Thursday, February 15, 2007

Assumptions about the Iranian Threat

Many assume that a nuclear Iran, led by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, presents an unacceptable threat to Israel and to the United States. But as Cato scholars Justin Logan and Ted Carpenter argue in a recent op-ed, Ahmadinejad is, in fact, a rational actor and thus deterrable through conventional means—which both Israel and the U.S. possess in overwhelming quantities.

First, let's contextualize Ahmadinejad's holocaust-denying, holocaust-promising MO. Recent reports indicate that Tehran is increasingly criticizing Ahmadinejad, who may consequently be removed from office before his term expires. Moreover, Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, wields the real power behind the regime, and his deeply odious ideas notwithstanding, he's a moderate compared to Ahmadinejad.

Second, despite its bomb-making activities in Iraq, Iran has never passed chemical or biological weapons to Hezbollah or other client organizations. The reason is historically based: if Iran were to attack Israel—which it's far likelier to do than attack the U.S.—it would surely suffer "mutually assured destruction." In short, the fear of retaliation keeps fanatics in check.

Indeed, as Logan and Carpenter conclude, "Never in history have leaders made a decision that was absolutely certain to destroy their own country in a matter of hours. Until someone can come up with definitive evidence that Iran is the first such country, we must work from the assumption" that Ahmadinejad is deterrable.