American and Iran: Flawed Analysis, Missed Opportunities, and Looming Dangers


The United States and Iran have been bitter enemies for 30 years. The two nations came close to war over the seizure of the American Embassy in Tehran in 1979, fought an undeclared naval war in the Persian Gulf a decade later, almost clashed again in the 1990s, and are again on the brink of conflict today. They support rivals across the Middle East and South Asia and engage in vitriolic public antagonism. No country has been sanctioned more by the U.S. Congress in recent decades than Iran, and none has been as vilified by politicians on both sides of the aisle. No country has been the subject of more rhetoric at Friday prayers in Iran than the Great Satan.

For 30 years, the United States has tried to deal with Iran and its revolutionary ideology without a well grounded understanding of what motivates and inspires Iranians, or why most believe their revolution was a great turning point in their country’s history, the history of Islam, and one of the truly decisive events of the 20th century.

With a weak and erratic understanding of the dynamics of Iranian politics, history and culture, U.S. presidents have lurched from one failure to another in trying to deal with Iran. In the last 30 years, they have dealt, or misdealt, with Iran more than any other foreign policy issue. All too often, American leaders have relied on the warped views of third parties with their own agendas.

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