Academic journal article McNair Papers

Introduction

Academic journal article McNair Papers

Introduction

Article excerpt

Iran appears to be pursuing an assertive foreign policy that confronts the United States on a variety of points: the Middle East peace process, the stability of moderate Muslim states, terrorism (such as the death threat to Rushdie), security in the Persian Gulf, and nuclear proliferation.

However, Iran's intentions and capabilities are by no means clear.

* On the intentions side, some observors expect that a desire for good economic relations with the West and a waning of revolutionary fervor will lead to moderation in action if not in words; others, myself included, see a broad consensus inside Iran for assertiveness, uniting Persian nationalism with Islamic fundamentalism.

* On the capabilities side, Iran is short on cash and faces growing internal political dissension, which some say means it will not be able to devote much to foreign adventures and the military build-up, while others say internal problems give Iran reason to acquire a military with which to pressure its rich neighbors.

To discuss these issues, the Institute for National Strategic Studies at the National Defense University convened a workshop on "Iran's Strategic Intentions." The workshop brought together leading experts on Iranian security policy: speakers with access to Iranian officials and with the language skills to follow Iranian developments.

Some of the points that I took from the discussion, which by no means represent the views of all the authors or discussion participants, were:

* Iran is absorbed with domestic problems.

--Foreign affairs is a secondary concern for Iran's leaders and its people. Foreign policies are in large part a by-product of domestic politics.

--The government lacks legitimacy. The post-Khomeini leadership is not accepted by many believers as the voice of religious authority. Religious figures in the provinces, especially those with large Sunni or non-Persian populations, increasingly reject the representatives sent from Tehran. The hold of the central government over the provinces is weakening.

--The economic situation is bad, and the popular mood is worse. Public and elite opinion both believe that the continued existence of the Islamic Republic is in doubt. …

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