Gary Leupp: The Irrationality of the Case against Iran’s Nuclear Program

Roundup: Historians' Take

Gary Leupp is a Professor of History at Tufts University, and author of numerous works on Japanese history. He can be reached at:

President Obama has informed the Iranians they have one “last chance” to avoid attack. They must suspend higher uranium enrichment, close down the Fordow enrichment facility, and “surrender” their stockpile of uranium enriched to 20 per cent purity. Iranian officials respond matter-of-factly that such demands are “irrational.” (Some Israeli officials, eager to build the case for attack, are reportedlydelighted with the Iranian response.)

Seasoned U.S. analysts seem to agree with the Iranian assessment. Stephen M Walt writes in Foreign Policy, “For the life of me, I can’t figure out what the Obama administration is thinking about Iran… I’m puzzled.” Gary Sick, writing for CNN, predicts dire consequences of an attack on Iran and seems to question its wisdom. So why is Obama being so confrontational? So irrational?

The president as usual tries to position himself in the middle, chiding Republican opponents for “loose talk” about war while assuring Israeli prime minister Netanyahu that the U.S. will move in “lock step” with Israel. But what is the logic of offering Iran a “last chance” to stop doing what it is legally entitled to do? The only logic I can see here–and it is a perverse form–resides in the assumption that as the bombs start to fall Washington will be able to say, “We were patient, we went that last mile, and gave them their opportunity, but they defied the international community and so we (or Israel) had to attack.” It is 2003 all over again....

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