In looking at Iran, we have been talking about whether they are rational or not…assuming they are rational, then as I said before we need to understand what their rationality is. A key part of this is understanding what they want. [With NK its a but easier because we know of their annual food shortages] In Iran, the question is much more difficult to answer… what are their needs? Toward that end, we have talked about nuclear weapons and some have suggested we can see Iran as trying to react to the change in the Balance of Power. Is that the goal? Filling the power vaccum? Perhaps.
There are also the psychological issues: Iran has long striven for two things: legitimacy and identity. The US struggled with legitimacy from the begining of the AmRev to the end of the war of 1812. The Soviets struggled from the Revolution to WWII with legitimacy. China struggled from the 1950s till Nixon. Iran in a lot of ways is still struggling with its legitimacy from the 1979 Revolution. Remember that from the end of Clinton to the begining of Bush II, Iran was drifting moderate. Several intelligence articles have cited the importance of Iranian intelligence services in the US invasion of Afghanistan [Iran was very anti-Taliban; ‘enemy of my enemy is my friend’ kind of deal]The president of Iran was a moderate and nation was drifting moderate… there were athletic-exchanges for the first time since the Shah, etc… [of course, on the other hand there was still Iranian support for Hezzbollah from other sections of the Iranian govt/religious leaders.] While calling North Korea and Iraq an axis of evil wasn’t news, “President Bush’s State of the Union address on Jan. 29, 2002, caught many observers of U.S.-Iran relations by surprise.” (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/tehran/axis/axis.html)Whether it was cause and effect or a non-casual coincidence, Iran has definately drifted more fundementalist and anti-American again. One of the things Iran wants is to be legitimate and, having been scorned by the US, perhaps Iran is seeking legitimacy through nuclear weapons in much the same way Pakistan and India have recipicated more respect and legitimacy from each other since their mutual obtaining of muclear weapons (look at Pakistani decriptions of the Bharatiya Janata Party before and after the anouncemetn of nuclear weapons.) In a way, Iran is acting like an ex-girlfriend…since you don’t like me anymore, I’ll behave the opposite of what you would like.
The other pychological issue is identity. Iranians, while Muslim, are not Arab. Neither are they ethnically close to the Hindi Muslims of Pakistan or the Tribesmen of Afghanistan. Iranians want a sense of belonging, yet Middle Eastern Arabs do not concider Iranians one of them. They don’t even speak the same language…Arabs all speak Arabic and they have more in common linguistically with the Israelis than the Farsi speaking Iranians. We have all discussed the Shiite-Sunni differences as well.
So, once again, what do Iranians want? If we knew we could negotiate. I suspect they want to be considered the alternative to Israel and the US. They want to look strong, embolden Shiite Iraqis to take power and align with Iran in a mini-Cold Warish balance of power against Israel/Turkey/Jordan (who have more in common than they do with Iran). Just in the US-Soviet Cold War, Egypt will be a battleground nation-state. In that way, they get the identity they desire, they are accepted by Arab Muslims and the respect that they want from the US if they are concisered the foil in a mini-bipolar arrangement.
Keeping in mind that the reason the US backed Saddam in the first place in the Eight Year War was to neutralize Iraqi Shiites and neutralize Iran, the entire situation has the US in a precarious situation. In all this, the US has already been making plans to close its bases in Saudi Arabian and moving them to the fourteen new permanent bases under construction in Iraq as well and moving command to Bahrain, UAE, and Qatar. In Iraq we would be more likely to get cooperation from the new government than from the Saudi government that has imposed limits on the use of bases; have cultural customs that led to Lt. Col.Martha McSally’s lawsuit and the subsequent problems in US-Saudi relations; and have Muslim religious obligations (management of alms dispersement) that go against US anti-terrorism policy (US asked Saudi to freeze all Muslim charities assets).