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10 Myths About Iran -- And Why They're Dead Wrong

Here's the truth about Iran

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3. Iran is not ruled by “irrational” leaders.

This is particularly true when it comes to Iranian foreign policy--and that’s according to America’s top-ranking military officer Gen. Martin Dempsey, who told CNN last month that the United States is “of the opinion that the Iranian regime is a rational actor.” Former head of the Israeli Mossad Meir Dagan recently echoed that view, telling CBS that, "The regime in Iran is a very rational one." 

In January, director of National Intelligence James Clapper informed a Senate Intelligence Committee that Iran was using a “cost-benefit analysis” with its nuclear program decision-making process: “[I]f the decision has been made to press on with a nuclear weapon — and there are certain things they have not done yet to eventuate that — that this would be based on a cost-benefit analysis.” He added that the U.S. does not believe that the decision to build a nuclear weapon has been made by Iran’s leadership yet. And in February, the chief of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Lieutenant General Ronald Burgess, also told the Senate Armed Services Committee that “The [DIA] assesses Iran is unlikely to initiate or intentionally provoke a conflict”--another indication that Iran’s decision-making process is a calculated one.

4. Iran’s leadership wants to preserve their regime.

The Republican presidential candidates, along with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, frequently suggest that the Iranian government is committed to Israel’s “annihilation” even if that means their own end. But according to Mideast analyst Matt Duss of the Center for American Progress, the idea that Iran is a “martyr state” is a “myth” that “actually detracts from our ability to develop policies to effectively meet [the] challenge” of Iran’s alleged nuclear weapon ambitions. After being chided by Israeli leaders and American hawks for admitting that Iran is “rational,” Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey also said that it’s counterproductive to label Iran’s leadership with sweeping generalizations: “The key is to understand how they act and not trivialize their actions by attributing to them some irrationality.” Dempsey said framing the discussion about Iran in that way is a “dangerous thing for us to do” even if he doesn’t “agree” with Iranian decisions.

5. Iran’s leadership is not monolithic.

Rand Corporation senior analyst Alireza Nader said during a March 7 New America briefing that it’s “simply not true” that Iran is a “monolithic actor with a unified political system.” Rather, Nader noted that Iran’s leadership is actually fracturing, and that this was most recently exhibited by the sidelining of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad by the Supreme Leader and his allies after Ahmadinejad challenged him. This fact should also lay to rest any illusions that Ahmadinejad’s presidential power and authority exists independently of Iran’s main decision-maker, the Supreme Leader. According to Nader, Iran is “not a democratic country” and is becoming an “increasingly authoritarian system,” but there is “still a political process in Iran.”

6. Iranians don't hate Americans.

Contrary to popular belief, many Iranians hungrily consume American culture whenever they can in various ways. According to Iranian-American writer Hooman Majd, the author of two acclaimed books exploring the intricate complexities of Iranian politics and society, "…Iranians are indeed the most pro-American peoples of the Middle East--perhaps not pro-American foreign policy--but pro-American in the sense that we would like the people of the world to be.”

Majd notes that “even the mullahs ‘buy American,’ if and when they can.” While American Iran hawks often remind us that Iranians continue to shout anti-American rhetoric, they forget to include that these displays of bluster are usually exhibited in public where there’s state-run media coverage and official pressure to talk and act a certain way. Certainly, the majority of the Iranian population do not wish Americans any harm. Says Majd, “Chants of ‘Death to America’ are meaningless--the phrase refers to US foreign policy, hegemony, and imperialism; not the American dream or the people.”

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