Iran's Destructive Fear of America

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Today's New York Times op-ed page brings a major proposal for resolving the Iran crisis, authored by two eminent American diplomats, Thomas Pickering and William Luers.

When I say "major," I mean major. It isn't a plan just to defuse the crisis, but to craft a grand bargain that would begin to draw Iran into the community of nations. Along with intrusive inspections that would prevent Iran from enriching uranium to weapons-grade levels, there would be full recognition of Iran by America, systematic cooperation between the two nations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and so on.

I hope anyone tempted to dismiss an approach this ambitious will first pause to appreciate the basic reality that motivates Pickering and Luers to think in such big terms. Here is their key paragraph:

For Iran's leadership, the notion that the United States is bent on overthrowing its rulers is rooted in historical experience: the United States did overthrow Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh in 1953, supported the Shah afterward, supported Saddam Hussein's war against Iran in the 1980s, and now backs increasing efforts to weaken and isolate Iran.

It's true: There is a genuine fear in some Iranian circles that America has hostile intentions that are independent of any threat Iran may pose to America or Israel. And if you were a Middle Eastern regime that believed the U.S. was bent on deposing you, wouldn't you want nuclear weapons? Especially if you'd seen what happened to the last two Middle Eastern leaders who abandoned a nuclear weapons program--Saddam Hussein and Muammar Qaddafi?

No expert I know of believes that bombing Iran would permanently halt an Iranian drive for nuclear weapons. Most experts believe bombing would remove any doubt in the minds of Iranian leaders that they should pursue nuclear weapons headlong. Certainly bombing would intensify what Pickering and Luers identify as one of the motivators of any Iranian ambition to build nuclear weapons.

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Robert Wright is the author of, most recently, the New York Times bestseller The Evolution of God and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic. More

Wright is also a fellow at the New America Foundation and editor in chief of Bloggingheads.tv. His other books include Nonzero, which was named a New York Times Book Review Notable Book in 2000 and included on Fortune magazine's list of the top 75 business books of all-time. Wright's best-selling book The Moral Animal was selected as one of the ten best books of 1994 by The New York Times Book Review.Wright has contributed to The Atlantic for more than 20 years. He has also contributed to a number of the country's other leading magazines and newspapers, including: The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, Foreign Policy, The New Republic, Time, and Slate, and the op-ed pages of The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Financial Times. He is the recipient of a National Magazine Award for Essay and Criticism and his books have been translated into more than a dozen languages.

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