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Changing Irrational Regimes

Ahamadinejad-Netanyahu A security threat surely does exist in the Mideast, but neither war nor regime change in Iran alone will resolve the situation. The solution is regime change in both Iran and Israel.

Ex-Mossad chief Dagan, diehard advocate of violence as the method of choice to defeat Israel’s antagonists but nevertheless sufficiently “rational” to choose methods short of full-scale military aggression, differs profoundly from Netanyahu clique politicians. “Rational,” everyone now suddenly seems to agree, is a term that applies to the Iranian regime: i.e., not suicidal, not similar to (say) extremist end-of-days Protestant fundamentalists who believe not only that the world is coming to an end but that we should rush to embrace that end or to analogous extremist end-of-days Twelver Shi’a with the same beliefs (by some accounts including Ahmadinejad).

Attacking Iran now is “the stupidest idea” Meir Dagan has “ever heard” [Meir Dagan on 60 Minutes.]

Dagan, too, despite his penchant for violence, appears rational. If an enemy is rational and not a clear and present danger of disaster, war cannot be justified. Militarily insignificant Iran with its cautious foreign policy still presents a challenge to Israeli foreign policy and its current ruling elite– to its pretensions of exceptionalism, to its claims of the exclusive right to determine which arms all other states in the region may possess. But Iran presents no clear or present danger of disaster to the Israeli state or society.

Netanyahu carefully confuses this distinction for very good personal reasons, which brings us to the question of whether or not Netanyahu is rational in risking, if not begging for, war by constantly harping on the alleged “existential threat” that a future nuclear Iran would pose. The fact is that all nuclear states pose existential threats to everyone else. That is the shadow under which mankind has survived for the last half century. But only the current ruling clique in Tel Aviv raves about it in a manner that sounds…irrational.

Rationality for political leaders needs to be judged on two levels – what is rational for the leader and what is rational for the society. Simply, from a personal perspective, risking war to maintain his career has an element of rationality for Netanyahu – the U.S. might do it for him and might get away with it and even if it does not, Iran might cave, and in any case the U.S. is almost certain to open even wider the spigot of arms. From the perspective of the Israeli people, who presumably want to live in good economic conditions and in the absence of falling missiles and, by the way, in a democracy, Netanyahu’s behavior is, in contrast, hard to define as rational: he is risking everything in the absence of a clear and present danger but mostly he is putting at risk his society’s safety for the sake of his career.

Does that remind anyone of Ahmadinejad? It should, for he gains the same benefits by whipping up war. This similarity of irresponsible politicians on both sides waving the bloody flag of war for personal profit suggests a solution to the whole problem, and, interestingly, Mr. Dagan gets it half right in remarks reportedly made to 60 Minutes referring to regime change in Iran as preferable to an Israeli attack.

But regime change in Iran would, by itself, solve nothing. First, it would not stop the theoretical possibility that one day Iran might choose to weaponize its nuclear technology. Iran under any regime other than a completely submissive colonial lackey administration (in today’s world, an untenable long-term solution), would still want nuclear knowledge and a prominent regional position for Iran. It would still face its own existential threat from Israeli nukes, not to mention Pakistani and Indian and U.S. and Chinese and Russian and French and British nukes (and the theoretical possibility of future Saudi nukes). It would still challenge Israel pretensions to military dominance of the Mideast by its very existence as an independent and much larger state, thus making the Israeli threat a very real one. Thus, second, regime change in Iran would not eliminate the theoretical future threat to the region of Iranian nukes, nor would it eliminate the current very real threat to the region of Israeli nukes.

Nukes don’t kill people; politicians do. The danger in the Mideast is posed less by the weapons than by the propensity of certain politicians, certain regimes, and certain elite forces to use weapons (from nuclear ambiguity to economic sanctions to murder to nukes) in pursuit of political goals. The solution is regime change in both countries. Militarily imposed regime change in either country would, I concur with Dagan, almost surely be a disaster, but Obama in a second term could find worse goals than using the power of the presidency to promote regional political conditions such that the people of Iran and Israel each voluntarily reach the conclusion that it is in their own interests to tell the irresponsible politicians endangering them to take a hike.


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