It is rare for obscure historical events from distant countries to condition policy debates in Washington. But two events — the end of Iran-Iraq war in 1988 and Iran's agreement to suspend its nuclear program in 2003 — seemingly affirm the international community's approach to Iran. After all, faced with mounting pressure, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini drank the poisoned chalice and agreed to an armistice that he had long abjured. And it is undeniable that America's shock-and-awe success in Iraq caused a fearful theocracy to suspend its nuclear program.
Such a historical narrative is as convincing as it is incomplete. The reason why Iran embarked on a judicious recalibration of its interests in both episodes stemmed not just from pressures, but also from the presence of a powerful, pragmatic coalition within the government that managed to prevail in internal deliberations.
In today's Islamic Republic, all moderate voices have been excised from the corridors of power, and the debates of the previous decades have been displaced by a consensus among a narrow cast of militant actors.