Chairman Of Joint Chiefs Of Staff Stands By Assessment That Iran Is A Rational Actor

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey are facing increasing hostility from the right wing for their views, backed by IAEA reports and U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, that sanctions and diplomacy are effective tools in preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Just last week, Newt Gingrich slammed Dempsey, saying “I can’t imagine why he would have said [Iran is a rational actor].”

Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) challenged the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s assessment of Iran’s intentions yesterday during a House committee hearing:

PRICE: I want to visit a comment you made recently regarding the nation of Iran and the statement, and I think have the quote correct here, that stunned me and many of my constituents. And that is your quote, “We are of the opinion that Iran is a rational actor.” Do you stand by that statement and maybe you wanna explain a little more?

DEMPSEY: Yes, I stand by it because the alternative is almost unimaginable. The alternative is that we attribute to them that their actions are so irrational that they have no basis of planning. You know, not to sound too academic about it but Thucydides in the fifth century B.C. said that all strategy is some combination of reaction to fear, honor and interests. And I think all nations act in response to one of those three things, even Iran. The key is to understand how they act and not trivialize their actions by attributing to them some irrationality. I think that’s a very dangerous thing for us to do. It doesn’t mean I agree with what they decide by the way but they have some thought process they follow.

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Price wasn’t persuaded by Dempsey’s explanation and went on to question the “rationality of an assassination attempt on the Saudi ambassador in our territory” but Dempsey pushed back that while he wouldn’t justify Iran’s alleged actions, he stands by his assertion that Iran engages in calculated, rational actions.

Right-wing hawks are taking a noticeably hostile tone towards the U.S.’s top military officer following his February 19 comments to CNN’s Fareed Zakaria that: Iran has not yet decided to pursue a nuclear weapon; it wouldn’t be “prudent” for Israel to attack Iran at this time, and “we are of the opinion that the Iranian regime is a rational actor.”

While the IAEA has expressed serious concerns about possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear program, neither the IAEA nor U.S. intelligence reports have asserted that Iran has restarted its nuclear weapons program.