WINEP Director Sees Self-Defense as Iran’s Aim

A friend of mine, who prefers to go unnamed, made an interesting observation about a rather convoluted effort by the managing director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Michael Singh, challenging Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey’s assertion in recent Congressional testimony that the Iranian regime is a “rational actor,” an assertion that directly contradicts the “mad mullah” theory, which of course is based on the notion that Tehran’s leadership is so crazy — not to mention suicidal — that it may very well attack Israel with a nuclear weapon just as soon as it builds one and a missile to deliver it. The latter notion has become a staple of neo-con propaganda for years, if not decades. This is why all means must be available to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear device.

But now comes Singh, who in his effort to debunk Dempsey’s idea that Iran is a “rational actor,” call on us to “assess how the regime perceives its interests” and concludes:

All indications are that the regime values its own survival above all. This likely fuels its drive to obtain a nuclear weapon, which it may see as a guarantee against external foes.

Of course, this is what most Iran and nuclear experts have been arguing for quite a long time: that Iran’s alleged (but still unconfirmed) interest in acquiring a nuclear weapons capability would be motivated, primarily at least, by defensive considerations, and not because it wants the bomb to attack Israel or any other country.

Moreover, as yet another friend of mine pointed out to the first, this also undermines Netanyahu’s, the Bipartisan Policy Committee’s and AIPAC’s main argument that we need to make our threats to use military force ever more credible in order to scare Iran into abandoning their presumed quest (and all enrichment activities, too). But if Iran’s motive for pursuing a nuclear weapon is defensive, how then does threatening it convince its leadership that they don’t need increased defensive capabilities. Indeed, the greater the threat, the more the regime becomes convinced it needs the bomb in order to deter an attack.

This argument, of course, is not new. Most U.S. intelligence officials and, more recently, the military brass have been arguing that an actual attack by the U.S. or Israel on Iran’s nuclear facilities would serve only to make Iran more determined to build a bomb, just as Israel’s attack on the Osiraq reactor in Iraq resulted in an acceleration of Saddam Hussein’s nuclear weapons program, as was discovered by astonished UN inspectors after the first Gulf War. And, as pointed out repeatedly by both former CentCom chief, Adm. William “Fox” Fallon and the recently retired Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. James Cartwright, in their appearance Thursday at the Center for Security and International Studies, the Iranians have clearly mastered the fuel cycle and can always reconstruct it.

Remember, also, that none other than Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak suggested that he, too believed Iran was a rational actor, in that if he were Iranian, he would “probably” want a nuclear weapon, too. And, as he told Charlie Rose last November, such a weapon wouldn’t even necessarily be targeted on Israel.

They’re looking around and seeing that India is nuclear, that the Chinese are nuclear, that Pakistan is nuclear, even small South Korea is – not to mention the Russians,” he said. “Saddam tried it, Bashar al-Assad tried, Qaddafi tried it, Israeli allegedly has it.

Of course, despite his implicit acknowledgment that Iran would be interested in acquiring a nuclear weapon for defensive purposes, he still insisted in the same interview that it must be stopped in order to prevent a regional arms race. But it was still quite an admission for a senior member of a cabinet whose prime minister has repeatedly insisted that Iran’s aims and those of Adolf Hitler are similar, if not the same.

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Jim Lobe

Jim Lobe served for some 30 years as the Washington DC bureau chief for Inter Press Service and is best known for his coverage of U.S. foreign policy and the influence of the neoconservative movement.