International negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program have resumed this week in Kazakhstan. Initial reporting suggests that Iran will be offered some limited sanctions relief in return for restrictions on Iran’s nuclear enrichment activities. However, these talks have a troubled history and experienced observers are quick to tamp down any expectations of a major breakthrough. As any number of foreign policy pundits will be debating the significance of these outcomes over the next several days, it would be prudent to dispel some of the most popular (and misguided) myths surrounding the Iran policy debate.
Myth 1: Iran is an irrational actor. This myth is especially popular among those pushing the case for immediate military action to attack Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. Their argument is that Iranian leaders are crazed, hot-headed, and messianic actors who do not respond to logic or reason and therefore cannot be trusted with such destructive weapons. These claims are based on cultural ignorance and prejudices that would be routinely dismissed as out of bounds in just about any context outside of US policy debates on Iran. Fortunately, senior US and Israeli officials have publicly dismissed this myth as false. America’s senior military officer, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Dempsey asserted in a television interview that “we are of the opinion that the [Iranian] regime is a rational actor.” Israel’s retired Mossad director Meir Dagan similarly opined that “the regime in Iran is a very rational one.” Moreover, Ehud Barak, Israel’s Defense Minister, elaborated on this basic point saying that “I don’t think the Iranians, even if they got the bomb, [would] drop it in the neighborhood…They are radical but not totally crazy…They have a quite sophisticated decision-making process, and they understand reality.”