Understanding Iran

Understanding Iran

Understanding Iran

Understanding Iran


Iran remains among the most poorly understood countries in the world and, for most Americans, terra incognita. A small community of American analysts in the government, academia, and the country's think tanks is, of course, working on Iran, but the overwhelming majority of them have never been to Iran or have visited only briefly. The consequences of this unfamiliarity have been distinctly negative for American policy, pushing most analyses toward a highly reductionist view. This monograph, the result of a workshop and the authors' own experience and analysis, is a concise, accessible handbook on the Islamic Republic for U.S. policymakers. As an aid to understanding current-day Iran, it synthesizes the existing analyses on the Islamic Republic and, most important, draws from non-American experts who can offer a different interpretive lens for viewing the seemingly opaque Iranian system. It offers a set of short analytic observations about the processes, institutions, networks, and actors that define Iran's politics, strategy, economic policy, and diplomacy. From these, it provides a guide for negotiating with Iran, about which the National Security Council's 2006 National Security Strategy warned, "We may face no greater challenge from a single country than from Iran." Book jacket.


The United States has been working predominantly in the dark with respect to the Islamic Republic of Iran. All interested players, regardless of their political leanings or underlying motivations, suffer from America’s collective ignorance about this uniquely complex country. This ignorance stems from Iran’s denial of sustained physical access to American visitors, but it also stems from America’s lack of access to and insight into the workings of the Iranian system itself, especially its economic system.

This gap is what the project reported on in this monograph addresses. The project’s architects recognized that U.S. policymakers of all perspectives need to understand what motivates Iran and how it works. Fully aware of the analytic challenges that Iran offers, the project organizers turned to the Smith Richardson Foundation for assistance, with an eye to constructing a user-friendly and readable handbook that could enable U.S. policymakers to get up to speed on Iran in an efficient fashion.

This research was conducted within the International Security and Defense Policy Center (ISDP) of the RAND Corporation’s National Security Research Division (NSRD). NSRD conducts research and analysis for the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the defense agencies, the Department of the Navy, the Marine Corps, the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Intelligence Community, allied foreign governments, and foundations.

For more information on RAND’s International Security and Defense Policy Center, contact the Director, James Dobbins. He can be . . .

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