The Middle East through a New Prism – Part II

Almost everyone involved in national security affairs, within and outside the government, talks about the threat that Iran poses to U.S. interests in the Middle East as follows:

–    Iran was responsible for terrorist attacks against the United States in 1983 in Lebanon
–    Iran sponsors terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza-    Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons capability that threatens regional stability
–    Iran has been actively engaged in trying to defeat U.S. efforts in Iraq-    Iran threatens Israel’s security and existence through its vitriolic anti-Semitic rhetoric and support of Hamas

Given this view of the Iranian threat and Iranian’s unabated belligerent behavior, national security policymakers and opinion makers in the United States almost unanimously agree that the past policies of sanction regimes and containment employed by successive U.S. Administrations since 1979 have failed to produce the change in Iranian policies and attitudes towards the United States and the region.  Furthermore, almost all agree that the perceived Iranian threat has increased in scope and magnitude and therefore requires an American approach that is drastically different.  We find the national security community in Washington generally divided into two groups: those advocating a much tougher stance on Iran that includes the use of preemptive military force to destroy Iranian nuclear and military strategic capabilities; and those advocating an engagement approach to discuss ways to neutralize Iran’s nuclear threat while building an Arab regional axis to counter Iranian influence in the region.

–    Iran has been actively engaged in trying to defeat U.S. efforts in Iraq

Unfortunately, both approaches are derived from the same old prism and may have catastrophic consequences for the region’s stability, oil security, and U.S. long term interests.   Let me explain.

Approach I: Military Operation

A U.S. military operation against Iran may be very successful in destroying most if not all of Iran’s nuclear program’s facilities and capabilities.  The real question, however, does not center on America’s military capability to defeat Iran, but rather on what happens in the aftermath of a military victory.  Based on “cultural intelligence understanding” of the region, here are possible outcomes resulting from a U.S. military campaign against Iran:
–    Unstable Iran:  the destruction of Iran’s organized military infrastructure may bring about non-centralized armed militias that could operate with impunity and pose a very serious danger to neighboring countries.  There is one very important lesson to draw from the 2003 Iraq war — in the absence of an organized national army, armed militias and terrorist cells will most certainly emerge posing a more serious threat due to the asymmetrical world in which they operate.
–    Unstable Gulf: an unstable Iran will most definitely affect stability in neighboring Gulf countries which have large Shiite deprived populations and lack the capability to fight asymmetrical wars against extremist militias and/or organizations.  We also need to take into account the possibility of Iranian retaliation against oil and other strategic facilities in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf during and following a U.S. military campaign.
–    Unstable Iraq: all gains made in recent months in Iraq could be greatly reversed endangering the safety of the more than 120,000 U.S. troops still deployed in that country.  In a best case scenario, the Shiite community will split on whether to side with Iran, and in a worst case scenario, Shiites will unite against the United States.  Sunni extremists and Al-Qaeda will seize the opportunity to regroup and may even join forces with extremist Shiites in the fight against the United States posing a greater danger to the safety of U.S. troops who are currently operating under a withdrawal scenario and are not gearing up for major operations.
–    Israel’s Security: the Middle East of 2009 is drastically different from what it was in 1967 and poses a much greater threat to Israel’s security.  In 1967, Israel defeated the armies of several Arab countries combined, waged war on Arab territory, and had friendly regimes in power in Iran and Turkey.  Today, Israel faces a transformed Middle East.

Lebanon:  in the summer of 2006, Hezbollah dealt Israel a military defeat, admittedly limited and relative.  Furthermore, there is a strong probability that the opposition, which is led by Hezbollah and the Free Patriotic Movement (headed by Christian General Michel Aoun), may score a victory in the parliamentary elections of June 6, 2009.  In a best case scenario for the United States and Israel, the opposition as a block will not get a majority, but Hezbollah will most certainly be part of the government and a force to be reckoned with; and in a worst case scenario for the United States and Israel, the opposition may win a majority in Parliament further enhancing Hezbollah’s power position within the Lebanese government.
Gaza:  Hamas controls the Gaza strip and is launching rockets targeting Israeli towns.  If open and democratic elections were to take place in the West Bank today, Hamas along with other more radical Islamist groups would probably win.
Arab Countries:  Arab Sunni Islamists have made the liberation of Palestine a sacred struggle and Arab undemocratic regimes are besieged by Sunni extremist Islamism advocating total war on Israel using the Hezbollah and Hamas models.  Israel’s wars in Lebanon in 2006 and Gaza in 2008 have emboldened Sunni Islamists throughout the region.
Iran:  the current Iranian regime poses a serious threat to Israel’s security and existence and is supporting militant groups like Hezbollah and Hamas.
Iraq: the country is governed today by a Shiite majority that is closer to Iran.
Turkey:  the current democratically elected government of Turkey is more Islamist (though not extremist) and has drawn closer to Iran and Syria than in the past.
Israel:  Israeli Arabs have become much more outspoken about the conflict with the Palestinians and had a “mini uprising” against the Israeli government during the Gaza war in 2008.
Given this state of affairs in the Middle East today, if the United States (or Israel) were to launch a military campaign against Iran, it could create a much more explosive situation with unpredictable consequences for Israel.

