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October 01, 2006

What Ahmadinejad Thinks

One problem with attempting to make strategic judgments from our perches atop the couches of America is that the folks whose behavior we are predicting and handicapping often don't work off quite the same analysis of the situation that we do. Therefore it's a good thing, when possible, to actually hear foreign leaders laying out their analysis of the facts on the ground [bolding mine]:

“Let me explain a few points,” Mr. Ahmadinejad continued. “One gentleman said the situation between America and Iran has gotten worse. No. It’s not worse than last year; it’s better. Better.

“Last year,” he said, “we were under serious threats—military threats. Today, at the very worst, it’s economic threats, and even that—well, I don’t really want to say, but for those who would like to pursue them, the situation is not conducive …. Even though there are those in America who would like to put pressure on Iran, they won’t be able to. We’ve really progressed. You see, 118 countries [of the Non-Aligned Movement] have specifically supported Iran’s nuclear program. That’s eliminated the excuse that four or five countries speak for the ‘international community.’

“In Indonesia, when I went there, there were great demonstrations in our favor,” he said. “And wherever we went in Asia, we heard shouts of ‘Ahmadinejad, we support you against America!’” He repeated the slogan in English—a language that, judging by his pronunciation, he obviously speaks well enough, but rarely uses.

“Our political situation, by God’s grace, is great,” he went on. “For those who don’t want our people to progress, the situation is not good. In the Middle East, the situation for America has become very bad. Very. They thought if they attack Lebanon, their situation would get better,” he said, allowing no difference between Israel and the United States. “They gave 33 days to the Zionists to do something in Lebanon, and it didn’t happen. Same thing in Iraq; same thing in Afghanistan. It’s not that our situation has gotten worse in the last year; it’s that it’s gotten much better.[...]

President Ahmadinejad, apparently satisfied that he had convinced everyone that Iran was strong, moved on to the question of Iran’s nuclear program. “If, God forbid—God forbid—we budge on this issue, they’ll next say, ‘You have to give up your chemistry departments in your universities, and your physics departments too.’ Then even the medical schools.” The president’s tone wasn’t bombastic; if anything, it was very matter-of-fact. “It’s clear that they don’t want us to progress,” he said. “Of course, not all Americans—Americans are good people.

That last, by the way, is a very widespread and powerful belief throughout Iran. Few folks think that America will content itself with the interruption of their nuclear program. The cessation of that will simply be followed by demands on other fronts, in other areas, for other concessions. Our problem, think many in Iran, is with the Iranian regime, and no non-proliferation guarantees will obviate that conflict.

October 1, 2006 | Permalink


And are they wrong? Orginally the sanctions against Iraq were supposed to be ended when it was clear it no longer had nuclear capabilities, then when it no longer had chemical and biological weapons. And up till shortly until the invasion that led to sanctions which did not allow pencils due to the graphite in the lead, which did not allow medical texts because they might help advance biological warfare programs that did not allow in parts to repair damaged water supplies because they have in dual uses in laboratories.

And this was not just under Bush, but under the sainted Clinton. Iran has been declared part of the axis of evil. Harsh rhetoric against it is not limited to the Republican party. Iran has been called Nazi germany, and once that particular rhetorical move has been made, U.S. domestic politics won't allow any kind of reasonable relations with another nation. Why the hell should they believe they will gain anything from the U.S. by ending their nuclear program?

Posted by: Gar Lipow | Oct 1, 2006 3:49:48 PM

One has to believe that a big part of this is how we treated the WMD issue in Iraq in 2003. Hussein had quite obviously done everything he could to grant access to inspectors, who in turn said he didn't have dink. Bush declared them all to be on crack and invaded anyway. It was obvious then and obvious now that WMDs were a red herring and he just wanted his war. Now Iran thinks they're next up for that treatment. Are they wrong?

51% of the US voting public are gullible rubes, but Ahmadinejad didn't get where he is by being a gullible rube, and the Iranian people have no reason to let themselves be gulled by the Maybury Machiavellis running our own country.

Posted by: NBarnes | Oct 1, 2006 3:50:55 PM

I hate to defend the administration, but let us remember that a lot of Saddam's game plan was trying to convince his neighbors that he DID have WMD's. He was not totally upfront to any inspectors, for clear reasons. He was trying to play a balancing game between making his enemies think he might have them, and making the UN not have enough evidence for them to act.

He obviously didn't count on the fact that the US didn't need or desire evidence at all.

