Iran v. the US: Who is the Rational Actor on the Nuclear Question?

Because some things are worth reinforcing.

I know that James Joyner has already noted his piece at the National Interest, but for anyone who has not read it, let me give it another plug.  He is correct on two key counts:

1.  Containment (or, perhaps more specifically, deterrence):

Regardless, the president’s declaration at the UN is based on a bizarre premise: “Make no mistake: a nuclear-armed Iran is not a challenge that can be contained.”

Why on earth not? In the sixty-seven-year history of atomic and nuclear weapons, they have been deployed precisely twice. Both by the United States. Both in the context of a world where no other country possessed such weapons. Both in the first three days of the nuclear era. In the sixty-seven years and change since the dropping of Fat Man over Nagasaki, no bomb has been detonated other than for testing.

He goes on to note a substantial list of actors that have had nuclear weapons and not used them.  I think that the following are worth emphasizing:   North Korea, India, and Pakistan.

Much of the debate about Iran is predicated on two premises:  first that their leadership is unstable, if not insane, and second that they are driven by (and therefore blinded by) religious and ethnic hatreds.

Now, we have two test cases for contrast:  in North Korea the precise stability of the previous rule, King Jong Il, was a legitimate question.  Certainly his was case in which the appearance to the rest of the world was of a egomaniac who made any number of questionable, if not downright strange, decisions.  However:  no use of nukes.  North Korea is also a case of a system of highly concentrated power in the hands of the Supreme Leader (note the title) and yet, their general behavior falls into basic category of a rational state actor (even their “crazy” behavior, like some of the attacks on the South, were clearly calculated to achieve certain goals, which were often achieved).  We like to talk colloquially about “crazy” states and “irrational” leaders, but we do so without much in the way of evidence.  Yes, people like Ahmajinedad says some “crazy” things—but the proof is not in the rhetoric, it is in the actions of states.

The other example, India-Pakistan, lends significant credence to the notion that even states whose basis of animosity is grounded in ethno-religious conflict will behave the way that basic deterrence theory assumes that they will behave.  That is to say that the leadership in question will calculate that the losses from a nuclear exchange far outweigh any gains to be had from engaging in a first strike.  Where is the evidence to suggest that Iran will behave any differently?  I would note, too, that there appears to be plenty of religious ideologues in the Pakistani government.

2.  Efficacy.  Even if we assume that it is dangerous for the Iranians to acquire nuclear weapons (and, by definition, it is because more weapons means more potential for usage, even if the probabilities for such usages are low), the fact remains that it is highly unlikely that an attack on Iran would result in stopping the Iranians from developing a weapon (and, indeed, an attack would be a motivator to get a weapon no matter what).  As James notes:

All this talk of using force comes despite the fact that it contradicts a near-universal consensus among the experts: no politically plausible military action will be able to do more than postpone Iran’s successful deployment of nuclear weapons and will simultaneously bolster the regime while weakening pro-Western sentiments among the Iranian people.

This point really needs to sink in:  an attack would not result in stopping Iran’s nuclear ambitions.  Short of either nuclear strikes on Iran or a full scale conquering of Iran, we are not going to stop the Iranians from acquiring a nuke.  Indeed, I would argue, as I am sure I have elsewhere before, that it is impossible to stop a state with sufficient resources from acquiring a weapon.   As such, this becomes a cost/benefit analysis:  how much would it cost (in blood and treasure) to use military force to try and impede (note the word) Iran’s nuclear program?   An attack on Iran would damage the US’s already tenuous fiscal situation, cause a massive spike in oil prices, likely spark a global recession, and would probably lead to terrorist attack on the US homeland (because, after all, how else could Iran respond?).

How much are we will to expend to create a delay?

Have we not learned from Iraq and Afghanistan?  These types of military actions are not easy and they do not play out as expected.  Where is the conservative concern for unintended consequences and the limitations of human reason on this topic?

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, 2012 Election, Asia, US Politics, World Politics, , , , , , , ,
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. Rafer Janders says:

    Re rationality, I’ll repeat my comment from yesterday:

    Look at this, for a moment, from Iran’s point of view. To your southeast, you have nuclear-armed Pakistan, then nuclear-armed India.

