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The United States and Iran: Challenges of Deterrence and Compellence

Abstract and Keywords

Implementing deterrent and compellent strategies are among the most critical tasks of the national security decision maker. However, as the case of U.S.-Iranian relations since 1979 demonstrates, deterring another state from taking action—especially if it considers those steps to be in its national interests—or compelling it to adopt policies in line with one’s own preferences but which represent a setback to the goals of the other state can be a difficult proposition. In addition, the Iran relationship demonstrates howthe use of deterrent and compellent instruments must be weighed against costs and other second- and third-order effects which may cause the policymaker to accept a less than optimal outcome in order to avoid greater complications in other areas.

Keywords: deterrence, compellence, Iran, hostages, nuclear program

The Deterrent and Compellent Imperatives

Two primary tasks define the heart of the national security enterprise: first, preventing other states from taking action harmful to your interests; and second, encouraging other states to take steps that will benefit your interests. These twin tasks of international affairs are usually summarized as deterrence and compellence.

Deterrence consists of convincing other countries not to undertake a particular course of action for fear of punishment that would exact a cost higher than any benefit that might be realized by choosing to act in that fashion. This requires the deployment of an effective and credible threat that a state will take action if another country, usually but not always an adversary, decides to take a step that the first state finds undesirable.1 Compellence—a term initially coined by Thomas Schelling in 19662—is the attempt to encourage another to state to do something to conform its policy actions to your preferred and stipulated wishes, either by making the choice of the preferred course of action more attractive or by imposing a cost for noncompliance.3

Deterrence requires a state to develop and field capabilities—and to demonstrate the will and resolve to use them—in order to prevent another country from undertaking an action that has not yet started. While a government may need to take steps to ensure that its deterrent remains active and credible—for example, upgrading ballistic missile systems or engaging in snap military exercises—the overall thrust of deterrence is passive and negative. In other words, deterrence is a policy stance that certain responses will not be triggered as long as another state chooses not to do something or demonstrates that (p. 358) its present and future policy choices will demonstrate continuity with an acceptable set of preexisting behaviors.4

Compellence, on the other hand, is “harder to achieve” because it requires active compliance on the part of another actor.5 Here, the goal is not to prevent something from happening but to get another government to stop, reverse, or change an already existing policy. The government in question is not waiting to deliver retribution if a “red line” is to be crossed, but it is taking the first steps to try and actively encourage another party to choose a deliberate shift in action.6 Compellence can be either coercive—for instance, using economic sanctions, military force, or political pressure to achieve the desired change—or incentive-based, promising the provision of concrete benefits. Or it can be some mix of the two.

Usually, deterrence is classified as a “defensive” action, while compellence is “offensive” in nature.7 Deterrence is about “inducing inaction” while compellence requires “making someone perform.”8 As Robert Art concludes:

The distinction between compellence and deterrence is one between the active and passive use of force. The success of a deterrent threat is measured by its not having to be used. The success of a compellent action is measured by how closely and quickly the adversary conforms to one’s stipulated wishes.9

Theory versus Practice

The academic theories of deterrence and compellence make perfect sense on paper—the application of the tools of statecraft to achieve desired policy outcomes. In practice, however, they pose important problems of execution for the policymaker.

First and foremost, the costs of different deterrent and compellent measures may prove “exhaustive of resources” and thus may not be feasible or sustainable for a state to undertake.10 They are always subject to what Samuel Huntington termed the “structural decisions” of national security, rooted in a country’s domestic politics—and which touch on the limits to the burdens and costs any society is willing to assume in pursuit of strategic objectives.11 There are also important second- and third-order effects to consider. Deterrent or compellent steps taken to influence one state may have a counterproductive impact on other countries or items of interest that matter equally to the state. Economic sanctions meant to compel Iran, Libya, or Cuba to change certain policy behaviors during the 1990s had the unintended consequence of complicating U.S. relations with key allies in Europe and East Asia, forcing those compellent measures to be recalibrated in a way that weakened their effectiveness but were absolutely necessary to head off problems with important partners whose help Washington would need in other areas.12 Thus, for the U.S. policymaker, deterrent and compellent options must be assessed within an overall attempt “to shape the international security environment by (p. 359) balancing threats in key regions of the world, assisting partners in combatting internal challenges, and supporting allies to solve their own security dilemmas.”13

Moreover, both types of approaches rely on the credibility and persuasiveness of the government doing the deterring or compelling: that the state in question believes that a threat will be carried out and that it believes that what is being offered or threatened will in fact have a significant impact on its well-being. An empty threat—one that is not backed up by actual capabilities or a willingness to use them, or measures that fall short of what was promised or expected—can easily damage either the credibility or the persuasiveness of the government wielding the deterrent or compellent tools.14

For instance, Saddam Hussein, in the summer of 1990, was well aware of the enormous economic and military power of the United States. But he did not believe that the United States would be prepared to deploy that power in such a way that would deter him from considering a lightning invasion to seize, not merely a few disputed oil fields, but the entire emirate of Kuwait. Having seized the territory, he calculated that the United States was indeed serious about enforcing its commitments to defend Saudi Arabia, but again doubted that the United States would back up its demand for Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait with any serious action. In both cases, despite strong statements emanating from Washington, Hussein concluded that the United States was neither serious about deterring an Iraqi invasion of Kuwait nor committed to compelling Iraq to withdraw.15 Hussein’s miscalculation resulted in the 1990–1991 war, a decade of no-fly zones, and ultimate regime change in 2003.

In assessing the policy record, the general conclusion that has emerged is that deterrence is “easier” than compellence and that “compelling large concessions is much harder than compelling small concessions.”16 In addition, it is not sufficient for a country to simply display deterrent or compellent capabilities; policymakers must be able to demonstrate how and under what circumstances they are prepared to use them to achieve particular ends.17

The United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran

The history of U.S. relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran since 1979 highlights the difficulties policymakers can face in applying strategies of both deterrence and compellence. The 1979 overthrow of the shah placed an important regional power and critical energy producer (with a nascent atomic weapons program to boot) under the control of a radically anti-American theocratic regime that was prepared to both challenge key U.S. interests and subvert important American partners in the region. At the same time, given its size, geographic position, and resource base, Iran was still in a position to be able to assist or thwart U.S. objectives and thus could not easily isolated or safely ignored.

