Last week’s class emphasized the idea that sending messages and understanding an adversary's "language" is essential for national security strategies. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad certainly doesn't need a lesson in sending messages, but perhaps an approach for the Obama administration (and no less, policymakers in Israel) is to ensure itself that it understands Ahmadinejad's messages to the extent that it won't err in any reply. Namely, can we view the Iranian regime as a rational actor - in which case Drezner optimistically summarizes the first round of P5 + 1 negotiations under the realism view - perhaps with a grand strategy that exploits previous American mistakes, or do Ahmadinejad and friends exemplify crazy behavior (as user 0--0 implied in commenting to the previous post)? I would argue that whether or not Iran is rational is certainly not the only factor in determining the West's approach toward and forthcoming relationships with Iran, but it is nevertheless significant, especially as messages emanating from Tehran are often complex and conflicting.
The question posed is one that perhaps Mr. Ahmadinejad himself is unable to answer; in a recent interview with Newsweek, he asked many more questions than did the interviewer (when the interviewer posits that Stalin's crimes were equally atrocious as the Holocaust in order to elicit a response, Ahmadinejad replies with 10 consecutive questions and finally a statement about embargoes in Gaza). However, if Iran is indeed a rational actor, it may have incentives to hide or misrepresent its capabilities in the name of deterrence and to send certain mixed messages. For instance, does the highly-publicized enrichment facility in Qom further Iran's scientific goals in medicine, as its leader and equally ambiguously-spoken former Iranian IAEA representative proclaim, or is it and many other clandestine facilities part of a nuclear weapon-making scheme of which at least one report claims Iran is capable? And do Ahmadinejad's vitriolic statements against Jews represent a true hatred, or is this behavior meant to distance himself from his ostensibly Jewish past in an Islamic state? I'm not convinced that Ahmadinejad reads more American press than Iranian press, which he claims: "I don't read the [Iranian] press, so I would not know," among many other there's-no-way-that's-true statements.
These unanswerable questions, alongside many others analyzed by leaders in the West won't help to understand Ahmadinejad's true motives or rationality as an actor on the international stage. Instead, by considering the mixed messages and their implications of a rational or irrational Iran, the West (and particularly P5 +1 + Israel) can more carefully approach the negotiations table and the nuclear issue. While the U.S. may not bring much credibility in the eyes of Iran as a result of certain unsuccessful campaigns in the middle east, it is certainly obvious to the West how much Iran values its nuclear-related facilities. As Iran continually demonstrates its missile and nuclear capabilities, the West and its allies have to focus on what these messages (and the unsent ones) mean for diplomacy and security interests in the region.