Imagine two men planning for years to escape from a high-security mental institution that is surrounded by 100 walls. On the night of their escape, they reach the 99th wall, and one asks the other, “Are you tired yet?”
“Yes,” says the second one. And so they go back to their cells.
Are Iran’s leaders that crazy?
In the current standoff over Iran’s nuclear program, Western policy is guided by a key assumption: Iran’s decision makers are rational actors, and their calculations about their nuclear program are driven by cost-benefit analyses. By gradually increasing the costs of Iran’s nuclear pursuit, Western decision makers believe, Tehran will eventually concede.
They are only half right. Western expectations that Iran will behave rationally and agree to a compromise under the increasing pressure of sanctions ignore Iran’s perspective on the costs already incurred, the price of completing the journey and the advantages of turning back. For Iran, it is far more rational at this point to accelerate the program and reject any agreement the West would be prepared to sign.