    To your northeast, Afghanistan which is occupied by your foe America, and nuclear-armed China.

    To your (not immediate) north, nuclear-armed Russia.

    To your northwest, Turkey which is part of nuclear-armed NATO and a US ally.

    To your west, Iraq, which until recently was invaded and occupied by the US, and then further away nuclear-armed Israel.

    To your south, the Persian Gulf, patrolled by the nuclear-armed US Navy, and then the Arab Persian Gulf states, all of whom are clients and allies of the US.

    In sum, you are completely ringed by enemies both current and historic.

    If I was an Iranian, and given this strategic situation, I would damn sure want nuclear weapons, and fast, if only to defend myself. Right now they’re about the only significant power in the region without nuclear weapons. Insanity for them would be NOT trying to become a nuclear power.

  2. Mikey says:

    I’ve often wondered why some people think Iran would be any more likely to employ a nuke than any other nuke-possessing state. Dropping one on Israel would certainly result in Israeli retaliation, and with far greater numbers and superior yields. It would quite literally be a national suicide. Even if one accepts the premise that elements of the Iranian government are less-than-rational, it’s still a pretty big leap to conclude they would volunteer themselves and their country for total destruction.

  3. Dave Schuler says:

    Its inefficacy is the main reason that I’ve been arguing against using military action to end whatever nuclear weapons program Iran has for years now. That such action would incentivize the very nuclear weapons development that it intends to curtail doesn’t help.

    I think that those arguing in favor of such action should be much more explicit about what they’re urging. Are they insisting on genocide, invasion, or periodic bombing of Iran for the foreseeable future?

    Frankly, I’m skeptical of containment. I’ll repeat what I said in a comment to an earlier post here. Doesn’t arguing in favor of containing Iran presuppose that containing Iran is within our power or, even more importantly, can be accomplished by measures that we’re likely to put into place?

    By what metrics are we containing Iran now? Is Iran more contained now than it was five years ago?

  4. Mikey says:

    @Rafer Janders: Indeed, it’s entirely rational for them to want a retaliatory capability. Yes, it’s also possible to use that capability in a first strike, but that would be far less rational. So it’s far more probable they want the former, IMHO.

  5. @Rafer Janders:

    If I was an Iranian, and given this strategic situation, I would damn sure want nuclear weapons, and fast, if only to defend myself. Right now they’re about the only significant power in the region without nuclear weapons. Insanity for them would be NOT trying to become a nuclear power.

    Indeed. The rational calculation for Iran is clearly to acquire a nuke (and it is a position that US foreign policy has very much helped foster). There is also the classic balance of power logics that you note.

  6. @Dave Schuler:

    I think that those arguing in favor of such action should be much more explicit about what they’re urging. Are they insisting on genocide, invasion, or periodic bombing of Iran for the foreseeable future?


    Frankly, I’m skeptical of containment. I’ll repeat what I said in a comment to an earlier post here. Doesn’t arguing in favor of containing Iran presuppose that containing Iran is within our power or, even more importantly, can be accomplished by measures that we’re likely to put into place?

    As I obliquely noted in the post, the term of art that ought to be used is “deterrence” and I think that that the answer to the question “can we deter Iran” I think that the answer is “yes” because, as noted in the comments above, a nuclear attack on Israel would be suicidal in nature.

  7. Yes, people like Ahmajinedad says some “crazy” things—but the proof is not in the rhetoric, it is in the actions of states.

    I’d also like to point out that Ahmanjinedad is basically the Queen of England. He’s purely there for show and has no actual power over anything Iran. What influence he does have is purely because WE gave it to him by going nuts everytime he says something.

  8. DC Loser says:

    If Iran gets nukes, it will still be at a severe disadvantage vis-a-vis the Israeli nuclear capability. Its only useful role is that of a strategic deterrent to ensure regime survival and to keep it from being held to nuclear blackmail by its enemies. Iran only has to look at its North Korean ally to see the benefits it derived from having a nuclear capability. Counter that with Saddam’s Iraq, which didn’t. Maybe it’s just me, but it makes total sense for the Iranians to want a nuclear deterrent in their tough neighborhood.

  9. @Stormy Dragon: Indeed.

