Perhaps President Barack Obama has cleverly back-timed his Iran policy so that he retains the option to act in some forcible manner immediately prior to, and to garner votes for, the 2012 election. He has allowed three years to pass between the time he received a clear rejection of his efforts at "engagement" and the time that sanctions were deployed. If an "October Surprise" is part of his strategy, it will certainly result in something short of addressing the real problems of a nuclear Iran.
For the most part, however, our decades of failed policies with respect to Iran are the product of our Control Factors - that active and continuous effort we engage to distort our perception in order to give us the sense that we are in control of a threat we truly are not. The Control Factor utilizes an array of beliefs, fantasies, and other psychological defenses to generate the illusion that we are in control. The consequence is that Iran, having declared war on America over three decades ago, has never been held responsible for its words or actions as the greatest purveyor of global terror. Instead, we take on that responsibility for ourselves by declaring in multiple ways that it is our inability to understand, behave or negotiate adequately that is the cause of our predicament and Iran's actions. If we are the cause, we are in control.
A brief catalog of just some of these maneuvers is illuminating. First, many were generated under the ridiculous "change regime behavior not the regime" theme that has dominated not just NY Times columnists such as Tom Friedman but our academics, media voices, and State Department for decades. Some have fantasized that either an "extended hand" or "crippling sanctions" would force the regime into true and honest compliance with UN and US demands. Oddly, these tend to be the same voices that rush to relieve sanctions at the first sign of discomfort in the hope that the regime will dispense with any potential future aggressive retaliation. They are also the first to lower demands to ensure that any deal is consummated rather than allow it to be proven once again that there is no reliable deal to be made. And while Obama has strongly pressed for the change of regimes throughout the rest of the Middle East, he uniquely avoided the opportunity he was given by the Green Revolution in 2009 and subsequently. Simply put, any true solution requires, at a minimum, regime change.
Many confuse the regime acting "rationally" with its pursuit of rational goals. Others conflate mutually tolerant notions of "peace" with the intolerant "peace" the regime seeks. Some imagine that Russia and China are our allies. Some cling to the notion that the nuclear science required is still too difficult for the regime to master. Curiously, many who berated our reliance on well agreed upon intelligence concerning Iraq's WMD are those who readily rely on the most meager intelligence so long as it concludes there is plenty of time left before the regime reaches its goal. This is so even as more evidence emerges now that Iraq did, in fact, ship its chemical weapons to Syria as Saddam Hussein's regime collapsed.
Some have been endlessly preoccupied with ensuring that "the world" sees us as "reasonable" without any idea when enough is enough; much less recognizing that much of that "world" does not share our standards in the least while much of the remainder would prefer for us to act with great strength and clarity.
As Iran gets dangerously close to its nuclear goal, another tempting theme our Control Factors project suggests that even a nuclear Iran can be handled effectively. Ideas such as "containment" began to circulate attempting to calm ourselves that Iran, like the Soviet Union, can be lived with until eventually changed. Interestingly, Hillary Clinton's State Department (which incredibly declared the "war on terror" over) and Obama both eventually stated that "containment" is not US policy. On the surface this was interpreted as declaring that the US would not accept containment because it would not even allow a nuclear Iran. But as Hudson Institute scholar Lewis "Scooter" Libby has pointed out, containment was policy against the Soviets even before they were nuclear and it ultimately had little to do with stopping their nuclear program. It referred instead to containing the spread of Soviet influence and ideology. Libby argues that we need both to contain Iran as well as to stop its nuclear program, and he questions whether renouncing containment in fact sends a truly dangerous signal to Iran and the region.
Similarly, many imagine that mutual assured destruction, revered as so effective with the Soviets, will somehow similarly protect against an apocalyptic regime determined to create the global chaos necessary to bring back its most treasured Mahdi (the missing Twelfth Imam). The common refrain is that since the great powers obtained nuclear weapons there have been no wars between them. Still, MAD failed to prevent decades of exhaustive proxy wars and an endless conventional arms race at enormous expense until it broke (perhaps only temporarily given the current trends of Russia) what was a secular enemy devoid of End Times objectives. The US and Soviets were similar great powers not subject to a religiously based call for chaos. Contrarily, the US-Iranian struggle is between asymmetrical entities employing asymmetrical tactics in which Iran thrives on utilizing its proxies. Permitting it to more equalize its power with the US will only asymmetrically advantage Iran and shield it from any true future threat from the US or the West. Why should the US allow such a challenge it is ill-equipped and ill-financed to adequately face again today to arise at all?
And is it really so certain that, should Iran strike first against Israel, the current administration will rush to retaliate? Calls for some "measured" response if not pleas to avoid war altogether are perhaps more likely today. The same goes for calls to not waste any more resources on Israel, especially if it has already taken a substantial beating. Many would question what there would be left to gain. In this case MAD would likely be effective- but only to deter the US, not Iran.
