Appeasing Iran: How Should Obama play the game

I’m thinking of giving this article to my students on the honor-shame course final with the following query: how does an honor-shame analysis of the interaction between Presidents Obama and Ahmadinejad help figure out whether Obama’s approach will work, and if not, what approach might?

The Logical Fallacies of Appeasing Iran
Pajamas Media
Posted By Nicholas Guariglia On April 24, 2009

Roger Cohen, one of the op-ed columnists for the New York Times, has, as of late, made it his personal pastime to defend the theocratic killers ruling Iran. One of his recent columns, entitled “Israel Cries Wolf,” mocks and belittles Israeli concerns regarding Tehran’s nuclear program, citing warning statements made by Israeli leaders over the years, most of which have (yet) to come to full fruition. Today, his chief target is the newly sworn-in premier, Benjamin Netanyahu. The following excerpt captures Cohen’s inane argument ad captandum:

    I don’t buy the view that, as Netanyahu [said], Iran is “a fanatic regime that might put its zealotry above its self-interest.” Every scrap of evidence suggests that, on the contrary, self-interest and survival drive the mullahs.

    Yet Netanyahu insists … that Iran is “a country that glorifies blood and death, including its own self-immolation.” Huh?

    On that ocular theme again, Netanyahu says Iran’s “composite leadership” has “elements of wide-eyed fanaticism that do not exist in any other would-be nuclear power in the world.” No, they exist in an actual nuclear power, Pakistan.

    Israel’s nuclear warheads, whose function is presumably deterrence of precisely powers like Iran, go unmentioned, of course.

This is an important passage, because it underscores the logical fallacies employed by proponents of appeasement with Iran. By utilizing three commonly used tricks, Cohen throws everything he has at the wall in just a few short sentences — hoping something sticks.

Cohen’s first error: equating Western-centric models of rationality to those of our theocratic enemies. “Self-interest and survival drive the mullahs,” he swears — and not “self-immolation” as he claims Netanyahu believes. This is false. While it is true that the Iranians might have a Persian “superiority complex” and would rather hire Arab terrorists to blow themselves up — Lebanese, Palestinians, Jordanians, Iraqis, etc. — whom they ethnically look down upon, it is a mistake to believe Iranian “self-interest” coincides with Israeli or American self-interest.

Think of it this way: Why do would-be suicide bombers run away from U.S. military units while engaging them on the battlefield? Why did the operational planners of 9/11 flee Tora Bora into Pakistan? Why do al-Qaedists and Taliban militiamen seek refuge from air strikes overhead? According to Cohen’s universe of zero-sum logic, these suicidal extremists should welcome their own demise, should they not? One is either a self-immolating fanatic or pursuing coherent self-interest, as personally defined by Cohen himself — right?

The truth is a little bit more complicated. The sincerest jihadist prides himself on a fanaticism that is as tactical and patient as it is theological. Just as Mohamed Atta’s crew donned cell phones and hobnobbed casinos and strip malls — growing parasitic on the society they vowed to destroy, coming to lust what they claimed to loathe — so too it is common, in fact widespread, for a Khomeinist mullah from Iran (or a Wahhabi prince from Saudi Arabia) to indulge in the financial niceties, personal pleasures, and opportunities offered by civilized normalcy. But, as with Atta and his eighteen cohorts, the transition from such immediate real-world self-interest to fantastically dogmatic supernaturalism and brutally self-and-mass-inflicting violence is an easy process, indeed.

Iran’s current president talks into water wells, hears voices, and anxiously awaits the return of the “hidden imam” — and with it, the end of the world. Iran’s former president, and perhaps future supreme leader, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, is wanted in Argentina for knocking down a large office building. And he’s supposedly the “moderate” in Iran’s leadership.

The rest of the clerical regime, from the Orwellian-sounding Assembly of Experts to the Council of Guardians, is as ideologically unhinged as any governing body in the world. Cohen scoffs at this fact at our own peril.

Cohen’s second error: applying a false comparison between Iran and Pakistan. This point has been raised for years — and as current realities stand, it has never made less sense. Pakistan is an immense challenge, but the problem it poses to the world is one of intrastate warfare: a government incapable or unwilling to impose its sovereignty over all of its territory. In other words, there are factions within Pakistan that are openly hostile to the United States. But the government itself, led by President Zardari, is at least publicly an ally in this joint effort.

