Republics of Myth (book forthcoming with Johns Hopkins Press) argues that a major contributing factor to the tenacious enmity between Iran and the United States is how each nation views itself. The two nations have differing interests and grievances about each other, but their often-deadly confrontation derives from the very different national narratives that shape their politics, actions, and vision of their own destiny in the world.
The dominant American narrative is the myth of the frontier—that the US can tame it, tame its inhabitants, and nurture democracy as well. Iran, conversely, can claim two dominant myths: the first, an unbroken (but not for lack of trying) lineage back to Cyrus the Great, and the second, the betrayal of Imam Hussein, the Prophet’s grandson. Both Iranian myths feature a detestable outsider as an enemy of the Iranian state and source of the nation’s ills and misfortune. The two countries have clashed so severely in part, the authors argue, because their national narratives constantly drive them to do so. Drawing on newly declassified documents and discussions with policymakers, the authors analyze an array of missed opportunities over several decades to improve the US-Iran relationship.
From the coup d’état that overthrew Iran’s legitimate premier Mohammad Mosaddeq to the hostage crisis, the Iran-Iraq War, the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing, post-9/11 antagonisms, and other points of conflict, each episode illustrates anew the weight of historical narratives on present circumstances. Finally, Barack Obama’s diplomacy and Donald Trump’s determination to undo the 2015 nuclear accord are explored—both examples of the enduring power of America’s frontier narrative.
Speaker: Huss Banai
Discussants: Louise Fawcett and Andrew Payne