What will Iran do? Maybe not much.

Ray Takeyh is a center left political analyst and a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. He specializes in Iran, where he was born.

In this article for Politico, Takeyh argues that the killing of Gen. Soleimani, “contrary to what many observers are warning, could very likely temper the clerical oligarchs, who tend to retreat in face of American determination.” Takeyh cites past instances of their tendency to retreat, as I did in this post. He writes:

When a truculent Ronald Reagan assumed the presidency, Iran hastily released the American diplomats it had held hostage for 444 days. When George W. Bush’s shock and awe campaign quickly displaced the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Iran responded by suspending its nuclear program.

The mullahs relish assaulting America but are circumspect when facing a tough-minded, unpredictable president. The Islamic Republic had already pledged to retreat further from its nuclear obligations by next week. A move in that direction seems more likely at this point, as opposed to blowing up American diplomatic and military outposts.

The first part of this prediction has already come to pass. Iran has just renounced its nuclear treaty obligations, a move that was already in the offing. And so far, it hasn’t blown up any U.S. diplomatic or military outposts. Rather, as John notes in this post, Iran’s response has been rather lame.

This doesn’t mean that Iran’s response will continue to be lame. However, there’s reason to hope that it won’t be dramatic. Takeyh observes:

The sanctions reimposed by the Trump administration after its abrogation of the Obama-era Iran nuclear deal have depleted Iran’s economy, calling into question its foreign policy imperatives. In November, Iran was rocked by massive demonstrations as the regime had to curtail its onerous fuel subsidies.

An uneasy path lies ahead for the clerical oligarchs. The last thing they need is a costly confrontation with a president willing to do things they once considered unimaginable.

Thus, it may turn out that, as John predicts, the regime will “choose to de-escalate while also trying to save face.”

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