Over the last decade, the Islamic Republic of Iran has emerged as a key player in the most consequential political and strategic dramas unfolding across the Middle East. These include the potential spread of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, post-conflict stabilization in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Arab-Israeli conflict, the fight against Islamist extremism, and assuring the adequacy of oil and gas supplies from the Persian Gulf for international energy markets. In the process, the Islamic Republic has consolidated a role as de facto leader of resistance to America’s hegemonic posture and aspirations across the broader Middle East—in the Persian Gulf, the Arab-Israeli arena, Afghanistan, and Central Asia.
Today, the ongoing competition for regional influence between the United States and Iran is the Middle East’s most strategically significant fault line. Even the Arab-Israeli conflict is now subordinated to the U.S.-Iranian struggle—not, as some would suggest, because regional players care less about Arab-Israeli issues, but because it is now impossible to achieve negotiated settlements on the unresolved tracks of the Arab-Israeli conflict without a more productive U.S.-Iranian relationship.
Iran’s “rise” makes the Islamic Republic’s choices regarding its alignment toward key international players an increasingly critical factor in regional and global power balances. As a result, the Islamic Republic has become a strategic focus not only for the United States, but for important countries in and outside the Middle East. As the hegemonial struggle between the United States and Iran plays out, both established and rising powers—China, Europe, India, Russia—are seeking to influence this competition in ways that will promote their economic and strategic interests. Likewise, major Middle Eastern states—Israel, Saudi Arabia, Turkey—must deal with the impact of Iran’s rise and the evolving dynamics of U.S.-Iranian relations on their own places in the regional balance of power.
Taken together, we call these two interlocking geopolitical contests—one between Washington and Tehran over strategic dominance in the broader Middle East, and the other among major international and regional players for influence over the Islamic Republic’s strategic orientation—the “race for Iran”. (This phrase was first used by Flynt Leverett in a June 2006 Op Ed in The New York Times.) So defined, the “race for Iran” will have determinative influence over the structure of international relations—and, in particular, for America’s longstanding hegemonic position in the Middle East—throughout the first half of the 21st century.
We are launching this blog to track and understand the “race for Iran”, in all of its myriad dimensions. In practical terms, The Race for Iran seeks to serve three main purposes.
First, The Race for Iran will present cutting-edge analyses of Iran and its geopolitics. Substantively, we will cover Iranian foreign policy in all of its dimensions, as well as the policies of the United States and other major regional and global players toward Iran. Many of the analyses presented here will come from us, but we will also provide a platform for other commentators, writing from their own intellectual and national or regional perspectives.
Second, The Race for Iran will serve as a “clearing house” for essential material on Iran and its geopolitics. With the support of Ben Katcher, an outstanding political analyst with the New America Foundation’s American Strategy Program, we will assemble and frequently update documents and publications in multiple categories—UN Security Council resolutions pertaining to Iran, International Atomic Energy Agency reports on Iran’s nuclear activities, Iranian proposals for dealing with the nuclear issues and other regional and international controversies, U.S. and Western proposals for dealing with such issues, material on Iran’s economy (including its enormous hydrocarbon reserves), and resources on U.S. policy—for easy reference.
Third, The Race for Iran will provide a forum for an ongoing conversation about Iran and its geopolitics, for interested persons all over the world.
We are excited to embark on this journey, and invite you to come along with us.
— Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett