CNN's Fareed Zakharia agreed, stating it in the positive form, i.e., that Iran is a "rational actor."
A number of you asked me whether I agree with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey who described Iran as a "rational actor" on my program a couple of weeks ago.
My answer is: I very much agree with General Dempsey. It's very important to understand, however, what it means to talk about a "rational actor." A rational actor is not a reasonable actor. It is not somebody who has the same goals or values as we have.
In international affairs or economics, the term rational actor is used to describe somebody who is concerned about their survival, prosperity or strength and is making calculations on the basis of these concerns. It describes someone who calculates costs and benefits.
And then, an ex-Mossad intelligence chief said basically the same thing:
The Iranian regime is “very rational” and is moving deliberately in its secretive nuclear program, the former head of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency says.
“Maybe it’s not exactly rational based on what I call ‘Western thinking,’ but no doubt that they are considering all the implications of their actions,” Meir Dagan said in an interview with CBS‘ “60 Minutes” that aired Sunday.
Asked whether he believes Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is also rational, Mr. Dagan said yes. “Not exactly our rational, but I think that he is rational.”
Are they correct? Yes, I believe they are correct in a way.
BUT, they neglect to mention a very important detail (though Zakharia hints at it).
Paranoid individual are generally very rational, but only in the sense that their ideas flow logically from their premises.
IT IS THEIR PREMISES THAT ARE IRRATIONAL.
Everything can be explained by paranoid logic. In fact, paranoia is really nothing more than the use of reason and logic in the service of the irrational and bizarre.
-Are you poor? Someone must have robbed you of what you are entitled to!
-Are you angry and experiencing hatred, but like to think of yourself as a loving, compassionate sort of person? Then the object of your hatred magically becomes the one who hates...you!
-Is your genius not universally recognized? You must have powerful enemies that prevent you from achieving the success you know should be yours.
-Has you ideology or religion continually and repeatedly failed in the real world and resulted in death and misery for all who implement it? Take heart! It is not your fault or your ideology's! Either it wasn't implemented virutously enough; or there were evil (Jewish, neocon, Christian, Republican, Male, White] forces (choose one or more scapegoat) that have been plotting against it!
The above mental gymnastics allow the paranoid person to externalize blame and avoid responsibility for his situation in life, as well as avoid responsibility for his own feelings which may contradict his image of himself. It is always someone else's fault and not his. It is always someone else who is experiencing the objectionable feelings, and he is always the victim of it.
For Iran, it always comes down to the Jews and the Jewish state who are to blame for all their problems. If only there were a way to get rid of that cancer on the world! We would be doing Allah's will to remove it..."
In addition to externalizing blame for one's own pitiful situation in life or the inadequacies of one's religion or ideology, there is yet another advantage to paranoia and projection: often, a creative distortion of reality can reliably pump up one's own self-esteem. You are righteous, persecuting the true evil and thus proving you, yourself, are incapable of any evil thoughts or emotions.
Sometimes, it pumps it that self-esteem up at the expense of a great deal of fear; but nevertheless, it is comforting to know that someone appreciates your genius or the threat you represent. Clearly if the Jews, Israel aliens etc etc [fill in your favorite bogeyman here] are out to get you, you must be very special and unique.
In short, paranoia and its baby brother projection organize and distort reality in a way that makes it palatable; and, at the same time help the user to avoid recognizing some unpleasant truths about himself. When practiced on a societal or cultural level, it accomplishes the same thing. All you have to do is eliminate the external problem and everything will be all right with you and you'll never have to question your beliefs again.
So, you have to answer the quesion, is Iran a "rational actor" affirmatively. It acts rationally and logically. Yes it does. It acts logically from the distortions, delusions, and fantasies that form the basis of their religious and political premises.
What is it that makes them emotionally unable to accept a successful, democratic and non-Muslim state in the middle of all their Muslim dysfunction and failure? In psychological terms, the answer to that question is that they suffer from a malignant and destructive paranoid style. This is true of many of the Muslim states in the region, but particularly of Iran.
Instead of coming to terms with the reason their societies and cultures are so dysfunctional and toxic; instead of facing a series of unpleasant truths about their backwardness and lack of achievement; or qustioning the religion that keeps them that way; or the leadership that manipulates them and needs them to remain backward and willing to descend in barbarism on cue; they have allowed their society to regress to a concomitant primitve emotional level where a paranoid world view is all that stands between them and total psychological disintegration .
Under these poisonous circumstances, paranoia does not wax and wane. It must continually expand and try to incorporate and explain more and more data that documents their multiple failures as individuals; as a culture, as a religion. Rhetoric and behavior must always escalate to ward off the encroaching reality.
Thus, without ever having to question their own evil, they can psychologically project it onto the Jews, whose success in the face of Islam's failure is a shame too great to bear.
One of the hallmarks of the paranoid, and paranoia in general, is the ability to fixate (or obsess) on one particular point to the exclusion of all other reality and to select that point as the "evidence" of their predetermined delusion.
The paranoid is actually quite perceptive--rigidly so; and they focus their attention only on those details that give support and credence to their beliefs.
David Shapiro, in his book Neurotic Styles comments on the Paranoid style:
In the paranoid person, even more sharply and severely than the obsessive compulsive, every aspect and component of normal autonomous functioning appears in rigid, distorted, and, in general hypertrophied form....[The]paranoid person's attention is so purposefully and narrowly directed as to amount, not merely to rigidity, but to a fixed bias.
Normal people are able to see things in context; processing information appropriately and connecting dots that should be connected. Thus their conclusions and their judgement are more reliable and unbiased. The paranoid's pre-existing bias distorts his judgement and makes him unable to place facts or events in any kind of appropriate context.
