I appreciate Ross Kaminsky’s comments in response to my criticism of General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, concerning his assessment of Iran as a rational actor.
Ross generally accepts General Dempsey’s position “that we must view their rationality within the framework of their beliefs and values.” Of course, it is important that we understand what motivates the Mullahs. Yet when we characterize the Iranian regime’s motivations as rational it has the unintended consequence of normalizing genocidal behavior. I am not suggesting the Iranians aren’t capable of being calculating and clever. Quite the contrary, their intentions couldn’t be clearer. But the desire to murder millions of people is inherently irrational.
I am well aware that the term rational actor is widely used in the field of international relations (and for that matter in economics.) But it is a theory only serves to reveal the shortcomings of international relations as an academic discpline. All of which brings me back to these questions. If there are rational actors then aren’t there irrational actors? If Iran is considered a rational actor then what nation is an irrational actor? Or are there only rational actors? If there are only rational actors, it goes a long way in explaining why the UN cannot discern aggressor from victim, good from evil.
It is well worth remembering that Iran wasn’t so irrational towards Israel. Indeed, when the Shah was in power, Iran enjoyed friendly, if discreet relations with Israel. Although no formal diplomatic ties were established they had missions in the other’s territory. One of the first things the Ayatollah Khomeini did after coming to power was to sever all ties with Israel and symbolically converting the Israeli mission into a PLO mission. The people who rule Iran are a different breed from those who ruled Iran more than a generation ago. The Shah was certainly no democrat but neither did he aspire to commit genocide. Consider the words of renowned historian Bernard Lewis:
Iran’s leadership comprises a group of extreme fanatical Muslims who believe that their messianic times have arrived. Though Russia and the US both had nuclear weapons, it was clear that they would never use them because of MAD. Each side knew it would be destroyed if it attacked the other. Buth with these people in Iran, MAD is not a deterrent factor, but rather an inducement. They feel that they can hasten the final messianic process. This is an extremely dangerous situation of which it is important to be aware.
Otherwise, Ross and I are in agreement about the nature of the Iranian regime and what it is capable of doing. I believe Ross would also agree the same canot be said for the Obama Administration.