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America’s Great Satan

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America’s Great Satan

The 40-Year Obsession with Iran

Foreign Affairs,

5 min read
4 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

It’s time for the United States to base its Iran policy on a realistic assessment of Iran’s motivations and capabilities. 

Editorial Rating



  • Controversial
  • Eye Opening
  • Background


In the more than 40 years since Iran’s Islamic Revolution in 1979, successive US presidents have consistently portrayed Iran as inherently evil and dangerous. In this essay, former Obama administration officials Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon argue that continuing to treat Iran as an archenemy doesn’t serve US interests and is increasingly dangerous. Their argument debunks widely held beliefs about Iran and the threat it poses – and will give any avid newsreader pause to think.


The United States has had a quasi-obsession with Iran for decades due to its important strategic location, its nuclear ambitions and its perceived ideological agenda.

Since Iran’s Islamic Revolution in February 1979, the United States has consistently portrayed Iran as a dangerous and malign actor, an outlaw regime, and a fierce enemy of the United States.

For one, US policymakers perceive Iran as a potential threat to the security of global oil supply, considering that Iran’s strategic location on the Persian Gulf enables Iran to close off the Strait of Hormuz. For another, US policymakers are concerned about Iran’s nuclear ambitions, as acquiring nuclear weapons would enable Iran to achieve regional dominance and pose an existential threat to the state of Israel. The US has also been concerned about Iran’s regional ideological appeal and its active support of Shiite proxy forces and terrorist groups throughout the Middle East. Cases in point are Iran’s support of Shiite groups in Iraq as well as of the Hezbollah in Lebanon – the latter posing a direct threat to ...

About the Authors

Daniel Benjamin is director of the John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding at Dartmouth College. He served as coordinator for counterterrorism at the US State Department from 2009 to 2012. Steven Simon is professor of International Relations at Colby College and served on the National Security Council in the Clinton and Obama administrations.

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