For many conservatives, libertarians, and even some objectivists, the answer is not self-evident.
It depends on one’s definition of “self-interest.”
An articulate critic of California’s spendthrift politicians recently blasted away at a seemingly infinite list of special-interest groups lobbying for government handouts—until he veered off track with a wisecrack remark about “Randian self-interest” being in the same league with the “self-interest” demands of teachers’ unions, civil service bureaucrats, and the like.
But anyone conversant with the philosophy of Objectivism and its uncompromising defense of individual rights is acutely aware that when Rand spoke of self-interest, it was with a crucial modifier in mind: rational self-interest. And to seek the unearned, as the above-named special-interest groups do, is both patently irrational and antithetical to the concept of individual rights.
Bearing this in mind, what would be Ayn Rand’s take on the current Iranian crisis?
In “The Wreckage of the Consensus” Rand wrote about the
“ . . . need for a foreign policy based on long-range principles, i.e., an ideology.” (Emphasis Rand’s.) “But,” Rand stated emphatically, “a revision of our foreign policy, from its basic premises on up, is what today’s anti-ideologists dare not contemplate. . . . ” She went on to point out that “[a] proper solution would be to elect statesmen—if such appeared—and with a radically different foreign policy, a policy explicitly and proudly dedicated to the defense of America’s rights and national self-interests….” (Emphasis mine.) (The Objectivist, April 1967.)
In other words, unlike Obama, whose “foreign policy” is so fuzzy as to be almost devoid of principles (not even short-range, let alone long-), Rand would have advised a newly elected president to give high priority to a clear-cut foreign policy as soon as he took office, thus eliminating the possibility of being caught off-guard—as Obama was—five months into his first term by the Iranian crisis.
Nor is it hard to predict how Ayn Rand would have defined America’s “self-interest” today in dealing with the likes of Ayatollah Khamenei or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad if some talk show host were to interview her. All one has to do is extrapolate from a revealing 1964 Playboy interview, substituting Iran for Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia or Cuba.
Playboy: What about force in foreign policy? You have said any free nation had the right to invade Nazi Germany during World War II . . . .
Playboy: . . . And that any free nation today has the moral right—though not the duty— to invade Soviet Russia, Cuba, or any other “slave pen.” (Emphasis mine.) Correct?
Rand: Correct. A dictatorship—a country that violates the rights of its own citizens—is an outlaw and can claim no rights.
Playboy: Would you actively advocate that the United States invade Cuba or the Soviet Union?
Rand: Not at present. I don’t think it’s necessary . . . . I would advocate a blockade of Cuba and an economic boycott of the Soviet Union; and you would see both of those regimes collapse without the loss of a single American life . . . . ” Rand also told her interviewer: “I do not believe that an individual should cooperate with criminals, and for the same reason, I do not believe that free countries should cooperate with dictatorships.”
In other words, Ayn Rand would disagree with well-meaning conservatives and objectivists who think that we necessarily have a duty to intervene in Iran.
Robert Tracinski, in his June 22, 2009 TIA Daily newsletter, writes that “[w]e have the opportunity to encourage the collapse of the longest-standing, most militant modern Islamic regime—a leading sponsor of terrorism.” He also makes this understandable assumption: “The success of the new Iranian revolution is, of course, vital to American’s interests.”
But is it?
Despite the heart-rending plight of literally millions of Iranians (many of them young men and women whose “Death to Dictatorship” protests and brave defiance of a monstrous regime have been met with bloody slaughter), from Ayn Rand’s perspective whether our government should intervene—and if so, how—rests on what is in America’s self-interest.
That said, I think a strong case can be made that Ayn Rand would conclude it is in America’s rational self-interest to intervene.
On June 22, 2009, Reza Pahlavi, the exiled son of the late Shah of Iran—who normally keeps a low profile—addressed a packed room of sobered reporters at the National Press Club in Washington D.C. ten days after the protest movement began. “If the popular uprising in Iran is crushed,” Pahlavi warned, “this would not only threaten global stability but could lead to nuclear war . . . . [F]anatical tyrants who know that the future is against them may end their present course on their terms: a nuclear holocaust.”
Columnist Pat Buchanan recently noted that despite Obama’s efforts to sweet-talk the ayatollahs into linking their nuclear program to energy purposes, the regime has continued to engage in the process of enriching uranium.
Columnists Dick Morris and Eileen McGann are convinced that Iran is a “dire threat to our national security.” That the president of the United State’s “pathetic performance vis-à-vis Iran . . . cannot but send a message to all of America’s enemies that his “transparent appeasement of Iran’s government and it’s obvious lack of reciprocation” show him to be “a wimp” and sends a clear signal to rogue nations that Obama is “clueless” about handling foreign policy crises. (Emphasis mine.) That “ . . . [A]s North Korea prepares to launch a missile on a Hail Mary pass aimed at Hawaii, Obama’s Democrats slash 19 missile interceptors from the Defense Department budget.”
To be a “wimp” under these circumstances is to be an appeaser, which is what Barack Obama is. And in Ayn Rand’s view, rogue nations like Russia and Nazi Germany (read Iran, North Korea, Putin’s Russia) “ . . . like any bully, feed on appeasement.” Such bully regimes, Rand stated, would “retreat placatingly at the first sound of firm opposition.” (Emphasis mine.) (Los Angeles Times, Nov. 11, 1962.)
Obama has proved deaf to the arguments Ayn Rand would have made about how to deal with the revolution in Iran. It took him one week of dithering with his advisors before he saw fit, in the words of Jonah Goldberg, Editor-at-large of National Review Online, to give “a full-throated denunciation of the regime’s clampdown and a statement of support for the protesters.” (And only after Congress and the Europeans had beat him to it, Goldberg noted dryly). “[I]f the clerical junta prevails,” Goldberg warned, “anyone who shakes hands with Ahmadinejad will have a hard time washing the blood off his own . . . .”
All things considered, I think that Ayn Rand would have quickly sized up the Iranian crisis and weighed the threats to our country’s national security. She’d have grasped that if the most powerful man in the world—the president of the United States—did not confront the ayatollahs and voice strong unqualified support of the protesters, our country would risk nuclear proliferation, not just in Iran, but in other rogue nations. That the unthinkable—nuclear holocaust—was a real possibility.
I think that, as Robert Tracinski correctly argued, “The success of the new Iranian revolution is . . . vital to America’s interests.”
And I have no doubt that Ayn Rand would have written a scathing denunciation of President Barack Obama for not recognizing and acting on his moral duty to—if not invade Iran—then at least to support the Iranian revolution with all the means at his disposal.