Lee Smith: Lower Fertility Rates Indicate That Iranians ‘No Longer Wish To Live’

January 13, 2012 12:14 pm ET — Walid Zafar

Lee Smith

What explains Iran's defiance over the nuclear issue? According to Lee Smith, a neoconservative writer associated with the Weekly Standard and the Hudson Institute, the fact that the fertility rate in Iran has fallen drastically over the past several decades suggests that Iranians hate their lives and have no interest in producing another miserable generation. 

In a ridiculous piece arguing for war with Iran, Smith posits that the same dynamic — what he characterizes as a desire for suicide — that has reduced the Iranian birthrate also makes it likely that Iran will commit national suicide by deploying a nuclear weapon against its adversaries. The reduced fertility rate is evidence of a nation, that he explains, "no longer wishes to live":

It's pretty easy to make a strong case that the Iranian regime really is suicidal. This is the same ruling clique, after all, that pioneered the use of the suicide car-bombing during the course of the Lebanese civil wars from 1975 to 1990. The Iranians tapped their local allies, namely Hezbollah, for martyrdom operations against Israel, the United States, and other Western powers. The Iranians spent their own blood even more recklessly in the war with Iraq when they dispatched wave after human wave of teenage boys to march through minefields, clearing a path with their bodies. Perhaps most tellingly, the plummeting Iranian birthrate-from 6.5 children per woman a generation ago to 1.7 today-suggests that it is not just the regime, but an entire nation, that no longer wishes to live.

While it's true that fertility rates have declined drastically in Iran, the change has absolutely nothing to do with Iranians hating their lives, as Smith believes. Instead, Iranian women have fewer children due to a successful state-backed family planning initiative that includes, among other things, free contraceptives.

Here's Earth Policy Institute's explanation:

Religious leaders have become involved with the crusade for smaller families, citing them as a social responsibility in their weekly sermons. They also have issued fatwas, religious edicts with the strength of court orders, that permit and encourage the use of all types of contraception, including permanent male and female sterilization-a first among Muslim countries. Birth control, including the provision of condoms, pills, and sterilization, is free.

There is an abundance of literature about family planning in Iran. All Smith had to do was look for it. In fact, the available evidence, such as this report by the Population Reference Bureau, suggests that when it comes to family planning, Iran's policies are far more progressive than assumptions about the region would suggest.

The larger point of Smith's piece is to argue that Iran's nuclear program should be taken out militarily because the "Iranian regime really is suicidal." For years, this has been the most common reason given by hawks as to why we must go to war with Iran. If we don't, they warn, Israel and/or Saudi Arabia will be in danger of a nuclear attack. Smith believes low fertility rates are an indication of Iran's irrationality.

Oddly, after trying to make the case that "the Iranian regime really is suicidal," based partly on fertility rates, Smith undercuts his own argument by explaining that the real danger is not that Iran will use the bomb to destroy Tel Aviv or Riyadh. "That's not the main problem," he explains. "The issue is that Tehran will act in precisely the same fashion as it has since 1979—hostile to the United States and its allies—only now on a much more ambitious scale. And the range of responses available to the United States and its allies will be seriously limited."

In other words, his crazy idea that falling Iranian fertility rates are an indication that Iran will use nuclear weapons as a means of committing suicide is just something off the top of his head. His primary concern is that a nuclear Iran would challenge the prevailing geopolitical balance in the Middle East. Because the "range of responses" to that challenge will be limited if Iran does develop nuclear weapons, we need to act now.

And by act now, he means going to war.