More on Iran

Farley’s final response (in the Yale Journal, at least) to Spencer Ackerman and Michael Cohen is up over at the Yale Daily News (via). Bascially, Ackerman and Cohen are overestimating the effects of Iranian nukes because they’re buying into the kind of bloviating in which all national authorities engage in during the run up to nuclear capability:

The first lesson of nuclear diplomacy is that everyone lies.  The proliferating state lies to the world about the extent of its program, and to its people about the return they’ll earn on their sacrifice of blood and treasure.  Client states lie to their patrons about the degree of threat that they feel, and warn ominously of how “a change in the balance of power” might force “a strategic realignment.”  Non-proliferation agencies warn of the dire consequences of widespread proliferation.  American diplomats explain than a nuclear weapon is “unacceptable” because they do not want anyone to wonder whether the consequences of proliferation might be tolerable.  This pattern is repeated over, and over, and over, throughout the history of nuclear proliferation.  The practitioners of nuclear diplomacy ply an honorable trade, but their duty is to lie, and they do so quite well.

I’m not too sure about this:

Ackerman apparently believes that the autocrats in Bahrain would not have suppressed demonstrators, but for the specter of Iran.

Judge for yourself if that’s a fair reading of Ackerman’s argument. This point, however, I think is a more persuasive one:

He and Cohen believe that the Israelis will act irrationally, mostly because the Israelis insist that they will act irrationally.  To my mind, the Israeli response to the Iranian nuclear program has been quite rational; they have pursued low cost, relatively low impact ways of disrupting the Iranian nuclear program, all while repeatedly insisting to their patron state that they are extremely concerned, and will very soon be launching a disruptive attack that could destabilize the whole region, and wouldn’t it be better if the Americans solved the problem?  There is nothing even mildly irrational about this strategy, and there is no reason whatsoever to suspect that the Israelis will become more irrational, or the Bahrainis less autocratic, after an Iranian nuclear test.

In my post yesterday, part of the reason I came down on Ackerman’s side of the argument was my thoughts on the Israeli ruling coalition. At this point, I definitely don’t think Netanyahu & co are stupid, so Farley’s argument holds some sway, but they have exhibited pretty poor judgment in a number of areas (relations with Obama w/r/t settlements, relations with the rest of the world in general, etc). Now, maybe that intransigence is paying the sort of dividends the Israelis want. I dunno, ‘cuz I haven’t rang up Netanyahu and his cohorts, so it’s kinda tough for me to tell.

I can’t speak to Farley’s response to Cohen, whose work I also like but whose op-ed on this subject I haven’t read. Also can’t speak to the historical arguments, since I’ve studied some of those cases referenced, like the Cuban Missile Crisis, but nowhere near enough to have an informed opinion. Farley’s op-ed ends in this way:

It is fair to say that the tendency of policymakers to lie relentlessly about the relevance of nuclear weapons feeds this misperception.  Nevertheless, it is the responsibility of the analyst to look past what amount to propaganda efforts, and to assess the hard realities of the situation.  I guarantee that policymakers in Jerusalem and Tehran are doing so right now.

Well, as the old saying goes, that guarantee plus $5 will get me a sandwich on Comm Ave. Not to say that I don’t respect Farley’s thoughts, because I do, but I do the same for the people arguing with him. No one can predict the future, and doing so for this type of IR debate entails a lot of mind-reading, for which I don’t have much confidence in anyone.

Time, as always, will tell. And because of that, despite the fact that Robert Farley, Spencer Ackerman and Michael Cohen know more about foreign policy and IR history than I’ll ever know, I think we’re all pretty much on even footing here.

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