I’ve been engaged in a back and forth discussion in this post at ZenPundit. The subject of the post is the rationality of the Iranian regime and the back and forth has been about the effectiveness of deterrence with respect to that regime. My own view is that the Iranian regime is rational i.e. they’re drawing rational conclusions from the evidence they see, they’re just interpreting the evidence differently than we might.
As I see it there are a number of reasons why deterrence is not effective with respect to the Iranian regime:
- We’ve undermined the principle of deterrence by not buttressing the psychological aspect. During the Cold War, particularly the early phases, we repeatedly re-stated our policy. That is a required part of an effective policy of deterrence since the deterree must believe that you will, in fact, respond to an attack and that conviction erodes with time. We haven’t re-stated our nuclear deterrence policy in some time. Jacques Chirac recently re-asserted France’s policy. It’s high time we re-asserted ours. It’s possible that at this point it’s too late to be credible.
- For more than ten years (between 1991 and 2003) Iraq was in violation of the cease-fire that ended Gulf War I nearly every single day. During the period we engaged in a handful of pro forma spasms of activity. That tended to undermine the credibility of our threats: the correct time to respond to the provocations was after the first provocation not after a decade. Iran no doubt expects little more.
- They read our newspapers and watch our television news programs. I think that it’s perfectly rational after viewing the dissent and the sometimes acrimonious debate on the war in Iraq and its conduct to conclude that Americans simply have no stomach for more war. I believe that’s deeply mistaken but that it’s a perfectly reasonable conclusion.
- The Iranians believe they have us over a barrel: an oil barrel. The KSA is probably producing as much oil as it reasonably can as is Kuwait and other Gulf producers. Both Nigeria’s and Venezuela’s production can reasonably be seen as unstable. We’ve been unable to get Iraq’s production up or to keep it up due to (possibly Iranian-assisted) sabotage. The likelihood of stabilizing Iraq’s production in the near future is probably nil. Russia probably does have more capacity. Is that enough to stabilize the world’s oil supply if Iran goes offline? I think it’s perfectly reasonable to believe that the disruption to the world economy caused by Iran’s oil production becoming suddenly unavailable will be disastrous. No doubt the Iranians think so, too, and have concluded that we can’t afford to bomb them or invade them.
- And then there’s this:
“The Iranian people are not afraid of the threat posed by the United Nations Security Council,” Hojjatoleslam Ahmad Khatami, substitute Friday prayers leader, was quoted as saying in a speech to worshipers.
“Patience and resistance are the two major factors that definitely thwart all plots of enemies,” Khatami said. Khatami also cited a frustrated hostage rescue operation of the United States in 1980, hinting any activity against Iran were doomed to fail.
“During those days, the sands of the Tabas desert acted like forces of God Almighty and killed them (U.S. troops),” Khatami said.
In November 1979, five months after Iran’s Islamic Revolution, a group of Iranian students took over the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and held 52 people hostages for 444 days.
In April 1980, an aerocade of U.S. aircraft, which was sent secretly by the White House to Iran to rescue the hostages, landed in the Dasht-e Kavir desert near the eastern Iranian city Tabas for refueling.
But a strong sandstorm caused crash of two helicopters and a C-130 transport plane, which killed several American soldiers and finally led to the abortion of the mission.
That’s seeing the facts a little differently than we probably do but it is drawing a rational conclusion from the available facts.
So that’s why I believe that, while the Iranian regime is rational, it’s unlikely to be deterred from doing pretty much whatever it cares to do.