All the Ayatollah's Men

(National Interest) Ray Takeyh - More than thirty years after Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini came to power, the Islamic Republic remains an outlier in international relations. Other non-Western, revolutionary regimes eventually eschewed a rigidly ideological foreign policy. China's present-day foreign policy isn't structured according to Mao's thought, nor is Ho Chi Minh the guiding light behind Vietnam's efforts to integrate into the Asian community. But Iran's leadership clings to policies derived largely from Khomeini's ideological vision. Khomeini's internationalism had to have an antagonist, a foil against which to define itself. And a caricatured concept of the West became the central pillar of his Islamist imagination. The Western powers were rapacious imperialists determined to exploit Iran's wealth for their own aggrandizement and seeking to subjugate Muslims. Saddam Hussein invaded Iran in 1980. By June 1982, Iran essentially had evicted Iraq from its territory, and the question emerged whether to continue the war by going into Iraq. The decision was made to attack Iraq, and Khomeini resolutely dismissed various offers of cease-fire and generous reparations. By 1988, Iran was exhausted and weary from having waged an eight-year war without any measurable international support. Continuation of the war threatened the revolution. In 1988, shortly after the cease-fire with Iraq, Khomeini ordered the execution of thousands of political prisoners then languishing in Iran's jails, which were carried out in less than a month. A narrow segment of the conservative clerical elite, commanding key institutions of the state, has fashioned a foreign policy designed to maintain the ideological character of the regime. And that remains a key ingredient in determining how the Islamic Republic thinks of itself and its role in the Middle East. The writer is a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

2012-08-24 00:00:00

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