August 14, 2015
The Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) is an unconventional adversary that requires unconventional approaches in strategy and policy. These approaches should take into account the country's sophisticated culture, the regime's religious-ideological orientation, and the country's modern history. And they must account for the paradoxes that often underpin Iranian conduct, and its unique approach to statecraft, strategy, and the use of force. These include: a propensity for risk-avoidance, offset by a tendency to overreach; an approach to deterrence and warfighting that relies on all instruments of national power; a preference for soft power approaches to statecraft and strategy that emphasize informational activities as the decisive line of effort, and; a "way of war" that emphases delay, indirection (as expressed by its use of proxies), and patient, incremental progress. While not a single-factor explanation, the strategic culture approach provides unique insights into the logic of Iranian national security decision-making.
Michael Eisenstadt is Kahn Fellow, and director of the Military and Security Studies Program at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy. A specialist in Persian Gulf and Arab-Israeli security affairs, he has published widely on irregular and conventional warfare and nuclear weapons proliferation in the Middle East. His most recent publications include: Deterring an Iranian Nuclear Breakout (Washington Institute, 2015); Defeating ISIS: A Strategy for a Resilient Adversary and an Intractable Conflict (Washington Institute, 2014); An Enhanced Train-and-Equip Program for the Moderate Syrian Opposition: A Key Element of U.S. Policy Toward Syria and Iraq (with Jeffrey White, the Washington Institute, 2014); What Iran's Chemical Past Tells Us About its Nuclear Future (Washington Institute, 2014); Beyond Worst Case Analysis: Iran's Likely Responses to an Israeli Preventive Strike (with Michael Knights, The Washington Institute, 2012); The Strategic Culture of the Islamic Republic of Iran: Operational and Policy Implications (Marine Corps University, 2011), and; Iran's Influence in Iraq: Countering Tehran's Whole-of-Government Approach (with Michael Knights and Ahmed Ali, The Washington Institute, 2011). Prior to joining the Institute in 1989, Mr. Eisenstadt worked as a military analyst with the U.S. government. Mr. Eisenstadt served for twenty-six years as an officer in the U.S. Army Reserve before retiring in 2010. His military service included stints in Iraq; Israel, the West Bank, and Jordan; Turkey; the Office of the Secretary of Defense; the Joint Staff, and; U.S. Central Command headquarters. In 1992, he took a leave of absence from the Institute to work on the U.S. Air Force Gulf War Air Power Survey. Mr. Eisenstadt earned an MA in Arab Studies from Georgetown University and has traveled widely in the Middle East.