(p. 360) The Islamic Republic of Iran has always represented a thorny challenge for the United States. On the one hand, the regime is guided by the revolutionary-theocratic vision of its founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, that divides the world between oppressors and oppressed and invests the Islamic Republic with the mission of redeeming the Middle East for the forces of righteousness no matter the costs or burdens. At the same time, Iran’s government has not always put ideology ahead of pragmatism. To stay in power, the regime has reluctantly reached agreements with its rivals and its enemies, in some cases requiring the Islamic Republic to make concessions to often ideologically unpalatable realities. This clash of ideology and pragmatism makes it difficult to predict with any certainty whether strategies of deterrence or compellence will have any guarantees of reaching successful outcomes.18

Subsequent U.S. administrations struggled with the challenges of how to deter the Islamic Republic and its clerical leaders from undertaking actions that were undesirable from a U.S. perspective while incentivizing Tehran to take steps that could benefit U.S. interests. Simultaneously, the United States needed to cope with strategies employed by Iran to deter the United States or even compel America to accept Iranian preferences. American policymakers faced daunting challenges because many Iranian leaders accepted the formulation of one of the regime’s senior clerics, Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, that “our national interests lie with antagonizing” the United States.19 This would make it less likely that Iran would voluntarily align its policies with those preferred by Washington. At the same time, resisting America was a key part of Khomeini’s ideology. The need to sacrifice and to be prepared to die in martyrdom, if necessary, was an important theme in post-1979 Iranian politics, while leaders stressed the importance of striving for self-sufficiency and self-reliance and thus decreasing dependence on economic ties with the outside world.20 This meant that some of the traditional tools of statecraft—the threat of using military force or the imposition of economic sanctions—might carry less of an impact because the Iranian regime was confident that its people would accept a higher level of pain and suffering in order to uphold the revolution. This was the basis of Khomeini’s famous clarion call, “We will go hungry, but we will never submit.”21 The history of U.S. effort to deter and compel the Islamic Republic has been defined by the contradiction that “Tehran is an adversary that speaks in ideological terms, wants to become a dominant regional power, and is capable of acting recklessly. But it is also an adversary that recognizes its limitations, wants to preserve its hold on power, and operates among wary neighbors.”22

Iranian Hostage Crisis: Failure to Deter

The seizure, on November 4, 1979, of the U.S. embassy in Tehran by members of the “Muslim Student Followers of the Imam’s Line,” in response to the decision by the (p. 361) Carter administration to admit the deposed shah of Iran in the United States for medical treatment, came as a shock to the U.S. government. It was the first major signal that the new regime would not be deterred by the strictures of international law—in this particular case, the obligations of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which enshrined the principles of the inviolability of both diplomatic personnel as well as embassy compounds.23 It also highlighted that the new government would not even be bound by traditional interpretations of Shi’a Muslim law and tradition, which spelled out the protection that foreign emissaries are due from the representatives of an Islamic state.24

When it became clear after several days that the students would not be removed from the embassy grounds and that the Iranian government was not going to secure the release of the detained U.S. diplomats, President Jimmy Carter had to weigh different options for compelling the release of the hostages and to deter Iran from taking further inimical steps against U.S. personnel and interests. However, the president imposed a number of clear limitations on possible options. Nothing that might endanger the lives of the hostages or put them at risk of bodily harm or death could be considered. This ruled out a number of military options because the captive diplomats could inadvertently be harmed as collateral damage or were immediately susceptible to reprisals. With the U.S. economy in a very fragile state and with the Western world as a whole at risk of further major energy disruptions, actions that might provoke negative repercussions for the free flow of energy from the Persian Gulf were also ruled out, including naval blockades of Iranian ports.25 Carter settled on a ban covering most aspects of U.S.-Iran trade and also froze some $12 billion worth of Iranian assets that were located in the U.S. jurisdiction—decisions that created some economic problems for the new regime but also aided it in its efforts to disentangle Iran from Western economic influence. They did not create sufficient incentives to compel the Iranian government to resolve the hostage crisis.

Within the administration, Secretary of State Cyrus Vance continued to argue against the use of military options as a way to end the hostage crisis, but during his absence from a key National Security Council meeting, proposals endorsed by National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski for a military rescue mission were accepted by the president. On April 24, 1980, “Operation Eagle Claw” was launched. Had it succeeded, it would have snatched the American hostages out of Iran and thus removed the restraints on U.S. options to compel or deter Iranian behavior in other areas. Instead, a series of logistical and tactical failures led to a stunning debacle that not only left U.S. military personnel dead inside of Iran but also seemed to highlight the impotence of a superpower. In the days following, Khomeini proclaimed his assessment of U.S. power had been validated since the failure of the hostage rescue mission proved that “America cannot do a damn thing.”26 The Iranians dispersed the U.S. diplomats so as to prevent a repeat effort to rescue the hostages, and this effectively took military options off the table for the remainder of the crisis. The United States now had no option other than the diplomatic one to work for the release of the captives. To the extent that securing their release was a paramount concern of the Carter administration, this gave the Iranians a (p. 362) great deal of leverage to set terms—especially with the threat to begin to formally try the U.S. hostages for crimes of espionage.

The Iranian calculus began to shift after the start of the Iran-Iraq War on September 22, 1980, when Saddam Hussein launched his attack. One of the principal demands of the Iranian regime—the return of the deposed shah of Iran to face trial—was rendered moot by his death on July 27. Defending Iran from Iraqi aggression was more critical—and being able to access Iranian accounts to obtain the funds to pay for equipment and defense materiel was now a more pressing concern. In addition, the fervor whipped up by the initial seizure of the U.S. embassy had already been used by Khomeini and his allies to push aside more moderate political elements in the revolutionary government; there was little value in continuing to hold the American diplomats. As an adviser to Khomeini who became the head of the parliamentary commission charged with negotiations over the hostages, Bihzad Nabavi, pithily observed: “The hostages were like a fruit from which all the juice had been squeezed out.”27 A new round of talks began, first secretly in Germany, then more officially in Algiers between U.S. officials and Iranian representatives, aided initially by a familial channel to the Ayatollah—his son Ahmad and his son-in-law Sadegh Tabatabai. Over a series of months, the final arrangements for the safe release of the hostages were negotiated—which involved unfreezing Iranian assets so that the new government could access them and a pledge from the United States that it would refrain from any interference in Iran’s domestic political affairs. Iran was also guaranteed immunity in U.S. courts for any actions arising from the embassy takeover. In addition to releasing the hostages, Iran agreed to deposit funds to pay out any judgments awarded from an Iran-U.S. Claims Tribunal that would assess the claims made by U.S. businesses for assets that were lost after the revolution.28 Given the parameters set down by President Carter—that the safe release of all the hostages was the paramount concern—and given the limits on U.S. military and economic actions, this was probably the best outcome that could have been achieved.