In Iran, however, the government itself is openly adversarial. All apparatuses of the state fall under the dominion of Ayatollah Khamenei, a murderous old man who does not think within our geopolitical constructs. Should the Pakistani government ever fall to al-Qaeda-linked clerics, then Cohen’s parallel would make a semblance of sense.

His third error: applying moral equivalence between a liberal democracy and a ruthless theocracy, while advocating Cold War doctrine to an inherently asymmetrical conflict. Israel’s nuclear program is morally and politically superior to Iran’s program, just as France’s nuclear program is acceptable and North Korea’s program is not.

Additionally, deterring what Thomas Friedman once coined “the undeterrables” is impossible, particularly given the fact that Iran could sell or proliferate its nuclear expertise to other rogue entities, black market networks, or terrorist groups. To paraphrase Dennis Miller, one of the last great comedic wits: Iran doesn’t have to shoot the nuclear three-pointer; they could pass off the assist to their teammates, instead.

Which brings us to President Obama, who has consistently and deferentially referred to Iran as the “Islamic Republic” — perhaps subliminally signaling that we seek no regime change and recognize the political legitimacy of the ruling clerics. This is worrisome, especially given the news that Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau indicted Le Fang Wei, a Chinese financier, for duping several American banks and peddling nuclear materials to the mullahs.

Reportedly, Fang Wei set up four bogus import-export companies that worked with six Iranian shell firms, with the largest recipient believed to be a subsidiary of the Iranian defense ministry.

There were some 58 transactions in all, including shipments of banned materials from Beijing to Tehran between 2006 and 2008. Among them: 33,000 pounds of a specialized aluminum alloy (used in long-range missile production), 66,000 pounds of tungsten copper plate (used in missile guidance systems), and 53,900 pounds of maraging steel rods (an incredibly hard metal used in uranium enrichment to make the casings for nuclear bombs).

Herein lies the asymmetry to Iran’s nuclear pursuits: if their military program is shut down, they will continue to secretly weaponize their “civilian” nuclear program; if that is shut down, they will acquire atomic materials through third parties — sometimes, as in this case, from within the borders of the Great Satan itself — and across the black market; if those efforts are stifled, the mullahs will ascertain the bomb from their rogue allies in Pyongyang or elsewhere.

There are many avenues the Khamenei-Ahmadinejad-Rafsanjani regime may travel, all of which must lead to a U.S.-led roadblock at the nuclear intersection. But there is no evidence that this will be the case. More than three years ago, Joe Biden, then in the Senate, told the Israelis they would eventually have to accept a nuclear-armed Iran. Today, Vice President Biden warns Israel not to take action against Iran’s nuclear program.

This is untenable. Mr. Obama must be wary of these insufficient Cohen-like rationalizations and avoid falling prey to their deceptions. He must understand the urgency of the situation, for if he votes “present” on this issue as well, there will be repercussions to pay.

26 Responses to Appeasing Iran: How Should Obama play the game

  1. [...] Consultants Who Blog placed an observative post today on Appeasing Iran: How Should Obama play the gameHere’s a quick excerptIn other words, there are factions within Pakistan that are openly … To paraphrase Dennis Miller, one of the last great comedic wits: Iran [...]

  2. oao says:

    This is untenable. Mr. Obama must be wary of these insufficient Cohen-like rationalizations and avoid falling prey to their deceptions. He must understand the urgency of the situation, for if he votes “present” on this issue as well, there will be repercussions to pay.

    good luck with that.

  3. [...] SEOcontest2008 placed an observative post today on Appeasing Iran: How Should Obama play the gameHere’s a quick excerpt…president talks into water wells, hears voices, and anxiously awaits the return of the “hidden imam” — and with it, the end of the world. [...]

  4. Cynic says:

    With respect to the last paragraph:

    Having been schooled in Indonesia he knows a lot about the culture he is contracting to do business with ; but he brings in his baggage an amalgam of Alinsky, Chicago politics and how to appear without doing anything (editor of the Harvard Law revue without a single article to his name), so present seems to be about the most one can expect.

    He is only interested in “succeeding” in America where he has to get a majority behind him, and a motto of not letting a crisis go to waste does improve the chances that he will run with what the lap dog publishes instead of getting himself and the country into a trying time and displaying his lack of ability at anything more complicated than board games.
    How many times did he and his “cabinet” go 180 deg., about the Waterboarding business?
    He did get the Stimulus bill passed without the citizen’s representatives reading it. (Tammany Hall anyone?)

