Friday, April 10, 2015

Is Iran rational?

By Fareed Zakaria, WashPost, April 9 at 8:05 PM

At the heart of the concerns surrounding the deal with Iran is a simple question: Is Iran rational? For many critics, the answer is self-evident. The Iranians are “apocalyptic,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has often said, warning that you can’t “bet on their rationality.” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has declared, “I think they’re crazy.” Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon restated his opinion recently that the Iranian government is a “messianic and apocalyptic regime.”

And yet, these same critics’ preferred policy is one that relies on Iran’s rationality. The alternative to the deal forged by Iran and the six great powers is not war, they insist, but rather to ratchet up pressure and demand more concessions from Tehran. So, this crazy, apocalyptic band of mullahs, when faced with a few more sanctions, will calmly calculate the costs and benefits and yield in a predictable way to more pressure. Or, as J.J. Goldberg writes in the Jewish Daily Forward, “Apparently they’re irrational enough to welcome nuclear Armageddon, but rational enough to yield to economic punishment.” (This point is also well made by Vox.com’s Max Fisher.)

In his thorough book, “Unthinkable: Iran, the Bomb, and American Strategy,” Kenneth Pollack carefully reviews decades of Iran’s foreign policy and shows that it has been not just rational but prudent, pushing forward when it sees an opportunity, backing off when it sees dangers. He quotes a former Israeli armed forces chief of staff who said: “The Iranian regime is radical, but it’s not irrational.”

(More here.)

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