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The Confusion of Iran Hawks

Charles Krauthammer has one of his typical insights on Iran:

The only way Iran would ever give up nukes — ever — is if the regime has a sense that it is threatened. That is the only thing that would stop them.

This is a useful quote, since it sums up very quickly Iran hawks’ complete misunderstanding of why Iran might want to have a nuclear weapon in the first place. The Iranian regime’s chief and overriding interest is in its own preservation. The more that Iranian leaders believe that they are being targeted for regime change and the more threatened they feel, the greater their interest in acquiring nuclear weapons will be. This is why Ryan Crocker recommended that the U.S. formally disavow any intention to overthrow the regime in order to reassure Iran’s leaders that they can compromise on the nuclear issue without jeopardizing their survival.

If Iranian leaders assume that pressure on the nuclear issue is just a means to achieving regime change, they will be less inclined to agree to a deal and will be completely uninterested in honoring it. As I was saying last week, the difficulty is not in convincing Iran’s government that the U.S. is willing to strike at them, but in reassuring them that the U.S. isn’t out to get them no matter they do. Iran hawks seem to have a strange idea that other nations respond to coercion and threats differently than Americans do, which is why they rely so heavily on these things for their preferred policies. It should be obvious that all nations respond negatively to persistent hostility and threats of attack, and the more that the U.S. has emphasized this in its dealings with the Iran the harder it has made resolving the nuclear issue.

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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