US vs. Iran: A soft-power playbook

Article Highlights

  • While policymakers have been focused on the nuclear deal, Iran's soft-power activities are equally important.

    Tweet This

  • Iran's aggressive political, diplomatic, economic, and cultural strategies serve Tehran’s revolutionary aims.

    Tweet This

  • Blunting Iran's influence gives the West the best chance to normalize relations with the regime.

    Tweet This

 

 

While policymakers have been focused on the nuclear deal brokered in Geneva this fall, Iran's soft-power activities in the Middle East are equally important. Its aggressive political, diplomatic, economic, and cultural strategies serve Tehran's revolutionary aims. Blunting its influence gives the West the best chance to normalize relations with the regime. But how?

>
Recognize Iran's underlying objectives in the region.


Iran perceives itself as the rightful predominant power in the region, demanding the removal or neutralization of American, Israeli, and Western influence. Tehran hopes to position itself as the vanguard of a new, just Islamic world, the leader of the nonaligned movement, and the protector of Shi'a Muslims. More practically, Iran wants to minimize its political isolation and increase its international support.

>
Understand US strengths and resource constraints.

In an era of budget austerity, the US has an obvious imperative to align programs with strategic goals. This will require better integration of State, Defense, and USAID missions, similar to the counterinsurgency efforts embraced in Iraq. Programs of this nature are focused on populations rather than projects and are designed to produce specific outcomes rather than an aura of overall beneficence.
>
Exploit Iran's weaknesses.

Competitors always have blind spots or exaggerated threat perceptions that can be exploited, and Iran is no different. Instead of trying to alter Tehran's strategic behavior (a heavy lift), US policymakers should identify areas where Iran's vulnerabilities intersect with America's relative strengths. Exploiting political, military, and economic missteps that Iran frequently makes vis-à-vis other countries can diminish Iranian influence and reach.

>
Define the parameters of competition.

Among the primary areas of soft-power competition, where should the US aim to undermine Iranian activities, and where should its focus be primarily defensive? For example, America's growing advantage in the energy sector should be exploited, whereas competing for cultural and religious influence is unlikely to be as productive. Armed with these insights, the US can begin building portfolios of soft-power competitive activities to undermine Iran's strategy.
To learn more, please read Danielle Pletka and Frederick W. Kagan's latest report, "America vs. Iran: The Competition for the Future of the Middle East."

 

Also Visit
AEIdeas Blog The American Magazine
About the Author

 

Danielle
Pletka

  • As a long-time Senate Committee on Foreign Relation senior professional staff member for the Near East and South Asia, Danielle Pletka was the point person on Middle East, Pakistan, India and Afghanistan issues. As the vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at AEI, Pletka writes on national security matters with a focus on Iran and weapons proliferation, the Middle East, Syria, Israel and the Arab Spring. She also studies and writes about South Asia: Pakistan, India and Afghanistan.


    Pletka is the co-editor of “Dissent and Reform in the Arab World: Empowering Democrats” (AEI Press, 2008) and the co-author of “Containing and Deterring a Nuclear Iran” (AEI Press, 2011) and “Iranian influence in the Levant, Egypt, Iraq, and Afghanistan” (AEI Press, 2012). Her most recent study, “America vs. Iran: The competition for the future of the Middle East,” was published in January 2014.


     


    Follow Danielle Pletka on Twitter.


  • Phone: 202-862-5943
    Email: dpletka@aei.org
  • Assistant Info

    Name: Alexandra Della Rocchetta
    Phone: 202-862-7152
    Email: alex.dellarocchetta@aei.org

 

Frederick W.
Kagan

What's new on AEI

image The Census Bureau and Obamacare: Dumb decision? Yes. Conspiracy? No.
image A 'three-state solution' for Middle East peace
image Give the CBO long-range tools
image The coming collapse of India's communists
AEI on Facebook
Events Calendar
  • 21
    MON
  • 22
    TUE
  • 23
    WED
  • 24
    THU
  • 25
    FRI
Wednesday, April 23, 2014 | 12:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Graduation day: How dads’ involvement impacts higher education success

Join a diverse group of panelists — including sociologists, education experts, and students — for a discussion of how public policy and culture can help families lay a firmer foundation for their children’s educational success, and of how the effects of paternal involvement vary by socioeconomic background.

Thursday, April 24, 2014 | 12:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Getting it right: A better strategy to defeat al Qaeda

This event will coincide with the release of a new report by AEI’s Mary Habeck, which analyzes why current national security policy is failing to stop the advancement of al Qaeda and its affiliates and what the US can do to develop a successful strategy to defeat this enemy.

Friday, April 25, 2014 | 9:15 a.m. – 1:15 p.m.
Obamacare’s rocky start and uncertain future

During this event, experts with many different views on the ACA will offer their predictions for the future.   

No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled today.
No events scheduled this day.