Gen. Martin Dempsey chided for calling Iran “rational”

Recent comments about Iran by the top-ranking military officer in the US have been criticized by Israel and some Washington-based voices. On Sunday, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria that he’s been “confronting” the question of whether Iran is rational since taking over Central Command in 2008. “We are of the opinion that the Iranian regime is a rational actor,” he said.

A senior Israeli official told Haaretz that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak voiced their displeasure about Dempsey’s remarks to the US National Security Adviser Tom Donilon while he was in Israel last week:

“We made it clear to Donilon that all those statements and briefings only served the Iranians,” a senior Israeli official said. “The Iranians see there’s controversy between the United States and Israel, and that the Americans object to a military act. That reduces the pressure on them.”

Today on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” Richard N. Haass of the Council on Foreign Relations said Dempsey made a “mistake” by calling Iran “rational”:

To call Iran a rational actor is code talk. Let me just make it clear, if you call them rational, that means that detterence works and that means that you’re willing to live with an Iran that has nuclear weapons.

After meeting with Netanyahu, Republican Sentaor John McCain also said during a press conference in Jerusalem that he found it “hard” to see Iranian behavior as “rational”. McCain added that there should be “no daylight” between US and Israeli assessments of the “threat” posed by Iran and emphasized that it is “unacceptable for the Iranian regime to develop a nuclear weapons capability.”

Dempsey’s admission to Zakaria that an Israeli strike on Iran at this time would not be “prudent” was echoed this week by British Foreign Secretary William Hague who said it would not be a “wise thing”. Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov also argued on Wednesday that any military attack on Iran would be “catastrophic for the region and for the whole system of international relations.”

On Wednesday, Haass and Michael Levi declared in the Wall Street Journal that an alternative to a “a classic preventive attack” on Iran are more negotiations which are nevertheless “unlikely to resolve the problem for all time”. The authors recommend that if Iran agrees to increased monitoring mechanisms and limits on its nuclear program, the most recent round of sanctions that have been imposed on it should be scaled back. Haass characterized a reduction of some sanctions as Iran’s “honey” on the MSNBC show.

Haass and Levi’s strategy outline concludes by stating that before the option of war is embraced “it is important to demonstrate—to domestic and world opinion alike—that a reasonable policy was explored.” They argue that if war results the “political, economic, military and human responsibility for any conflict should be with Iran.”

Jasmin Ramsey

Jasmin Ramsey is a journalist based in Washington, DC.