Philip Stephens also sees the many flaws in Netanyahu’s hard-line case against a nuclear deal:
Mr Netanyahu says the alternative is to ratchet up sanctions until Iran abjures all nuclear activity, civilian as well as military. He knows, though, that is fantasy. Both the means and the end are implausible. Sanctions would never force Tehran to make such a commitment, nor stop it from building a bomb.
Stephens may be a bit too generous here in saying that Netanyahu must know that his goal is a fantasy. He ought to know this, but it’s not entirely clear that he does. It is one of the most recognizable characteristics of a hard-liner that he considers his maximalist, uncompromising position as the purely reasonable, sensible one that is rejected only by opposing ideologues and fanatics. A hard-liner takes it as a given that his goals are perfectly achievable and realistic, and he can maintain this belief by diligently dismissing all evidence that contradicts it.
The speech on Tuesday really amounted to little more than a list of hard-liners’ unrealistic demands and their impractical alternatives to the current policy. As they see it, Iran must give up practically everything, and Iran will do this if it is put under sufficient pressure. If Iran has failed to give up everything, this “reasoning” goes, that must be only because there has not yet been enough pressure, and so they always favor more coercive measures no matter how often those measures have failed to change regime behavior in the past. They insist on demanding total capitulation from the other side, but fail to recognize that insisting on maximalist gains gives Iran every incentive to develop its nuclear program as it sees fit. Demanding capitulation from the other side naturally provokes greater resistance, and dictating terms to nationalists is typically a guaranteed way to ensure rejection of terms.
Because they are hard-liners, they cannot imagine that the other party in a negotiation responds just as negatively to threats and coercion as we do. Hard-liners see the other side in these talks as an implacable, irrational foe, but one that can nonetheless be starved into submission. According to this view, the regime is filled with madmen who will stop at nothing to destroy us all, but they will somehow be cowed by a tighter sanctions regime. As ever, the hard-liners’ errors in this case come from grossly exaggerating everything in peculiar ways. If the regime is a religious and revolutionary one, hard-liners reject the possibility that they can be expected to behave rationally or that they can be deterred as other revolutionary regimes in the past have been. However, they also think that regime behavior can be changed by making the regime pay an economic price. One moment, we are supposed to believe that we are facing irrational apocalyptic leaders, and the next we are supposed to expect them to behave like the most bloodless utilitarians.
In fact, the Iranian regime is both more rationally self-interested and manageable than they suppose as well as being less sensitive to coercion by outside pressure than hard-liners imagine. Hard-liners’ confidence in the efficacy of sanctions stems not from any evidence of past success in forcing regimes to yield under pressure (there isn’t any), but from a general overconfidence in the capacity of U.S. and allied power to compel compliance with their wishes. At the same time, their distrust of diplomacy is rooted in an equally strong lack of confidence in the ability of the U.S. to extract the desired concessions through negotiations. Because they regard diplomatic engagement itself as some sort of “reward” for the other regime, they are reflexively against it. Because they assume that our side will always come out with the worse part of the deal, they greatly fear successful negotiations. If the other regime gets anything out of the deal, that is already far too much. Hard-liners are great believers in the need for compromise, provided that it is the other side that does all of the compromising. They take for granted–again without any proof–that the only reason a negotiation is successful is that our side has “given away the store,” and so almost by definition any deal that has a chance of being reached must be a “bad” one.