Don’t believe the hype: Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps troops, July 2018
SIPA USA / AP

Imagine historians a century from now trying to decide which foreign power the United States feared most in the decades from the late Cold War through 2020. Sifting through the national security strategies of successive administrations, they would see Russia first as an arch-enemy of the United States, then as a friend, and finally as a challenging nuisance. They would see China transform from a sometime partner to a great-power rival. North Korea would appear as a sideshow.

Only one country would be depicted as a persistent and implacable foe: Iran. In its official rhetoric and strategic documents, Washington has, since Iran’s Islamic Revolution in 1979, consistently portrayed the country as a purely hostile and dangerous actor. In recent months, the United States and Iran have once again, as they have many times in the past, approached the brink of conflict: U.S. President Donald Trump has ripped up his predecessor’

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  • DANIEL BENJAMIN is Director of the John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding at Dartmouth College. He served as Coordinator for Counterterrorism at the U.S. 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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