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Irrationality Theory on Iran Lacks in Evidence

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Mr. Amitai Etzioni has a piece on The Huffington Post, in which he tries to weaken the main argument used to make the case against military attack on Iran. In the article, he states that "many states -- Iran, among others -- have leaders who are very capable of acting in ways that are profoundly irrational, hence posing a serious threat both to other countries as well as to their own." This post is to counter that assertion.

Having read the excerpt of the article, I became interested in reading the piece because this is not the first time someone tries to make this point. However, as expected, it contained not a single historical piece of evidence to back up the idea.

And that is exactly the reason why this argument hasn't gone far in convincing people that militarily attacking Iran may be a good idea; the irrationality argument isn't even an argument. Merriam-Webster defines an argument as "a coherent series of statements leading from a premise to a conclusion." But the idea that Iran cannot be deterred from attacking another country cannot stand on its own with no premises to back it up. "Theory" or "gut feeling" are better terms in this instance.

And as a general rule, those who have reached the point where the most burning question for them is whether Iran can be deterred have already bought into many false assumptions and allegations about Iran. I outlined these assumptions in my previous piece. Here is the summary of how the campaign against Iran has developed since 2005:

1) The campaign for military action against Iran was pushed by hawks and neoconservatives when they took a mistranslation of Ahmadinejad's original statement on Israel and ran with it;

2) Neocons began pretending like Ahmadinejad's statement was a policy declaration;

3) Extending the previous distortions, neocons began to argue that not only Ahmadinejad "wanted" to destroy Israel (he has never said Iran should do anything to Israel; the harshest statements have been in vague and passive voice), but that he has the power to take such an action. This ignores the constitutional structure of the Iranian theocracy, which puts all of the military power in the hands of clerical leader Ayatollah Khamenei; Ahmadinejad simply doesn't have the power to attack.

4) This step involves what Mr. Etzioni tries to do: counter the argument that Iran is not going to commit suicide by attacking another country that as Jimmy Carter recently acknowledged has at least 150 nuclear weapons. In order to dismiss this criticism, attack proponents state that Iran cannot be deterred. They don't argue this point in the true sense of the word because they're never able to give any evidence to back this view. In fact, this view ignores the fact that while Iran has been issuing threats against Israel and the West since the 1979 revolution, it has not attacked another country in over a century -- unlike Israel, which has also been allowed to obtain nuclear weapons without having to join the Non-Proliferation Treaty or being held accountable to the IAEA, UN's nuclear watchdog.

Some argue that Iran cannot be deterred as the Soviets were during the Cold War because they function according to an apocalyptic world vision and aren't afraid to die. But if this was true, would the regime have secretly bought weapons from Christian Americans in the 1980s (see Iran Contra affair) to use against fellow Muslims in Iraq? There is no reason to see rhetoric against Israel and the U.S. as anything more than what it has been over the past thirty years: empty propaganda for domestic consumption.

It's very important for journalists and bloggers to be quick in speaking up every time they see an instance of inaccurate information being spread about the nature of the threats we face from Iran. Otherwise, we may wake up one morning and find ourselves at war with another country based on false pretenses and exaggerated claims about the nature of these threats to our interests.

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