The Iranian Threat Viewed through the Old Prism
Almost everyone involved in national security affairs, within and outside the government, talks about the threat that Iran poses to U.S. interests in the Middle East as follows:
–    Iran was responsible for terrorist attacks against the United States in 1983 in Lebanon
–    Iran sponsors terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza
–    Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons capability that threatens regional stability

Approach II: Diplomatic Engagement
Those in Washington who see the potential danger in and the explosive chaos resulting from a military operation against Iran, advocate a strong diplomatic engagement aimed at neutralizing its nuclear threat.  To further enhance the U.S. negotiating stance, they also advocate the creation of a de facto coalition of moderate Arab regimes led by Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia whose aim would be to curtail Iranian influence in the region.  If the United States were to pursue this approach it would most probably fail in stopping Iran’s nuclear program and further embolden and empower Iran.  Why?  Because this approach is also based on viewing Iran and the Middle East through the old prism and fails to recognize the following:
a)    Iran’s quest for a nuclear weapon is a matter of Iranian security; and
b)    In the absence of a final resolution to the Palestinian problem, an anti-Iranian coalition made up of Arab undemocratic and unpopular regimes cannot go far.  Iran will continue to be perceived by Arab populations as the true defender of the Palestinian cause.

Let me explain.

Iranian Security
The Iranian political, religious and national security establishments share (almost unanimously) the view that the United States Government is quite deceitful in its dealings with Iran and, therefore, cannot be trusted.  This is a summary of how Iran perceives itself vis-à-vis U.S. policy:
–    Over the past almost 60 years, the U.S. has always blocked the emergence of democratic governments in the Middle East and continued to prop up absolutist monarchies and dictatorships with the sole aim of exercising greater influence over oil security policies.
–    In the aftermath of the Khomeini-led Islamic revolution of 1979 in Iran, the United States has constantly exhibited hostility towards Iran and diligently worked to undermine and/or overthrow the Iranian regime.
–    The Islamic Republic of Iran never invaded or threatened with invasion any of its neighboring countries.  It was aggressed by Iraq in 1980 and suffered a bloody 10-year war in which chemical and other weapons of mass destruction were used against it by Iraq with the tacit, and later more open, support of the U.S. Government.
–    Iran was the first Moslem country in the region to forcefully condemn the terrorist attacks of September 11th.  Furthermore, on September 18, 2001, Iranians held spontaneous candlelight vigils for the victims of the attacks of September 11th.  No Arab country had that.
–    Iran’s constructive cooperation with the United States during Operation Enduring Freedom (launched by the U.S. in 2001 to liberate Afghanistan from the Taliban) was repaid by the Bush Administration with tougher anti-Iranian rhetoric.
–    Following the 2003 invasion of Iraq by the United States, Iran’s “extended hand” of cooperation expressed by Iranian President Mohammad Khatami (confirmed by Defense Secretary Gates) and Iran’s goodwill gesture by halting its nuclear program (confirmed by a National Intelligence Estimate at the time) were met with total rejection and regime change rhetoric and policies by the Bush Administration.

Given this view of the United States Government, the Iranian establishment concluded by 2005 that no matter what Iran does (save total submission to destructive U.S. conditions) its security will always be endangered unless it develops its own nuclear capability as a deterrent.  In addition, Iran finds itself in a wider region where Israel, Pakistan, India and China all have nuclear weapons.  In summary, Iran’s quest for a nuclear program has much more to do with security than achieving long term energy independence.   With this background in mind, and in order to counter what they perceived as destructive U.S. policies in the region, the Ayatollahs ‘orchestrated’ presidential elections in 2005 enabling the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as Iran’s President.  The nuclear program was resumed and a much more aggressive anti-American campaign was adopted by Iran throughout the region.

