Is Iran “rational”?

In a message on Wednesday, January 11, 2006 1:25pm, Christopher Julian writes:
Realists believe that rational decision makers will respond in similar ways to comparable circumstances. The key word there is rational.. In the introduction, Kenneth Waltz’s theory is used with the example of a billiard table where actors will react in the same way, regardless of domestic influences such as whether or not the state is a democracy or a dictatorship. I disagree with Waltz. Kim Jong Il is not a rational actor. Neither is the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, therefore, they will not make the same decisions as rational actors. Whether or not you agree with the American policy in Iraq, most will agree that Saddam was not a rational actor and had not been a rational actor for some time. So, in that case, why would the world expect a rational response from an irrational dictator? Same with Iran, rational actors do not say that an entire race or religion of people or Israel should be killed. So, why are we surprised when he wants to resume nuclear programs for “Energy” Yah right! (Little Humor). All I am saying is that for there to be Rational Decision making doesn’t there need to be rational players making the decisions? -Chris

For the sake of argument (I don’t really believe anything I’m about to write), let’s say that Kim Jong Il, Saddam and Iran’s president are all rational…rational meaning one can predict their actions, not that we agree or believe the actions to make sense. The analogy in psychology or sociology might be an alcoholic; if one knows one is an alcoholic, it’s not rational TO drink, yet -knowing alcoholism is a disease- isn’t it “rational” that without a strong support system an alcoholic WILL drink? There was a fascinating discussion between several of you guys about the Iranian president… one of you postulated that he is saying what he’s saying for specific internal reasons… or maybe even external reasons… the West’s uncomfortableness with Iran and N.K makes the West more likely to deal with them because of the West’s fear… its a modern form of brinkmanship: these rogue nations are “taking the West to the brink.” In Saddam’s case, he went too far. Iran, N.K., and for that matter Syria, want to take us far enough to the brink to get a deal (NK wants rice and non-military nuclear technology) without getting invaded or overthrown. In the case of Saddam, I read a fascinating piece on how rational he was…he knew he couldn’t have WMD without getting into trouble with the US/UN, yet at the same time he knew that without the threat of WMD that he had a lot less leverage to keep the Kurds, Shiite Iraqis, and Iranians at bay. The piece went on to say that he then, around 1996 or so, made the rational decision to A) get rid of his WMD but also B) pretend like he still had them. Perhaps the issue isn’t whether the actors are rational, but whether we can figure out their “rationality”? (like I said, I don’t really believe it, so how did I do at convincing you all?)

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