    When Assad gave Hizbullah the Suds/M-600 SRBM the red lines that are there to prevent game changers shifted. A strike on a nuclear reactor requires a non-conventional response. It is a dirty bomb and a dirty bomb is a WMD.

    So who’s hands is that in Hassan the fool of the 2006 war. Was that rational in the sense that he thought he could get away with it. In that sense he was a rational actor.

    Assad was upset that he lost his nuclear program in 2007 that is why he gave them the ability to hit the nuclear reactor. Was that rational, it is in the sense that Lebanon is in the breach of a non-conventional response and which lays in the hands of Hassan.

    You have a shot soldier or kidnapped, you have Hassan decision to strike the reactor and if the missile defense fails a non-conventional response, if you wait that long intent, guilt mind, guilty action. That is now, then you would have a nuclear Iran making threats.

    The whole situation is very dangerous, that is what the redlines are for be it a nuclear Iran or game changing weapons such as the Scuds/M-600 to Hizbullah.

  • Matt

    Maybe the covert project to delay the Iran bomb failed, perhaps a strike was not possible, perhaps a follow up strike at latter date after the first strike was not possible. You get the idea.

  • Matt

    Where is your proof about the expansion of the arsenal and modernization. All you have is my unofficial word, which you know is solid. Don’t get all sooky and upset, I know it is not fair, “all we want to do is” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FRL26app_F0

    Life is not fair.

    Increase in the warhead stockpile, multiple warheads, improved Jericho, the Popeye turbo II for the enhanced Dolphins, nuclear bomb for the F-35’s (airbase next door) cyberwarfare. Arrow system BMD. 1st strike, 2nd, 3rd and 4th.

    When you test, we will test. So there are no misunderstandings.

    I see you are claim the capability to take control of the enemies missiles and direct them where you choose, we do that and you know it, like Bushrer, the warhead.

    We will freak everyone out, your test in Persian and the unnamed state in Hebrew.

    Don’t forget we have the codes and technical data to by-pass the global BMD system.

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