Iran's Destructive Fear of America

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 The Evolution of God and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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