Iran-Contra: A Failure of Incentives

Minutes after Ronald Reagan took the oath of office, the American hostages were flying out of Iranian airspace to freedom. With the fate of captive American diplomats no longer dominating the agenda, the new administration could begin using the tools of statecraft to achieve other U.S. objectives in the region. To the extent that Iran’s revolution posed a threat to U.S. interests, containing and blunting Tehran’s ability to influence the region became the principal concern of U.S. policy. The United States’ efforts in the early 1980s thus focused on sustaining and supporting allies and, whenever possible without provoking a direct U.S.-Iranian clash, inflicting setbacks and defeats on Iran as a lesson to its ruling elites not to continue to challenge U.S. priorities.29 The so-called Reagan Corollary to the Carter Doctrine “expressed an American resolve to defend the Gulf regimes from threats from within and without the region [and] committed the (p. 363) United States to the maintenance of the political status quo in the area.”30 This included building up their defense capacities and their capabilities to resist Iranian subversion. When it came to Iraq, the United States reluctantly restored relations with Saddam Hussein, facilitated his ability to receive armaments and other equipment (which contributed to Iraq’s ability to develop and field chemical weapons), and provided critical intelligence derived from U.S. satellites and AWACS reconnaissance flights.31 Even if, as a result of the Algiers Accords, Iran had frozen bank accounts released to its control, the United States launched “Operation Staunch,” which was designed to prevent Iran from acquiring weapons and other equipment from international markets, particularly from the United States and its allies, with an eye to crippling Iran’s defense capabilities.32 As Secretary of State George Shultz admitted, “Our support for Iraq increased in rough proportions to Iran’s military success. The United States could not stand idle and watch the Khomeini revolution sweep forward. In this situation, a tilt toward Iraq was warranted to prevent Iranian dominance of the Persian Gulf and the countries around it.”33

Iran, in turn, had tools at its disposal to try and impact U.S. calculations. Shi’a proxy organizations, notably Hezbollah in Lebanon, engaged in campaigns of terrorism against Western interests in the region. One particular area they concentrated on was seizing Western hostages—including U.S. citizens—in an effort to compel changes in U.S. policy. In addition, as Shi’a operatives were captured after committing attacks, most notably in Kuwait, the seizure of U.S. and European citizens was seen as a way to bargain for the release of those prisoners.

While the Reagan administration did not have to deal with U.S. diplomats being held in a seized embassy, there were restraints on the deterrent and compellent options they could bring to bear on Iran, just as during the Carter administration. Keeping the free flow of energy from the Persian Gulf uninterrupted remained a high priority. For the Reagan team, however, Iran policy was always viewed through the larger lens of the Cold War with the Soviet Union—and ensuring that Soviet influence in the Middle East was held at bay. As Geoffrey Kemp, who served on the National Security Council (NSC) staff during this time, has noted, the administration was “preoccupied” with the threat posed by the USSR in the region and was looking to avoid giving Moscow any opportunities to expand its influence and presence, particularly in the Persian Gulf.34

With Iran under pressure in the war with Iraq, and with an assessment that the revolutionary fervor that characterized the first years of the Islamic Republic would begin to wane, U.S. officials began to explore a compellence-based approach to Tehran whereby, in return for U.S. military support for its struggle with Iraq, Iran would use its influence to support the release of Western hostages and become more accommodating to U.S. interests, starting with blocking any further expansion of Soviet access in the region. The deterrent strategy that had been pursued had worked to constrain Iran’s freedom of action but, in the words of a critical May 1985 National Intelligence Council memo on Iran, a “broad spectrum of policy moves designed to give us some leverage for influence in Tehran” was needed.35 In particular, there was concern that as the revolutionary regime in Tehran moderated, the United States would have few cards to play (p. 364) against a Soviet Union that would be much better positioned to compete for influence. The United States had to find a way to incentivize changes in Iranian behavior.

To entice Iran into developing a dialogue with the United States, the NSC staff proposed limited shipments of weapons that Iran critically needed in order to fend off Iraqi assaults. The rationale was that a willingness by the United States to provide material aid to Tehran in its time of need would strengthen the hands of those within the Islamic Republic who would be more open to an improved relationship with the United States and would, in turn, demonstrate their bona fides by using Iranian influence with Hezbollah to secure the release of Western hostages in Lebanon. This would lay the groundwork for a more developed “opening” that some in the Reagan administration likened to the Richard Nixon–Henry Kissinger breakthrough with Maoist China, previously an implacable foe of the United States.36

How the actual effort was carried out has been well documented, starting with the Tower Commission report.37 The mechanics by which the attempted opening to Iran was handled was characterized by a high degree of naiveté on the part of Reagan administration officials. The decision to divert the difference between the actual costs of the arms delivered and what Iran paid for them to subsidize the anticommunist contra rebels in Nicaragua has cast an additional layer of disrepute over the entire enterprise. Nevertheless, the initial conception was an effort to think outside the box into which U.S.-Iranian relations had been constrained since the revolution and the embassy hostage crisis—and to see whether a series of incentives could produce changes in Iranian policy that a more hostile approach had failed to do.

Yet an important component of any compellent strategy is to recognize its limits—and to be prepared to walk away from the deal if its terms become unsatisfactory. In presenting the concept of the need for a strategic opening to Iran in order to position the United States to better compete with Soviet Union for influence to President Reagan, his National Security Advisor, Admiral John Poindexter, indicated that if Iran was unable to secure the release of any of the U.S. hostages held in Lebanon after the first transfer of weapons, the effort would be stopped. However, Reagan’s clear desire to get hostages released signaled to the Iranian side that the United States might be induced to continue providing weapons rather than walking away from the process.38 This is because the Reagan team was insistent that there were in fact “moderates” who were prepared to take concrete steps to align Iranian policy with U.S. goals—mistaking instead more pragmatic members of the revolutionary regime who favored limited cooperation with the United States in order to be able to better cope with the threat posed by Iraq. At the same time, other elements, particularly in the Revolutionary Guards who opposed the dealings with Washington, came to recognize that Western hostages could be a useful commodity. With three Western hostages released over the course of a year for the ability of Iran to purchase approximately 2000 TOW missiles and a variety of spare parts, three remained in captivity, the fate of one—CIA officer William Buckley—remained undetermined, and three additional Westerners were seized in Lebanon.39 The denouement of what became labeled as the “Iran-contra affair” damaged the idea that the United States could use positive incentives to change Iranian policy. The stage was now (p. 365) set for a chastened Reagan administration—and its successors—to pursue a compellence strategy based on a willingness to use coercive force.