Dots are connected, it is true, but the only connection that exists between them is the false premises that created them.
It is always stunning to me that logical processes are usually preserved even in the most extreme cases of paranoid psychosis. And when you understand the faulty premise on which the logic is based, it makes a certain kind of wierd, distorted sense. And, you begin to see how those distorted premises almost always feeds the ravenous grandiosity of the paranoid person or, in this case, nation.
They are always the focal point of the conspiracy. They are special; a very important person, specially selected by the FBI, aliens--or whoever--to victimize. This knowledge is both frightening and exhilarating at the same time to the paranoid. He is victimized and becomes the innocent object of the devious and despicable actions of the "other" because he is special in some way.
And, indeed he is, since the origin of the negative or hostile emotions/behaviors seemingly directed at him are deeply buried within his own mind.
Ahmadinejad and his puppet-masters, the Mullahs believe this of themselves. In fact, I would bet that they are willing to sacrifice their entire nation on the basis of this belief that all the evil in the world is due to the Jews and that it is necessary to eliminate them from the face of the earth.
A while back Mike Wallace interviewed the President of Iran, and for me, it was deja vu all over again as I listened to the paranoid rantings of Ahmadinejad. Here is one exchange (emphasis mine):
"Very clearly, I will tell you that I fully oppose the behavior of the British and the Americans," Ahmadinejad tells Wallace. "They are providing state-of-the-art military hardware to the Zionists. And they are throwing their full support behind Israel. We believe that this threatens the future of all peoples, including the American and European peoples. So we are asking why the American government is blindly supporting this murderous regime."
Wallace tried to ask him about Hezbollah's use of missiles, rockets furnished by Iran, but he wanted to talk about Israel's attacks with American bombs.
"The laser-guided bombs that have been given to the Zionists and they're targeting the shelter of defenseless children and women," the president said.
"Who supports Hezbollah?" Wallace asked. "Who has given Hezbollah hundreds of millions of dollars for years? Who has given Hezbollah Iranian-made missiles and rockets that is making — that are making all kinds …" he continued as he was interrupted.
"Are you the representative of the Zionist regime? Or a journalist?" Ahmadinejad asked Wallace.
"I'm a journalist. I am a journalist," Wallace replied.
"This is not journalism, sir. Hezbollah is a popular organization in Lebanon, and they are defending their land," the president said. "They are defending their own houses. And, according to the charter of the United Nations, every person has the right to defend his house.
Note several things:
- the implication that simply by asking the question, Wallace must be an agent of the "Zionest regime".
- the complete inattention to the fact that it was Hezbollah--not Israel-- that started the conflict and that it was Israel--not Hezbollah--who were defending their own house.
Later, in discussing the interview, Wallace said of Ahmadinejad:
"He's an impressive fellow, this guy. He really is. He's obviously smart as hell."
Wallace said he was surprised to find that the Iranian president was still a college professor who taught a graduate-level course.
"You'll find him an interesting man," he said. "I expected more of a firebrand. I don't think he has the slightest doubt about how he feels ... about the American administration and the Zionist state. He comes across as more rational than I had expected."
The complete interview can be found here.
Remember, the delusion and the complicated conspiracy serve a purpose. In order to find out the purpose, you must identify the basic premises of the paranoid.
Ahmadinejad has also concluded that "something" prevents him as an individual and as a leader of Islam from achieving his desires; "something" stands in the way of his religion being perceived as the great benefit to mankind it obviously is.
We all know what that "something" is, don't we? He wants to wipe it off the map if he can.
His brilliant mind has all the "facts" it needs to conclude that both his personal and his religion's problems will be solved when the Zionist regime is finally dealt with.
He will logically and rationally pursue this goal.
While not bizarre and psychotic, Ahmadinejad is nevertheless delusional and exhibits the classic hallmarks of the paranoid style. His basic premises are faulty; he looks outside of himself and his religion to identify the source of all problems; and this psychological tactic prevents him from ever having to take any responsibility for his actions or his abject failure as a human being.
Of course, he has lots of company in using this particular psychological strategy--particularly in the Middle East, where anti-semitism is the air that everyone breaths to make themselves feel less flawed and inadequate.
Projection and paranoia are two of the most primitive psychological defenses. Projection, or attributing one's own unacknowledged feelings to others; includes severe prejudice, severe jealousy, hypervigilance to external danger, and "injustice collecting". Most young children use projection as a defense mechanism, and it is considered normal for a child.
Projection is never a good long-term strategy--nor is it healthy--in an adult; and using such a defense mechanism represents a primitive attempt to shirk the responsibility for one's own feelings, thoughts, and actions. It causes and has caused much human misery, death, destruction and some of the most horrific acts that humans are capable of. When entire countries subscribe to a projected delusion (e.g., the "Jews" are to blame; the "Blacks" are the cause of all of our problems; "Republicans" are evil) it can lead to genocide and other behaviors that are paranoid and psychotically delusional. Full-blown paranoia occurs when one's mind severs the connection with reality entirely. Paranoia is a symptom of mental illness.
Ahmadinejad may seem to be a fascinating, intelligent, impressive and rational actor. But he is also the perfect examples of the paranoid style in action.
Deterrence and the threat of personal and national annihilation might work against such a style if the paranoia remained static and never escalated. It might work if the paranoid person did not already consider suicide/homicide as a legitimate and realistic means of bringing about a solution to the major dilemma in his world view. In short, sanctions and diplomacy might work--if only you were not dealing with someone who was in a position to strap a suicide belt around his entire country to ensure that his personal religiously psychotic vision would prevail in the real world; a person whose cold, paranoid grandiosity makes him see himself as the central driver that will bring about that vision.