During last week’s GOP presidential debate, Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) questioned whether some of his colleagues are exaggerating the threat from a nuclear armed Iran, suggesting that the United States and other nuclear states would contain the Islamic Republic should it go nuclear, just as the U.S. had during the Cold War with the Soviet Union. “We tolerated the Soviets; we didn’t attack them. And they were a much greater danger” than Iran, Paul said, referring to the policy of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD).
Rep. Allen West (R-FL) last week attacked Paul for his comments on Iran during the debate. “I gotta tell ya, that’s not the kind of guy you need to have sitting at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue,” West said, claiming that mutual assured destruction “is out the window with Iran“:
WEST: How many people understand when I talk about the MAD theory? Do people remember the MAD theory? Mutually assured destruction, that was the kind of understanding that we had between the United States and the Soviet Union. That’s out the window with Iran. If they get a device, they’ve already said that what they’re intentions are, the first place that that’s gonna go is to Israel.
As CAP’s Matt Duss has noted, Iran armed with nuclear weapons is obviously not a desired or ideal outcome, but the claim that the Iranians are crazy, irrational actors hellbent on attacking Israel or anyone else with nukes “will have to be continually knocked down.”
“The martyr state view rests on bold, even radical claims about Iran’s goals and behavior that defy conventional expectations of states’ actions,” former CAP nuclear nonproliferation expert Andy Grotto wrote in 2009, “but no government in recorded history has willfully pursued policies it knows will proximately cause its own destruction.”
Paul Pillar over at the National Interest wrote last week, “Whatever else you may think about Paul and his candidacy, there is no refuting three truths he stated regarding the hysteria-inducing subject of Iran and its nuclear program”:
One, as Iranians look at what is surrounding them in their own neighborhood, they have good and understandable reasons to be interested in nuclear weapons. Two, even if they were to acquire a nuke, any capability they then had would pale in comparison with what the United States faced in the form of the Soviet Union during the Cold War, or China for that matter. Third, as U.S. dealings with the Soviets demonstrated, an adversary’s nuclear capability does not constitute a reason to stop talking and start making a war.
“Paul’s plain speaking, of course,” Pillar adds, “clashed with the orthodoxy in this country according to which unthinking absolutism is considered the proper response to any mention of Iran and nukes.”