  5. Lorenz Gude says:

    Well, to continue the basket ball analogy it is pretty obvious that it is down to Israel to decide weather or not to go for the three pointer. Israel has already fought two inconclusive proxy wars with Iran and might as well make Iran pay directly for its support of Hezbollah and Hamas. Besides, delaying the Iranian nuclear program as long as possible seems …er…prudent.

  6. Palestine and Israel: one-state or two-state solution

    The success or failure of the administration of President Obama with Israel would determine the nature of future stability for the Middle East.

    Any rational and humanistic resolution of Palestinian dilemma has been non-starter with Israel. The problems of Palestinian subjugation to Israel occupation are the seeds for an unstable world including the Middle East. Many expect, as previously stated by Iran and many Arab counties, that they would not reject a reasonable break through between Washington and Israel over the Palestinians home state or a Federal State for both people.

    The Palestinian issue, over 40 years of waffling by Israel throwing one excuse after another to derail any prospect, is independent of any other world concern for the US administration. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton should not allow Israel to dictate the foreign policy of the United States. Israel has used Iran as diversion away from creation of an independent Palestinian state.

    The steps required to allay our fear that Iran in the future may develop Nuclear Bomb are:
    1. Nuclear Fuel Cycle Iranian Consortium: USA should join the consortium. IAEA has consistently asserted that the agency could not find any indications that Iran is diverting the fuel cycle for nuclear bomb development.
    2. Nuclear Shield An international nuclear shield for all nations in the Middle East, including Iran;
    3. A nuclear- bomb-free Middle East. This action will remove any pressure from Iran to develop nuclear bomb in the future for deterrence against nuclear bomb Israeli state.

    What are the options for Palestinian and Israeli people? Among those mostly discussed are: a two-state models for Palestine and Israel, or a Federal State of Israel-Palestine.

    The two-state models for Palestinian and Israeli is not acceptable with Israel. Many experts on the Middle Eastern politics and people would suggest that a two-state solution in not viable model. We have struggled with it for nearly 60 years. Should we be looking at the region as a Federal States with one government elected by all of the people? This model may have a much better chance of survival as a solution for both Israeli and Arabs.

    USA can’t afford war after war to support failed attempts to stabilize the region. Palestinians have paid a high price for failed attempts to consider the human side of the Palestinians struggle for peaceful life.

    Many suggest that only as one nation, Federal State of Israel-Palestine, the peace may endure. We, Americans, have failed to recognize that Palestinians and Jews both are Semitic people, they have common historical and religious heritage.

    The advocates for one-state solution stress that under a two-state solution, Jerusalem can not be the capital of Israel. This city is religious holy city belonging to Jews, Muslims and Christians. This city should not be controlled by a theocratic Jewish state; in that case, it should be an open international city.

  7. The steps required to allay our fear that Iran in the future may develop Nuclear Bomb are: 1. Nuclear Fuel Cycle Iranian Consortium: USA should join the consortium. IAEA has consistently asserted that the agency could not find any indications that Iran is diverting the fuel cycle for nuclear bomb development. 2. Nuclear Shield An international nuclear shield for all nations in the Middle East, including Iran; 3. A nuclear- bomb-free Middle East. This action will remove any pressure from Iran to develop nuclear bomb in the future for deterrence against nuclear bomb Israeli state.

  8. oao says:

    and how to appear without doing anything (editor of the Harvard Law revue without a single article to his name)

    one of the best articles on alibama that i have referred to in the past is spengler’s, who says the same:

    http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Front_Page/KA22Aa01.html

    as to netanyahu, he is another alibama: tough for appearance sake, but not when push comes to shove. he always folded.

  9. Rich Rostrom says:

    Cynic: experience of Indonesia is not very relevant to dealing with Iran. Yes, both countries are Moslem, but otherwise they are as different as Brazil and Sweden.

    RL: it is not clear that the Iranian regime wants nuclear weapons for use. The extensive corruption among the mullahs and Revolutionary Guard commanders suggests they have mundane interests.

    A Nazi Germany analogy comes to mind: the “fat” Nazis like Goering didn’t want apocalyptic wars, which endangered their comforts. But of course they were dragged along by Hitler. There is no such reckless dominating personality in Iran; and even if there was, nuclear war is a far riskier gamble than even Hitler ever tried.

