Pushing Back on Iran: Keeping the Nuclear Issue in Perspective

February 16, 2018

Weapon Program: 

  • Nuclear
  • Missile


Kenneth Pollack


American Enterprise Institute

In this essay, I want to go into a bit more detail about how a strategy of pushing back on Iran should address the Iranian nuclear threat and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), commonly known as the “Iranian nuclear deal.”

The problem with Iran is much bigger than just the nuclear threat

The first point I want to make is that we are way too focused on this aspect of Iran policy.  I am notarguing the Iranian nuclear threat or the JCPOA are unimportant.  But we have made them the only thing we debate or consider when we talk about US policy toward Iran. That is a significant misrepresentation of the nature of the Iranian threat and the role that Iran’s nuclear program plays in it.  This over-focus has already badly distorted our policy toward Iran and the Middle East under Obama and Trump, threatening our allies and our interests.

As I have discussed at great length elsewhere, the likelihood that Iran would use a nuclear weapon once it acquired one is extremely low.  Iran’s leadership has repeatedly demonstrated that it understands deterrence, respects the military power of the United States, and is willing to back downwhenever it realizes it has gone too far and runs the risk of an American military response.  Likewise, the Iranians are very cognizant of Israeli military power and go out of their way to avoid provoking the Jewish state.  Moreover, Israelis know this.  Before the nuclear deal was signed, poll after pollfound that only 19–22% of Israelis thought that Iran would attack them with a nuclear weapon if it ever got one, which is why only 19 percent of Israelis favored an Israeli preemptive strike against Iran’s nuclear program.  Finally, it is worth noting that Pakistan and North Korea have proven themselves to be far more dangerous actors than Iran, yet they have had nuclear weapons for over thirty and over twenty years respectively and neither has ever used them.


Read the full report at the American Enterprise Institute