How the West Misunderstands Russia and Iran

Western specialists tend to underemphasize the importance of state ideology in the foreign policy of Iran. In contrast, Western specialists tend to overemphasize the importance of state ideology in the foreign policy of Russia. There is the tendency to label the Russian leadership as irrational and dangerous while the Iranian leadership is not similarly labeled as irrational and dangerous. President Putin clearly, skillfully and deliberately exploited those Western fears to reinforce deterrence when he insinuated that Russia would resort to nuclear weapons against NATO countries.

The question that needs to be asked is whether it is the Western specialists who are in fact irrational when so severely misjudging those very adversaries of the West? The motivation of Russia in attacking Ukraine and Russia’s general plan for conquering Europe has generally eluded Russia specialists; namely that China covets Siberia and Moscow needs to once more become a superpower in order to become able to defend Siberia from future Chinese aggression and in order to achieve that end needs Russia conquer Europe and harvest its economic resources. In that light is Russian aggression not irrational at all, in fact it makes perfect sense. 

Why did Russia conquer parts of Georgia in 2008 and parts of Ukraine in 2014? Simply to prevent those nations from joining NATO by manufacturing territorial disputes. Why did Russia choose to invade Ukraine specifically in 2022? Because America’s adversaries perceive the Biden administration as weak and Russia simply saw an opportunity to conquer Europe. It turned out however that the Russian war machine was far less effective than virtually universally anticipated and so the Russian military is currently incapable of conquering Europe. 

Russia does not have much of a state ideology to speak of and this has turned out to be a major weakness in the Ukraine war as Russian soldiers simply do not understand what they are fighting for. While the Kremlin has cultivated and honored a number of Russian nationalist thinkers past and present, this is certainly not what motivates Russia in Ukraine as these thinkers are a mere useful ideological facade for Russia’s perfectly rational geopolitical ambitions of attaining superpower imperial territorial continuity with the Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean.

The fact that Russia cannot at this point conquer Europe due to corruption, low morale and incompetence in its military means that the EU has time to unite and build a unified European military. Of course, doing so will require national decisions in each of the member states of the European Union, but it is urgent that those political processes commence because the threat will not go away, rather there can be no doubt that the Russians will attempt to reform their military in order to make it capable of conquering the European Union.

Iran of course has a largely rational foreign policy and the main exception is the intensely hostile attitude towards Israel and the United States which is informed by conspiratorial Anti-Semitism and apocalyptic theology. Furthermore, Iran’s obsessive focus on its escatological region where the Mahdi is expected to appear in Mecca, Jesus in Damascus and the Dajjal (Deceitful Messiah) in Jerusalem is apocalyptic in nature and therefore irrational in motivation. Is it then irrational for Iran to consider Israel and America as enemies of Iran? Yes it certainly is and it has caused Iran enormous harm, including American economic sanctions, pervasive Israeli intelligence penetration and vast Israeli sabotage operations against the Iranian nuclear weapons program. Yet, Israeli and Western intelligence analysts insist on overuse of game theory in overrationalizing Iranian behavior. It is apparently easy to overlook the irrational core aspects of Iranian foreign policy in light of the largely rational Iranian foreign policy.

The reality is that the core of Iranian foreign policy is irrational while paradoxically everything else is rational. Russian foreign policy in contrast is entirely based on realpolitik and is thoroughly rational.

Published by Daniella Bartfeld

Daniella Bartfeld is the founding director of the Aliyah Organization.

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