President Obama’s expressed intentions of wanting to dialogue with Iran has divided (to a certain extent) the Iranian establishment on whether to temporarily freeze their nuclear program in one final attempt at extending a goodwill gesture towards a U.S. President who seems to be more genuine in his intentions and appear to be more understanding but must be tested. This explains to a certain degree the context within which the elections’ debate over the nuclear program is taking place.

Anti-Iranian Coalition
As soon as Iran’s government perceived the Bush Administration to be seriously trying to undermine Iran’s role and position in the region through an anti-Iranian Arab coalition, it adopted a two-tier counter strategy:
–    Defender of the Palestinian Cause:  the victory of Hamas in parliamentary elections in January 2006 generated serious concern among U.S. and Israeli officials because Hamas was committed to an armed struggle against Israel and its charter effectively calls for the destruction of the State of Israel.   The Bush Administration and the Israeli Government embarked almost immediately on a coordinated political and military effort aimed at undermining the power of Hamas.  Facing political isolation in spite of having come to power in democratic and open elections and fearing disruptive actions by Fatah and its security services in the Gaza strip, Hamas took control of Gaza in a preemptive military coup in June 2007.  This is the context within which Iran viewed and interpreted the actions of Hamas in 2007.  The Bush Administration immediately responded by advocating total isolation of Hamas and Gaza and pressured Arab governments such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt to follow suit.

Arab and Moslem populations witnessed, live on satellite television networks such as Al Jazeera, the desperate conditions to which Palestinians in Gaza were subjected to by Israeli and U.S. policies.  They expressed their anger at their own governments for what they perceived as abandonment of the Palestinians in Gaza and the Iranian government saw this as a golden opportunity.   Iran provided support to Hamas, championed the plight of the Palestinian people, criticized the passivity of Arab regimes like Saudi Arabia and Egypt, and conducted an aggressive public relations campaign of anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic rhetoric.   In so doing, Iran positioned itself as the true defender of the Palestinian cause among Arabs and Moslems alike.  The Arab and Moslem perception of Iran as a reliable defender of the Palestinian people was further strengthened during the 2008 war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.  Arabs and Moslems alike repudiated the actions of Arab governments such as Egypt for closing the border with Gaza, trapping thousands of civilians trying to flee the conflict.  In contrast, Iran provided logistical, financial and moral support to Hamas and the Palestinians in Gaza.   By aggressively championing the Palestinian cause, and in the absence of a serious U.S./Israeli effort to resolve the Palestinian problem, Iran was successful in increasing its soft power in the region thus undermining the ability of the Bush Administration to create a viable and solid anti-Iranian Arab coalition.

–    Military Victory: The rhetoric coming out of Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia which raised the specter of an Iranian-led Shiite power threatening Arab and Sunni culture and position in the region, was interpreted by the Iranians as part of the U.S. effort to build an anti-Iranian Arab coalition.   To counter this effort and show Sunni Arab Moslems the invalidity of such an argument, Iran engaged in trying to build a Shiite-Sunni coalition in Iraq – united under the banner of nationalism – to fight U.S. occupation of that country.  This Iranian effort proved to have had a very limited effect if any at all.  Another Iranian effort centered on securing an Israeli military defeat.  Nothing rallies Arab and Moslem public opinion like military actions against Israel.  In preparation for such an eventuality, Iran provided Hezbollah in Lebanon with the needed logistics, equipment, financing and training.   The opportunity came knocking on July 12, 2006.  The conflict started when Hezbollah fired rockets on Israeli border towns while simultaneously attacking a couple of Israeli military vehicles.  The attack resulted in the killing of three Israeli soldiers and the kidnapping of two others by Hezbollah.  Israel responded with an aggressive bombing campaign that escalated into a 33-day war in Lebanon.  Early statements by Arab officials coming out of Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia condemned Hezbollah’s actions as “reckless” and endangering the region’s stability.  In Iran’s thinking, Hezbollah had to resist as long as possible and win that war in order to: first, prove to the Arab and Moslem worlds that Israel can be defeated when and if the appropriate strategies are employed against it; and, secondly, to embarrass the governments of Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia by portraying them as more eager to appease (if not be in league with) the Israeli enemy instead of standing firm by the side of the Lebanese people who are facing Israeli aggression.  Iran’s calculus worked.  Hezbollah’s effective resistance and later victory (though limited and relative) dealt a major set-back to U.S. efforts to build an anti-Iranian Arab coalition.   Demonstrations were held in several Arab cities and towns, including Cairo, Egypt, in support of Hezbollah and the Lebanese people.  The governments of Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia had to ‘reverse course’ and strongly condemn Israeli actions and criticize the United States for not putting a quick end to the conflict.

