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Unformatted text preview: 414 S ince President George W. Bushs fateful inclu- sion of Iran in his axis of evil triumvirate, the Iranian political pendulum has swung away from conciliation and toward confrontation. While initially shaken by Irans designation as evil (along with Iraq and North Korea) in Bushs 2002 State of the Union address, Tehran has since adopted a more assertive stance in an attempt to protect itself from the closing circle of US troops in the Middle East, the Bush administrations hints of regime change, and growing internal dissent. The United States and much of the rest of the international community have castigated Iran for its clandestine nuclear program, its lack of coop- eration on the nuclear issue, its disruptive role in Iraq, its support of terrorism, and its scandal- izing president, whose statements and policies have drawn continuing outrage. The regimes response has been to change its domestic, regional, and international strategy to a defensive posture sharply focused on national security and stability. A decade ago, Iranian politics seemed on its way toward reform. The 1997 election of Mohammad Khatami to the presidency held the promise of a Tehran Spring and highlighted an ongoing strug- gle within Iran over the ideological future of the Islamic Republic. Many in the international com- munity embraced Khatamis election as an oppor- tunity for political and economic liberalization and a softening of the theocratic regimes power. During this time, Tehran feigned cooperation with regard to its nuclear program, restored relations with its Arab neighbors and Europe, and worked in tandem with the United States and others to help bring stability to Afghanistan. Iranian hard-liners, however, felt threatened by the prospect of domestic reforms that would erode their entrenched place within the theocratic sys- tem. As a result, although Khatami was successful in creating a legitimate internal challenge to the status quo and in forging bonds with the interna- tional community, he could not keep the hope for reform alive. Instead, the hard-liners began a cam- paign to silence opposition and crush political dis- sent. At the same time, in reaction to Bushs new Iran policy and a vulnerable security environment, the regime adopted a more aggressive posture to preserve its hold on power. In essence, Irans new security strategy gave priority to defending its nuclear program and its role in Iraq while control- ling domestic discord. The 2005 election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president ushered in an era of defiance in Iranian politics. His election brought a facade of conser- vative unity to the government, enabled conser- vative policies to be pursued with greater fervor, and tilted the balance of Irans foreign policy from cooperation to confrontation....
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- Spring '09