American Enterprise Institute scholar Michael Rubin took to the National Review today to posit that, if the Iranian regime was facing an imminent collapse, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps — the ideological force controlled by Iran’s Supreme Leader — might launch its nuclear weapons.
Never mind that Iran is far off from even the potential of nuclear weapons capability, Rubin’s attack is deeply flawed. He latches onto a news hook from Libya — that the remnants of Col. Muammar Qaddafi’s regime launched Scud missiles at the Libyan city Misrata — to raise the possibility of a desperate Iranian nuclear strike:
When Qaddafi recognized his hours were numbered, he launched Scud missiles at his own people. What might the Revolutionary Guards do in a parallel situation? [...] While they might not normally be suicidal, if they believe the regime and perhaps their lives are over regardless of their actions, why not make good on the ideological goal and launch a nuclear weapon against external enemies?
Rubin piles hypothetical question upon hypothetical question and wonders if Iran “might” “perhaps” launch a nuclear weapon that Iran doesn’t yet have and isn’t developing (so far as U.S. intelligence estimates are concerned).
So “why not”? Rubin himself quotes Fareed Zakaria that Iranian regime figures are “building up bank accounts in Dubai and in Switzerland,” thereby demonstrating their knowledge that there is life after the regime. Rubin may also want to consider that two of the three dictators that have thus far fallen in the Arab Spring did not make similar acts of desperation — which is not to imply nuclear strikes are similar to Scud launches in the first place.
A key point in Rubin’s analysis lies in his disclaimer that the IRGC is a “black box” — what Rubin’s sometime boss Donald Rumsfelf might have called a “known unknown.” So because we don’t know what’s going on in the minds of the IRGC, we should be designing a policy based on a chain-link of hypotheticals and a sophistic comparison to Qaddafi’s regime (though Rubin never actually puts forward any policy suggestions).
Rubin’s disclaimers that the Iranian regime “might not normally be suicidal” (another qualified “might”) are a welcome change from a neoconservative pundit who expends much effort fear-mongering about Iran. (As CAP analyst Matt Duss pointed out at Foreign Policy, the notion of the “martyr state” is bogus anyway.) But if he wants to draw comparisons to falling autocracies of the Arab Spring, he should take note that two of the three Arab dictators whose governments have collapsed didn’t take the bold, desperate measure of shooting off a few scud missiles.