Posted by: Tony v | Oct 1, 2006 4:02:24 PM

So, is this the emergence of the "anti arms control" left? Interesting development.

Posted by: DRR | Oct 1, 2006 4:06:06 PM

>I hate to defend the administration, but let us remember that a lot of Saddam's game plan was trying to convince his neighbors that he DID have WMD's. He was not totally upfront to any inspectors, for clear reasons.

By the time the U.S. invaded, weapons inspectors have gone anywhere they wanted any he had turned over all the documents he had. Even before that, nobody seriously believed he had nuclear capabiltiy remaining by 1995, and no one believed his remaining conventional military or any chemical or biological weapons he might have left (which of course he did not and we had evidence he did not) were great enough to pose a serious threat to his neighbors let alone the U.S.

>So, is this the emergence of the "anti arms control" left?

Anti-arms control via blowing people up. If you want Iran to give up nuclear power offer them something - alternative security arrangements they have reason to trust, and a guarantee that we won't demand an end to other technical programs.

Posted by: Gar Lipow | Oct 1, 2006 10:57:29 PM

DDR: No. If I ran the US, I'd be trying to play my hand like this....

I would then work hard to make the 'the US is especially concerned with the profileration of nuclear weapons' line stick as fact by seriously engaging the rogue USSR nuke issue and by engaging in fair but very tough negotiations with North Korea, focused entirely on the nuclear weapons issues. I would also make sure to take an active role in trying to keep India and Pakistan from arms racing each other, up to and including letting Pakistan know that if they choose to forgo nuclear weapons as we wish them to, we would remember that if India tried to lean on them with nukes.

Thus armed with a reputation for authentically caring about nuclear weapons, rather than a reputation for using nuclear weapons as a stalking horse (as well as Bush's well-earned reputation for being fully deterrable by even hints of operational nuclear weapons), I would then be in a much better diplomatic position to go to Iran and engage in tough-minded negotiations aimed at satisfying their desire for non-weaponizable nuclear power while demanding that they give up weaponizable nuclear technology. Iran wouldn't need to fear that I'd go nuts and turn around and invade or bomb them and could have confidance that when I said that what I wanted was to negotiate about nuclear weapons, what I really wanted was actual two-way talks about nuclear weapons, rather than one-sided hectoring for my domestic press to cover, and that I'd have something to offer, and the willingness to offer it, in exchange for their compliance.

See? Diplomacy isn't all that hard, if you actually bother to care about it. It just requires that you actually want to do it at all, which the Bush Administration never has.

Posted by: NBarnes | Oct 2, 2006 12:38:23 AM

NBarnes - that is true up to a point. But Iran has real reason to be expect us to try to destroy them eventually. And we are widely considered a rogue nation who most of the world has reason to fear and wish for a deterrent against. Yes if we want non-proliferation, we stop proliferating and stop encouraging proliferation in places like Pakistan and Israel. But we also need to give the world to believe we are sane and reasonable - not a threat to nations who pose no threat to us. At this point there is no reason for anyone to believe this. In short, there is so only so much diplomacy can do in the hands of a nation the world fears and distrusts. We need not only to have decent policy on nuclear arms, but to get our foot off the neck of a large part of the world before we can expect to be listened to on something like non-proliferation.

Posted by: Gar Lipow | Oct 2, 2006 1:51:20 AM

"Our problem, think many in Iran, is with the Iranian regime, and no non-proliferation guarantees will obviate that conflict."

It's worse than that. Many in Iran think our problem is with the Iranian people. Many, even most, Iranians don't like the regime, but they overwhelming support the nuclear programme and they overwhelmingly oppose US intervention. I think we have to do something about the programme, but we have to acknowledge that reality and the current approach is insane. It's classic Bush-Cheney diplomacy of gradually shutting off all options apart from military action while ratcheting up the pressure to make that action inevitable.

Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Oct 2, 2006 9:27:42 AM

Look, it's fairly simple. Judging by previous experience, America will be happy to stop leaning on Iran when Iran gives up the capability to make, oh, model airplanes...

Posted by: Phoenician in a time of Romans | Oct 2, 2006 5:08:27 PM

Are the Iranian people wrong to think this? We've been dicking with them for decades. It's not the sort of problem you can paper over, but that makes it all the more necessary that we start now to treat them honestly and fairly as a diplomatic partner. So long as Iran believes (rightly, to date) that we see them a uncooperative puppet rather than a real state with a real populace, it'll be uphill at best and impossible at worst to get anywhere with them.

Posted by: NBarnes | Oct 2, 2006 9:07:38 PM

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