Jeffrey Herf recently explained exactly why this is wrongheaded and why it matters:
Perhaps too many of our policymakers, politicians, and analysts still labor under the mistaken idea that radical anti-Semitism is merely another form of prejudice or, worse, an understandable (and hence excusable?) response to the conflict between Israel, the Arab states, and the Palestinians. In fact it is something far more dangerous, and far less compatible with a system of nuclear deterrence, which assumes that all parties place a premium on their own survival. Iran’s radical anti-Semitism is not in the slightest bit rational; it is a paranoid conspiracy theory that proposes to make sense (or rather nonsense) of the world by claiming that the powerful and evil “Jew” is the driving force in global politics. Leaders who attribute enormous evil and power to the 13 million Jews in the world and to a tiny Middle Eastern state with about eight million citizens have demonstrated that they don’t have a suitable disposition for playing nuclear chess.
In other words, assuming that Iran won’t violate an agreement or won’t use an industrial-sized nuclear weapons program when it gets one in 10 years, is wrong and dangerous. The president says he is not relying on “trust” but by definition every agreement — especially one that gives up leverage and frees billions of dollars — is based on the assumption the other party will live up to the deal. If the administration knew (and it should) that Iran would block inspectors when push comes to shove, would he be in favor of a deal? (He might for legacy purposes, but he could not honestly conclude it is in the United States’ interests.)
The idea that Iran won’t renege on its agreements for fear of sanctions is based on a misunderstanding of the regime. As Herf puts it:
When policymakers fail to consider the core beliefs of the Iranian leadership, they foster the impression that Iran is a smaller, Islamic version of the Soviet Union — that is, a state which would act in its own self-interest if it had nuclear weapons. Yet the Soviet Union was governed by atheists who disdained notions of a life after death and would have laughed at the idea of a “12th Imam” descending to earth after an apocalyptic disaster. If Iran acquires nuclear weapons, it would likely be the first such state not to be deterred by the prospect of nuclear retaliation. Yet the irrationality of Iran’s government has received scant attention in the United States government, which seems unable to believe that people could put their faith in a post-apocalyptic messiah. That is both a failure of imagination and a failure of policy.
The president, it seems, is heading for a deal appropriate for, say, Denmark.
So is any deal useless and dangerous? Well, the one the president is coming up with certainly is. A deal that forced Iran to give up its nuclear weapons infrastructure, dismantle its facilities and ship out its fissile material before obtaining relief, would at the very least, have the benefit of setting back Iran’s program considerably, rather than freezing it in place. But that is not possible, says the administration. Well, that is only because it has so bollixed up the negotiations so as to become a future example of “how never to negotiate anything.”
The United States has the economic and military resources to prevent Iran from getting the bomb. If it becomes necessary to use force to achieve that end, the Administration must present the full range of reasons for that decision. A regime animated by radical anti-Semitism not only poses a threat of a second Holocaust, but due to its dangerous irrationality, poses a threat to the whole world. President Obama and his leading officials insist that their policy remains one of prevention, yet they do not seem to understand the very people they are seeking to deter. Iran’s ideological extremism has become lost in the fog of technical details. If we are to have an effective policy on Iran, we must first understand what makes the country tick, as well as its bombs.
The next president had better understand the regime with which are dealing and be ready to base U.S. policy on the nature of the Islamic fundamentalist state of Iran.