A leading expert explains why we fail to understand Iran and offers a new strategy for redefining this crucial relationship
For more than a quarter of a century, few countries have been as resistant to American influence or understanding as Iran. The United States and Iran have long eyed each other with suspicion, all too eager to jump to conclusions and slam the door. What gets lost along the way is a sense of what is actually happening inside Iran and why it matters. With a new hard-line Iranian president making incendiary pronouncements and pressing for nuclear developments, the consequences of not understanding Iran have never been higher.
Ray Takeyh, a leading expert on Iran's politics and history, has written a groundbreaking book that demystifies the Iranian regime and shows how the fault lines of Iran's domestic politics serve to explain its behavior. In Hidden Iran, he explains why this country has so often confounded American expectations and why its outward hostility does not necessarily preclude the normalization of relations. Through a clearer understanding of the competing claims of Muslim theology, republican pragmatism, and factional competition, he offers a new paradigm for managing our relations with this rising power.
In this well-constructed sketch of American-Iranian relations, Takeyh (senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations) critiques the U.S.'s unnuanced approach to Iran since its 1979 revolution as well as the failure of successive administrations to note that decades of sanctions and containment haven't significantly changed Iranian behavior. A picture emerges of a complex society marked by cultural struggle and compromise, as Takeyh criticizes the perception of Iranian politics as monolithic. He concludes that the "chimera of regime change" must finally be rejected, and pointedly observes that "it is rare... for a state that views nuclear weapons as fundamental to its security interests to dispense with such weapons under relentless threats." Takeyh urges America to look beyond President Ahmadinejad to such institutions as Iran's powerful Supreme National Security Council and Foreign Ministry, each of which distanced themselves from Ahmadinejad's anti-Israel rhetoric. Takeyh even suggests areas in which Iran and the U.S. might forge a "selective partnership" not least their shared need for a stable Iraq. Though he occasionally slips into a too-casual assumption of the inevitability of his forecasts, Takeyh (The Receding Shadow of the Prophet) provides a well-argued, seldom heard viewpoint.