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The View From Tehran


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141791Defining Ideas:

n the decades-long confrontation between Iran and the United States, Iran thinks it’s winning.

Kori Schake



President Obama and his spokesmen repeatedly intone that “Iran’s leaders should have no doubt about the resolve of the United States.” But what if Iran does doubt America’s resolve? What if the Iranian government believes it is achieving its aims in its confrontation with the United States?


In his AIPAC speech last year, the most fulsome statement of policy toward Iran, President Obama characterized Iran’s position: “Iran is isolated, its leadership divided and under pressure. And by the way, the Arab Spring has only increased these trends, as the hypocrisy of the Iranian regime is exposed, and its ally, the Assad regime, is crumbling.” The President went on to say:


I have said that when it comes to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, I will take no options off the table, and I mean what I say. That includes all elements of American power: a political effort aimed at isolating Iran, a diplomatic effort to sustain our coalition and ensure that the Iranian program is monitored, an economic effort that imposes crippling sanctions and, yes, a military effort to be prepared for any contingency.


Iran’s leaders should understand that I do not have a policy of containment; I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. And as I have made clear time and again during the course of my presidency, I will not hesitate to use force when it is necessary to defend the United States and its interests.


Objectively, that may be true. It also seems true that the government of Iran is, as the RAND policy analyst Alireza Nader, describes it, “a wobbling, wheezing theocracy.” But the government was strong enough to crush dissent after its 2009 presidential elections and brazen enough to refuse several Western offers to constrain its nuclear programs in return for reintegration into the international political and economic order.


It at least merits considering whether the Iranian regime shares the views on which our policy is predicated. The commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, General James Mattis, has long said the Iranian government believes it is succeeding in its confrontation with America.


Iranian government leaders certainly act as though they are succeeding, denying International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors access to their sites, adopting maximalist demands in negotiations with Western governments, trumpeting their technological advances of numbers of centrifuges operating and levels of enrichment attained, and, most recently, declining bilateral negotiations with the U.S. offered by Vice President Biden.

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