The 3 Flawed Assumptions That Push Us Toward War With Iran


The Iranian nuclear program may well be unstoppable.

khamenei march13 p.jpg

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei departs after casting his ballot in the parliamentary election in Tehran / Reuters

This is conventional thinking among American foreign policy elites on Iran's regime:

- It is an anti-Semitic regime.

- It wishes to destroy Israel.

- "Regime change" in Iran will result in the halting of Iran's alleged nuclear weapons program.

Am I wrong? If not, then the above assumptions illustrate how we are influenced by flawed thinking. More worryingly, it is a deeply disturbing sign of how American public discourse on Iran is leading the United States to yet another "war of choice."

Les Gelb wrote last week about the "ignorance and arrogance of America's foreign policy establishment" on Iran and Syria. Consider the following facts and questions:

First, if Iran's regime was anti-Semitic by nature, then why has it not eliminated or "self-deported" the 30,000 Jews who live inside Iran? They are Iranian and Jewish, and proud of being both.

Second, Iran funds Hamas and is a self-declared champion of Palestinian peoples. How, then, can it attack Israel without harming the more than 1.5 million Arabs who live inside Israel? How can an Iranian nuclear warhead "eliminate" Israel without removing the populations of Gaza and the West Bank, too? Iran will destroy Palestine to save it?

Third, Iran's Green Movement is not the West's savior. Thanks to relentless threats against Iran, developing nuclear capability has become a symbol of Iranian national pride and defiance of the West. Opposition leader Mir-Hossein Mousavi is committed to maintaining the country's nuclear program, saying "we have to have the technology."

The ugly fact is that Iran's nuclear weapons program is unstoppable. The consequences for regional weapons proliferation are severe, but Iran's mullahs are not always "irrational actors," as they've often been portrayed. Unlike Sunni Islam, Shia Muslims embrace ration and logic as key tenets of their creed, an inheritance from early Mutazalite thinking.

Neoconservative warmongering and further isolation of Iran will not be conducive to U.S. national interests, Israel's security, or regional stability in the Middle East. I understand Jewish and Israeli existential angst--but bombing Iran creates more existential crises than it solves. Israel's security depends on cutting deals with its neighbors, not lobbying the U.S government to approve the bombing of an ancient civilization.

Israel's hawkish prime minister was in Washington last week. Britain's David Cameron is there this week. The British are correct to talk about diplomacy and say "there's a lot more to be done to turn up the pressure, to turn up the dial."

But why let facts and sense get in the way of a narrative that helps mobilize for war?

This article originally appeared at, an Atlantic partner site.

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Ed Husain, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, is the author of The Islamist. He blogs at The Arab Street.

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