In today’s Cato Daily Dispatch, the Cato Institute notes the recent news on Iran:
“Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Wednesday that Iran’s determination to continue its nuclear program had brought major powers ‘to their knees,'” reports The Washington Post. “In a speech broadcast live on state television, Ahmadinejad repeated his assertion that Iran would ignore demands by the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council that it suspend sensitive nuclear work or face new sanctions.”
In “War with Iran Is Not the Answer,” Cato foreign policy analyst Justin Logan writes: “In the end, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that, absent some very shaky assumptions about the Iranian leadership’s rationality, deterrence is a preferable policy to preventive war. The latter option opens so many uncertainties that are out of the range of control of the American government that it should be looked on as a supremely undesirable policy. Deterrence is not ‘satisfying,’ in that it does not produce a decisive outcome quickly, but neither, in this case, would preventive war.”
Set aside the bizarre suggestion that we “deter” a country that has already engaged in acts of war against us (how do you deter a thief when he’s driving off in your car?), and consider the peculiar parenthetical in the first sentence: “absent some very shaky assumptions about the Iranian leadership’s rationality.”
What Logan means is that if we assume the Iranians are “rational actors” who respond to carrots and sticks, deterrence is the proper policy for dealing with them. The premise is that the Iranians aren’t really motivated by an ideology that demands destroying the West and imposing Islamic rule on the globe-they’re just another self-interested nation after wealth, influence, and security.
Just one problem: the Iranians are motivated by such an ideology, which is why they’ve consistently foregone peace and prosperity in pursuit of a nihilistic jihad. (More from the Ayn Rand Institute’s Elan Journo on this point here.)
Now there is a sense in which their vicious actions have been “rational.” Responding to decades of appeasement by the United States, Iran has responded as any “rational actor” would: by becoming ever more brazen in its rhetoric and threatening in its actions.
Deterrence doesn’t deter those who wish to destroy for the sake of destruction.