December 5, 2007


The Myth of the Mad Mullahs (David Ignatius, 12/05/07, Real Clear Politics)

The most important finding of the NIE isn't the details about the scope of nuclear research; there remains some disagreement about that.

Rather, it's the insight into the greatest mystery of all about the Islamic Republic, which is the degree of rationality and predictability of its decisions.

For the past several years, U.S. intelligence analysts have doubted hawkish U.S. and Israeli rhetoric that Iran is dominated by "mad mullahs" -- clerics whose fanatical religious views might lead to irrational decisions. In the new NIE, the analysts forcefully posit an alternative view of an Iran that is rational, susceptible to diplomatic pressure and, in that sense, can be "deterred."

"Tehran's decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic and military costs," states the NIE. Asked if this meant the Iranian regime would be "deterrable" if it did obtain a weapon, a senior official responded, "That is the implication." He added: "Diplomacy works. That's the message."

While the intelligence community regards Iran as a rational actor, the workings of the regime remain opaque -- a "black box," in the words of one senior official. "You see the outcome (in the fall 2003 decision to halt the covert program) but not the decision-making process." This official said it was "logical, but we don't have the evidence" that Iran felt less need for nuclear weapons after the U.S. toppled its mortal enemy, Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, in April 2003.

...what if Ayatollah Khamenei is exactly as forthright as he seems?

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 5, 2007 11:44 AM

Given the US intelligence community's track record, we should believe any of this why?

Posted by: Gideon at December 5, 2007 1:12 PM

Yes, they're certainly wrong about there being a nuke program to end in '03.

Posted by: oj at December 5, 2007 2:26 PM