A Credible Threat of Force and the End of the Iran-Iraq War

Despite the weapons that the United States had sold to Iran in 1985 and 1986, U.S. shipments to Iraq far exceeded what had been provided to Tehran. In addition, the United States continued to share critical military intelligence with Iraq and overlooked its use of weapons of mass destruction both against Iranian forces and against its own restive population.40 But indirect aid to Baghdad was not enough to deal a decisive blow against the Islamic Republic and end the war, which by 1987 was beginning to seriously destabilize the greater Persian Gulf region. Iran’s willingness to continue the war at all costs—and the expansion of that fight to begin negatively impacting energy shipments from the region, along with the creation of conditions that seemed ripe for Soviet expansionism—posed twin threats to U.S. interests.

Iran’s experiences with U.S. negotiators during both the 1979–1981 hostage crisis and the Iran-contra affair, combined with the assessment of its Syrian associates of the U.S. performance during the Lebanon crisis, which maintained that the United States lacked the stomach for any prolonged military operations in the region, led many in the regime to discount the possibility of direct U.S. military force being used to pressure Tehran.41 But the mood in Washington was changing. United States allies in the region, notably the Gulf emirates, were extremely concerned that the failure of the Iran opening would leave the U.S. paralyzed and unable to act decisively in the region. With the security situation in the Gulf deteriorating, they wanted assurances that the United States would act—or they would turn to the Soviet Union for help. The theme of credibility was clearly understood by Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs Richard Murphy when he acknowledged, “Frankly, in the light of the Iran-Contra revelations, we had found that the leaders of the Gulf states were questioning the coherence and seriousness of U.S. policy in the Gulf along with our reliability and staying power.” Ronald Reagan, seeing policy toward the Persian Gulf through the prism of the Cold War competition with the Soviet Union, declared, “If we don’t do the job, the Soviets will. And that will jeopardize our national security as well as our allies.”42

While some officials still hoped that Iraq might be able to decisively defeat the Islamic Republic and bring down the regime, the more immediate focus was on how to get Iran to accept a lasting cease-fire—and how U.S. compellent power might help bring this about. The first leg was to work at the United Nations for a much more forceful Security Council resolution than the previous anodyne calls for an end to hostilities. Although it took months of painstaking negotiations, the United States began to gain ground on (p. 366) a more comprehensive resolution that would call on both parties to withdraw to their original boundaries and accept a cease-fire. Failure to abide by those terms would trigger UN Security Council enforcement measures, including an automatic arms embargo against the offending party. (These terms were written into UN Security Council resolution 598, adopted in July 1987.) Second, after the USS Stark, a naval vessel on patrol in the Persian Gulf, was struck by Exocet missiles fired by an Iraqi jet after other Iraqi raids on shipping transiting Iranian waters (in May 1987), the United States announced that it would make a more robust naval deployment to the region to keep open and safe the international sea lanes—and blamed Iran’s actions for the deteriorating security situation. Finally, to underline the commitment of the United States to defending its shipping in the Arab Gulf, the United States authorized the reflagging of ships so that they would be entitled to American protection. The United States’ naval convoys thus began to escort vessels, to take action against any aggressive stances taken by Iranian ships, and to remove Iranian mines from the waters of the Gulf. This led to direct clashes between U.S. and Iranian military personnel, notably a September 1987 Navy SEAL raid on an Iranian vessel that was laying mines in the Gulf; a series of attacks on Iranian offshore platforms and ships in October; and another decisive action in April 1988, which destroyed additional platforms and intelligence sites and sank a number of Iranian assets.43

These maritime clashes with the U.S. Navy—which, in contrast to what had been observed during the Lebanon mission several years earlier, enjoyed overwhelming popular support among the U.S. public—came at a time when the land war with Iraq was now going very badly for the Islamic Republic. The prospect of the Gulf states and even the United States itself entering the fighting as co-belligerents of Iraq was extremely worrying to many members of the Iranian regime. Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a close associate of Khomeini who was serving as the chairman of the Iranian parliament (and who had played a role in exploring the outreach to the United States during the Iran-contra affair), made it clear that this was not in Iran’s interests, emphasizing to the Gulf states and to Washington that “we do not want anything from you except that you stay neutral.”44 They urged against the advice of the more recalcitrant elements of the Revolutionary Guards and the firebrands among the clerics to accept the terms of UN Security Council Resolution 598. What appears to have finally convinced Khomeini himself to reluctantly take this step (which he later compared to drinking from a poisoned chalice) was the accidental shootdown by the USS Vincennes of Iran Air Flight 655 on July 3, 1988. The destruction of the aircraft seemingly persuaded Khomeini and other holdouts that a sinister American conspiracy was unfolding that could bring Iran into direct conflict with the iron fist of U.S. military power. The regime saw the incident not as an accident but as a deliberate signal from the United States that it was prepared to take more direct military action against Iran if Tehran did not agree to a cease-fire.45 On July 20, 1988, Iran announced that it would accept Resolution 598, and combat operations ended on August 8. That Iran’s acceptance of cease-fire terms was an act of compellence in which U.S. naval actions in the Gulf, combined with American tacit support of Iraq, played the pivotal role was confirmed by Rafsanjani (who in 1988 would be (p. 367) designated by Khomeini as commander in chief) who explicitly called out U.S. pressure as the main catalyst for acceptance of the UN resolution.46

The willingness of the United States to engage in a limited maritime conflict with Iran in order to push Tehran to accept a cease-fire, coupled with the much larger U.S. intervention against Iraq several years later in the Gulf War, had a definitive impact on Iranian strategic calculations.47 It enhanced the credibility of the U.S. military option in the eyes of the Islamic Republic and the possibility that, under the right circumstances, the United States would not hesitate to use force against Iran to achieve its objectives.

