The End of Iran’s Islamic Revolution

STONY BROOK – The nuclear deal reached in July by Iran and its international interlocutors marks an obvious turning point in the Islamic Republic’s relations with the outside world, particularly with the United States. But why has it taken so much longer for the US to come to terms with Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s revolution in Iran than it did with Mao Zedong’s revolution in China?

Of course, one explanation for the prolonged bilateral freeze is the warped discourse of what George W. Bush foolishly called the “global war on terror,” in which Iran, along with Iraq and North Korea, was cast as part of an international “axis of evil.” As a result, US officials viewed any move toward diplomatic normalization as unacceptable “appeasement.”

But the Bush administration’s moralistic foreign policy merely reinforced America’s stance since Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution. And it is in the history and course of that revolution that a fuller and more compelling explanation of recent events is to be found.

Forget the French Revolution as a model: the so-called Thermidorian Reaction, when moderates ended Robespierre’s Reign of Terror, was an exception to the pattern of modern revolutions. The typical pattern during our living memory is that the hardliners come after the moderates. In the Soviet Union, for example, it was hardliners after World War II who strove to export Marxist-Leninist revolution, condemning the world to decades of cold war.