The Foreign Service Journal - October 2017

20 OCTOBER 2017 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL INSIDE OUT FOCUS ON DEALING WITH IRAN This in-depth look at Iran provides context and perspective for understanding the controversial nuclear deal. I ran surprises. You can’t get your arms around it, and it refuses to be categorized. This is irritating; it is baffling; it is also intriguing, and keeps you coming back for more. It is easier to define Iran as a Middle Eastern country by stating what it is not . It is not Arab, though it borrowed that alphabet. Iranians don’t speak Arabic, except for tribal clusters on the corners of the modern state. Though comprised of a multitude of tribes and peoples, the culture is Persian to the core and glues the various parts together more firmly than its enemies imagine. Yes, it is Muslim, but just to flout its uniqueness, it is over- whelmingly Shia—the branch of the religion that so annoys the Sunni grandees in Riyadh and elsewhere. At the same time, Iranians persist in celebrating ancient Zoroastrian holidays, to the official disapproval of their ruling clerics. Iran has its own unique cuisine, music and, above all, poetry. Who could have imagined that Rumi, a 13th-century Persian writer, would be one of the best-selling poets in the United States of the 21st century? Most Iranians can quote him for hours. The country also has oil, but it is not a rentier state like so many of its wealthy neighbors. It has a well-developed indus- trial sector and produces most of its own weapons, from artil- lery and aircraft to mini-submarines, though it relies primarily Gary Sick served on the National Security Council under Presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, and was the principal White House aide for Iran during the Iranian Revolution and the Embassy Tehran hostage crisis (1979- 1981). He is currently adjunct professor of international affairs and adjunct senior research scholar at the Middle East In- stitute at Columbia University’s School of International & Public Affairs and executive director of its Gulf/2000 project. He is a member (emeritus) of the board of Human Rights Watch in New York City and chair of its advisory committee on the Middle East. Mr. Sick is the author of two books on U.S.-Iran relations ( All Fall Down: America’s Tragic Encounter with Iran , Random House, 1985; and October Surprise: America’s Hostages in Iran and the Election of Ronald Reagan , Random House, 1991). He has edited several other books and published numerous articles on U.S. Middle East policy. BY GARY S I CK AND ISTOCKPHOTO.COM/HERMSDORF