Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Iranian Foreign Policy: A (Very) Short Course

We all have models of other countries. Even the professionals can't know everything; they must simplify.

What's your model of Iranian foreign policy?

Does your model help you to understand reality or just convince you that your initial prejudices are correct?

If you are a politician, you no doubt have at least two models of many things. For example, Netanyahu's publicly articulated model of Iran is: "Iran is the new Hitler!" Does he actually believe that? I seriously doubt it. Rather, he finds it a superb cover for continuing to absorb Palestine and a great way to keep the flow of U.S. military aid going strong. His real model of Iran is probably something like: "Thank God for Ahmadinejad and his big mouth; if he did not exist, I would have to invent him." Ahmadinejad's model of Netanyahu is about the same.

In an earlier post, I offered a model of Iranian foreign policy. Many readers may have found the article too wordy, but the model was pretty simple (that's the point of models). Here it is: Iranian foreign policy is explained by a desire for security, independence, and influence. Sounds like the model of most young people starting out on their careers, when you think about it. So, perhaps it is a reasonable model, but Iranian leaders obviously have other traits that the average American youth does not have (e.g., possibly a belief in their version of the "end of days"--the return of the Mahdi). So my model does not explain everything. If it did, it would no longer be simple and therefore would no longer be a very good model. In fact, the only model that can explain everything in the universe is...the universe itself.

Models have purposes: perhaps to illuminate, perhaps to trick. Think about the models people try to pawn off on you.

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