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Pressuring Iran: Self Fulfilling Paranoia and the Law of Opposites

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There is a renewed surge of energy and sense of urgency aimed at preventing Iran from going nuclear.

A new organization, United Against a Nuclear Iran is a 501 C3 charity styled after the Save Darfur coalition. Directed by Mark Wallace, a Republican lawyer, UANI is organizing diverse, bipartisan groups to prevent a nuclear Iran.  UANI is supporting a coalition of Jewish organizations who demonstrated in New York, Washington, and other cities on Monday, September 22, before Iranian President Ahmadinejad spoke at the UN.

Gripped by a feeling of existential threat and the psychic imprint of the Nazi Holocaust, many Israelis fear annihilation.  They believe that Iran, planning to physically "wipe Israel off the map." is close to getting a nuclear bomb. They believe the clock is ticking very fast and they have to act soon.  There is a danger that Israel, with US support, will act on their fears and attack Iran -- doing our dirty work for us.  Well-intentioned people, imagining they are preventing a "second Holocaust" could ignite a wider holocaust.

UANI claims they are not beating the drums of war.  Drums are beating, nonetheless.  On September 14, Fareed Zacharia, host of CNN's GPS, asked viewers whether they thought that Israel would attack Iran.  About half believed they would.

In "Bush Agrees to War on Iran," September 16, 2008 Lord Stirling reported that:

"The United States has agreed to sell to Israel 1,000 of the very advanced bunker buster GBU-39 bombs. This is a major development as the Bush Administration had denied previous recent Israeli requests for large numbers of this weapon system ... This indicates that the Israeli Government has succeeded in its request that America allow it to attack Iranian nuclear facilities. The GBU-39s will be used extensively in attacks on Iranian targets, as well as on Syrian and Hezbollah high value targets in both Syria and Lebanon."

Many Israelis believe Iran is much closer to having a nuclear weapon than intelligence indicates.  They feel they must attack first.  They focus on an exaggerated caricature of one man -- propagandized as another Hitler. Those who warn of the cataclysmic consequences of an Israeli attack are ridiculed as being like Germans who underestimated Hitler.

There is no reasoning with the few with the simplistic -- "my mind is made up don't confuse me with the facts" crowd who are loud and hysterical. Others are receptive to facts, reason, understanding historical forces and consequences.  They recognize that Ahmadinejad is not that powerful and is not Iran.

Most are unaware that Iranians demonstrated in sympathy for us on 9/12/01, and enthusiastically helped us find Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, hoping to improve relations.  Bush "rewarded" them by placing Iran on the axis of evil.  Still, Iranians made an offer in 2003 to cooperate, accept IAEA inspections, recognize Israel, defend Hamas and Hezbollah, and more.  The Bush administration ignored this opportunity for reconciliation after a complicated relationship with mutual traumatic memories.

Ahmadinejad was elected primarily for economic reasons.  He is losing popularity, an embarrassment to many Iranians who attempted to impeach him.  He will be voted out of office next June ... if Iran is not attacked.  The obsession with Ahmadinejad ignores the fact that the Supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued a fatwa forbidding nuclear weapons.

While many thoughtful experts have described the inevitable cataclysmic consequences of a US and/or Israeli attack, many applying short-term, concrete thinking, are overconfident of success and in denial of the catastrophic consequences that would be unleashed.

Many Israelis have the glorious memory of the 1981 attack that destroyed Iraq's Osirak reactor -- believing that they can take out Iran's facilities and live happily ever after.  This fantasy of a "surgical strike" -- a manipulative frame -- is not applicable to this time and place.

It is widely believed that the only way to "prevent a nuclear Iran" without attacking is to apply pressure.  If that doesn't work, apply more pressure. The false belief is that if we make the Iranians suffer enough, they will give in.  Johan Galtung, pioneer and world leader in conflict transformation, calls this "the naïve theory of sanctions."  Failing to understand the psychology of asymmetrical power, we may provoke what we are trying to avoid.

"Conventional wisdom" is that we exert control by threats, coercion, punishment, sanctions, and isolation.  "Carrots and sticks" -- an advancement over just sticks - is external control through reward and punishment, which can be humiliating.  By "diplomacy" we often mean that we make them do what we want without bombing them -- not really diplomacy.

Most believe that pressure is the best and only way to "deter" Iran.  Never mind that former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, addressing AIPAC last June said, "Israel will not be deterred."  Nor would we.  If pressure doesn't work, -- and research suggests that sanctions fail 86% of the time -- depending on various factors -- then we have no choice but to go to war as a "last resort."  But it's not our fault, because we tried sanctions. It's their fault that we have to bomb them.

Those who want war know that sanctions are often a prelude to war.  Those who do not want war naively believe that sanctions prevent violence and war.

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Visiting Scholar Institute of Conflict Analysis and Resolution George Mason University

Diane Perlman is a clinical and political psychologist, devoted to applying knowledge from psychology, conflict studies and social sciences to designing strategies and policies to reverse nuclear proliferation, to drastically reduce (more...)

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