What do Iran hawks do when they don’t work for the government? They write of course. They write and help shape the public narrative about everything middle-east. This has been the job of two influential middle-east analysts and uber Iran hawks. Barry Rubin, a professor at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, Israel, has been working overtime to convince his readers – many of whom are political pundits, news personalities, influential bloggers and even politicians – that Iranian threat is imminent and not to be underestimated. In his blog, he tries to understand Iranian regime and people’s behavior by quoting another uber Iran hawk, Harold Rhode’s work. Harold Rhode, a close associate of Bernard Lewis, is a well known neoconservative academic who before the Iraq war went to serve in the Defense Department. Him and his like minded neoconservatives made effort to purge the department of career Defense Department officials whose worldviews are not considered sufficiently compatible with the neoconservative perspectives.
* This analysis identifies patterns exhibited by the Iranian government and the Iranian people since ancient times. Most importantly, it identifies critical elements of Iranian culture that have been systematically ignored by policymakers for decades. It is a precise understanding of these cultural cues that should guide policy objectives toward the Iranian government.
* Iranians expect a ruler to demonstrate resolve and strength, and do whatever it takes to remain in power. The Western concept of demanding that a leader subscribe to a moral and ethical code does not resonate with Iranians. Telling Iranians that their ruler is cruel will not convince the public that they need a new leader. To the contrary, this will reinforce the idea that their ruler is strong. It is only when
Iranians become convinced that either their rulers lack the resolve to do what is necessary to remain in power or that a stronger power will protect them against their current tyrannical rulers, that they will
speak out and try to overthrow leaders.
* Compromise (as we in the West understand this concept) is seen as a sign of submission and weakness. For Iranians, it actually brings shame on those (and on the families of those) who concede. By contrast, one who forces others to compromise increases his honor and stature, and is
likely to continue forcing others to submit in the future. Iranians do not consider weakness a reason to engage an adversary in compromise, but rather as an opportunity to destroy them. It is for this reason
that good-will and confidence-building measures should be avoided at all costs.
* What Iranians really believe, they usually keep to themselves. Instead, they tell those with power what they think their leaders want to hear. This is the concept of ketman, or dissimulation. Iranians do
not consider ketman (taqiyah in Arabic) to be lying. And they have developed it into a fine art, which they view as a positive form of self-protection.
* Western cultural biases regarding, and demanding, honesty make it easy to misunderstand Iranians. Iranians have learned to cope with adverse situations by being warm, gracious, polite, and obsequious. Westerners, especially Americans who place a high value on candor, straightforwardness, and honesty, are often bamboozled by Iranians who know that those in the West are easily taken in by their effusively
friendly, kind, generous, and engaging behavior.
* Negotiations are opportunities to best others, to demonstrate power, and to make sure opponents know who is the boss. In politics, Iranians negotiate only after defeating their enemies. During these
negotiations, the victor magnanimously dictates to the vanquished how things will be conducted thereafter. Signaling a desire to talk before being victorious is, in Iranian eyes, a sign of weakness or lack of will to win.
* When the West establishes itself as the most powerful force and shows strength and resolve, Iranians will most likely come on board. They do not want to be on the losing side. If military action is eventually required, the targeting of national symbols and leadership strongholds may be enough to demonstrate that the balance of power in Iran is quickly shifting. By applying this principle, the West may not need to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities or launch a large-scale invasion to bring down Iran’s rulers and stop the nuclear program.
* Iranians look around them and see that others in their neighborhood such as Russia, Israel, Pakistan, India, and China all have the bomb. To say that Iran shouldn’t have the bomb is considered an affront to
Iranian patriotism. Using a little ingenuity, we could drive a wedge between the Iranian government and the Iranian people. We should make clear that we are not opposed to Iran acquiring nuclear weapons. We are only opposed to the current government having a nuclear arsenal because it is the largest state-sponsor of terrorism in the world and does its utmost to undermine its neighbors and remove U.S. influence in the region. If the current government acquires nuclear weapons, it might very well use them.
* If the West is to succeed, Iranians must be convinced, in terms they understand, that America is prepared to establish itself as a powerful force and help the Iranian population liberate themselves from the tyranny under which they live.
I am very confident that many of our resident neocons will agree with most of these bullet points, but rest assured, they are convincingly making a case for war. Before it is too late and the airwaves are saturated with a new batch of neoconservative talking points, we need to push back.