Limits of Compellence? 1989 to 2003

Khomeini’s death in 1989, the Gulf crisis of 1990–1991, and the formidable task of undertaking reconstruction after the devastation wrought by the Iran-Iraq war led his successors to begin to consider how to come to better terms with the international community.48 Domestic reconstruction and a desire to reconnect to global markets now became guiding priorities for the post-Khomeini leadership.49 In its search for openings, particularly to the West, and in its efforts to tap down the hostility of the United States—to ensure, in Rafsanjani’s formulation, that the United States would remain “neutral” toward Iran—the Islamic Republic began to look for ways to eliminate irritants. With Shi’a prisoners released as a result of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, and with a political settlement now in place in Lebanon (the so-called Ta’if accords), which secured many of the political and military gains achieved by Hezbollah, it was now a propitious time for Iran to use its influence with its Shi’a associates in Lebanon to secure the release of all remaining Western captives. However, the protracted process of getting different internal Iranian factions on board with this approach—and in dealing with fractious elements within Hezbollah—meant that the release of hostages was repeatedly delayed, exasperating the patience of the U.S. government. By the end of 1991, all remaining American and European hostages in Lebanon had been freed or accounted for—and there were no further kidnappings—but the momentum for improving relations with the United States was lost.50

The demands of economic reconstruction provided leverage that did compel the Iranian government to end some of its more nefarious activities. The Iranian practice of assassinating dissidents on foreign soil was terminated after a German court convicted Iranian agents of murdering opposition leaders (the so-called Mykonos Incident of 1992), and the European Union made it clear that continuation of such efforts would lead to major restrictions on trade and finance. Similarly, in order to gain some geopolitical breathing room after the war, Iran agreed to stop supporting revolutionary movements in the neighboring Arab Sunni monarchies as a price for normalizing relations.51 Indeed, as Dan Byman has concluded, “As Iran sought to improve its reputation in Europe and the Middle East” it placed a clear “restraint on its proxies” in terms of their activities.52

(p. 368) But there were limits on how much of its foreign policy the Islamic Republic was willing to abandon or modify in return for Western economic ties. The United States, which under the Bush and Clinton administrations had launched new efforts to bring about a comprehensive peace settlement between Israel and her neighbors, found Iranian sponsorship of groups such as Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (the latter two actively rejecting the efforts of the Palestinian Liberation Organization to negotiate with the Israelis) deeply problematic, especially after the attacks in Argentina against the Israeli embassy (in 1992) and a Jewish community center (in 1994) were linked to Hezbollah. Given the signs that a post-Khomeini Iran might be susceptible to economic pressure, the Clinton administration began to impose new sanctions on Iran, specifically to target American investment in the country’s energy sector. These presidential executive orders were codified in the Iran and Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA) in 1996.

The U.S. assessment that Iran needed foreign trade and investment was not incorrect, but an important part of any successful compellence measure is to calibrate ways, means, and ends. In its approach to Israel during this time, Iran expressed “its disdain for Israel through proxies and has striven hard to wage its indirect war within distinct limits” but also demonstrated that it was willing to limit its activities within defined “red lines.”53 Iran was willing to work to manage its hostility to Israel, but not willing, even for the sake of better economic relations with Washington, to completely forgo its implacable opposition to the state of Israel or to abandon all support for Shi’a movements—at least not as long as European and Asian partners were not aligned with U.S. goals. The Clinton administration’s roadmaps and blueprints produced preconditions for the lifting of sanctions that Iran was both unwilling and unable to meet.54 In particular, U.S. sanctions measures could not compel the regime to take actions that might imperil its own survival; as Byman notes, “Iranian leaders risked being branded as puppets of the United States if they gave into U.S. pressure, a particularly heavy charge as the regime came to power in part on a wave of anti-Americanism.”55

And the United States also had to tailor its measures against Iran with the realities of what was realistic in terms of policy options. The Clinton administration was loath to engage in military reprisals against Iran for its perceived misdeeds. It also had to consider sanctions waivers in order not to create unnecessary tensions in its relationships with its European allies, as when the French energy company Total was allowed to invest in an Iranian energy project without triggering U.S. sanctions.56

The unexpected election of Mohammad Khatami as president of Iran in 1997 and the expectation that he might be able to steer the Islamic Republic in a more moderate direction led the Clinton administration to gradually consider calibrating its use of sanctions, particularly after Khatami seemed to suggest that Iran would not oppose a genuine Palestinian effort to resolve problems with Israel. The Clinton administration authorized the sale of spare airline parts to Iran and cleared the way for exports of food and medicine—measures designed to test Iran’s willingness to change but also coincidentally benefiting key sectors of the U.S. economy that had been lobbying for sanctions relief. In 2000, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright delivered remarks that seemed to offer an apology for past U.S. actions against Iran and lifted U.S. bans on imports of (p. 369) Iranian caviar, carpets, and pistachios—a symbolic gesture suggesting that more substantive economic relations could be restored if Iran was prepared to take further steps in accommodating U.S. policy preferences.57 No such breakthrough occurred, but in the aftermath of the devastating 9/11 attacks on the United States, another area for Iranian American cooperation opened up: a shared interest in seeing the decapitation of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, which was both anti-Shi’a in its orientation and which had harbored Osama bin Laden. Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi declared that Iran had “some common points with the United States over Afghanistan,” while parliamentarian Hadi Salam suggested that Iran needed to open a substantive dialogue with the United States “due to the crisis prevailing in the region” and concluded that ties with the Americans might be needed in “safeguarding our national interests.”58 Iran shared intelligence, facilitated the transit of U.S. humanitarian aid across its territory, and threw its support behind the U.S.-led process to devise a new government for Afghanistan. At the same time, Iran hedged its bets with regard to the U.S. intervention.59 The Karine-A incident in January 2002, when a vessel stockpiled with Iranian-provided arms intended either for Hezbollah or the Palestinian rejectionists was seized in the Red Sea, also showed the limits of any rapprochement between Iran and the United States. Sanctions relief could only go so far in compelling Iran to change its overall policy orientations.

