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
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.