For all these reasons, a U.S. diplomatic approach aimed at ending Iran’s nuclear program will most probably fail and may even project an image of the United States as being weak, indecisive, and effectively incapable of further isolating Iran.

The New Prism to View the Middle East and the Iranian Threat
Unfortunately, and to this day, no consensus has emerged within the U.S. national security establishment on how to deal effectively with the global threat of extremist Islamism.  The key culprit for this lack of consensus is the old prism through which policymakers continue to view the Middle East.  The United States needs to look at the region through a totally different prism that is derived from greater and deeper cultural intelligence of the region.

Defining the Threat
In reality, extremist Islamism can be divided into two main categories, Sunni-based and Shiite-based.  A common mistake that one often witnesses in Washington is the constant mixing and/or linking of Sunni and Shiite extremist Islamists; for example, putting Al Qaeda, Hamas and Hezbollah in the same basket!
Let us analyze the threat to the United States that emerges from each type of extremist Islamism.

Sunni Extremist Islamism
There are numerous groups around the world that fall under this umbrella and tend to be loosely connected if at all.  They have, however, common features that distinguish them drastically from Shiite extremist Islamism and are as follows:
–    Strict interpretation of the Koran: these various Sunni groups believe that the door of Ijtihad was closed in the 12th century and should remain so today.  In other words, it is impossible in their eyes to find common ground between their version of Sunni Islam and an international order that governs today’s modern world.
–    Suicide ideology: these Sunni groups justify the use of suicide bombings against civilians as a mean of martyrdom in fighting the infidel.
–    Record of terrorism: these Sunni groups have been responsible for almost every Islamist suicide terrorist bombing throughout the world since the Eighties.  The record includes bombings in Algeria, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Israel, Italy, Morocco, Pakistan, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Thailand, Turkey and most importantly, the United States on September 11th.
–    Worldwide ideology:  Sunni extremist Islamist groups are aggressively recruiting Sunni Moslems from around the world, especially the West, to create cells that could in the future destabilize those countries from within.  Furthermore, they are endeavoring to establish extremist Islamist governments and/or safe heavens within countries such as Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, or Somalia in order to sustain their struggle into the future.
–    Nuclear ambitions: Sunni extremist Islamist groups consider Pakistan’s nuclear bomb to be their own.  Their only goal is to one day put their hands on that power and use it against the infidels.

In summary, Sunni extremist Islamism is a global non-centralized revolutionary movement, is responsible for the terrorist attacks of September 11th and all other major Islamist terrorist attacks worldwide, is aggressively pursuing the radicalization of Sunni Moslems in Western countries so they can become a destabilizing force in the future, is fiercely fighting the United States in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and is looking forward to the day it can put its hands on the nuclear arsenal of Pakistan and detonate dirty bombs in the United States and around the world (wherever it deems it necessary).

Shiite Extremist Islamism
This form of Islamist extremism is very different from the Sunni one and has the following key features:
–    Iran centered:  although Shiite groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon are relatively quite autonomous they are much more connected to the Iranian regime than Sunni extremist groups are to a single government.
–    Open interpretation of the Koran: Shiite Islamist groups believe that Ijtihad and Tafseer are permitted in Islam enabling them to adapt their beliefs to different situations as they see fit.  Such adaptations may vary dramatically from the narrowest views on social mores to the most open ones.  For example, in Hezbollah controlled areas in Lebanon, one can easily see totally covered women walking side by side with women dressed in western clothing without any head or face covering.
–    Suicide ideology:  Shiite extremist Islamist groups have justified suicide bombings as acts of martyrdom and have condoned them only when they are conducted against military and government installations of an occupying enemy on occupied land.  In other words, a suicide bombing against an Israeli target can be justified if it takes place in Lebanon but cannot be justified if carried out outside Lebanon.  Furthermore, suicide bombings targeting civilians in cafes, discotheques, shopping centers, etc. are, for the time being, totally forbidden.
–    Record of terrorism: the terrorism record of Shiite extremist Islamism is very small in comparison to the Sunni one.  The two major terrorist attacks attributed to Shiite extremist Islamism were both in Lebanon and took place 26 years ago (U.S. Embassy bombing in April 1983 and the U.S. Marines compound bombing in October of the same year.  The Marines compound was blown-up along with the French military compound).  Although Hamas receives support from Iran in its struggle against Israel, Hamas’ terrorist actions against Israeli civilians are carried out by Sunni extremist Islamists.
–    Self-preservation ideology: Shiite extremist Islamism is driven mainly by the need to preserve Shiite Islam and the struggle for Shiite emancipation in Sunni governed countries.  Unlike Sunni extremist Islamism which advocates a transnational ideology that aims at establishing a different world order that suits their Islamic views, Shiite Islamism is more nationalistic in nature.
–    Nuclear ambition: Iran is seeking the bomb for its own security and Shiite extremist Islamism may very well make use of it under certain circumstances.