  10. Rob in CT says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    I don’t expect “containment” to delay an Iranian nuke longer than I would expect air strikes or invasion to. But it’s clearly superior from a cost/benefit point of view. It also has the advantage of avoiding quite a bit of death and destruction (of course I know that sanctions aren’t exactly harmless).

    Containment, followed by deterrence. This is the rational course.

  11. Scott says:

    There are a couple of other thing to consider when discussing Iran. One, it is quasi-democratic society with a lot of competing interests. There are the ayatollahs. There is the Revolutionary Guard (a military-commercial entity). There is the President. Finally, a pretty sophisticated, educated populace. All these factions are impacting Iran internally and it is a mistake to view the country as monolithic.

    Second, I find it useful to view Iranians as Persians, an ancient and proud society. They are far more than Shiites. I suspect they view themselves are Persians first and Shiites second. This colors their world view.

    Finally, let me throw out an assertion for argument. I see Iran behaving very similarly as when they were under the Shah. The only difference is who they view as the enemy.

  12. James Joyner says:

    @Dave Schuler: Yes, Steven’s right: I’m talking about deterrence, not containment. I see no reason to think that a nuclear Iran would use said nukes, given that doing so would be to commit suicide.

  13. C. Clavin says:

    I fail to see haw you can ask Iran to not pursue nuclear weapns if you are not asking Israel, India, and Pakistan to disarm. I’m a big fan of the United States…but playing devils advocate…if I’m Iran I’m wondering who-the-f-are-you to pick sides. Indeed…Iraq shows that those who are our friends will soon be our enemies and vice-versa.

  14. James H says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I suspect Iran also learned a lesson from Iraq. The so-called “Axis of Evil” had three members: Iran, iraq, and North Korea. North Korea had nukes, and the United States did not invade. Iraq had no nukes, and the United States invaded. There’s a lesson there.

    Add to that that I suspect the Bush administration missed a major diplomatic opportunity in Iran in the wake of 9/11.

  15. says:

    I do not believe Iran is irrational (though there are certainly destabalizing elements in their government at some level, otherwise there is no explanation for their current president), but they have a vested interest to appear irrational; both to repress internal dissent and to give them leverage in external relations. It would be nice for them to start behaving as a mature nation,they have established themselves enough internationally to tone done the hyper aggressive rhetoric, but the current rulers don’t seem to feel secure enough against internal change to do so. (And the protests last year might show that as somewhat valid.)

    I do not think we can quite discount their rhetoric and I certainly don’t think Isreal can discount their calling for Isreals destruction or their support of Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas. It would only take a single fanatic to get into the wrong position at the wrong time to create a disaster that Isreal might not survive.

    Personally, I am absolutely against war with Iran, it is not worth the price and short of occupying for at least ten years (and the attendant destruction) won’t achieve anything remotely resembling the a less aggressive or less nuclear ambitious Iran. The only suggestion I can come up with is that we get an agreement to let Iran have the capacity for nukes if they acknowledge Isreal’s right to exist. Not great but better than the current situation.

  16. anjin-san says:

    I don’t see how you can reasonably expect to contain a 70 year old technology that is already in the possession of North Korea, a nation far poorer and less sophisticated than Iran. The reasonable course of action might be to quietly explain to them what a policy of AD is – MAD without the “mutually.” I see no evidence these folks are suicidal. Persia has a long history, and I don’t think they want it to come to an end.

  17. CB says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    I’d also like to point out that Ahmanjinedad is basically the Queen of England.

    That right there is one hell of a mental image.

  18. Barfour says:

    What is most important is for Iran to develop better relations or even normalise relations with the United States, other countries in the west and Israel. It will of course take both Iran and it’s “enemies” to move for this to happen. Once Iran have better relations with Israel and the west, the nuclear issue will be easier to resolve. Even if Iran does acquire nuclear weapons, it will be easier to deal with them as a friend than as an enemy. While it is unlikely that Iran will use its nuclear weapons for any purpose other than as a deterrent, we have to worry if Iran does acquire nuclear weapons. We are not certain how Iran plans to use nuclear weapons and we probably cannot rule out the possibility of them getting into the hands of terrorists.

  19. TastyBits says:

    Silly questions:

    How does anybody know the state of the Iranian nuclear weapons program? How does anybody know that one actually exists? Is the intel coming from the same folks that missed the Arab Spring?

