Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Eisenstadt: Sure, Iran is aggressive — but does that make them craaaazy?

By Joseph Sarkisian Best Defense bureau of Iranian affairs The Marine Corps University’s recently published monograph titled, The Strategic Culture of the Islamic Republic of Iran, brings to light an unconventional viewpoint on Iranian grand strategy. Its author, Michael Eisenstadt, dispels the myths surrounding Iranian policy while providing an in-depth analysis of the creative calculus ...

Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

By Joseph Sarkisian
Best Defense bureau of Iranian affairs

The Marine Corps University's recently published monograph titled, The Strategic Culture of the Islamic Republic of Iran, brings to light an unconventional viewpoint on Iranian grand strategy. Its author, Michael Eisenstadt, dispels the myths surrounding Iranian policy while providing an in-depth analysis of the creative calculus the regime uses when making its decisions at home and abroad. It is this calculus that the United States must solve in order to achieve more effective engagement.

Eisenstadt makes the case that the Iranian regime operates in a very pragmatic, calculated manner as opposed to the image of an "irrational, 'undeterrable' state with a high pain threshold," that its leadership likes to portray. Being able to see past the rhetoric of holocaust denial, destruction of Israel, and fears of a nuclear apocalypse, which Iran intentionally uses to paint itself as a fearsome enemy, will be key to making tangible diplomatic progress.

By Joseph Sarkisian
Best Defense bureau of Iranian affairs

The Marine Corps University’s recently published monograph titled, The Strategic Culture of the Islamic Republic of Iran, brings to light an unconventional viewpoint on Iranian grand strategy. Its author, Michael Eisenstadt, dispels the myths surrounding Iranian policy while providing an in-depth analysis of the creative calculus the regime uses when making its decisions at home and abroad. It is this calculus that the United States must solve in order to achieve more effective engagement.

Eisenstadt makes the case that the Iranian regime operates in a very pragmatic, calculated manner as opposed to the image of an "irrational, ‘undeterrable’ state with a high pain threshold," that its leadership likes to portray. Being able to see past the rhetoric of holocaust denial, destruction of Israel, and fears of a nuclear apocalypse, which Iran intentionally uses to paint itself as a fearsome enemy, will be key to making tangible diplomatic progress.

In his view, the image of Iran as an irrational actor is overblown — but the idea that Iran seeks to become a regional power capable of exerting influence over the entire region and becoming the guardian of Islam is real. Iranian defense planning is formed around this goal, as well as to deter potential adversaries and to achieve self-reliance from the outside world.

The argument that, "The Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) is an unconventional adversary that requires unconventional approaches in planning, strategy and policy" is underscored by the fact that the conventional method of sanctioning to change behavior has done nothing to stop uranium enrichment.

The unconventional approach suggested by Eisenstadt suggests a rewriting of the policy manual on Iran. The United States must spend less time countering Iranian hard power and more time countering its even stronger soft power, pay more attention to the effectiveness of Iranian psychological warfare, and brainstorm better ways to pierce the veil of Iranian ambiguity. Once more of these unconventional tactics are implemented, the end of the 32-year diplomatic stalemate may finally come within reach.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1
Tag: Iran

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