The Nuclear Imbroglio: A Brief Assessment of Deterrence and Compellence

While Iran’s foreign policy has always been problematic for Washington, it has been Iran’s concerted efforts for the last several decades to master all steps of the nuclear power process that has caused the most headaches for successive U.S. administrations. As part of the outgrowth of a program initially begun under the shah of Iran (and with U.S. support), the United States has struggled with finding the right set of tools that would deter the Iranians from moving ahead with their program while compelling them to dismantle what has already been constructed. For the George W. Bush administration, having dealt with the impact of a catastrophic terrorist attack on U.S. soil, the risk of Iran crossing the nuclear finish line posed a major threat to U.S. national security.

Iran had stopped work on its program in the first years of the Islamic Revolution due to a lack of funds and for ideological reasons, but the impact of the Iran-Iraq War convinced almost all segments of the Iranian political establishment that some sort of deterrent capacity was needed. The conservative newspaper Jumhuri-i Islami captured Tehran’s dilemma by noting, “In the contemporary world, it is obvious that having access to advanced weapons shall cause deterrence and therefore security, and will neutralize the evil wishes of great powers to attack other nations and countries.”60 Ali (p. 370) Larijani, when he was secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, postulated, “If Iran becomes atomic Iran, no longer will anyone dare to challenge it because they would have to pay too high a price.”61

Iranian leaders could not help but notice that countries without a credible weapons program, like Serbia or Iraq, were more likely to be subject to U.S. conventional military force in pursuit of compellence with maximalist U.S. objectives, while countries like North Korea were offered incentives to voluntarily comply much more with most requests. Within the leadership, there was broad agreement that Iran needed to at least maintain a robust research program, although there was more debate over whether to pursue an actual “breakout” or simply master the different steps of the process without actually assembling a weapon.62

The August 2002 revelations that Iran had a much more advanced capability than Western intelligence had suspected—particularly the discovery of the facilities at Natanz—forced a reassessment of the likely timeline as to when Iran might achieve a breakout capability.63 Over time, the knowledge that Iran’s facilities were spread out over a number of locations—with others presumably still kept secret—removed the option of a single military strike along the lines of Israel’s 1981 raid against the Iraqi reactor at Osirak that eliminated the bulk of the program.

The United States itself lurched from strategy to strategy during this period: embracing a concept of forcible deproliferation and regime change with regards to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in spring 2003; entering into a negotiated settlement with Libya after Muammar Gaddafi, worried by the speed at which Hussein was overthrown by U.S. military power, started secret talks that exchanged that country’s nascent weapons of mass destruction (WMD) program for security guarantees and an end to sanctions between 2003 and 2006; and accepting the necessity for talks with North Korea in which incentives and sanctions have both been employed but without getting North Korea to roll back its accomplishments.

In the immediate aftermath of the U.S. destruction of the Hussein regime, Iran signaled a willingness to talk, with Iranian officials declaring that “we are ready for discussions and negotiations, but we need to know what benefits the Islamic Republic would get from them.” Assadollah Saburi, the deputy head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, dangled the prospect of Iran’s acceptance of additional inspection protocols that would be conducted by the International Atomic Energy Agency and, in theory, would verify that Iran’s nuclear infrastructure was not being used in pursuit of a weapons program, but Iran wanted the United States to move first on incentivizing the talks: “We do not want to increase our commitment in the face of sanctions that are currently imposed.”64

Yet Iranian leaders remained suspicious of proposals for a complete dismantling of their nuclear program in return for security guarantees from the United States, assessing that the ambiguity Iran could exploit by retaining a civilian nuclear program might be useful in deterring other U.S. compellent measures. After the 2011 NATO intervention that deposed Gaddafi, Supreme Leader Ali Khamanei pointedly referred to the apparent failure of the Libyan strongman’s gamble: “This gentleman wrapped up all his nuclear (p. 371) facilities, packed them on a ship and delivered them to the West, ‘Take them!’ Look where we are, and in what position they are now.”65

As the initial quick victory in Iraq turned into an occupation quagmire, and with the United States bogged down in Afghanistan, the credibility of the U.S. threat to take military action against Iran receded. The emphasis shifted largely to what sets of sanctions would be employed against Iran in return for what set of concessions, both by the United States and by its allies and partners. The EU-3 (Germany, France, and Britain, negotiating on behalf of the European Union) sought to trade sanctions relief in return for Iran ceasing uranium enrichment and opening up all facilities to constant inspection. Temporary agreements broke down because the United States was holding out for major rollbacks in Iran’s program, not merely a freeze on future development, while Iran found the European incentives ultimately to be insufficient and was concerned about the apparent European inability to get the George W. Bush administration to sign on to any agreement. The election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, an Iran-Iraq war veteran, as president in 2005 shifted the debate in Iran toward accepting increased economic pain and international isolation as the price for Iran to master more elements of the nuclear program and acquire homegrown, indigenous capabilities that would give it the option of assembling a weapon at a future date, while also pursuing work on the necessary delivery systems. Ahmadinejad was prepared to live with a series of increasingly more restrictive UN Security Council resolutions in order to complete different parts of the nuclear puzzle. Ahmadinejad’s defiance, however, helped to crystalize a more united position on the undesirability of Iran achieving a breakout capability among the EU-3, the United States, Russia, and China, who began to formulate, as the Permanent 5+1 (P5+1) group, a more consistent position vis-à-vis the Iranian program.

A peculiar phenomenon was observed in the second term of the George W. Bush administration and into the first term of the Obama administration where, as Iran mastered more parts of the nuclear process, the goal shifted from compelling a complete rollback to deterring a nuclear breakout. Yet there was a lag between when the United States might grudgingly concede an issue to when Iran had already shifted what it was prepared to accept beyond that point. Economic pressure on Iran was also impacted by the steady rise in global oil prices, which meant that even with a sanctions-crippled energy industry, Iran could gain some breathing room to resist U.S. pressure, especially when there were still sufficient loopholes to evade some sanctions. A growing weariness in the United States with military operations in the Middle East also belied continued public statements that “all options were on the table.”

After its first year in office, when the focus was on demonstrating a willingness to engage in talks with Iran, the Obama administration settled on an approach that used nonconventional, covert means to disable and slow down the Iranian program, while creating a much stronger international sanctions regime to pressure the Iranian economy and close the loopholes that Iran had relied on during the 1990s and 2000s to withstand U.S. pressure. However, the trade-off for getting the support of all the major powers for stronger sanctions—including major cuts in the purchases of Iranian oil and the effective isolation of Iran from the international financial (p. 372) system—was an acceptance that Iran could maintain some elements of a nuclear program as it was entitled to under the Non-Proliferation Treaty and that other issues of concern to the United States, such as Iranian support for terrorist organizations and rejection of the Middle East peace process, would not be linked to the nuclear negotiations.

