Iran Chat: Interview with David Collier, Author of "Democracy and the Nature of American Influence in Iran, 1941-1979"

Our latest Iran Chat is with Dr. David Collier, author of the new book, Democracy and the Nature of American Influence in Iran 1941-1979.  Dr. Collier is also a research consultant in Washington DC and teaches democracy and democratization in Boston University's Washington DC program.

The first half of our conversation focuses on Dr. Collier's usage of linkage and leverage to analyze and better understand the history of the period; the second half addresses how his analysis of the history applies to current issues in US-Iran relations and US foreign policy more generally.  Dr. Collier's book is being published this month; you can purchase a copy on Amazon or Syracuse University Press.

Some highlights from our conversation:

Using Linkage and Leverage to Understand American Influence in Iran

"Linkage and leverage [first introduced in a book by Levitsky and Way] have often been used to try to understand external pressure in the processes of democratization... I think it's an interesting model to try to examine how the US can influence other countries in an effective way." 

"Linkage looks more at the soft power aspect of how the US can influence other countries based on linkages to the administration or in a society in general.  These links can include economic links, social links, political links – the whole spectrum of relationships between one country and another.   Leverage looks more at the hard power aspect of what the US can do in a more active way to promote change in a different country.  For example, whether it can offer rewards (e.g., acceptance into international organizations) or punishment (e.g., sanctions, international condemnation) for the behavior of an administration."

Whether Increased US Linkage or Leverage Could Have Prevented the Revolution

"I think the beginning of the decline of US leverage in Iran, which began after the enactment of the Shah's White Revolution [and which accelerated under Nixon]... I think if the US had maintained its position that without political reform the Shah would eventually succumb to eventual revolution - and if they had been able to work to push the Shah towards political reform rather than economic and social reform (which was the Shah's focus) - that could have led to a more peaceful evolution of the Iranian system.  Maybe it would look more like the British system today where you have a monarch that reins but doesn’t rule.  If the US had been able to apply constant pressure in the 60’s, 70’s; something like that could have occurred.“

US Foreign Policy's Focus on Short-Term Goals

"I think the nature of the American political system is that it gives itself to short term thinking and not much to self reflection.  Administrations in the US are always working towards the next election; are always focused on the short term, "what can we do in the next 4 or 8 years," and there isn’t much of an ability to create a long term plan to look at things in more of a historical perspective.  So you do get lots of repetition... If you wanted to change the system you would have to maybe think about term limits for presidents allowing them to focus on longer terms or [install an advisory body] with a view to history and the goal of focusing the minds of the administration to not repeating the mistakes of the past."

"America First": Is it More Honest Foreign Policy?

"I think it is.  One of the main problems that faced American-Iranian relations was the lack of interest in the Iranian society in general, the Iranian opposition, and what the Iranian people wanted. So it wouldn’t be helpful to go back to a situation where the US was able to control Iran. I think it would be better if the US had less of a proactive role in trying to control states and did focus more on America first and gave more respect to countries to develop independently.  The current regime in Iran uses American intervention as a reason for their continued presence... they always argue about being wary of American intervention. Maybe if the US withdrew a bit from certain policy areas that could allow Iran in particular to have more of an internal debate over its future rather than always focusing on threats from the external environment.  I think that could be beneficial in a certain way.  I think going back in time to an overly controlling American foreign policy is not the way to go forward."