  20. Mikey says:

    @James H:

    Add to that that I suspect the Bush administration missed a major diplomatic opportunity in Iran in the wake of 9/11.

    I wish I could remember where I read this, if I could I’d put up a link…but a few days ago I read a bit about how there was actually progress in US/Iran relations, and they were nearing a kind of breakthrough, and then Bush made his “Axis of Evil” speech and Iran basically told us to go pound sand. That bit of tough-puffery apparently ruined what was a real opportunity with Iran.

  21. Dave Schuler says:

    James and Steven:

    I think that deterrence would be as effective with Iran as it was with the Soviet Union if we were to be willing to shore it up. Deterrence is a subject I’ve written about pretty extensively at my place. One of the critical components of deterrence is psychological and we’ve been tearing down the psychological underpinnings of deterrence over the period of the last 20 years.

  22. Andre Kenji says:

    Nuclear technology is largely a matter defined in jingoistic terms. That´s why India and Pakistan have the bomb, that´s why Brazil and Argentina tried to build nuclear weapons(In Brazil the nuclear plants are criticized for their lack of efficiency and high cost). By the way, that´s why I think that´s very difficult to assess North Korea Nuclear capabilities and it´s entirely possible that they never built any bomb(I would only believe if they show a photo of a nuclear test).

    This is a very important point regarding Iran. Nationalism, more than strategic issues, explains the Iranian nuclear program. And obviously, any sanctions and ultimatums against Iran will make Iranians more, not less, willing to enrich Uranium.

  23. @Andre Kenji:

    Nationalism, more than strategic issues, explains the Iranian nuclear program.

    I concur.

  24. Gustopher says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    I think that those arguing in favor of such action should be much more explicit about what they’re urging. Are they insisting on genocide, invasion, or periodic bombing of Iran for the foreseeable future?

    Hunt and kill the physicists. Which someone has been doing. Iranian nuclear physicist is not as dangerous as a position as al Quaeda No. 2, but it is more dangerous than cat sitter. Go after the university professors while we’re at it, and then college students in graduate degrees abroad.

    Fight a war on science!

    I’m not sure I advocate it, but it is an approach that involves less force than bombing the general area.

  25. C. Clavin says:

    Speaking of rational and irrational…here’s an interesting take on nuclear weapons and the election.

  26. MattT says:

    @Mikey: Here’s a Frontline piece on the “Grand Bargain” allegedly offered by Iran after 9/11, which I think Mikey was referring too. More out there if you google.

    The way I figure it, Iran doesn’t want a nuke so as to use it. They want one to deter Israeli and US opposition – nuclear and conventional – to ambitions they have in the Gulf area, and perhaps to ramped up support for Hezbollah and other agents vs. Israel. They probably enjoy being painted as nuts, since this would make their deterrent much more effective: those crazy mullahs might respond with nukes to anything!

  27. James H says:


    I remember reading something along those lines as well. As I recall, Iran and the United States were engaged in some back-channel diplomacy before Bush torpedoed it with his remarks.

    More broadly, the president at the time was the reformist moderate Mohammad Khatami. His reforms ultimately failed, but it occurs to me that he might have gained more political stature within Iran if the United States had been willing to give him something that would show Iranian voters — and more importantly, reformist elements of the Iranian power structure — that diplomacy would be more effective than Ahmadinnijad’s international chest-thumping.

  28. mannning says:

