„What’s really going on in Iran has almost nothing to do with the happy clappy Beltway talk about peaceable mullahs and the kinder, gentler theocracy they aspire to create. Unfortunately, hardline values are hard wired into the Iranian regime and Iranian foreign policy, and no White House spinmeister can make that grim reality go away. (…)
The Islamic Republic needs an ideological bond to keep the country together; that is what the Shi’a identity does. (This doesn’t work in rebellious Sunni Baluchistan, but the large majority of Iran’s multiethnic citizens are Shi’a). As a Shi’a state, the government in Tehran can appeal to a broader public than just those who would be motivated by Persian nationalism—just as communism helped hold the Soviet Union’s many restive ethnic groups together. If Tehran sacrificed its hard Shi’a edge, it would face the same kind of centrifugal forces that have torn apart many other multiethnic conglomerate states in recent decades, from the Soviet Union to Yugoslavia and to, now, Syria and Iraq. (…)
But working with the Shi’a isn’t enough: Iran needs to legitimate its presence as an aspiring hegemon in a mostly Arab, mostly Sunni part of the world. This is where the rage against the US and Israel comes in. Iran positions itself as the only true leader of Islamic ‚resistance‘ to American imperialism and Zionist aggression. This helps discredit Sunni powers and clerics who are either ineffective or compliant allies of the US (the charge Iran levels against Saudi Arabia). If Iran drops the anti-Americanism and anti-Zionism from its foreign policy as part of a ‚moderating trend‘, it doesn’t have an ideological leg to stand on in the struggle for hearts and minds in the modern Middle East.
For Iran to step away from its hardline politics would mean risking the country’s unity and abandoning its foreign policy ambitions. … We can’t understand the power politics of Iran without understanding that those close to power in that country understand this logic very clearly. The religious basis of the state isn’t something the Iranian power elite will lightly toss away, no matter how atheistic and hypocritical it might personally feel.“
(Walter Russell Mead: „Moderation Postponed in Iran“)