Marc Schulman

A Dangerous Misconception of Iran Shared by Steven Waltz, Fareed Zakaria and James Fallow

Steven Waltz, the respected Political Scientist, published the lead cover article in the latest issue of the magazine, Foreign Affairs called: “Why Iran Should Get the Bomb.”  Waltz joins public intellectuals, such as Fareed Zakaria and James Fallows, who make the false argument that Iran having the bomb will lead to more stability and not less. They give the example of the successful navigation of the Cold War by the US and the Soviet Union, without a shot being fired. They further cite the fact that India and Pakistan have not gotten into a conventional war now that they both have the bomb. Based on those precedents Waltz and the others make the argument that the same will happen when Iran gets the bomb. They argue that Iran is a rational actor, and thus will act in the same way as the Soviets and the Pakistanis have. This is a very dangerous argument to make. We must do all we can to make sure that this line of thinking does not gain additional adherents.


The line of reasoning in Waltz’s article is false for the following reasons:


1. There is no other theocratic nation that has the bomb. As such, we are entering unknown territory when it comes to evaluating Iran’s degree of rationality.

2.  Israel and Iran have no direct disputes. Therefore, the attacks Iran has leveled against Israel, whether verbally or through their support of Hezbollah and Hamas, are based on reasons that defy the actions of a conventional, ‘rational’ state.

3.  No other state that has had the bomb has ever called for the elimination of another nation.

4. Antisemitism itself is not rational, and thus, cannot be understood with the usual ‘rational’ geopolitical concerns.


Iran is the only nation on earth run by a theocratic leadership (as opposed to being influenced by religious elements). Not since the reformation have we experienced countries run by theocracies– and there were certainly no nuclear weapons involved in the hundred year war. Had nuclear weapons been available at that time, who knows what the outcome would have been. It’s true that the theocratic leadership has generally been rational when it comes to maintaining their own control. However, they have, at times, acted in ways that would seem less than rational (e.g. their attacking the US Embassy and holding hostages at the start of their rule, or even more recently the attack on the British Embassy.)  Finally, there are no clear indications on how the leadership of Iran will act if it comes down to, what they perceive as, a religious imperative that might negatively impact their rule.  We can hope that they will act rationally and not attack Israel. Ultimately, we have no way of knowing for sure.


Israel and Iran have no inherent rational disputes between them. They share no common border. They have no commercial or other disputes that should lead to any animosity between the two countries. Despite this fact, the Iranians have been actively supporting and encouraging Israel’s enemies– Hezbollah and Hamas– as well as making belligerent statements against Israel.  These actions alone shows that Iran’s decisions are not based on the normal rational decision-making of a nation state.


One of the unique characteristics of the Iranian regime is their constant call for the destruction of Israel. They have repeatedly called for the elimination of Israel. Regarding Israel, Iranian President Ahmadinejad recently stated: “But whether they want it or not, with God’s grace, this regime will be annihilated and Palestinians and other regional nations will be rid of its bad omen.” Sadly, this is but one of a stream of similar statements made by the Iranian regime in the past years. The Arab-Israeli conflict is unique, in that it is the only conflict since the creation of the United Nations in which one group of member states has called for the destruction of another. In the past 15 years however, the nations of the Arab world (many of whom have been in declared state of war with Israel), have ceased to call for its destruction. At  the same time, one nation who has never been at war with Israel, namely Iran, has continually been calling for Israel’s swift demise.


Never before in history has a nuclear power ever called for the destruction of another state. India and Pakistan have animosity, and border disputes. However, neither India, nor Pakistan have ever called for the destruction of their rival. The same is true of the dispute between the US and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. These two countries were rivals trying to increase their leverage and gain supporters around the world. These two countries were promoting competing economic visions. Yet, they never called for the destruction of their rival’s country.  Even in the case of the most belligerent regime (i.e. North Korea), would be happy to occupy their rival, South Korea. Still they have never threatened to physically annihilate South Korea.  Should we take the Iranians at their word? Many say it is only rhetoric. However the Jewish people have learned, the hard way, during their long history to take threats against them seriously.


Which brings me to my last point, anti-Semitism in not rational.

One can say that any hatred of another people is not rational. However, anti-Semitism has long outlived any other form of national hatred. This past century, of course, saw the greatest anti-semitic event in world history, the Holocaust. This systematic annihilation of European Jewry was also one of the least rational acts for Germany to undertake.  Some scholars have recently put forth the theory that Hitler, in fact, went to war in order to bring about the destruction of the Jewish people. Clearly not a rational act for Germany. Though even if you do not believe this theory, the other actions Hitler took in pursuit of his goal of destroying the Jews was constantly at odds with Hitler’s goal of winning the war.  From his early pursuit of Jewish intellectuals, which resulted in some of the brightest German scientists fleeing, to the use of vital war transports to carry Jews to their deaths. Even as the war was turning against the Germans and transports were desperately needed for war material, the Nazis continued to use the trains to move Jews to the death camps. The Jewish people have learned that anti-Semitism is not rational. In that time, they did not pay attention to the ravings of a minor German political figure named Adolf Hitler when he wrote “Mein Kamp”, and called for the destruction of the Jews.


Today, now 66 years after the end of World War II, the titular head of a nation state has called for the destruction of the Jews of Israel, and that nation state is on the verge of acquiring nuclear weapons that could clearly accomplish that task. It would seem reckless indeed for the Jewish state to rely on the supposed ‘rationality’ of the Iranian leadership not to use said weapons to destroy us.



Lastly, I believe the views of Waltz and others who share his outlook are dangerous. For if their views do spread, then the world will be able to ignore the very real threat that a nuclear armed Iran possesses– especially for Israel, but to other states as well. Will be able to say, as it has claimed of tyrants in the past, they would never really do what they say they are going to do. As the Jewish people have sadly learned in the past, just because attacking or killing Jews seems irrational to most people, that does not mean it will not happen.


This is not to say that I am in favor of a unilateral Israeli strike. I question our capability to do more than delay the Iranian nuclear program. Only the US has the military capability to deny the Iranians their nuclear weapons over the long haul. Last week Secretary of State Hilary Clinton appeared, together with Former Secretary of State Baker on the Charlie Rose Show.  There, Baker made it clear that, in his opinion, Israel should not attack. However, if the Iranians did not give up their attempt to build the bomb, the United States must use its military forces to stop them. Secretary of State Clinton only generally agreed with Baker. Then replied: “hopefully we will not get there”.


Barring US military intervention, I believe strongly in a massive increase in our defensive capabilities something I have written about before,  so that we are not powerless to effectively defend against any attack. Let’s hope that America acts decisively if diplomacy and sanction fail as is likely.  Unfortunately articles like that of Waltz, if they are widely accepted make that action less likely.

About the Author
Marc Schulman is the editor of -- the largest history web site. He is the author a series of Multimedia History Apps as well as a recent biography of JFK. He holds a BA and MA from Columbia University, and currently lives in Tel Aviv. He is also a regular contributor to Newsweek authoring the Tel Aviv Diary. He is the publisher of an economic news App about Israel called DigitOne and has a weekly newsletter on substack called Israel Update