Today, I have a feature article on the main site which rejects the notion advanced by General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff amongst others that Iran is a rational actor.
Normally, I would not draw attention to the comments left. However, this one caught my eye. It was written by Col. David Lapan. Assuming this is the Colonel Lapan in question, he is a Pentagon spokesman who takes issue with my article. He writes:
It is not the case that General Dempsey believes Iran is a “rational actor” based on “his opinion on the notion that Iran has not yet decided whether it will develop nuclear weapons.”
Colonel Lapan then provides a link to an exchange which took place between General Dempsey and New Hampshire Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte when Dempsey testified before the Senate Budget Committee on February 28, 2012. I will get to that exchange shortly.
But first let’s examine what General Dempsey told Fareed Zakaria in the first place back on February 19th:
Zakaria: When you observe Iranian behavior does it strike you as highly irrational? Does it strike you as sort of unpredictable? Or do they seem to follow their national interest in a fairly calculating way?
General Dempsey: That is a great question and I’ll tell you I’ve been confronting that question since I commanded Central Command in 2008. And we are of the opinion that the Iranian regime is a rational actor and is for that reason I think that we think the current path we’re on is the most prudent path at this point.
So if General Dempsey’s stated belief that Iran has not made a decision as to whether or not to weaponize its nuclear program is a factor in concluding that Iran is a rational actor then what are his criteria for making that assessment? General Dempsey’s reply to Senator Ayotte raises more questions than it does answers:
Look I agree that Iran is a regime that is dangerously misguided. Look at its behavior. It protects itself; it loathes its neighbors;it interferes with its neighbors; threatens its neighbors and it disregards its own citizens. So none of that is acceptable to us. So to our way of thinking and our way of being rational. But it does fit their pattern of thinking in a 30-year history of conduct. So my view of this is that we can’t afford to underestimate our potential adversaries by writing them off as irrational. That’s kind of the juxtaposition of the phrase and I personally don’t mistake Iran’s rhetoric for a lack of reason.
With all due respect to General Dempsey, this response strikes me as disingenuous. First, Iran’s behavior fitting certain pattern might make it predictable, it certainly doesn’t make it rational. Secondly, Israel certainly isn’t underestimating Iran and it certainly isn’t writing them off. Why else would Israel give serious consideration to the possibility of a military strike against Iran? Because the Israeli government believes that if Iran acquires a nuclear weapon it would use it against its people. If anyone is underestimating Iran it is the Obama Administration. General Dempsey told Zakaria point blank that the Obama Administration does not believe Iran presents an existential threat to Israel. So long as this daylight between the United States and Israel exists, the Iranian matter will never be resolved in a satisfactory manner.
General Dempsey later told Senator Ayotte, “As we seek to influence their behavior we have to understand their way of thinking.” But I am not convinced General Dempsey (much less the rest of the Obama Administration) does understand Iran’s way of thinking at all. I fear that General Dempsey is simply rationalizing Iran’s irrationality.
Case in point. In December 2003, a major earthquake hit the city of Bam in southeastern Iran which resulted in the deaths of over 25,000 people. Israel immediately offered aid to the victims of the earthquake only to have Iran refuse the assistance. Let us remember that this took place when a supposedly moderate regime led by Mohammed Khatami was in power. How many lives might have been saved had Iran accepted Israel’s generosity? We will never know. What we do know is that the Iranian regime would rather have its own people die than be helped by the Jewish people Israel. If this an act of a rational actor then what does it take to make a nation an irrational actor? If Iran has that little regard for its own people then I shudder at the thought of what they are prepared to do to Israel.
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