In summary, Shiite extremist Islamism is driven by nationalism, is relatively centered on Iran, does not have worldwide ideological ambitions, has not carried out terrorist attacks in recent times, is more focused on the emancipation of Shiites within Islam rather than fighting the infidels, and is pursuing a nuclear weapon that it may use if necessary.

Defeating the Threat
The fight against extremist Islamism will be long and hard and will at times present dangers and challenges as great if not greater than those witnessed during the Cold War against the Soviet Union.  The United States cannot afford to walk away from this fight and the threat of extremist Islamism, whether Sunni or Shiite based, must be defeated.  The question is how?

Option I: Solve the Palestinian Problem
There is no doubt that solving the Palestinian problem would remove major complicating factors in the fight against extremist Islamism but will not bring the fight to an end.  Let me explain.

Sunni extremist Islamism has an ideology that goes beyond the Palestinian cause.  It has placed the plight of Palestinians under the same umbrella as the plight of Moslems in India, Chechnya, Bosnia, China, Europe, America and Arab countries who are being mistreated in a world dominated by the United States.  Resolving the Palestinian issue would weaken the case for Sunni extremist Islamism but not put an end to it.  Furthermore, the fighting in Afghanistan and Pakistan against the Taliban would most certainly continue so would the fighting in Somalia and other parts of Africa and Asia.

On the other hand, Shiite extremist Islamism as I explained earlier is driven by nationalistic and discrimination factors.   The Palestinian problem has been successfully used by Iran to counter U.S. efforts aimed at isolating it in the region.  Solving the Palestinian problem would most definitely weaken Iran’s efforts in countering an anti-Iranian Arab coalition but would not stop it from pursuing its nuclear program, which is driven as I stated earlier by national security concerns.

Furthermore, given the priorities of the current Israeli government and the general feelings of Israelis today, it is almost impossible at this point to move effectively forward on the Palestinian-Israeli peace track.  Irrespective of who bears greater responsibility for the breakdown in Palestinian-Israeli peace talks and who is to be blamed and for what, Israeli public perceptions at this moment are skeptical of any concessions to Palestinians to the point of cynicism.  In their view, whether right or wrong, every Israeli territorial concession has been met with more Arab violence; the latest concession being the withdrawal of Gaza which was met with rockets fired by Hamas on Israeli towns.  Having said that, I believe it is imperative that the United States jumpstart the peace process as quickly as possible.  This, however, requires a new strategy that is based on viewing the region through a new prism (which will be Part III of this series).  In summary, this option, though effectively dead at this stage, can ease the pressure on the U.S. in the fight against extremist Islamism but does not solve the problem.

Option II: Confront both Threats Simultaneously
Given the realities outlined above, if the United States were to fight Sunni and Shiite extremist Islamism simultaneously, the results could be devastating to the region, oil security and long term interests of the West.  Both streams of Islamism might unite in their efforts and create horrific chaos in the Middle East and South and Central Asia.  A renewed but much more aggressive wave of terrorism would shake European cities and sooner rather than later reach U.S. shores.  While no one could predict the final outcome of such a confrontation, the cost of such confrontation would be horrendous.

Option III: Drive a Wedge between Sunni and Shiite extremist Islamism

In the absence of a solution to the Palestinian problem, such a strategy would have very little impact on the overall threat and does not drastically change the environment on the ground.  Furthermore, if conflict were to erupt between these two streams of extremist Islamism, it would probably spread to the entire Gulf region threatening oil security and long term U.S. interests.

