IRAN: Hidden Iran: Paradox and Power in the Islamic Republic

Article excerpt

IRAN Hidden Iran: Paradox and Power in the Islamic Republic, by Ray Takeyh. New York: Times Books/Henry Holt and Company, 2006. 226 pages. Notes to p. 244. Acknowledgments to p. 246. Index to p. 259. $25.

Reviewed by Charles G. MacDonald

As the situation in Iraq continues to challenge US policy makers and as the various reactions to the report of the Iraq Study Group emerge, Iran is at the heart of fears and opportunities. Bravo for Ray Takeyh, a Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, who has provided a dispassionate, insightful, and timely study of the Islamic Republic of Iran. His work comes at a time when policy makers and scholars alike need an objective and thoughtful study that can clarify issues and establish a much-needed realistic perspective on Iran.

Ray Takeyh's expertise on Iran, Islamist movements, Middle East politics, and US foreign policy has earned him positions in Middle East studies extending from University of California, Berkeley and Yale University to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, National Defense University, and the Council on Foreign Relations. His credentials are indicative of the quality of his scholarship and his ability to deal with a complex and controversial topic - Islamic Iran.

In this book, Takeyh develops a number of themes. The first is evident in the introduction, titled "Getting Iran Wrong." He suggests that the "real root of the estrangement" is the "profound and frequently mutual misunderstanding of the enemy." He argues that the misperception of Iran has been a common thread that has linked all US administrations from the inception of the Islamic Republic to the present confrontation over Iran's nuclear program. In order to achieve an appropriate appreciation of Iran's complexity and to avoid simplistic wrongheaded solutions, Takeyh contends, it is necessary to examine honestly and openly Iran's current internal political dynamics while respecting Iran's traditions and values. He maintains that it is "only through deciphering the hidden Iran that we can address the true challenge that the Islamic Republic poses" (p. 7).

Another theme that Takeyh places in context is the impact of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's legacy. As Iran's revolution continues to pursue its goals in a domestic setting marked by reform and reaction, the election of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad in 2005 signaled Iran's continued attraction to the "roots of the revolution." Khomeini's struggle continues to have its impact on the three central political forces that emerged domestically in Iran: the hardline, conservative clerical politicians; the more moderate clerical pragmatists; and the intellectual and clerical reformers. …