At the risk of giving Newt Gingrich the attention he so obviously desperately craves, this is silly in a couple different and very significant ways:
Gingrich said he needs no further evidence Iran is building nuclear weapons, and he claims Iranian leadership is willing to trade destruction of Tehran for wiping out Israel’s Tel Aviv in a nuclear exchange.
As suicidal jihadists, Gingrich said, Iranian leaders believe their dead martyrs go to heaven and Israelis “go to hell,” so they win.
“It’s impossible to deter them. What are you going to threaten?” Gingrich asked, on stage with Denver Post editor Gregory L. Moore, who moderated the forum sponsored by the Counterterrorism Education Learning Lab, or CELL.
It’s absolutely unacceptable for Iran to fully develop a nuclear weapon, Gingrich said. And if China continues to resist joining the world in tough sanctions against Iran’s nuclear program, then a U.S. trade boycott of China would quickly persuade Beijing, he said.
“If you get in the way, there would be consequences,” Gingrich said.
I admit it’s not immediately clear which is more ridiculous, the idea that Iran’s leaders would like to commit suicide, or that U.S. leaders would ever seriously consider, let alone carry out, a trade boycott of a country that owns over $770 billion of U.S. debt.
As to which is more dangerous, that’s easy. Unlike a trade boycott on China, there are ostensibly serious people who believe, or are at least willing to say they believe, that Iranians desire martyrdom and are therefore undeterrable in the traditional sense.
But as my former colleague Andy Grotto demonstrated in his article “Is Iran A Martyr State?” last year, this claim is unsupported by anything like actual evidence.
“The martyr state view rests on bold, even radical claims about Iran’s goals and behavior that defy conventional expectations of states’ actions,” wrote Grotto, “but no government in recorded history has willfully pursued policies it knows will proximately cause its own destruction“:
Given the novelty of the martyr state argument, its major implications for policy, and how unequivocally its proponents present it, one would expect to encounter an avalanche of credible evidence.
Yet that is not the case. References are scarce in this line of writings, and certain references are cited with striking regularity.
Grotto determines that the “martyr state” view essentially rests upon a few neoconservative op-eds and one particularly shoddy report by a right-wing Israeli think tank, whose claims have been repeated again and again such that they now represent an article of faith for the “Bomb Iran” set.
The fact is that the Islamic Republic of Iran has demonstrated repeatedly that its primary goal is regime preservation. As Grotto notes, “There are vivid episodes in Iran’s history where it has confronted a clear choice between absolute fealty to religious ideals such as martyrdom and exporting the revolution, and regime survival,” such as the decision to accept a U.N.-brokered ceasefire in its war with Iraq.
“If and when Iran crosses the nuclear threshold,” Grotto concludes, “there is nothing inherent about the Islamic Republic to suggest that it cannot be deterred from using nuclear weapons or transferring them to its terrorist proxies.”
The prospect of a nuclear weapons-capable Iran is difficult enough without bringing in wild claims about it being a “martyr state.” Given the stone craziness of conservative leaders these days, I understand that it’s somewhat difficult for a potential presidential contender to stand out, but it should go without saying that the policy debate over how best to deal with Iran is not served by this sort of thing.
Of course, I also understand that such quaint notions as “that isn’t actually, you know, true” are wasted on Gingrich.