After a series of fits and starts, a secret diplomatic channel combined with the official P5+1 process began to make progress toward a deal. The very real economic damage being caused by sanctions caused the new administration of Hasan Rouhani to recognize that Iran could not sustain the Ahmadinejad approach and would have to compromise and accept that parts of its program would have to be dismantled. At the same time, the United States accepted limits to what it was prepared to compel Iran to do in order to get an agreement. An interim agreement was reached in Geneva on November 24, 2013, with Iran freezing or rolling back some elements of its program in return for sanctions relief; a framework document was agreed to on April 2, 2015 with a final Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) concluded between Iran, the EU, and the P5+1 in Vienna on July 14, 2015.

The deal was a clear compromise—essentially freezing various aspects of Iran’s program with other parts dismantled—for the course of a decade and a half. Iran accepted a more intrusive and comprehensive inspection regime but stipulated that it had to be based on the provisions of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which mandates Iranian consent for such activities.66 In turn, however, violations of the accord would trigger an automatic resumption of sanctions. The nuclear finish line was moved out of Iran’s reach for the foreseeable future, but Iran was not compelled to give up all aspects of its nuclear infrastructure.

The long-term results of the JCPOA cannot be predicted with any certainty, but the record, as it stands in 2017, is mixed. A combination of economic sanctions and diplomatic incentives does appear to have deterred Iran from making a final push to cross the nuclear finish line (or at least to have all the components for assembling a nuclear weapon in place). On the other hand, the agreement falls short of what were stated U.S. objectives (as well as the declared positions of all of the other international negotiating partners) through to 2013: that Iran would have to permanently dismantle a large part of its program. While Iran, under the terms of the agreement, has to give up stockpiles of enriched uranium and reduce the number of centrifuges it possesses, in other critical areas, Iran accepts only a freeze on its ability to pursue different aspects of the nuclear enterprise rather than complete elimination of its capabilities. In particular, Iran retains a smaller-scale and limited but continuing ability for domestic enrichment of uranium.67 The JCPOA will require ongoing monitoring and, more significantly, a willingness on the part of the United States to be prepared to use force if necessary to continue to deter Iran from violating its provisions.68

In the final analysis, the United States has deterred Iran from crossing the nuclear finish line by imposing costs that were too high for Iran’s economy to bear—thus putting the regime under severe strain. Iran was also compelled to give up some aspects of its nuclear program. In return, it was exempted from onerous international sanctions (p. 373) and still retains more of its program than it possessed in 2003. The deal, however, does not presage Iran’s closer alignment with U.S. preferences regarding the future of Iraq or ending the civil war in Syria or accepting the peace process. Moreover, the prospect of U.S. military action in Syria striking Iranian assets that are assisting the government of Bashar al-Assad could create new tensions, as will the likely imposition of U.S. sanctions on Iran for matters unrelated to the nuclear program—which could, in turn, jeopardize Iran’s compliance with the nuclear pact.69

Concluding Thoughts

The United States has found it difficult to calibrate both deterrence and compellence tools to succeed in changing Iranian behavior. In assessing the use of economic sanctions, for instance, it is clear that they “have imposed heavy financial and political costs on the Islamic Republic, but they have not convinced Iranian leaders that their interests would be better served by relinquishing their nuclear ambitions, abandoning their other reckless policies, or even opening a serious dialogue with Washington.”70 This is because these tools, on their own, cannot guarantee success. Things like positive economic incentives, military power, sanctions, and diplomatic concessions must be wielded as part of a “comprehensive strategy in which the promise of rewards is linked to the threat of punishments, as well as to verifiable concessions.”71 What the U.S. experience with Iran over the last thirty years teaches the future policymaker is that any combination of sticks and carrots that are wielded must be sufficiently hefty and considerable in order to have a real impact on the decision calculus of the other side.


(1.) For discussions on deterrence theory, see, for instance, Alexander L. George and Richard Smoke, Deterrence in American Foreign Policy (New York: Columbia University Press, 1974); or Robert Jervis, Richard Ned Lebow, and Janice Gross Stein, Psychology and Deterrence (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1985).

(2.) Thomas C. Schelling, Arms and Influence (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1966), 67.

(3.) See, for instance, Walter J. Petersen, “Deterrence and Compellence: A Critical Assessment of Conventional Wisdom,” International Studies Quarterly 30, no. 3 (September 1986): esp. 282; and Robert J. Art, “To What Ends Military Power?” International Security 4, no. 4 (Spring 1980): 8.

(7.) Sergey Minasyan, “Coercion in Action: Deterrence and Compellence in the Nagorno Karabakh Conflict,” PONARS Eurasia Policy Memo 242 (September 2012): 1.

(10.) D. Robert Worley, Orchestrating the Instruments of Power: A Critical Examination of the U.S. National Security System (Washington, DC: Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, 2012), 17.

(11.) As set forth in Samuel P. Huntington, The Common Defense: Strategic Programs in National Politics (New York: Columbia University Press, 1961).

(12.) See, for instance, Stuart E. Eizenstat, “Do Economic Sanctions Work? Lessons from ILSA and Other U.S. Sanctions Regimes,” Atlantic Council, Occasional Paper, February 2004, at

(13.) Derek S. Reveron and James L. Cook, “From National to Theater: Developing Strategy,” Joint Forces Quarterly 70, no. 3 (2013): 113.

(14.) Patrick C. Bratton, “When Is Coercion Successful? And Why Can’t We Agree on It?,” Naval War College Review 58, no. 3 (Summer 2005): 99–102.

(15.) Janice Gross Stein, “Deterrence and Compellence in the Gulf, 1990–91: A Failed or Impossible Task?,” International Security 17, no. 2 (Fall 1992): 147–179.

(16.) Gary Schaub Jr., “Deterrence, Compellence, and Prospect Theory,” Political Psychology 25, no. 3 (June 2004): 405.

(17.) Amir Lupovici, “The Emerging Fourth Wave of Deterrence Theory—Toward a New Research Agenda,” International Studies Quarterly 54, no. 3 (September 2010): 722. This was especially true during the Cold War when it was not always clear that a nuclear power would be prepared to use those weapons. See, for instance, Robert Powell, Nuclear Deterrence Theory: The Search for Credibility (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 13, esp. footnote 12.

