Iran’s armed forces have made tremendous strides since the decade-long war with Iraq in the 1980s. Tehran’s cultivation of ideologically sympathetic forces, along with the provision of material help, has allowed Iran to project power and influence throughout the Middle East. Some policy analysts who study Iran’s military development are biased and lack cultural understanding, contending that the republic is driven by unchanging customs, beliefs, and norms that reach back to ancient times. The work of military scholars often makes up for this deficiency, though policy makers tend to be uninterested in evidence that does not support the prevailing narrative about Iran’s “malign” nature and behavior. This article, which condenses my forthcoming book, takes no partisan position, laying out an interdisciplinary analysis of the Iranian case that straddles military history, strategic studies, and historical sociology. It assesses the concept of the way of war, then applies it to Iran and traces its evolution from the Achaemenid dynasty to that of the Pahlavis.
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