Stuck on a hostile path? US policy towards Iran since the revolution

02 February 2022

Contemporary Politics

Louise Fawcett & Andrew Payne

View Journal Article / Working Paper

Since Iran’s revolution in 1979, relations between Washington and Tehran have been invariably fraught. The Trump presidency saw escalating tensions which the Biden administration has sought to moderate with uncertain results. This article locates contemporary events within a broader analysis of US policy towards Iran, which for over four decades has oscillated between attempted rapprochement and hostility short-of-war. Seeking to explain the fluctuation and failures of US policy, it shows how two intersecting logics have shaped and constrained the decision-making environment – path dependent at the international level, cyclical at the domestic level. Going beyond accounts which treat domestic constraints in an ad hoc manner, the article explores how the electoral cycle systematically shapes decision-makers’ ability to respond to geopolitical conditions. Shedding light on contemporary policy debates, it concludes that any lasting departure from the default posture of hostility will require a favourable alignment of conditions on both levels.