I’m going to go on a limb here and express confusion on something. (Usually I like to point out stuff I know, but this issue merits being discussed.)
It is quite easy to understand the modi operandi of states like China, Russia, The United States, and The United Kingdom. It is also easy–for those who are familiar with them–to understand the geopolitical strategies and policies (insofar as one can call them “political”) of militant and non-militant Islamists, terrorists and otherwise.
But one entity that seems to confuse many people is Iran. Now, it is important to understand the motivation, reasons, and ultimate goals of a state in order to determine why the state has such-and-such policy, how the state will implement it, and what other aspects can be expected, predicted, or considered most likely to occur.
The problem with Iran lies in our lack of reliable information close to the decision-makers. Whereas a similar lack of information exists regarding North Korea, we know what to expect from North Korea. North Korea will do what North Korea is wont to do, because that is what it has done for a long time now. The same cannot really be said about Iran.
A major unknown area is the motivation, paradigm, or philosophy of the prime actors in the Irani government. These include people such as the Supreme Leader Khāmeneï, President Ahmadīnezhād, and other well-known figures of the establishment such as Khātamī, Rafsanjānī, as well as entities within the government. In other words: why do these people do and say what they do and say? what are their goals in doing and saying what they’re doing and saying? An important consideration is whether they are acting in accordance to our understanding of pragmatic, opportunistic geopolitics, or are they operating with a completely different system and way of understanding?
It makes a major difference, for example, if Ahmadīnezhād does and says what he does and says based on geopolitical strategies to expand Iran’s clout in the region and, perhaps, even throughout the world. Certain strategies and policies would be expected. But if he is operating out of some apocalyptic messianic zeal, anticipating the imminent return of the Shiite Imām al-Mahdī, particularly if he believes he plays a major role in the deoccultation of the Imām, and if the deoccultation must take place in the context of a catastrophic armed conflict between the Islamic Revolution’s state and the infidels (that is, everyone else), other strategies and policies would be expected.
As Westerners, we are wont to assume the first scenario (that is, he is operating according to the commonly-expected, rational, and reasonable geopolitical theory of international relations) because that is what we know best, because we know how to deal with strategies that this system would have us anticipate, and because this theory rests on the foundation that the main actors, whoever they may be, are rational and that they do and say what theor do and say for rational, though-out, and deliberate reasons. In the end, after all, we reasonable people can reason with our enemies who are reasonable people.
But we cannot ignore the second scenario (that is, he is operating in a completely irrational, emotional, theological, spiritual, apocalyptic, and messianic framework). Indeed, we almost want to ignore the second scenario because it would mean our adversary is irrational (meaning we cannot end the conflict through reason or negotiation) and unpredictable and (and this is quite a disadvantage for the secular and tolerant West) is dealing with, exploiting, motivated by, and operating under the aegis of religion (specifically, in this case, Twelver Shiite Islam).
Perhaps nothing reveals the fact I am a Westerner more than the fact that I instinctively see Iran and Ahmadīnezhād through the paradigm of international relations or the international state system rather than the bizarre world of Twelver Shiite Islamic messianism. And I would posit that Russia and China see Iran as a rational actor as well. (For all North Korea’s unbelievable rhetoric and almost insane propaganda, North Korea acts as a rational actor, even its words do not support such a suggestion.) But if Iran is operating in a completely foreign understanding, we and our enemies will suffer a major catastrophe. Because if this ball–an apocalyptic and catastrophic battle between Iran and The West–starts rolling, not even Russia or China would be able to stop it, and considering Iran’s missiles’ reach (or at least what is expected to be their reach when Iran’s current military development is complete), even Russia (and maybe China?) can become Iran’s target. (When I saw a graphic that showed the reach of a missile Iran is developing with Russian technology and expertise, I was quite shocked and astounded. The missile would easily reach Moscow. And the Russians are helping them build this missile! What stupidity. They are quite naïve, frankly, to believe Iran would never attack Moscow. A cardinal rule, no matter what system or understanding or paradigm one considers, is that there are no friends or allies, just temporary friends and allies, because of which one cannot allow even one’s friends to develop technology to the point that it could hurt one, just in case the erstwhile friend or ally turns on one.)
So, what do you think? Is Iran rational and operating under the international state system, or is Iran irrational and operating under desires to bring about the Hidden Imām’s reappearance during a massive bloodbath?