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Revisiting The Martyr-State Myth

Victor Davis Hanson dusts off the martyr-state myth:

But if a head of state can feign insanity, or, better yet, convincingly announce a wish for the apocalypse, then he can, in theory, circumvent some traditional rules of deterrence.

One of the many flaws in this argument is that the only people who seem to be convinced that Iranian leaders wish to bring about the apocalypse are the ones most vocally agitating for an attack on Iran. Another small problem with the theory is that the so-called evidence to support the “wish for the apocalypse” interpretation of how Iranian leaders think doesn’t come from the head of state, but instead comes from the comparatively powerless president, and even then the interpretation is misleading. Circumventing rules of deterrence doesn’t really work to the advantage of the Iranian government, since Iran is badly outmatched militarily. It wants to deter the U.S. and Israel (and anyone other threat in the region). Probably the most significant flaw in the myth is that Khamenei issued a fatwa against the use of nuclear weapons. Even if a head of state fits Hanson’s description, there are many other people involved in any modern state apparatus that would never permit a head of state to launch a disastrous first-strike. To believe the martyr-state myth about Iran, one has to believe that the top echelons of the Iranian government are all committed to starting a self-destructive nuclear war. No one actually believes that.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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