Ayatollah Ali Hosseini Khamenei Iranian Supreme Leader press office/Getty Images

Global Bookmark

The Iran Paradox

The Islamic Republic of Iran is both a historical relic and a contemporary dynamo. Despite having lost legitimacy in the eyes of most Iranians, the regime has managed to expand its influence beyond its borders – and is close to achieving its goal of regional hegemony.

WASHINGTON, DC – Of the states that emerged from the twentieth century’s three great revolutions – in Russia in 1917, China in 1949, and Iran in 1979 – the Islamic Republic of Iran alone endures in something close to its original form. Modern-day Iran is thus a historical relic; but it is also a contemporary dynamo. Its revolutionary regime is increasingly sclerotic and beleaguered. And yet, in recent years, it has managed to exert ever-more power and influence beyond its borders.

Two recent books help to explain how this paradox came about. Democracy in Iran, by Dartmouth College sociologist Misagh Parsa, examines Iran’s domestic political evolution since the revolution. And The Iran Wars, by Jay Solomon, a former foreign affairs correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, assesses Iran’s foreign policy in the twenty-first century, with an emphasis on its relations with the United States.

The Last Revolution

Like the revolutions in Russia and China, the Iranian Revolution brought to power an entirely new elite that reshaped the country’s political and economic order on the basis of a radical ideology. Like them, it was led by a shrewd, charismatic, tactically flexible, and supremely ruthless leader, with the Shia Muslim cleric Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini playing the same role that Vladimir Lenin and Mao Zedong did in Russia and China. And all three revolutions made extensive use of violence. Like the Bolsheviks and the Chinese Communist Party, the Islamic Republic conducted a campaign of terror against its opponents – real and imagined – and consolidated its power through severe repression.

To continue reading, please subscribe to On Point.

To access On Point, log in or register now now and read two On Point articles for free. For unlimited access to the unrivaled analysis of On Point, subscribe now.

required

Log in

http://prosyn.org/DSZCJdD;
  1. Trump visits China Thomas Peter-Pool/Getty Images

    China’s New World Order?

    • Now that Chinese President Xi Jinping has solidified his position as China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong, he will be able to pursue his vision of a China-led international order.

    • But if China wants to enjoy the benefits of regional or even global hegemony in the twenty-first century, it will have to prove itself ready to accept the responsibilities of leadership.
  2. Paul Manafort Alex Wong/Getty Images

    The Fall of the President’s Men

    • There can no longer be any doubt that Donald Trump is the ultimate target of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s sweeping investigation of alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. 

    • But even if Mueller doesn’t catch Donald Trump in a crime, the president will leave much human and political wreckage behind.
  3. Painted portraits of Chinese President Xi Jinping and late communist leader Mao Zedong Greg Baker/Getty Images

    When China Leads

    For the last 40 years, China has implemented a national strategy that, despite its many twists and turns, has produced the economic and political juggernaut we see today. It would be reckless to assume, as many still do in the US, Europe, and elsewhere, that China’s transition to global preeminence will somehow simply implode, under the weight of the political and economic contradictions they believe to be inherent to the Chinese model.