Dangerous But Not Omnipotent

Dangerous But Not Omnipotent: Exploring the Reach and Limitations of Iranian Power in the Middle East

Frederic Wehrey
David E. Thaler
Nora Bensahel
Kim Cragin
Jerrold D. Green
Dalia Dassa Kaye
Nadia Oweidat
Jennifer Li
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: RAND Corporation
Pages: 230
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  • Book Info
    Dangerous But Not Omnipotent
    Book Description:

    In an analysis grounded in the observation that although Iranian power projection is marked by strengths, it also has serious liabilities and limitations, this report surveys the nature of both in four critical areas and offers a new U.S. policy paradigm that seeks to manage the challenges Iran presents through the exploitation of regional barriers to its power and sources of caution in the regime?s strategic calculus.

    eISBN: 978-0-8330-4720-5
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-ii)
  2. Preface
    (pp. iii-vi)
  3. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Figures
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Table
    (pp. xi-xii)
  6. Summary
    (pp. xiii-xxiv)
  7. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xxv-xxvi)
  8. Abbreviations
    (pp. xxvii-xxviii)
  9. CHAPTER ONE Introduction: Understanding the Iranian Challenge
    (pp. 1-6)

    Since the 1979 revolution, Iran’s regional ambitions and powerprojection efforts have been among the most critical foreign policy challenges facing the United States in the Middle East. U.S. policymakers from that time have grappled with variations on a question that continues to challenge their successors today: Is Iran an unequivocal threat to U.S. interests in the region, undermining the evolution of, as then–Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice put it, “the kind of Middle East that we want to see”?¹ In recent years, Tehran has pursued an increasingly aggressive foreign policy, leading President G. W. Bush to declare before a...

  10. CHAPTER TWO Assertiveness and Caution in Iranian Strategic Culture
    (pp. 7-38)

    Each of Iran’s vectors for power projection presents both assets and liabilities for Iranian leaders. As we discuss below, some of these limitations are inherent in Iranian capabilities, particularly in its conventional military, as well as structural features in the Middle East political environment. Yet themotivesandintentionsof the regime’s leadership will ultimately determine whether and how these instruments are used: with assertiveness and risk or caution and prudence. Shaping long-term DoD and USAF options and posture requires an understanding of the interplay of these contending poles of Iranian behavior. This understanding is also important for constructing a...

  11. CHAPTER THREE Asymmetric Ambition and Conventional Reality: Iran’s Evolving Defense Strategy, Doctrine, and Capabilities
    (pp. 39-80)

    This chapter analyzes Iran’s national defense requirements and considers the challenges and opportunities Iranian strategists and planners face in meeting those requirements. First, it describes the foundations and elements of Tehran’s defense strategy based on the discussion of its worldview and threat perceptions in Chapter Two, provides an overview of Iran’s security establishment, and explores major themes in Iranian doctrine. It then characterizes and assesses the current and potential capabilities of Iran’s armed forces and evaluates the extent to which Iran’s doctrine is reflected in these capabilities. Next, the chapter examines the potential roles of nuclear weapons in Iranian strategy...

  12. CHAPTER FOUR Iran and Its Non-State Partners: Assessing Linkages and Control
    (pp. 81-128)

    As noted in Chapter One, support to non-state Islamist actors around the globe forms an important component of Iran’s power projection, deterrence, and retaliatory strategy. With Iran’s perceived encirclement following the U.S.-backed toppling of the regimes of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein, this strategy has grown in importance, albeit not for the same aims that defined Tehran’s early support to Shi’ite militants following the revolution.

    In the early years of the Islamic Republic, the main objective of Iranian foreign policy was to export the revolution, most significantly to areas marked by Shi’ite marginalization in the Persian Gulf states and Lebanon....

  13. CHAPTER FIVE Arab Perceptions of the Iranian Threat
    (pp. 129-152)

    Aside from its support to non-state actors, Tehran also views Arab public opinion as an important vector of power projection, one that can be used to exert pressure on unfriendly Arab regimes, as well as their Western allies. Employing both indigenous media as well as its own Arabic-language media outlets, Iran has played to the major sources of Arab discontent, portraying itself variously as

    a populist challenger of the status quo political order in the Middle East

    a steadfast champion of the Palestinian cause

    the state sponsor of the only Arab military body (Hezbollah) to have successfully liberated Arab soil...

  14. CHAPTER SIX Conclusion: U.S. Strategy and the Islamic Republic
    (pp. 153-180)

    In the preceding chapters, we explored the reach and limitations of principal aspects of the Iranian strategic challenge: the regime’s perception of itself in the world as a regional and even global power, its conventional military buildup and aspirations for an asymmetric warfare capability, its support for paramilitaries and terrorist groups, and its ability to exploit Arab popular opinion. It is clear from our analysis that Iran will present formidable challenges to U.S. interests over the next ten to fifteen years, particularly in the realm of ballistic missiles, its naval activity in the Strait of Hormuz, and its support for...

  15. References
    (pp. 181-204)