    A few points on the subject:
    1. Many are convinced tht Iran has an advancing nuclear weapon program coupled with a missile delivery system program. They are digging underground facilities for their programs and beefing up their air defenses rapidly, especially copies of the Russian S-300 antimissile system.
    2. The Israelis seem to fear this program mightily and have spent large sums to prepare for an engagement with Iran, before it is too late to react.
    3. The Israelis can use EMP to disable the electronics of Iran’s weapons and vehicles long enough for air and missile strikes to wreck havoc, and can repeat the EMP strikes as needed. The IAF has increased the range of their F-15i and F-16i aircraft, and have acquired refueling aircraft to extend the combat time over Iran.
    4. Under the cover of EMP and air support they can land special forces to carry out specific destruction tasks, such as at underground entrances and air vents to nuclear facilities.
    5. Using EMP gives the Israelis their one solid chance to carry out such an attack without major losses. They appear to be willing to become the second nation to use nuclear weapons in the EMP role as it is a matter of survival.( EMP bursts at altitude are not harmful to humans.)
    6. Since the prevailing idea is that an Iranian nuclear attack would wipe out much of the Israeli population, the Israelis feel justified in proceeding, even without the US.
    7. The US is not necessarily a firm partner under Obama, so, while the Israelis want US participation, they cannot count on it, and plan accordingly.
    8. The Iranian threat undoubtedly accounts for the layout of Israel, and thus must use low-yield weapons at the right altitude, position, and with the wind favoring a westward flow.
    9.The exact status and capability of the Iranian nuclear program is not known today. Specifically not known are the yields they are pursuing, such as 1kt, 10kt and 20kt yields that have a very limited destructive radius, on the order of 2 to 4 miles or somewhat more.
    10. If Israel does attack, Iran may or may not retaliate against US facilities and forces.
    11. If Iran does not attack the US, there is a question whether the US will join Israel in furthering their attack.
    12. If Iran does attack the US, we will join the effort.

  29. Mike says:


    You can look up the previous U.S. National Intelligence Estimates on the subject as even though they are classified the information in them tends to leak fairly readily, and all the IAEA reports are also publicly available, but the short version is that there is pretty solid evidence that Iran is currently enriching uranium to the 20% level. 20% is considered “weapons-usuable” uranium but would be rather inefficient. There is some dispute as to what their break out capability would actually be for getting HEU (“weapons-grade” uranium, something in the 80-90% ballpark) and how quickly they could enrich their stockpile of 20% to that level. There is also some dispute as to how far along they are with an actual weapons design and weaponizing…having a bomb is all well and good but you need to have a credible way to employ it, and mounting it to a ballistic missile is a bit more complicated than just strapping the bomb down with duct tape and letting the missile rip.

    And to take the Iraq/North Korea comparison one step further, look at Libya…they had a chemical weapons stockpile and a nascent nuclear program but in ’03 Ghadaffi agreed to give it all up in exchange for better relations with the West. 8 years later the West was fighting a war to overthrow him. Obviously there were many other factors at play so it is definitely an imperfect comparison, but it seems entirely possible that countries like Iran could still draw a lesson, however imperfect, from the situation.

  30. mannning says:

    Would any of you elect to ignore the threat from Iran if you were a leader in Israel? Would you believe in appeasement or containment of Iran by relatively distant partners that have a far less stake in the game? How well have the major Western nations managed to stop Iran’s programs so far after years and years of debate? Does the pacifist thinking prevalent in the West suit your idea of support? If you have the capability yourself to stop the programs over and over with acceptable casualties, what would you do?

  31. PJ says:

    Thing is, you seem to think that Iran would be willing to sign its own death warrant by nuking Israel.

  32. PJ says:

    Add to that, if Israel would end up using a nuke as an EMP, it would face a massive, worldwide boycott, it would lose every treaty with neighboring countries, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the Pakistan’s 100 nukes would end up with terrorists.

    When it comes to nukes, and worrying about them ending up in the wrong hands, Pakistan is the real problem, not Iran.

  33. mannning says:


    Iran is working to have a full ring of anti-missile missiles around Israel (and Iran, too) based on their copy of the Russian S-300 system and missiles. Syria has this system now, and it is easy to grasp that Lebanon, Palestine territories, Jordan, and perhaps Iraq will follow, with Iranians manning the systems. This ring can use the missile systems to shoot down any Israeli ballistic missile that tries to rise. The missiles are mach 6 or about 4,470 mph, have a range of 90 to 120 miles, and carry 150 lb of explosive. They can be fired every three seconds from their launchers up to reload time. And, they are mobile, using a track system. So, within a reasonable time from now, Iran will become so well-defended that there is no way even Israel will attack them, and Israel would lose their ballistic missiles if they tried that weapon. Except for leakers, of course. No defense is perfect.

  34. mannning says:

    What should Israel do then? I personally believe that they would compare life after being nuked with life after having erased the nukes and incurred the wrath of others, and then said– GO!

