Hidden Iran

Paradox and Power in the Islamic Republic

Foreign policy analyses written by CFR fellows and published by the trade presses, academic presses, or the Council on Foreign Relations Press.

For more than a quarter of a century, few countries have been as resistant to American influence or understanding as Iran. The United States and Iran have long eyed each other with suspicion, all too eager to jump to conclusions and slam the door. With the new hard-line Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, making incendiary pronouncements and pressing for nuclear development, the consequences of not understanding Iran have never been higher.

In Hidden Iran, Ray Takeyh has written a groundbreaking book that reveals how the underappreciated domestic political rivalries within Iran serve to explain the country's behavior on the world stage. A leading expert on Iran's politics and history, Takeyh shows why this country has so often confounded American expectations and inspired a long series of misguided U.S. policies that continue to this day. And yet there is a hidden Iran beyond what we see on the news or hear about from American politicians, one in which political factions jockey for power and influence, politicians fall out of favor only to reemerge a few years later, and the hard-liners, the pragmatists, and the reformers tend to counterbalance one another in the government.

Takeyh introduces us to the leading players on all sides and shows how the game of political chess is played in Iran. Much of the saber rattling that so alarms outsiders, he shows, serves primarily to shore up wavering domestic support; in fact, the current nuclear standoff features an inside-outside dynamic similar to the hostage crisis of 1979-81, which Ayatollah Khomeini used to divide his political opponents and secure his own power.

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Takeyh explains the Iranian view of the world, which transcends political affiliation, and the prominent role the country seeks to play in the Persian Gulf region, in the wider Muslim world, and in relation to its neighbors in Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent. He also offers keen insight into Iran's tumultuous bilateral relations with Iraq, Israel, and the United States, showing how the U.S. invasion of Iraq has actually put Iran in its strongest strategic position since the first days of the revolution.

Hidden Iran points the way toward a new way of managing America's relationship with Iran, making a persuasive case that the countries' differing world views need not lead inexorably to conflict.

A Council on Foreign Relations Book

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Reviews and Endorsements

Takeyh's narrative is rich and accessible, laying bare the paradoxes that dominate Iranian politics and the complexities that the United States faces in dealing with them. Takeyh also shows great dexterity in looking through the jumble of Islamic ideology and nationalism, driven by intense factional and institutional rivalries, to identify Iran's strategic logic.

The New Republic

The current standoff between Iran and the West over Iran's nuclear ambitions appears to be a Gordian knot that some urge to be disentangled by resorting to military force. Takeyh wisely places the nuclear issue within the broader context of Iran's relations with the West, and particularly with the 'Great Satan,' the United States. Within context, Takeyh asserts that Americans have grossly misunderstood the complex realities of Iranian political life. As opposed to the image frequently shown in Americaa monolithic government controlled by clerical fanaticsTakeyh presents a far more nuanced picture. Despite the recent electoral triumphs of conservative ideologies, Iran remains torn between those who seek a more secular, pluralistic state and those who hope to maintain rigid authoritarianism. The outcome is far from certain, but Takeyh insists the hostile tone emanating from the Bush administration only undermines reformers. Critics are likely to accuse Takeyh of naivete in assuming that our problems with Iran can be solved through dialogue. Still, his assertions and suggestions provide a necessary counterpoint to those who see confrontations and military conflict as inevitable.

Jay Freeman, Booklist

Superb . . . the best single-volume treatment of Iran available. Takeyh . . . has written a book that moves briskly and insightfully as it analyzes key aspects of the Islamic Republic and its relations with the world outside its borders. . . . Hidden Iran is a welcome arrival.

Daniel Benjamin, The National Interest

Takeyh has written a shrewd, timely guide to Iran's schisms, interests, and ambitions, as well as offering a bracing and often nicely acerbic look at U.S.-Iranian relations.

Warren Bass, Washington Post

Hidden Iran is a skillful policy brief, written in a smooth, graceful style that is accessible to nonspecialists. Takeyh does not underestimate how difficult it is for the Islamic Republic of Iran and the United States of America to find ways of dealing with each other, but he demonstrates persuasively that a policy of more of the same will only produce more of the same.

Gary Sick, Foreign Affairs

In this well-constructed sketch of American-Iranian relations, Takeyh critiques the United States' unnuanced approach to Iran since its 1979 revolution as well as the failure of successive administrations to note that decades of sanctions and containment haven't significantly changed Iranian behavior. A picture emerges of a complex society marked by cultural struggle and compromise, as Takeyh criticizes the perception of Iranian politics as monolithic. He concludes that the 'chimera of regime change' must finally be rejected, and pointedly observes that 'it is rare ... for a state that views nuclear weapons as fundamental to its security interests to dispense with such weapons under relentless threats.' Takeyh urges America to look beyond President Ahmadinejad to such institutions as Iran's powerful Supreme National Security Council and Foreign Ministry, each of which distanced themselves from Ahmadinejad's anti-Israel rhetoric. Takeyh even suggests areas in which Iran and the United States might forge a 'selective partnership'not least their shared need for a stable Iraq.... Takeyh provides a well-argued, seldom-heard viewpoint.

Publishers Weekly

An excellent study of how Iran's complex domestic politics shape the foreign policy of the Islamic Republic. ... Takeyh has tackled an immensely difficult subject, painted a rich and detailed picture of Iranian politics, and developed very informed and sensible arguments that are worthy of careful consideration and debate.

Middle East Policy

We really haven't understood Iran since the rise of the Islamic Republic. Much of what is said and written about it these days is grounded in emotion, ideology, or wishful thinking. But Ray Takeyh knows the countrythe culture, and the languageand adds to these strengths an acute mind. The result is a book of facts, logic, and analysis. It is the single best guide to understanding modern Iran.

Fareed Zakaria, editor of Newsweek International and author of The Future of Freedom

An important and timely insight into the complexities of contemporary Iran, which not only refutes the simplistic and war-mongering slogans about Iran of those who recently pushed America into the war with Iraq, but also points the way to a more constructive relationship.

Zbigniew Brzezinski, former national security adviser and author of The Choice: Global Domination or Global Leadership

Ray Takeyh is one of the best of the new generation of Middle East scholars and anything he writes on the topic of Iran is automatically a must-read. With Hidden Iran, he has given us a concise, penetrating account of contemporary Tehran that answers the questions that every American ponders in the midst of our latest confrontation with the Islamic Republic.

Kenneth Pollack, author of The Persian Puzzle: The Conflict Between Iran and America

Ray Takeyh has written an excellent book untangling both Iran's internal politics and its equally complex relations with the outside world, especially the United States. This succinct and cool-headed book should become a must-read for those, especially policymakers, concerned about the looming nuclear crisis with Iran.'

Ervand Abrahamian, distinguished professor, City University of New York

Ray Takeyh writes with special knowledge of Iran and authority on America's troubled relationship with that country. His book is thoughtful and well timed, and it should be widely read at this critical juncture.

Robin Wright, author of The Last Great Revolution: Turmoil and Transformation in Iran

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