The Challenge of Iran
- Its revolution was one of the three transformative events in the Middle East in the 20th century. Iran’s actions will be pivotal to global events in the early 21st century because of its resources, ideology, weaponry, allies and location.
- Strategically, Iran’s frontiers and coastline have for millennia been central to political, military and commercial developments. Today, it spans three of the world’s most volatile regions and its most vital shipping lanes for oil. Iran has the potential to help stabilize or destabilize all four.
- Politically, Iran has been the most dynamic and controversial experiment in blending Islam and democracy—and the experiment is far from over. It continues to play out in the domestic political crisis. The outcome could affect the wider Islamic world as profoundly as the revolution.
- Militarily, Iran has the largest armed forces in the Middle East and, with the exception of Israel, Egypt and increasingly Saudi Arabia, the largest arsenal, although much of its weaponry is of low quality, aging or obsolete. It has also armed militant allies from Lebanon to Afghanistan.
- Economically, Iran is one of the world’s largest and most valuable properties, rich with oil and natural gas. Its assets in turn give it leverage and political leeway globally.
- It holds some 10 percent of the world’s oil reserves. Iran is OPEC’s second largest oil producer. It also has the world’s second largest reserves of natural gas.
- Iran’s vast resources provide enormous leverage in an oil-hungry world. Since World War II, petroleum has been essential to the movement of modern armies and for development of modern industry. Free access to oil has also been essential to both political and economic power.
- Iran’s geo-strategic location bridges the world’s most volatile blocs of countries—the Middle East to the west, the Asian subcontinent to the east, and the Caucuses and Central Asia to the north. Peaceful relations with Iran are pivotal to the stability of more than one dozen countries.
- Iran’s position and the traditions of its Aryan people, the Indo-European race whence Iran gets its name, have long made Iran the crossroads of culture and geography.
- Iran’s population is now among the world’s top twenty. In the first decade after the revolution, it almost doubled from 34 to 62 million when the clerics called on Iranian women to breed an Islamic generation.
- Iran is roughly one-fifth the size of the United States.
- It ranks 18th among the world’s nations in geographic mass.
- Neighboring Afghanistan, by comparison, is 41st.
- Neighboring Iraq is 58th.
- Iran is more than twice as large and twice as populated as both countries.
- In the 21st century, Iran’s unique version of God’s government must prove its viability on earth —and that it can deliver what its people want—or risk the same fate as other utopian ideologies.
- No Islamic country is likely to replicate the Iranian experience. The costs are too high, the results too controversial. The Shiite character of the revolution also makes it unlikely to be repeated among Sunni-dominated societies.
- Yet Iran’s Shiite alliance remains a major power bloc capable of heavily influencing the outcome of elections and conflicts—and sparking tensions with Sunni communities.
- Iran’s resources create a huge cushion against punitive actions such as economic sanctions. In an oil-hungry world, they also undermine international cooperation.
- Iran’s labyrinthine political system—and competing sources of power—complicate all forms of diplomacy. Engagement, especially with the United States, has become a domestic political issue—unrelated to the merits of rapprochement.
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The Islamists Are Coming
The Islamists Are Coming, edited by Robin Wright, surveys the rise of Islamist groups in the wake of the Arab Spring. Often lumped together, the more than 50 Islamist parties with millions of followers now constitute a whole new spectrum—separate from either militants or secular parties. They will shape the new order in the world’s most volatile region more than any other political bloc. Yet they have diverse goals and different constituencies. Sometimes they are even rivals.
"The Iran Primer"--Book Overview
“The Iran Primer” brings together 50 experts—Western and Iranian—in comprehensive but concise online chapters on Iran’s politics, economy, military, foreign policy, and nuclear program. It chronicles U.S.-Iran relations under six U.S. presidents. It also offers policy options, timelines, leader bios, data on nuclear sites—and context for what lies ahead. Click here to order a hardcopy. Timely articles are added weekly at the top.