  35. PJ says:

    Because the only two options here is nuking or being nuked?
    Good think that you weren’t calling the shots during the Cold War.

    Do you actually believe that if Israel strikes tomorrow, Iran will never, ever get nukes? And if Israel actually would use nukes, attacking Iran wouldn’t that give Iran actual justification for using them when they actually get them?

  36. @mannning:

    The flaw in your question is that this is the United States and the question is what US policy should be. We have common interests with Israel, but they are not identical, and Netanyahu’s push for war is not in our, or anyone else’s interests.

  37. mannning says:


    Are you suggesting that the US would step in and guarantee Israel that the US would strike Iran with nuclear missiles if Iran did strike Israel? Tell me more about this genocide plan that we would sign up to execute. Sounds like WWIII would begin. Would we actually sign up and execute? I have my doubts.

  38. PJ says:

    Yes, I have no doubt in that.
    Striking Iran first is quite different from assuring that one would retaliate, with nukes, if Iran nuked Israel.

    You don’t seem to understand, if Iran actually would nuke Israel, Tehran would cease to exist. Any Iranian leaders responsible for the attacks would be hunted down and brought to trial or killed.

  39. Mike says:


    You’re overstating Iran’s capabilities as well as the general capabilities of the S-300 system; specifically the version that was sold to Syria. Ignoring for the moment the current unrest in Syria, the S-300Ps that the country possesses are ’80s era and are basically air to air only; they lack any serious ABM capability. They are basically the equivalent of the PAC-1 Patriot system. As far as Iran goes, they don’t possess any S-300s of any sort…over the course of a couple years that changed from “We totally have them” to “Well Russia said they would sell us some, just wait for it” to “Russia? Screw ’em, we’ll build our own” to “Those damn Russians stole our money! We don’t have anything and we want our money back!” And the idea of Iran positioning forward deployed air defenses in the Palestinian Territories or Lebanon is laughable for a whole load of reasons I’m not going to get into, much less in Jordan (a close U.S. ally.)

    As far as EMP goes, both Israel and the U.S. have the ability to launch a cyber attack via electromagnetic transmission (using jamming systems and/or radar to transmit the code) that is powerful enough to not only insert false targets but to actually allow the attackers to take control of the air defense system and break datalinks between radars and missiles. One version of it is called Suter. So not only would Israel never in a million years use a nuke as an EMP weapon (as others have said it would be political suicide) but they really have no need since they can take down an entire air defense network without firing a shot (as they did in ’07 in Syria.)

  40. Mike says:

    Should be “surface to air,” not “air to air” in the first paragraph. My point is that the -P variant is really only effective against aircraft and has no anti-ballistic missile capability.

  41. mannning says:

    You need to look up the rest of the variants of the S-300 and its large family. Iran opted for the most lethal, and began to copy versions they got their hands on when they realized that Russia was not going to hand over the full request. This version is a anti-balistic version.
    Syria , I suggest, will receive upgrades for the ring in due time. The model Iran is opting to build is the S-300V Antey or SA-12 in NATO terms, which is the ABM version. Look it up in Janes.

    As for the capability to take down the air defense system, that is wishful thinking unless you can demonstrate that either we or Israel has actually done so for the latest S-300 or S-400 family. Such a statement would require proof for the Israelis to accept it.

    I am quite amazed that you believe that the US would commit to such anuclear bargain, or gamble which is its right name. I do not believe that the president and the senate would accept it, nor our people, to threaten nuclear destruction of Iran if they hit Israel.Further, I was making a binary point to sharpen the issue you raised, just as Israel might do if confronted with it. It has little to do with what I would do in the same circumstances.

    The view I have put forward is not a flaw at all. It is an Israeli view, which must be understood in order to guide US policy with any hope of success. Going hamfisted into this situation from a US POV is exactly what may send things down the wrong road.I find it quite arrogant that the issue seems to be what the US policy should be, without consdieration of what the other party involved thinks and may act upon–Israel. I also find it interesting that we, the big US, may not be the determining factor here at all: israel and Iran may well be the main show, not us, to begin with.

  42. @mannning:

    In formulating U.S. policy, the primary, if not the sole, concern of an American President should be American interests, not Israeli interests. Protecting Israeli interests is the job of the Israelis.

