Iranians: are they normal human beings like us, or are they weirdos whose foreign, mysterious thought processes can only be understood by highly trained experts?
Michael Rubin, a mideast expert at the American Enterprise Institute, says it’s the latter. (Rubin previously worked from 2003-4 for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, which is benefitting to this day from his applied expertise.)
The reason this matters right now, obviously, is that the U.S. and Iran are trying to come to an agreement on limiting Iran’s enrichment of uranium. So Rubin wants us to know that we can’t allow “political correctness to trump accuracy” by assuming “that everyone shares our values.” No, he explains, “different peoples can think in very different ways.” And certainly Rubin isn’t alone in this: varieties of his perspective suffuse the Wall Street Journal, Time, and pretty much every prestigious U.S. news outlet.
So what are these “very different ways” in which Iranians think?
• First, says Rubin, “most Iranians are nationalists,” and neighboring countries sometimes find them “condescending.”
Obviously Americans, with our devoutly humble, internationalist culture could never comprehend people like this.
• Second, “Iranians do have a concept of ‘near abroad’ not unlike that which Russian President Vladimir Putin and many Russians embrace with regard to the states of the former Soviet Union.”
Again, this is totally different from the United States. I mean, as long as you ignore the Monroe Doctrine. I think we should ignore it, given that it’s the most famous diplomatic policy in all American history.
• Finally, “there is a reason why Americans and Europeans going to purchase goods in the Istanbul Grand Bazaar, in Isfahan’s Naqsh-e Jahan Square, or Kabul’s Chicken Street get fleeced if they are not accustomed to haggling.”
Yes, how can simple, honest souls such as ourselves ever contend with the devious mentality of the Iranian rug merchants? We should stick with what we know best, like issuing trillions of dollars of bogus mortgage-backed securities.
It’s fun to point and laugh at Michael Rubin and his numberless ilk. But as we point and laugh, it’s important to understand not just that America’s foreign policy elite is hilariously wrong, but why they’re hilariously wrong.
What Rubin is attacking here, although he doesn’t say it explicitly, is the intelligence analysis technique of “mirror-imaging.” Mirror-imaging is described like this in a book called Psychology of Intelligence Analysis that was commissioned by the CIA:
One kind of assumption an analyst should always recognize and question is mirror-imaging — filling gaps in the analyst’s own knowledge by assuming that the other side is likely to act in a certain way because that is how the US would act under similar circumstances … mirror-imaging leads to dangerous assumptions, because people in other cultures do not think the way we do.
Like this CIA book, Rubin’s article (and numberless articles by his numberless ilk) sets out to prove that mirror-imaging doesn’t work because our enemies don’t think like us. But what they actually demonstrate is that mirror-imaging generally doesn’t work because we don’t understand how we think. Mirror-imaging will obviously never work if you’re using a funhouse mirror that makes you look much more attractive than you actually are.
So in the case of Iranians, it’s not that we can’t understand them because they’re unusually nationalistic, or imperialistic, or devious. It’s that we can only understand them if we understand how nationalistic, imperialistic and devious we can be. But if you’re part of America’s foreign policy elite, you’ll never ever look in a functioning mirror — because what you’ll see is much too ugly.
(This post is from our blog: Unofficial Sources.)
Photo: Jacques Boissinot/AP/CP