The good news is that Nasr thinks war can be averted. The bad news is that to accomplish this America and other Western powers need to "imagine how the
situation looks from Tehran"--not exactly a favorite pastime among American politicians these days.
Still, if only for the intellectual exercise, let's do try to imagine what things look like from Iran's point of view.
Iran's nuclear scientists have recently evinced a tendency to get assassinated, and a mysterious explosion at a military facility happened to kill the
general in charge of Iran's missile program. These things were almost certainly done by Israel, possibly with American support. If you were Iranian,
would you consider assassinations on your soil grounds for attacking the suspected perpetrators?
Well, we know that some notable Americans think assassinating people on American soil is punishable by war. After the alleged Iranian plot to
assassinate a Saudi Ambassador in Washington was uncovered, Bill Kristol (whom you may recall from our previous run-up to a disastrous war) recommended
that we attack Iran.
But I'm guessing that if I tried this Iran-America analogy out on Kristol, he might detect asymmetries. For example: We're us, whereas they're just them.
Underlying our Iran strategy is the assumption that if we keep ratcheting up the pressure, the regime will eventually say uncle. A problem with this
premise is that throughout human history rulers have shown an aversion to being seen by their people as surrendering. Indeed, when you face dissent, as
the Iranian regime does, there's actually a certain appeal to confronting an external threat, since confrontation tends to consolidate domestic support.
As Nasr puts it, "the ruling clerics are responding with shows of strength to boost solidarity at home."
This doesn't mean Iran's rulers haven't wanted to make a deal. But it does mean the deal would have to
leave these rulers with a domestically plausible claim to have benefited from it, and it also means these leaders can't afford to be seen begging for the
deal. When President Ahmadinejad visited New York last year, he gave reporters unmistakable signals that he wanted to negotiate, but the
Obama administration chose to ignore them. After Ahmadinejad "went home empty handed," reports Nasr, power increasingly shifted to Iranians who argued
for confrontation over diplomacy.
Even so, Iran's foreign minister made another appeal to re-open talks only days ago, suggesting that they be held in Turkey. But, as the New York Times
reported, western nations interpreted this overture "as an effort by Iran to buy time to continue its program." Got that? If Iranians refuse to
negotiate it means they don't want a deal, and if they ask to negotiate it means they don't want a deal.
Nasr says the tightening of the screws is making Iran increasingly determined to get nuclear weapons--not to start a war, but to prevent one. Having seen what
happened to Muammar Qaddafi, says Nasr, Iran's leaders worry that foreign powers would "feel safe enough to interfere in the affairs of a
This is the kind of thing Ron Paul presumably had in mind when he said Iran may want nuclear weapons in order to get some "respect." But hey, what does
Ron Paul know?