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Questions for an Historian

Reader comment on item: Obama's Iran Deal Has the Makings of a Catastrophe

Submitted by Alex (United States), Jul 14, 2015 at 19:42

I find some small reassurance that Dr. Pipes is using his prestige as a professional historian to begin placing the deal we just signed with Iran in the context by which future generations will judge it. At least the Munich agreement didn't elide potential agression Hitler could commit beyond the Sudetenland or send French and British engineers to Berlin to help develop the V-2 rocket.

There are some things I just don't understand, though (and I'd feel honored and edified if Dr. Pipes or others--particularly any anthropologists who might be reading--helped me):

Why does Iran want nuclear weapons, and how does this deal relate to their motive for seeking them?

The sense I take from most analysts who oppose the deal is that Iran is building nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles in order to provide deterrents on behalf of expasionist activities in the Middle East, and the deal enables Iran to expand its regional aggression from asymmetrical to more conventional means of war.

I disagree, tentatively. It is on-its-face unbelievable that under this agreement, Iran will in the next decade or two build conventional military capabilities sufficient to invade and conquer countries like Saudi Arabia or Israel. Iran's contribution to the Assad regime in Syria, for instance, seems more focused on preserving a "Shi'ite corridor" to the Mediterranean Sea than on conquering the Sunni areas of Syria (although Iran does appear to be trying to take over the Sunni heartland of Iraq).

Further, even if Iran did conventionally take over the Middle East--or even the entire globe--as a result of the newly relaxed restrictions on their nuclear proliferation, missiles and conventional arms made possible through the deal just signed, how would such a conquest relate to the eschatological element of Iran's state ideology? Would they conquer the world and then destroy themselves with nuclear weapons in order to bring on the coming of the 12th Imam?

The solution to my conundrum lies--I suspect--in the fundamental cultural difference between Iran and the P5 + 1 countries with whom it just negotiated a deal (at least the Western ones) regarding the nature and role of negotiation and transaction as such in human society. The reason that the P5 + 1 did not make the Islamic Republic of Iran sign on the dotted line that it would not further aggress outside its borders or violate its previous international legal obligations on armaments--as Chamberlain did in fact require Hitler to do--is that the P5 + 1 countries allowed the maximalist, zero-sum negotiating style of the Islamicate Near East to direct the talks that led to this deal, along with the related cultural habit of informal, personal, fleeting shifts in negotiated terms.

Thus, Iran forced the concessions in this deal not to accomplish a realistic or fully serious geopolitical plan, but simply in order to enhance its geopolitical negotiating position on behalf of the fulfillment of a voracious, insatiable desire to barter that predates the deal and for which the deal is but another phase. I believe the Iranians like living on the edge, day by day, deriving their pride and accomplishments--not to mention a major sociopathic thrill--from stealing a march on the "Great Satan."

Thus, both their geopolitical agenda and their apocalyptic ideology are separate from the Iranians' most basic motives in negotiating this deal and in seeking nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. Even the prospect of committing a nuclear war that ushers the return of the 12th Imam is but a reassuring contingency at the time when Iran's negotiating position reaches its apex.

Am I on to something? Do any anthropologists care to comment?


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Daniel Pipes replies:

The Iranians seek nuclear weapons to join the great power club; and perhaps to bring on the mahdi.

I think the mahdi is more on their mind that conquering the whole Middle East.

The idea is that anarchy will bring on the end of days.

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