Misperceptions and Provocations Rule U.S.-Iran Relations

Former Bush administration staffer, Reza Marashi, writes about the Iranian-American game of chicken in the National Interest:

Both Iran and the United States are playing an extremely dangerous game based on misperceptions. Each side seems to be misreading the strength and resolve of the other. In this game of chicken, small errors in judgment can result in military confrontation. And in game theory, the opponent that seems “irrational” or “crazy” can win. That perception in Tehran could heighten the danger.

For the Islamic Republic, this has been the underpinning of its approach since Ahmadinejad assumed the presidency in 2005. It is also one reason why the Iranian system did not try to contain him until recently. During my tenure at the State Department, it was unmistakable that Ahmadinejad’s image of being ideological and seeking to drive Iran into a war to expedite the Hidden Imam’s return had crystallized within the Washington policy-making community. Few could understand why the Islamic Republic did not contain him to the degree that it could, given how fragile the U.S.-Iran impasse had become.

Iran knows that it is playing a risky game, but its self-confidence vis-à-vis the United States has grown since it survived what it saw as eight years of antagonism and confrontation from the George W. Bush administration. Adding to that confidence is the widespread regional upheaval. Thus, Tehran will likely continue waiting for what it perceives as appropriate U.S. moves toward dialogue. These misperceptions and miscalculations will likely prevent the Iranian government from backing down in the current standoff because it believes that, if Iran does not give up, geopolitical realities will cause America to change course at some point in the foreseeable future.

Jasmin Ramsey

Jasmin Ramsey is a journalist based in Washington, DC.