Think Iraq is a mess? Wait until the neocons get to Iran, warns Council on Foreign Relations fellow Takeyh.
“Getting Iran wrong is the single thread that has linked American administrations of all political persuasion,” writes the author. In some instances, getting Iran wrong has involved overestimating its people’s willingness to endure oppression, as with the hated Pahlavi dynasty, which fell in 1979. In other instances, it has involved overestimating the power of religious orthodoxy—and misreading the very nature of the Iranian theocracy. In the case of the Bush administration and its think-tankers, misreadings are tinged with ideological certainty that Iran is indeed a member of the league of rogue nations: Thus, former CIA director James Woolsey deems Iran the “central antagonist” in World War IV (“the third evidently being the Cold War,” Takeyh glosses), while Iraq war architect Richard Perle urges the overthrow of “that miserable government.” Takeyh argues that Iran seeks only to be regionally influential, though it has an unfortunate habit of projecting its power via terrorist proxies, as with Hezbollah in Lebanon and various Shiite factions in Iraq. All that aside, Iran is best understood as a nation in search of itself, one in which Islamic ideology, factional politics (including reformist, democratic organizations) and pragmatic national interests are in constant struggle. Even if the 2005 presidential election seemed to secure the ascendancy of conservative power, opposition politics is very much alive. It does no good, Takeyh urges, to isolate Iran; the specter of an “impudent American president castigating Iran as part of an ‘axis of evil,’ or denigrating its political process by proclaiming its elections a fraud even before they take place, only provides ammunition to hard-liners decrying Iran’s democrats as unwitting agents of Western machinations.”
Think of Iran as China, Takeyh concludes in this useful essay, a nation with whom it is possible to compete and cooperate at once. We’ll see.