The Control Factor has nothing to do with intelligence; it is often most insidious when manipulating a brilliant mind. Consequently, sophisticated writers such as Time Magazine's Fareed Zakaria have ridiculously argued that causation concerns over starting a nuclear arms race in the region today are unfounded since Egypt and Saudi Arabia did not "go nuclear" after Israel presumably obtained such weapons decades ago- in complete denial that Iran, like Iraq, Libya, Syria, and perhaps others did engage in such pursuit and referenced Israel as their motivation. The Sunni-Shia division, so often cited when trying to comfort ourselves that Shiite Iran does not work alongside al-Qaeda or other Sunni groups, is so curiously overlooked when the deep rivalry between them suggests that a nuclear Iran will necessarily provoke a nuclear march for regional dominance from Sunni Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey, and others.
Many of these thoughts and beliefs are founded on the compelling but false projection that the regime is "just like us" which insulates us from the dreadful realization that it very much is not. Thus, some pontificate that Iran will not act irresponsibly once nuclear. In fact, prominent academics, including icon Kenneth Waltz in Foreign Affairs, even argue that allowing Iran to get the bomb is the best outcome. They comfort themselves with the fantasy that once nuclear, the regime will be magically transformed into a responsible member of the (also fantasized) world community of other reasonable and rational players.
While deception and dissimulation-taqiyya- are critical tools of this Shiite regime, the Control Factor frequently misjudges when words speak lies or truth. For years, obviously false crucial representations made by Iran to the UN and IAEA were trusted by many. Similarly, Western diplomats would hang on any words that Iranian officials would speak in order to justify inaction, setting the stage for taqiyya to thrive. Our deep desire that Iran actually be honest and forthright concerning its nuclear activities has allowed it to advance to possibly irretrievable levels.
On the other hand, others comfort themselves that Iranian declarations of war and hate are political rhetoric designed simply to unite the local population (except that the local population is largely not in agreement with the declarations) and therefore to be ignored. They declare for themselves that the regime's apocalyptic talk is deceptive bluster, merely designed to frighten the West by utilizing the power inherent in irrationality.
Others, ignoring completely the express dictates of Iran's own Constitution as well as three decades of terror across the globe, have argued there is nothing to fear with a nuclear Iran because Iran/Persia has little history of "offensive jihad"- the aggressive waging of war in non-Muslim lands.
First, history has shown time and again that failing to hold tyrannies accountable for their words only serves to encourage manifestation of those words. Consequently, the US has allowed Iran to perfect its use of ambiguity as a political and strategic tool that dangerously supplies the Control Factor with endless excuses and explanations.
Secondly, some foolishly believe current Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei has issued a fatwa declaring that an Iranian nuclear weapon would be "un-Islamic." As esteemed journalist Amir Taheri points out, this unseen fatwa which Khamenei is not qualified to issue directly contradicts the policies of the regime's founder Ayatollah Khomeini whose own fatwa to obtain such weapons has never been rescinded.
It is true that some periods of Shiite Islam have placed restrictions on offensive jihad. While the authority to declare such jihad was generally left to the Mahdi, Khomeini assumed the role of "just ruler" and gave himself such power. Most importantly and completely ignored however, as far back as 1986, Iran's Islamic Propagation Organization cited a minority Shiite view that offensive jihad becomes permissible if an Islamic government clearly has sufficient overwhelming power so as to be "sure to win." Under this view, which has no doubt gained favor under the current regime, a nuclear Iran would certainly qualify.
As a result, the most overlooked consequence of a nuclear Iran is that there would not only be a political and military change in the global balance of power. There would be a theological change in the balance of objectives. Obtaining such weapons itself becomes the license for their use. Familiar notions of containment, stability under MAD, and a responsible nuclear power are suddenly rendered dangerously delusional.
Fighting the Control Factor on our mind's battlefield is often as difficult as confronting our enemies themselves. Because the Control Factor is active and continuous, once one case is tackled, new ones are certain to arise immediately in its place to continue our "willful blindness." We must realize that much of what our minds do is to create the very problem we attempt to avoid and take responsibility for our own perceptions. That is, the Control Factor seeks to have us believe we are more in control with the inevitable paradoxical result that we wind up less in control. We must end our addiction to these self-destructive beliefs that have guided our Iran policies. We must take back the projection that the regime is "just like us." We must transfer back the responsibility we have assumed for its words and behavior in order to foolishly comfort ourselves we are in control.
Finally, we must relentlessly recognize we have only one choice - to fight now while we still have advantages, as potentially painful as the consequences may be - or fight later when we will have already suffered severe destruction. All else is active obfuscation which may satisfy some idealized sense of morality or hope but will, instead, lead to unimaginable horrors.
Obama has already wasted his first term at the nation's expense. Should he fail to lead/join Israel in a full effort (and not merely as an "October Surprise" to sway the election) while it is hopefully still timely, he will truly bring about a fundamental transformation of America - just not the one we ever imagined.
Bill Siegel is the author of The Control Factor - Our Struggle to See the True Threat published by Hamilton Books.