Ted Cruz recycles the “martyr-state” myth in a recent speech at the Heritage Foundation:

North Korean leadership is susceptible to “rational deterrence,” but Cruz suggested that a nuclear-armed Iran would not be due to their belief in “religious extremism and jihad.”

“If they acquired nuclear weapons,” he said, “the risk is unacceptably high that they would be detonated in Tel Aviv or New York or Los Angeles.”

Cruz notably misrepresents how and when North Korea acquired nuclear weapons, which is the least of his errors here, but it still an important one that is relevant to the current Iran debate. Zachary Keck pointed out a few months ago that the North Korean example shows that increasing sanctions in the midst of negotiations can backfire and produce exactly the wrong result:

Thus, not only is Iran not North Korea, but the North Korea case strongly suggests that engagement can produce results, while additional sanctions during this engagement will scuttle those talks. Contrary to what right-wing pundits in the U.S. claim, the Bush administration’s hardline policies are more to blame for North Korea’s nuclear status than are the more conciliatory policies of the Clinton administration.

So Cruz misunderstands what led to North Korea’s acquisition of nuclear weapons, which makes him a very poor guide for how to prevent Iran from acquiring them, since he would prefer the same sort of hard-line tactics that contributed to proliferation in North Korea.

Just as important, he repeats the nonsense idea that a nuclear-armed Iran cannot be deterred by the threat of massive retaliation. There is no reason to believe in this myth, which relies on half-baked, erroneous interpretations of Shi’ite beliefs. It also requires ignoring extensive evidence of decades of nuclear-weapons states’ behavior and intentionally misreading the last thirty years of Iranian history. Iran has not survived as a state for centuries by being prone to suicidal and self-destructive behavior, and all authoritarian regimes, no matter how ostensibly “revolutionary” they are, desire survival more than anything else. Indeed, the main reason why Iran would want to have a nuclear deterrent is to keep other states from attacking it.