    However, having nuclear weapons would make Iran off-limits to conventional attack. That in turn would give Iran unlimited license to attack its neighbors with terrorism.

    St Michael Traveler: Israel needs to be disarmed to reassure Iran? Israel has never attacked Iran. But Iran has armed and incited Hezbollah to attack Israel. It is Iran which talks of wiping Israel off the map, not vice versa; Iran, which is allied with Israel’s oldest and most implacable enemy, Syria; Iran, which has funded, armed, and trained Hamas.

    Before the Ayatollah took over, Iran had friendly relations with Israel. Israel was no threat to Iran while Iran did not threaten Israel.

  10. oao says:

    rich,

    one of the main reasons the mullahs are anti-israel is to impress the arab street in the striving to topple arab sunni regimes and become top dog in the ME.

  11. oao says:

    what do you know, another noam. and this is one is a saint.

    i strongly urge not to encourage idiots by responding.

  12. Cynic says:

    Rich,

    Cynic: experience of Indonesia is not very relevant to dealing with Iran. Yes, both countries are Moslem, but otherwise they are as different as Brazil and Sweden.

    Islam is Islam no matter where it is taught and he was schooled in Indonesia so he must be familiar with the Qur’an, Sira and Hadith even if it was not a madrassah that he attended.
    And I can assure you that, maybe unbeknownst to you, Muslim education differs in the US by only a fraction of a percent from that in Saudi Arabia, Cape Town – South Africa, or Afula – Israel.
    He will know the differences between Shia and Wahabbi sects, but he will also know what they agree on.

    The Iranians have since the coming of the mullahs been increasing their hegemony, in Lebanon, Syria {too bad that the realists, Baker, Weinberger, Bush the Elder and co., screwed up in 1983} and now they have a Security Alliance with Eritrea and have stationed some of their troops near the mouth to the Red Sea. They are also busy creating their next lot of foreign legionaires in Somalia (Hezbollah seemingly the first Iranian Foreign Legion).

    Islam is of paramount importance to this crowd and whatever they bring to tea will be soused in taquiya.
    What will be offered, cucumber or water cress sandwiches with tea?

  13. oao says:

    Islam is Islam no matter where it is taught and he was schooled in Indonesia so he must be familiar with the Qur’an, Sira and Hadith even if it was not a madrassah that he attended.

    i am not so sure. he supposedly got a decent education in the US and he still appears to be ignorant and not get things.

    methinks he does not care about learning as much as he wants to create the impression he is learned without making too much of an effort. he seems to be more shrewd than smart/wise, which is quite distinct.

    i suggest you read the spengler article: narcissists don’t invest too much in learning. they try to fake it.
    it helps if you have an ignorant, stupid audience.

    and schooled (rather than educated) is the right word.

  14. Cynic says:

    they try to fake it.
    it helps if you have an ignorant, stupid audience.

    Which is exactly what he is doing because he knows that talking to Iran is ineffectual and time wasting but he is fooling his electorate.

    Heh! You being funny writing,
    he supposedly got a decent education in the US , after you trashed the system? :-)

  15. oao says:

    Which is exactly what he is doing because he knows that talking to Iran is ineffectual and time wasting but he is fooling his electorate.

    there might be an element of that. but i also think that he thinks so highly of himself that he believes he can sweet-talk anybody. that’s what he used to do as an activist. he’s all talk. (even with the pirates he did not OK action).

    he supposedly got a decent education in the US , after you trashed the system? :-)

    touche. my mistake. i was trying to compare it to kenya, indonesia and what many without a white family get. i should have used schooling, of course.

  16. oao says:

    evidence:

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090427/ap_on_go_pr_wh/us_reid_obama

    whoever believes that his gifts lies in speeches will rely on speeches for everything.

    he DOES things, but there not only doesn’t he have any gift, he is both ignorant and stupid.

  17. oao says:

    oh, and i guess his it’s his gift that necessates constant teleprompting.

  18. oao says:

    First possible consequence of the Alibama’s appeasement of Iran:

    http://israelmatzav.blogspot.com/2009/05/palestinian-authority-meeting-with-iran.html

    The arabs start giving up on the US?

  19. [...] grew tired of fisking Roger Cohen, whose idiocy so served the forces he now acknowledges had misled him. Now [...]

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