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Taking down the “Great Satan”: Every February in Tehran, Iran hosts an international conference titled “A World Without America” 

Having started his first presidential term in 2009 by offering "a hand of friendship" to the Islamic Republic in Iran, President Barack Obama has begun his second term by renewing his invitation for direct talks with the leadership in Tehran. In a variation on the same theme, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has described Iran as "the toughest problem" facing American foreign policy today. And, yet, she too has pinned her hopes on a "diplomatic solution" before the March 2013 deadline set by Obama.

Both Obama and Clinton, who is retiring as Secretary of State, would do well to read James Buchan's insightful new book Days of God: The Revolution in Iran and Its Consequences (John Murray, £25). Buchan, who lived in Iran in the 1970s and has followed developments there for the past 40 years, has a much broader compass than Iran's relations with the United States and the 20-year dispute over alleged Iranian intentions to build a nuclear arsenal. But when it comes to the thorny issue of reaching a compromise with Iran on virtually any major issue, Buchan has grave reservations about the rose-tinted spectacles of American diplomacy under Obama. "History has shown," Buchan writes, "how on four occasions (since 1940) Iran persisted with a weak hand long after it should have folded. Iran's intransigence revealed not strength but weakness and, each time, it underestimated the bloody-mindedness of its adversaries."

According to Buchan, Iran, under the Khomeinist regime, holds one of the weakest hands it has had in its recent history and yet is adamant in playing it by rejecting all compromise. He writes: "Contemptuous of diplomacy, the Islamic Republic is now incapable of it." On two of the occasions that Buchan studies in some detail, the impasse created by Iranian intransigence ended with regime change in Tehran. On two other occasions, the Iranian leadership was forced to accept a dramatic change of course, in effect tactically surrendering to foreign diktat in order to save their regime.

Buchan shuns speculation on how the current standoff over Iran's nuclear ambitions and its campaign to "wipe Israel off the map" might end. But the mindset he describes, with a degree of understanding rare among Western commentators on Iranian affairs, tends to exclude a genuine change of course by Iran's current leadership. At best, Iran might enter a new set of negotiations to buy time and avoid tougher punishment, including possible military action by the United States and/or Israel. The mindset that Buchan describes is that of a decision-making elite of clerics, military and intelligence officers and technocrats drunk on an intoxicating mix of Shia messianic mumbo-jumbo, pseudo-Marxism and what many call pan-Islamist fascism. 

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February 2nd, 2013
12:02 AM
Bush, unfortunately did nothing to stop Iran & Obama will do even less. The EU will continue its blind obeisance to the fallen god of "dialogue." And Israel...??? Let's face it, most of the Left & isolationist Right hope an Iranian mushroom cloud appears over Tel Aviv. In one stroke, that pesky Arab-Israeli conflict will be finally be solved & the "Palestinian" issue will go away. Then they can return to drinking their lattes in peace.

January 19th, 2013
1:01 PM
"Amir Taheri has been the subject of many controversies involving fabrications in his writings"

January 19th, 2013
3:01 AM
Iran? I don't want to do business with New York. That is the center of the present assault on my liberties as a free man, not Iran. With this lot in charge, I would not spill half a glass of water to stop any foreign enemy, let alone pints of my blood. If the present rulers of America want patriotic support again, they can stop attacking American patriots every single day.

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January 8th, 2013
7:01 PM
If we can tolerate nuclear weapons in Pakistan, it's hard to see how it will make much difference if Iran gets the bomb. Actually, Pakistan is more of a threat because it actually has something resembling a modern economy and a functional army. Iran's curse is to have enough oil to make other enterprises unattractive, but not enough to pay the bills. Indeed, it could be argued that oil has neutered much of the Islamic world, leaving oil-rich countries with masses of angry young men with not much of anything to do. But to suppose that an angry young Iranian (or Iraqi) man poses a serious threat to the West is fantasy--unless we succumb to hysteria. I never cease to wonder how a country which withstood the IRA blitz stoically gets so lathered about a threat which, statistically speaking, is about as dangerous to Britain as snakebite.

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