Harry Sarles | Army University Public Affairs
The Command and General Staff College’s Cultural and Area Studies Office hosted its first panel briefing of the year on Jan. 23 in the Lewis and Clark Center’s Arnold Conference Room. Entitled “Cultural Dynamics of U.S.-Iran relations: Is Conflict Imminent?,” three panelists shared data and analysis of the situational environment in and around Iran.
Chris Hoch, the national intelligence officer for Iran for the National Intelligence Council; Dr. Michael Rubin, resident scholar for the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research and a senior lecturer at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School; and Brian Steed, CGSC assistant professor of military history, were the panelists. Al Borgardts, deputy provost of Army University, gave opening remarks and Dr. Mahir Ibrahimov, CASO director, acted as the moderator.
Speaking to an audience of approximately 120, Ibrahimov began by saying his office presents panels consisting of top experts on the most important topics of operational and strategic importance to the United States. In addition to the local audience, 10 stations across the Army were connected via video teleconference to the panel presentation. After introducing the speakers, he turned the discussion over to the panel.
Hoch arranged his remarks around three macro points — the context with Iran matters, context translates into culture; understanding who in Iran the U.S. is talking to; and the threats and opportunities the U.S. faces in Iran. He said there are three generations to consider in Iran. The oldest is the generation that brought the current regime to power and continues to hold most of the leadership positions in Iran, while the following generations are successively removed from the revolutionary movement and may be seeking more stable conditions that would allow them to thrive.
Hoch joined the Office of the Director of National Intelligence as the national intelligence officer for Iran in March 2019. He has more than 22 years focusing on Iranian domestic, foreign and regional policies. Hoch has served three overseas tours with the Department of State, including serving in Jordan, Afghanistan and United Arab Emirates.
Rubin took a look at Iran and Iraq based on the past. He began with a talk about demographics, saying Iran has had a drastic decline in birthrate in the past decade, with a more than 50 percent reduction in birth rate since 1980. This has led to an aging population. The economic reverberations of the aging population may cause an effort by Iranian leaders to rally the populace around the flag, Reuben said. He also pointed out that the current supreme leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei, is nearing 80 so regime change is likely to come from within due to his eventual passing or leaving power.
Rubin is co-editor of “Seven Pillars: What Really Causes Instability in the Middle East?,” “Kurdistan Rising,” “Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engagement,” “The Shi’ites of the Middle East” and two earlier books examining Iranian history.
Steed was the final speaker. He talked about the regime and leadership in Iran. He said the Iran Army’s character was forged during the Iran-Iraq war. They perceive the U.S. to be weak-willed and technology enabled, unable to operate without technology superiority. That perception fits well with how the Iran Army perceived itself during the Iran-Iraq war, Steed said. In that conflict, they also believed themselves to be fighting against a technologically superior enemy. Iran is asymmetric in its approach to warfare and heavily uses proxies.
“Iran is the expert in plus-one warfare,” Steed said.
Steed is a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel with more than 30 years of uniformed and civilian experience. As an Army officer, he was a Middle East foreign area officer, which required him to travel extensively throughout the Middle East and North Africa and included eight and a half consecutive years living and working in the Middle East.
He has written and edited nine books, and numerous articles and papers on military theory, military history, and cultural awareness. He edited “Iraq War: The Essential Reference Guide” and authored “ISIS: The Essential Reference Guide,” both published in 2019.