Containing and deterring.., p.9
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       Containing and Deterring a Nuclear Iran, p.9

           American Enterprise Institute Foreign and Defense Policy Studies
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The Interest Question

  Evaluating Iran’s strategic interests and priorities is, perhaps, the central question to understand the prospects for deterring a nuclear Iran. At minimum, Iran’s primary strategic interest is to guarantee regime stability and survival. Tehran regards US presence in the Persian Gulf as a threat, a perception heightened by American presence in Iraq and Afghanistan. At the same time, Iran’s interests are more expansive and transcend the Islamic Revolution. If Tehran had its way, it would not only control the waterways in and around the Persian Gulf but also have a favorable balance of power in the eastern Mediterranean and Arabian Peninsula. It would like protection to the east, where it considers itself guardian to coethnicists and coreligionists in Afghanistan, and to the north into the southern Caucasus. Tehran views itself as a panregional and not just a regional power.44 The Persians’ sense of their historical role and cultural superiority reinforces Iran’s sense that by right it deserves to be a regional hegemon.

  This will remain the case regardless of who is running Iran. The current internal power struggle—not just pitting reformists against principalists, but also pitting hardliners against other hardliners—is not about the scope of Iran’s power. Regardless of who ends up on top—Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei or his clerical successors, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), or any other power center or faction—Iranian leaders will feel they have predominant right within what they consider to be their own near abroad.

  This clashes with US strategic interests. Indeed, the long-time view among the Washington establishment that Tehran is the United States’ natural partner in the region does not withstand serious scrutiny.45 Washington has long considered the rise of a hostile hegemon in the world’s most critical energy-producing region to be unacceptable. The US commitment is only increasing, both because of the partnerships with Iraq and Afghanistan and because of the global importance of energy supplies. Both Iran and the United States are engaged on multiple fronts, not only with each other or with allies but also globally. The Iranian regime has cultivated ties with Latin American and African leaders, including Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, Rafael Correa of Ecuador, and Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal.46 Iran and Venezuela’s promise in October 2010 to establish a “new world order” that would “eliminate Western dominance over global affairs,” may pose more of a rhetorical than an existential threat to the Monroe Doctrine,47 but these Iranian inroads show that US and Iranian policies, not only in the Persian Gulf region but beyond, will continue to remain at odds.

  The Arab Spring underscores the divergent interests of the United States and Iran, and it introduces new uncertainties to their strategic landscapes. Iran is struggling to reclaim its self-styled position as the leader of a regional resistance movement, but it is now marketing it as one primarily focused against Israeli and US influence. As Supreme Leader Khamenei stated, “One can clearly tell that the principles of the current revolutions in the region . . . [are] resistance against the influence and domination of the United States and Europe that have wreaked the greatest damage and humiliation on the peoples of these countries over the past two hundred years, [and] countering the usurper and fictitious Zionist regime.”48 Iran has exploited the moment in Bahrain, but it has also seen its longtime ally Syria shaken by strong protests. Likewise, the fall of the Hosni Mubarak regime in Egypt has forced the United States to seek novel ways to define what had been one of its longest-standing strategic partnerships.

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