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What the U.S. Gets Wrong About Iran

Karim Sadjadpour

NY Times, Aug. 12, 2022

“Like Castro, Mr. Khamenei too understands that the greater danger to his theocracy is not global isolation but global integration.”

Ibn Khaldun, the 14th-century North African scholar, wrote that empires tended not to last beyond three generations. The founders of the first-generation are rough men united by hardship, grit and group solidarity, a concept he called asabiyyah. The next generation preserves the achievements of their forebears. By the third or fourth generation, however, the comforts of wealth and status erode ambition and unity, leaving them vulnerable to a new generation of power seekers with fire in their bellies.

In the 1979 Iranian revolution, religious fundamentalists with fire in their bellies transformed the country into an anti-American Islamist theocracy. Today Iran is still led by one of its first-generation revolutionaries — 83-year-old Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has ruled since 1989. Among the reasons for Mr. Khamenei’s longevity is that he rules Iran with the HYPER-vigilance and brutality of a man who believes that much of his own society, and the world’s greatest superpower, aspire to unseat him.

Under Mr. Khamenei’s leadership, anti-Americanism has become central to Iran’s revolutionary identity, and indeed few nations have spent a greater percentage of their finite political and financial capital to try and topple the U.S.-led world order than Iran. On virtually every contemporary American national security concern — including the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Chinese threats against Taiwan, nuclear proliferation, and cyberwarfare — Tehran defines its own interests in opposition to the United States.

As I explained to U.S. lawmakers recently, one need only look at how Vladimir Putin’s brazen military adventures in Georgia, Crimea, and Syria convinced him he could invade Ukraine with impunity, to understand how the Islamic Republic operates. The country’s successful entrenchment of powerful proxies in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen, coupled with America’s humiliating withdrawal from Afghanistan, have further convinced Iran of its own success as well as America’s inevitable decline. This dynamic has hampered the Biden administration’s attempts to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal that Donald Trump withdrew from.

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