In every aspect of human life, new ideas, designs, and concepts usually go through three distinct phases. A good dose of naivety characterizes the initial phase of every project, intellectual enterprise, or model; the intrinsic novelty of the subject-matter forces engineers, politicians, and intellectuals to make naïve assumptions, which are progressively refined and adjusted, and new layers of complexity are added to the model, design, or political doctrine in order to better equip it to deal with complex realities.
Adding complexity, however, is only an intermediate phase. According to Antoine de Saint-Exupery, “Perfection (in design) is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but rather when there is nothing more to take away.”
The best models, designs, and political doctrines are simple. But their simplicity is the fruit of a complex process, which started with naivety, grew through complexity and achieved a level of harmony and integrity possible only after redundancy was eliminated, internal coherence realized, and unnecessary entanglement discarded, all the while striving to capture the true essence of the problem under analysis.
Experience teaches that it is very rarely, if ever, that a successful engineering design, or political or economical doctrine, deviates from common sense, or is counterintuitive. If somebody tried to convince us that in order to achieve an egalitarian society we need to stop taxing the rich and tax more heavily blue-collar workers, we would smell the proverbial rat. A sophism is a plausible but fallacious argument. Unnecessary complexity is deceitful, and often used to muddy the waters and to erect smokescreens that allow unfounded theories to appear logical and coherent.
Which is exactly what certain diplomats and State Department officials are doing when they call for a dialogue with the Iranian mullahs. Their intent is to normalize relations with Tehran in order to seek an understanding–and possibly a deal–with the theocratic regime in exchange for the Islamic republic’s cessation of its nuclear program.
According to this foreign-policy school of thought, which for lack of a better term we call “realist,” the recent outcome of the Iranian national elections, which marked the defeat of the reformists and the triumph of the Islamic hardliners, is good news. The sophists of the State Department would like to convince us that now that the excruciating internal debate between the Leftist mullahs and the conservative establishment is over, the “pragmatic conservatives” are ready to cut a deal with the West over Tehran’s WMD programs.
If we leave for a moment the realm of sophisms, and revert to simplicity and common sense, we realize that the analysis of the Iranian situation is straightforward. One doesn’t need a Ph.D in political science to realize that the Iranians feel encircled–American and allied troops are in Afghanistan and in Iraq–and only the nuclear bomb would make the mullahs feel invincible. We are discovering almost daily that the Iranians are more advanced than originally thought in their nuclear plans. On several occasions, they deceived the European Union and the international nuclear watchdog about their true intentions to buy time and continue pursuing their covert nuclear program.
A common trick is to have one theocrat announce Iran’s strict adherence to the nonproliferation protocols; and then, a day later, have a different top cleric state exactly the opposite. This happened, for example, last week: Hassan Rohani, the secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, openly announced that an unspecified number of nuclear installations remain undeclared and that the Iranian authorities don’t see the need to disclose all aspects of their nuclear program to the IAEA. But, only a few days earlier, the foreign minister of Germany, France, and Britain signed a last-minute deal in Vienna with Iranian representatives that once again stated Tehran’s willingness to comply with the IAEA directives.
Why should we care what happens in Iran? Well, for starters, Iran directly sponsors Hezbollah terrorists in Israel, through Syria. Iranian killers are sent into Iraq to foment anti-American feelings. Iran represents today the single most dangerous threat to world stability. It represents an immediate threat to Israel and to the American troops deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The natural conclusion is that Iran cannot be “fixed.” The only possible way out is a regime change. Anybody claiming that “engagement” with the theocratic fascists in Tehran could produce positive results is following the Yellow Brick Road, and is either a genuine victim of the mullah-orchestrated game of deception, or has ulterior motives.
To justify their willingness to continue a hopeless dialogue with the Islamist leaders in Tehran, foreign-policy realists use convoluted and abstract scenarios, which are inevitably counterintuitive. A typical example is their claim that the outcome of the latest Iranian elections is positive because, now that the “pragmatic conservative clerics” finally got rid of their internal opposition, it clears the way to important diplomatic breakthroughs. It is yet another example of deceitful and unnecessary complexity.
Occam’s Razor is a logical principle attributed to the medieval philosopher William of Occam. Scientific knowledge is based on experience and self-evident truths, and on logical propositions resulting from those two sources. Occam stressed the Aristotelian principle that entities must not be multiplied beyond what is necessary. In science, the simplest theory that fits the facts of a problem is the one that should be selected.
The basic facts are that the mullahs are developing the nuclear bomb and nothing will stop them. Hitler should have been stopped in 1936, as soon as he remilitarized the Rhineland in blatant breach of the Versailles treaty. The European nations failed to do so, and the end-result was World War II.
If the West doesn’t stop Iran today, the consequences will be dire. The only way to prevent a potentially catastrophic outcome in the Middle East is to provoke regime change in Iran. The good news is that to achieve this goal no direct military intervention is required. No more American troops will have to die in a distant land. And the American taxpayers won’t have to bear the costs of another expensive military campaign.
Simply declaring that the only U.S. policy towards Iran is regime change, and enforcing it at every level in the administration, would provoke shock waves in Tehran. A resolute and determined U.S. administration could release part of Iran’s frozen assets, seized during the hostage crisis of 1979, and use them to fund the Iranian opposition movement, inside and outside of the country. The Islamic regime has lost popular support, and survives only thanks to a very efficient repressive apparatus, exactly like the Communist regimes in eastern Europe before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Imposing sanctions and isolating the regime would provide the final blow needed to overthrow the mullahs.
The strategy explained above is simple but not naïve. It follows the principle of Occam’s Razor, is internally coherent, and is based on common sense, historical facts, and the will of the people of Iran. If today we miss this historical opportunity to bring peace and long-term stability to the Middle East, we will have to achieve the same goal in a few years, when it will be much more difficult, expensive, and onerous. If we let the sophists of the State Department have their way, the inevitable showdown with the Islamist regime will only be postponed, but not avoided.
–Elio Bonazzi is an Italian-born political scientist.