The Strategic Culture of the Islamic Republic of Iran: Operational and Policy Implications

(Washington Institute for Near East Policy) Michael Eisenstadt - The Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) is an unconventional adversary that requires unconventional approaches in planning, strategy and policy. These approaches must take into account the country's sophisticated culture, the regime's religious-ideological orientation, and the country's modern military history. And they must account for its unique approach to statecraft, strategy, and the use of force. Because Shiite religious doctrine is central to the official ideology of the Islamic Republic and exalts the suffering and martyrdom of the faithful, Iran is sometimes portrayed as an irrational, "undeterrable" state with a high pain threshold. This impression has been reinforced by Iran's use of costly human-wave attacks during the Iran-Iraq War. Iranian officials deliberately cultivate and play up this image of Iran as a dangerous foe whose soldiers seek martyrdom, and whose society is willing and able to absorb heavy punishment. They do so to energize the regime's hard-core support base, to intimidate its enemies, and to strengthen the country's deterrent posture. This perception of Iran, however, is both anachronistic and wrong. In the heady, early days of the revolution, the Iranian people were indeed willing to endure hardships, make great sacrifices, and incur heavy losses in support of the war effort. But as the war with Iran dragged on, popular support for it waned. The population was demoralized and wearied by years of inconclusive fighting, making it increasingly difficult to attract volunteers for the front. As a result, Ayatollah Khomeini accepted the cease-fire with Iraq in July 1988. Since then, within the context of a relatively activist foreign policy, Iranian decision-makers have generally shunned direct confrontation, and have acted through surrogates (such as the Lebanese Hizbullah) or by means of stealth in order to preserve deniability, and thereby minimize risk. The writer is a senior fellow and director of the Military and Security Studies Program at The Washington Institute.

2011-09-09 00:00:00

Full Article


Visit the Daily Alert Archive