Challenging the Conventional Wisdom of Iran as a Destabilizing Force in the Middle East

In this post I invite you to read two articles on Iran’s role in the Middle East.

The first one is “Iran and the Middle East: leveraging chaos” by Karim Sadjadpour and Behnam Ben Taleblu.

The second one is “No, Iran Isn’t Destabilizing the Middle East” by Paul Pillar.

The two titles already suggest the existence of opposite positions between the authors.

Sandjapour and Taleblu offer what we could define as the “general wisdom” about Iranian foreign policy in the Middle East.

More than any other state in the Middle East, Iran has been effective at filling regional power vacuums. The four Arab countries in which Tehran currently wields most influence – Syria,Iraq, Lebanon, and Yemen – are engulfed in civil strife and are ruled by weak, embattled central governments. In each of these contexts and elsewhere in the region, Tehran spreads its influence by 1) creating and cultivating non-state actors and militant groups; 2) exploiting the fears and grievances of religious minorities, namely Shiite Arabs; 3) fanning anger against America and Israel; and 4) influencing popular elections in order to ensure the victory of its allies.

They address the destabilizing role of Iran in countries like Bahrain, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and Yemen and argue that Iran’s foreign policy is generally guided by revolutionary ideology instead of the pursue of the national interest.

In the second article Pillar (in my opinion convincingly) challenges this general wisdom and offers a different analysis of the facts.

Focus instead on the image of an Iran whose current regional policy supposedly is already an assortment of destructive activities. This image has become the kind of conventional wisdom that repeatedly gets invoked (even, in this instance, by supporters of the nuclear agreement) without any felt need by those who invoke it to provide any supporting facts or analysis because it is taken for granted that everyone “knows” it to be true. The references to the image are almost always vague and general, couched in terms of Iran supposedly “destabilizing” the Middle East or seeking to “dominate” it or exercise “hegemony” over it, or that it is “on the march” to take over the region. Often there are references to “terrorism” and “subversion” without anything more specific being offered. Often the names of conflict-ridden countries in the region are recited, but again without any specifics as to who is doing what in those countries.

Pillar concludes by saying that:

The ritualistically repeated notion that Iran is wreaking instability all over the region is a badly mistaken myth.

Follow me on Twitter @eugeniolilli


One comment

  1. lenrosen4

    Looking at the world from Iran’s perspective and you notice some common themes. First of all there is the post-colonial theme of shedding the control exerted on the state by super and colonial powers going back over 70 years. Then there is theme of Iran as the homeland of the Shia version of Islam, Iran as defender of Shia believers. And finally you have the theme of Iran’s strong historical Persian perspective.

    The latter cannot be underestimated because Persia under its many guises from its pre-Islamic roots to today has been a strong unitarian state for more than 2,500 years. Persia has provided regional stability for much of that time. Today it is reasserting that traditional role in Southwest Asia. That includes its influence over neighbouring areas where Shia believers have found roots.


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