The Mindset of the Iranian Regime
San Francisco / January 9, 2020
Yesterday, Iran fired missiles at two military bases in Iraq that house American troops (link). Iran fired more than a dozen missiles at military bases in Ain Al-Assad, northwest of Baghdad, and in Irbil, in the semiautonomous Kurdish region. The missiles inflicted no casualties on American, Iraqi, or coalition forces. In fact, the head of Iran's Revolutionary Guard's Aerospace Force stated, "We did not intend to kill. We intended to hit the enemy's military machinery."
From the outset, this response seems muted in comparison to the killing of a top Iranian general. There is an ongoing debate in the United States on whether the Iranian regime is a rational actor. If the regime uses rational thinking, it should be possible to create partnerships, treaties, and agreements between the United States and Iran that steer the relationship in a positive direction. If the Iranian regime is not rational, it is foolish to trust that treaties will work. Instead, the United States must use force and the threat of force to contain Iran and prevent them from wreaking havoc in the region and the world.
My interpretation of yesterday's response is that the Iranian regime is a rational actor. Their political leadership wants to satisfy domestic constituencies who are furious about the assassination of Qasem Suleimani. Their political leadership also is interested in their survival. They want to hit the United States, tell domestic communities that Iran retaliated, but senior Iranian political leaders do not want to start a broader war with the United States. They predict that Iran would lose that war and the United States would insist on regime change.
More American politicians must see through the posturing and bluster of Iran's top political leaders and view the Iranian state as a fragile polity that is worried about its survival.