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Thursday, February 16, 2012

Fareed Zakaria, "How history lessons could deter Iranian aggression": Trust Iran to Behave Rationally

Three years ago, columnist Roger Cohen was engaged in a frenzied campaign to convince New York Times readers that Iran is "not totalitarian" and that Washington should seek reconciliation with Iran's leadership. In a op-ed entitled "From Tehran to Tel Aviv " (, Cohen declared:

"That’s right: the mullahs are anything but mad. Calculation will demand that Iran take Obama seriously."

Regrettably for Cohen, his drive to facilitate normalization between Tehran and Washington ended when the mullahs brutally put down Iran's Green Revolution, following the rigged presidential election in June 2009. Moreover, Iran has since all but ignored Obama, while aggressively pursuing its mission to build its first nuclear weapon.

Today, however, Cohen has a successor in Fareed Zakaria, who also wishes to convince us that Iran's mullahs can be expected to behave rationally. In a Washington Post opinion piece entitled "How history lessons could deter Iranian aggression" (, Zakaria proclaims:

"In the end, however, the global revolutionaries in Moscow, the mad autocrats in Pyongyang and the terrorist-supporting military in Pakistan have all been deterred by mutual fears of destruction. While the Iranian regime is often called crazy, it has done much less to merit the term than did a regime such as Mao’s China. Over the past decade, there have been thousands of suicide bombings by Saudis, Egyptians, Lebanese, Palestinians and Pakistanis, but not been a single suicide attack by an Iranian. Is the Iranian regime — even if it got one crude device in a few years — likely to launch the first?"

The Iranians have never engaged in suicide attacks? Oh really? Apparently Zakaria has forgotten that during its war with Iraq from 1980 to 1988, Iran sent waves of children into Iraqi minefields in order to clear safe paths for its tanks. That's not suicidal and crazy?

And although not suicidal, Iran's bombing of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires in 1992, which killed 29 persons and injured over 250, and its bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires in 1994, which killed 87 persons and injured over 100, were anything but rational.

Zakaria would have us ignore Ahmadinejad's call to "wipe Israel off the face of the map," and Supreme Leader Khamenei's recent pronouncement that Israel is "a cancerous tumor that must be removed, and God willing it will be" (see: Given what happened to the Jews after Hitler warned of a final solution, Zakaria's suggestion unfortunately makes less than perfect sense. When someone says that he intends to kill me, I have learned to pay attention.

I suppose Zakaria would also have Israel ignore what the mullahs are thinking when they "rationally" hang homosexuals, stone women to death for adultery, and brutally persecute Iran's Baha'i, Kurd and Sunni Muslim minorities.

Zakaria concludes by quoting Gideon Rose, the editor of Foreign Affairs:

“Hopefully [Israel], too, will come to recognize that absolute security is impossible to achieve in the nuclear age, and that if its enemies’ nuclear programs cannot be delayed or disrupted, deterrence is less disastrous than preventive war.”

Consider, however, where Israel might be if it had not destroyed Iraq's Osirak reactor in 1981 and Saddam Hussein had built a nuclear bomb. Some ten years later, dozens of Iraqi Scud missiles fell on Tel Aviv during the First Gulf War, and imagine if only one of them had been nuclear tipped. In this instance was deterrence less disastrous than preventative war?

Unlike Zakaria, I experienced first hand the Iraqi missile attacks on Tel Aviv in 1991. The concussions of the missiles rocked my sixth floor apartment, where I sat huddled in a "safe" room with my wife and infant son, all of us wearing gas masks. It is more than a bit frightening that Obama relies upon the shallow, unsubstantiated opinions of Fareed Zakaria and Thomas Friedman when formulating his Middle East strategy (see:


  1. Excellent lucid commentary, Jeffrey.
    Deserves as wide a readership as possible.

  2. The one good thing about Fareed Zakaria and Thomas Friedman articles is that they provide an insight into the mentality of Obama and his administration.

  3. Jeffrey, you probably don't know this, but when the NYT announced a joint publication with International Herald Tribune, it plastered all subway cars in New York with the same ad presenting a group of men in Arab garb in some desert, promising to serve them. It was at the same time when the paper started a frontal attack (Cohen, Friedman, Kristof, Mackey and Krugman) on Israel.
    They deserve all the Pulitzers they give to themselves.

  4. OK,I did it again. My comment seems to be in the wrong place. Sorry.

  5. I saw the Zakaria article. His definition of rational is narrow, and it is one that is used in economics when speaking or relationships in narrow one dimensional situations (ceteris paribus) where nothing else changes, assuming there are no outside factors to consider. But to define rational in this context is to squeeze almost all meaning out of this word. To the rest of the world, and in the real world (where there are many factors to consider outside one's own point of view, the common definition of rational is (google it):
    : ra·tion·al [rash-uh-nl, rash-nl] Show IPA
    1. agreeable to reason; reasonable; sensible: a rational plan for economic development.
    2. having or exercising reason, sound judgment, or good sense: a calm and rational negotiator.
    3. being in or characterized by full possession of one's reason; sane; lucid: The patient appeared perfectly rational.
    4. endowed with the faculty of reason: rational beings.
    5. of, pertaining to, or constituting reasoning powers: the rational faculty.

    Iran is not rational precisely because it thinks it can exist in isolation and think and act with little or no consideration whatsoever of the international community except to mock it, and berate it. I would characterize Iran as highly irrational, especially if they want to think about survival. I want to avoid a nuclear war at all costs, but if they start one, they should know that from many angles we are ready to melt that entire country into glass.