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More than a month has passed since protests in Iran’s northeast metastasized into anti-regime demonstrations across the entire country. This outpouring of discontent, which took the United States almost completely by surprise, should help lay to rest a range of tenuous assumptions about Iranian politics that had become conventional wisdom in Washington—namely, an underestimation of the Iranian people’s willingness to oppose the regime and an overestimation of Iran’s reformers. Now, as Washington weighs how to address the multitude of challenges emanating from Iran, it must also reconsider the foundations of its knowledge about the country.
The first myth the protests put to rest was not something overtly discussed in Washington but rather a background assumption of most private conversations about Iran. This myth held that given the regime’s success in suppressing the Green Movement in the summer of 2009 and beyond, the Iranian people lacked the