(18.) James M. Lindsay and Ray Takeyh, “After Iran Gets the Bomb: Containment and Its Complications,” Foreign Affairs 89, no. 2 (March/April 2010): 35.

(19.) Quoted in Kenneth Pollack and Ray Takeyh, “Taking on Tehran,” Foreign Affairs 84, no. 2 (March/April 2005): 22.

(20.) Ray Takeyh, Hidden Iran: Paradox and Power in the Islamic Republic (New York: Holt Paperback, 2006), 97, 28, 63.

(21.) Statement in Ettela’at, April 8, 1980.

(23.) See, for instance, the comments of both Iranian students and U.S. officials as recorded in Nate Penn, “444 Days in the Dark: An Oral History of the Iran Hostage Crisis,” GQ, November 3, 2009, at

(25.) Jimmy Carter, Keeping Faith: Memoirs of a President (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1995), 462–490; Warren Christopher, American Hostages in Iran: The Conduct of a Crisis (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985), 72–144.

(26.) Quoted in Takeyh, Hidden Iran, 100.

(27.) Quoted in Shaul Bakhash, The Reign of the Ayatollahs: Iran and the Islamic Revolution (New York: Basic Books, 1990), 149.

(28.) Mark Bowden, Guests of the Ayatollah: The First Battle in America’s War with Militant Islam (New York: Grove Press, 2006), esp. 548–551.

(29.) Ray Takeyh, Guardians of the Revolution: Iran and the World in the Age of the Ayatollahs (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 48.

(30.) Mohammed E. Ahrari, “Iran and the Superpowers in the Gulf,” SAIS Review 7, no. 1 (Winter–Spring 1987): 162.

(31.) Gary Sick, “Trial by Error: Reflections on the Iran-Iraq War,” Middle East Journal 43, no. 2 (Spring 1989): 239.

(33.) George Shultz, Turmoil and Triumph: My Years as Secretary of State (New York: Scribner, 1993), 237.

(34.) Geoffrey Kemp, “The Reagan Administration,” in The Iran Primer: Power, Politics and U.S. Policy, ed. Robin Wright (Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace, 2010), 129.

(35.) See the initial May 17, 1985 memo by NIO Graham Fuller, “Toward a Policy on Iran,” NIC-02545=85, declassified at; and James Gerstenzang and Sarah Fritz, “Key Arms Sales Papers Released,” Los Angeles Times, January 10, 1987, at

(36.) Christopher Hemmer, “Historical Analogies and the Definition of Interests: The Iranian Hostage Crisis and Ronald Reagan’s Policies toward the Hostages in Lebanon,” Political Psychology 20, no. 2 (June 1999): 271–273.

(37.) Report to the President’s Special Review Board, released February 26, 1987.

(38.) Hedrick Smith, The Power Game: How Washington Works (New York: Random House, 1988), 614–615.

(40.) Ray Takeyh, “The Iran-Iraq War: A Reassessment,” Middle East Journal 64, no. 3 (Summer 2010): 370–376.

(41.) Lou Cannon and Carl M. Cannon, Reagan’s Disciple: George W. Bush’s Troubled Quest for a Presidential Legacy (New York: Public Affairs, 2008), 177.

(42.) Both Murphy and Reagan were quoted in Lawrence Freedman, A Choice of Enemies: America Confronts the Middle East (New York: Public Affairs, 2008), 197.

(44.) Shahram Chubin and Charles Tripp, Iran and Iraq at War (London: I. B. Tauris, 1988), 177.

(45.) See, for instance, the editorial in the July 19, 1988 edition of Jumhuri-i Isalmi; see also Ahmed Hashim, “Iran’s Military Situation,” in Iran’s Strategic Intentions and Capabilities, ed. Patrick Clawson (Washington, DC: National Defense University, 1994), 164; and Takeyh, Guardians, 104.

(46.) Or, as he put it, “It is obvious the Global Arrogance has decided to prevent our victory.” See “The Majlis Deputies Express Their Opinion on Acceptance of Resolution 598 by Iran,” Kayhan, July 19, 1988.

(48.) Ray Takeyh, “Iranian Options: Pragmatic Mullahs and America’s Interests,” National Interest 73 (Fall 2003): 50.

(50.) Magnus Ranstorp, Hizb’Allah in Lebanon: the Politics of the Western Hostage Crisis (Houndmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 1997), esp. 100–111, 125.

(51.) Ray Takeyh, “Iran’s Nuclear Calculations,” World Policy Journal 20, no. 2 (Summer 2003): 21.

(52.) Daniel Byman, “Iran, Terrorism, and Weapons of Mass Destruction,” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 31, no. 3 (2008): 175, 176.

(53.) Colin Dueck and Ray Takeyh, “Iran’s Nuclear Challenge,” Political Science Quarterly 122, no. 2 (Summer 2007): 193.

(54.) Ray Takeyh, “Re-imagining US-Iranian Relations,” Survival 44, no. 3 (2002): 27.

(57.) Suzanne Maloney and Ray Takeyh, “The Self-Limiting Success of Iran Sanctions,” International Affairs 87, no. 6 (2011): 1303.

(58.) Quoted in Al-Sharq Al-Aswat, October 29, 2001; and Agence France Press, October 29, 2001, respectively.

(60.) “Anti-Arrogance Campaign Becomes Necessary,” Jumhuri-i Islami, November 3, 2004.

(61.) Quoted in Farhang-i Ashti, November 30, 2005.

(62.) Takeyh, Hidden Iran, 145–147.

(64.) Quoted in Agence France Press, March 16, 2003; and Nazila Fathi, “Business as Usual,” New York Times, March 12, 2003, at

(65.) Quoted in James Risen, “Seeking Nuclear Insight in Fog of the Ayatollah’s Utterances,” New York Times, April 14, 2012, A4, at

(66.) Ray Takeyh, “Tricky Path to Final Iran Nuclear Deal,” Council on Foreign Relations, April 3, 2015, at

(67.) See, for instance, Ray Takeyh, “Scrap the Deal,” National Review, December 26, 2016, at

(68.) Michael Mandelbaum, “It’s the Deterrence, Stupid,” American Interest, July 30, 2015, at

(69.) Emma Borden and Suzanne Maloney, “Will the Iran Nuclear Deal Survive?,” Brookings Institution, May 30, 2017, at