Option IV: A “Kissinger/Nixon” Approach
The fourth option is based on the approach used by the United States in its fight against Communism.  Kissinger and Nixon determined that it would be in the U.S. best interest to drive Communist China away from Communist Russia by seeking to formulate a long term partnership with the one that represented the least ideological long term threat to the United States, namely China.  In facing extremist Islamism, the United States could seriously consider developing a rapprochement with the one stream of Islamism that presents the least long term threat to U.S. interests – Shiite extremist Islamism, and therefore, Iran.  There is one more important point.  Iran is a country with a long and rich civilization that has endured 30 years of Shiite extremist Islamism.  This form of Islamism has already evolved during the past three decades.  It is now a matter of time before Iran reaches a point of equilibrium between its Shiite identity and its rich and diverse civilization.  It is interesting to note for example that in Lebanon, Hezbollah has already rejected the idea of an Islamic Republic and agreed in February 2006 to a consensual democracy in Lebanon.  By contrast, Sunni extremist Islamism in Lebanon is still advocating the establishment of an Islamic Republic of Lebanon.

A New Strategy towards Iran
If the United States were to adopt the fourth option outlined above, it would have to be willing and ready to engage Iran with the aim of developing a strategic partnership that would eventually bring about effective Iranian support for U.S. initiatives in the region and provide U.S. assurances to alleviate Iranian security concerns.  It is in this spirit and within this context that the nuclear issue can be successfully addressed by the United States.  In addition, Iran can be of great support to U.S. efforts in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Lebanon.  What about Israel?  Hasn’t Iran threatened the annihilation of the State of Israel, denied the Holocaust and provided military and logistical support to Hamas and Hezbollah?

The threat to Israel from Iran is very real and cannot be minimized or dismissed.  If seen, however, through the new prism and within a different context, this threat could be dealt with much more effectively.  Let me explain.

While the Iranian Islamic revolution has always used vitriolic language against Israel and Zionism, the degree of aggressiveness has diminished remarkably since the terrorist attacks of September 11th until the summer of 2005.  During the Presidency of Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005) attempts were made to explore possible détente between Israel and Iran.  The Bush Administration’s rebuffing of Iran’s extended hand and its rewarding of Iran’s cooperation in Afghanistan with an aggressive policy centered on regime change drove the Ayatollahs of Iran mad.  Their response to the United States was the election of Ahmadinejad to the Presidency in August 2005.  This explains why since, Iranian aggressive rhetoric against Israel, its denial of the Holocaust, the hosting of a conference entitled “A World without Zionism”, its threats of annihilating Israel, and its active support of Hamas have come about with such intensity.  If seen through this context and with this new prism, the Iranian nuclear and conventional threat, which are quite real, may be effectively dealt with through this new American strategy towards Iran.

Viewed through this new prism, one can also better understand why in the upcoming elections of June 12th, the Ayatollahs have allowed candidates to run for the Presidency who are critical of President Ahmadinejad’s stance on the nuclear issue and are advocating the normalization of relations with the United States.  The Ayatollahs are not quite sure what to make of President Obama’s intended overture towards Iran.  By allowing these candidates to run and be vocal on these national security issues, the Ayatollahs are sending the signal to Washington that they have heard President Obama.  If, however, Ahmadinejad as expected by many wins the elections, it means that the Ayatollahs want to test President Obama’s intentions first.

In closing, if the United States were to adopt a strategy aimed at forging a partnership with Iran, it would need to tread very carefully, be patient and show resolve because there is a lot of animosity and distrust on both sides, especially on the Iranian side.

Cultural intelligence matters!

  • My colleague at the University of South Florida, Professor Mohsen Milani, is one of the nation’s leading experts on Iranian foreign policy. Though much has been written about U.S. policy toward Iran, it is rare to find thoughtful analysis – at least in English – of Iran’s foreign policy toward the U.S. In this just-released article from Foreign Affairs, Milani provides an insightful and lucid explanation of Iran’s strategic logic, and describes the assumptions that guide their rhetoric, actions and world view. He offers a perspicacious look behind the sensationalistic Western media portrayal of an irrational and undeterrable nation to see the view from the other side. -RB (

    The article is titled: “Tehran’s Take” and can be found at Foreign Affairs (


    Iran’s foreign policy is often portrayed in sensationalistic terms, but in reality it is a rational strategy meant to ensure the survival of the Islamic Republic against what Tehran thinks is an existential threat posed by the United States.