  43. Mikey says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Absolutely, but to play a bit of “devil’s advocate,” it’s quite possible–even probable–that there are circumstances in which those interests overlap.

    Of course, as far as it aids Israel, Netanyahu is going to work to maximize the perception those circumstances exist, but that doesn’t mean they don’t.

    The ideal for the U. S. would be to establish where our interests and Israeli interests actually overlap, and form policy from there. Whether that’s actually happening, or even possible…I don’t know.

  44. mannning says:


    I do agree with exploring one’s partner’s specific interests before trying to come down with a unilateral policy that may or may not help the entire situation. It may in fact make it unknowingly worse if you do act unilaterally and without accounting for key factors.

  45. mannning says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    No one was claiming to protect Israeli interests, but merely to understand their POV, their hot buttons, and their real situation sufficiently that any formulation of US policy, yes, in our interest, would not cause the situation to worsen. This is so obvious as to be painful to write.

  46. mannning says:

    To the degree that it is possible, the same should hold true for Iran. Does anyone think that the US should formulate policy in a complete vacuum?

  47. grumpy realist says:

    If Iran really wants to become a nuclear power, there isn’t that much we can do against them. They probably want nukes to defend themselves against Israel (who in my opinion has been recently producing far more crazytalk than Iran has.)

    Oh the heck with it. Dump Ahmajinedad and Netanyahu together in the ring and root for injuries. They’re both nuts and shouldn’t be in charge of a lemonade stand, let alone a country.

  48. mannning says:

    @grumpy realist:

    We have a vote for doing nothing, bringing the popcorn and watching.
    We have a vote for nuking Iran if they nuke Israel and publishing the commitment.
    We have a vote for watching as Israel attacks Iran.
    We may have a vote for joining Israel in the attack.
    We have a vote to take on Iran if they attack US facilities and people.
    We may have a vote for watching as Iran counterattacks Israel as well.
    We have a vote for joining Israel way after the fact if Iran seems to be winning.

    Is there any policy in all of this that makes sense?

  49. Dazedandconfused says:


    Has nobody suggested a preemptive strike and perhaps decades of “maintenance” on the resultant eternally hostile Iran yet?

    We must craft policy based on the greatest Iranian military capabilities and insanity we can imagine, of course….

    The sane thing to do might be be to tell the Israelis they can have Utah. Living in that neighborhood appears to be problematic for them. It’s a mad house! A Hussein-asylum, if you will.

  50. mannning says:

    Reductio ad absurdum is alive and well here.

  51. Dazedandconfused says:


    You concern trolling has simply become mock-able.

    Almost as absurd as Israel being ringed by the latest ABM sites. Even suggested they would be in “Palestine territories”.

    Any solution that doesn’t result in the US bombing the crap out of Iran is, for you, unacceptable. Hasbara?

  52. RobDon says:

    The so-far not discussed solution in this thread, as proposed recently by the Chair of the Non-Aligned Movement, is for a “Nuclear-Free Middle East.”

    As far as the question of Iran having near-nuclear weapon capability: looking past the U.S.-election seasonal outbreak of chutzpah (currently on the wane) on the part of the Israel PM, to the assessments of both Israeli and U.S. intelligence agencies, we find no alarm regarding this unforeseeable development. In short, Iran is not on the path to making a nuclear bomb any time soon.

    Indeed, it is Israel which has the (undeclared) nuclear weapons, and plenty of them. And the big, bad, backer of Israel to the tune of about $3 billion every year, the U.S., is the only state to have actually used nuclear bombs not once, but twice.

    Further, we must understand the impacts of the current sanctions against the people of Iran in the light of the history of the U.S.-British embargo of Iraq between the two Middle East wars with its horrifically huge civilian death toll – including over 500,000 children under the age of five years (admitted by then-U.S. Representative to the UN Madeleine Albright).

    So who are the sheep and who are the wolves?

    It is obvious that by painting Iran as the aggressor Israel intends to deflect attention away from it’s over-60 year old and ongoing illegal state terrorism against the people of Palestine which is nothing less than a slow genocide – murder by suffocation, interspersed with death by U.S.-financed, Israeli military-caused violence.