Daniel R. DePetris: The Political Docket

My Unpublished Letter To The Washington Post

Posted in Iran, U.S. Foreign and Defense Policy by Dan on July 18, 2010

One of the great things about having a blog is that you can publish what is “un-publishable” or rejected by newspapers and magazines.  It provides a writer with a forum of expression that is wide open, even if other forums turn down what you have to say on a specific issue.

So when I found out that the Washington Post was going to pass up on my letter about an op-ed piece that one of their columnists wrote last week, I wasn’t really angry or disappointed (ok, maybe I was for a little bit…).  The Post may have decided against it, but I still had the opportunity to release it in the blogosphere.

So here it is, word for word:


“Iran 101”

One of the main concerns about a nuclear-armed Iran is whether the United States would be able to contain what comes next.  Charles S. Robb and Charles Wald made it abundantly clear in their July 9 op-ed (“Sanctions Alone Won’t Work on Iran”) that it is going to be exceedingly difficult- if downright impossible- for the international community to actually constrain the behavior of a newly-empowered Tehran.

Robb and Wald do make some intellectual observations about what could happen in the Middle East as a result of an Iranian bomb, such as a strengthened Hezbollah or a more violent Iraq.  Yet they both conveniently neglect to mention the one concept that makes all of these consequences increasingly unlikely: nuclear deterrence.

Although the Islamic Republic of Iran is clearly different than the Soviet Union in an ideological sense, it is difficult to foresee how Tehran would be immune to a doctrine that has been successful at keeping nuclear peace for over six decades.  Ever since its founding, Iran’s clerical leadership has demonstrated its obsession with self-preservation, whether it’s through harsh crackdowns on summer protestors or monetary and logistical support for unsavory characters in the Middle East.

Self-preservation is a sign of rationality.  And this is precisely what Iran is: a rational state.  “Overstepping its boundaries,” as Robb and Wald suggest, would not only produce a devastating international response.  It would also destroy Iran’s Islamic government.  The mullahs would surely want to avoid such an outcome.

-Daniel R. DePetris

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4 Responses

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  1. basim87 said, on July 18, 2010 at 1:22 am

    I see your point about deterrence, but Robb and Wald’s point was that now we (the US, Israel, the Sunni Arab states, and the rest of the international community) will now have Iranian deterrence to deal with. It was easy for us to kick in the door of the Taliban and Saddam’s Iraq when there was no nuclear weapons but it becomes much harder to deal with when they ‘overstep their boundaries.’

    Look at North Korea. When Vietnam sunk one of our ships, we went to war. When Spain sunk our ship we went to war. But when Korea sunk one of our ally’s ships, we sought out a diplomatic resolution and probably convinced the South to do the same (there are no propaganda speakers broadcasting, are there?)

    p.s. Obviously, the cause for the invasion of Iraq was WMD that weren’t there, the USS Maine was not sunk by the Spanish, and the incident in the Gulf of Tonkin has not been clearly solved. I was merely trying to illustrate that our response to “events” changes when the country has nuclear weapons.

    • Dan said, on July 18, 2010 at 5:08 am

      You are right on point. There is no question that Washington would lose some leverage over Iran if it were to acquire a nuclear capability. America’s entire Middle East policy would change, its engagement policy would take a hit with Syria, rejectionists would get a much-needed P.R. win, and the United States wouldn’t be able to get its way on every single issue.

      But in most cases, this is already happening, even without a nuclear Iran. U.S. credibility has been diminished (partly due to its unconditional support for Israel and partly due to its involvement in Iraq), and Iran has filled the void and become the chief benefactor of Washington’s mistakes. A nuclear Iran could certainly exacerbate that- in fact, I’m sure it will- but to think that Iran could operate with impunity is a little bit of a stretch. A single nuclear weapon- or 10 weapons for that matter- would not make Tehran invincible. The threat of a nuclear attack is a big one, especially when your main concern is to remain in power. Iran’s leadership fits right into this trend. They are, above all, infatuated with their powerful positions.

      I do get your point. At the very least, the U.S. will have to adapt its stance vis-a-vis Iran if the ayatollah’s decided to take the nuclear route. Things would get more difficult for Washington. But the U.S. has had plenty of experience with newcomers to the nuclear club. There are nine nuclear states after all, and Washington has responded on each occasion.

      Thanks for your comment. Check back in soon!

      • basim87 said, on July 18, 2010 at 1:25 pm

        Agreed that our influence is waning but some circles, it has gone up based on our policy re: Iran. IRT your last post, do you think Saudi Arabia would have let us take an Iranian nuclear scientist during al-Hajj (no matter if he was kidnapped or defected), if we were willing to let Iran gain a nuclear weapon.

        The Arab states are concerned and, to use your words, we are filling that void. China and Russia seem content to let this thing happen and deal with the consequences, or believe there are going to be no consequences. I believe that is a mistake – our diminished credibility in the Mid East can be traced partially back to the questions about Israel’s nuclear weapons and the “consequences” of that decision/non-decision.

        Also, the ayatollahs are not going to make this decision. The crisis last summer showed the ayatollahs in Iran losing credibility with the upper echelon. Not that there are not clerics in that upper echelon, they just aren’t there based on their religious credentials. And – never before have we had a state so strongly desire a nuclear weapons AND openly call for our destruction. North Korea doesn’t do it – they have called for reunification but not involved our homeland. Pakistan and India are only concerned with openly calling for each other’s destruction. China is the same as North Korea’s situation – just they are the favorite in a war, not the underdog. Russia’s nuclear weapons spoke for themselves and I don’t count their weapon as a newcomer to the club (must be more than one for a club).

        I read them all so if I have a comment, you’ll hear it :). Thanks for the posts.

  2. World Wide News Flash said, on July 19, 2010 at 1:29 pm

    My Unpublished Letter To The Washington Post « Daniel R. DePetris ……

    I found your entry interesting do I’ve added a Trackback to it on my weblog :)…

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