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Stuck on a hostile path? US policy towards Iran since the revolution

Fawcett, L. & Payne, A. ORCID: 0000-0002-1936-8062 (2023). Stuck on a hostile path? US policy towards Iran since the revolution. Contemporary Politics, 29(1), pp. 1-21. doi: 10.1080/13569775.2022.2029239


Since Iran’s revolution in 1979, relations between Washington and Tehran have been invariably fraught. The Trump presidency saw escalating tensions which the Biden administration has sought to moderate with uncertain results. This article locates contemporary events within a broader analysis of US policy towards Iran, which for over four decades has oscillated between attempted rapprochement and hostility short-of-war. Seeking to explain the fluctuation and failures of US policy, it shows how two intersecting logics have shaped and constrained the decision-making environment – path dependent at the international level, cyclical at the domestic level. Going beyond accounts which treat domestic constraints in an ad hoc manner, the article explores how the electoral cycle systematically shapes decision-makers’ ability to respond to geopolitical conditions. Shedding light on contemporary policy debates, it concludes that any lasting departure from the default posture of hostility will require a favourable alignment of conditions on both levels.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: © 2022 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Publisher Keywords: US-Iran relations, US foreign policy, elections, international politics, domestic politics
Subjects: J Political Science
J Political Science > JK Political institutions (United States)
J Political Science > JZ International relations
Departments: School of Policy & Global Affairs > Sociology & Criminology
SWORD Depositor:
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Available under License Creative Commons: Attribution International Public License 4.0.

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