A Test for Realism

It’s not all about us. That’s the error that I think that Joshua Muravchik is making in his recent WSJ op-ed:

As for Iran’s actions, while arming the Taliban and Iraqi terrorists may make sense, what is the point of seizing British sailors or locking up the four Iranian-Americans, including the beloved 67-year-old scholar, Haleh Esfandieri, none of whom are involved even in political activity, much less in the exercise of hard power?

The apparent meaning of all of this pointless provocation and bullying is that the axis of radicals–Iran, Syria, Hamas and Hezbollah–is feeling its oats. In part its aim is to intimidate the rest of us, in part it is merely enjoying flexing its muscles. It believes that its side has defeated America in Iraq, and Israel in Gaza and Lebanon. Mr. Ahmadinejad recently claimed that the West has already begun to “surrender,” and he gloated that ” final victory . . . is near.” It is this bravado that bodes war.

Look at these actions in this context:

Iran is in the throes of one of its most ferocious crackdowns on dissent in years, with the government focusing on labor leaders, universities, the press, women’s rights advocates, a former nuclear negotiator and Iranian-Americans, three of whom have been in prison for more than six weeks.

The shift is occurring against the backdrop of an economy so stressed that although Iran is the world’s second-largest oil exporter, it is on the verge of rationing gasoline. At the same time, the nuclear standoff with the West threatens to bring new sanctions.

Is Iran “feeling its oats” or does the regime feel at risk? Both? In my view the U. S. is not the target audience for Iran’s actions—they’re mostly for domestic consumption, moves to consolidate the mullahs power at home and, perhaps, extend their influence in the region. Yes, the repression is awful, the regime is reprehensible, and its actions are destabilizing. But they’re not irrational.

I agree completely with this portion of Tigerhawk’s comments:

Although I am not exactly a dove with regard to Iran, I generally believe that Iran acts rationally with regard to its self-interest, even if that self-interest is founded on divine revelation.

Now I don’t believe that war with Iran is either desireable or inevitable but I do think that lack of attention will tend to allow matters to move in the least favorable directions.

Recently I’ve been seeing quite some little nostalgia for realism in our foreign policy. Doesn’t the situation with respect to Iran in which, if as Tigerhawk says and I concur, Iran is acting in its best interests, present a perfect test case for the application of realism?

What are the U. S. interests with respect to Iran? The Middle East? What would a realist do?

2 comments… add one
  • Thanks for the link.

    The other point of departure between hawks and doves on Iran turns on the degree to which each feels Iran can be trusted to negotiate in good faith. There is the fairly strong feeling among hawks that the history of our relations suggests that negotiation with Iran is pointless, even if desireable in the abstract, because Iran is so devoted to cheat-and-retreat. So hawks would say that even if one were to confront Iran as a realist, we would have to rapidly escalate to establish our credibility or risk losing all credibility at the first sign of the inevitable Iranian cheating.

  • mannning Link

    I agree with Tigerhawk. It is built into the Islamic faith as I commented before in OTB. We infidels are the object of their jihad and their loathing.

    It is still my prediction that we will attack Iran before February 08. Watch for the signs of an additional military buildup around Iran this Summer and Fall.

    It may be that the buildup is the best way to force Iran to make a rational decision about their nuclear program. No talk, just more and more troops, carriers, and bases nearby.

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