Role Theory and Role Conflict in U.S.-Iran Relations: Enemies of Our Own Making, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Role Theory and Role Conflict in U.S.-Iran Relations

Enemies of Our Own Making, 1st Edition

By Akan Malici, Stephen G. Walker


254 pages | 34 B/W Illus.

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U.S.-Iran relations continue to be an international security problem in the Middle East. These two countries could have been friends, but instead they have become enemies. Stating this thesis raises the following questions: Why are the United States and Iran enemies? How and when did this relationship come to be? When the relationship began to deteriorate, could it have been reversed? What lessons can be learned from an analysis of past U.S.-Iranian relations and what are the implications for their present and future relations?

Akan Malici and Stephen G. Walker argue that the dynamics of U.S.-Iran relations are based on role conflicts. Iran has long desired to enact roles of active independence and national sovereignty in world politics. However, it continued to be cast by others into client or rebel roles of national inferiority. In this book the authors examine these role conflicts during three crucial episodes in U.S.-Iran relations: the oil nationalization crisis and the ensuing clandestine coup aided by the CIA to overthrow the Iranian regime in 1950 to 1953; the Iranian revolution followed by the hostage crisis in 1979 to 1981; the reformist years pre- and post- 9/11 under Mohammad Khatami from 1997 to 2002. Their application of role theory is theoretically and methodologically progressive and innovative in illuminating aspects of U.S.-Iran relations. It allows for a better understanding of the past, navigating the present, and anticipating the future in order to avoid foreign policy mistakes.

Role Theory and Role Conflict in U.S.-Iran Relations is a useful resource for international relations and foreign policy scholars who want to learn more about progress in international relations theory and U.S. relations with Iran.


'Malici and Walker provide a novel and illuminating perspective on U.S.-Iranian relations by focusing on conflicting and evolving national role conceptions over the last half-century of this troubled relationship. Their well-designed, mixed-method study illuminates crucial historical episodes, alternative paths U.S.-Iranian interactions could have taken, and useful lessons for the future.' - Jack Levy, Rutgers University

'This important work marries role theory to a dynamic game-theoretic model, based on the "theory of moves," to elucidate strategic interactions during three major transitions in Iranian-U.S. relations. It sheds new light on the evolution of both conflict and cooperation in these relations, culminating in the 2015 agreement of Iran to desist from the development of nuclear weapons in return for the lifting of economic sanctions by the United States and other western powers.' - Steven Brams, New York University

'In this important book, Malici and Walker fulfill the promise of role theory and operational code analysis in understanding foreign policy. Through a series of carefully analyzed and richly detailed episodes in US-Iranian relations, the ways in which roles mediate the relationship between power and behavior are uncovered, revealing that power is by no means deterministic. In addition to its scholarly significance, the work of Malici and Walker is also policy-relevant and timely as the US and Iran attempt to reorient their relationship through efforts at mutual role transition.' Valerie M. Hudson, Texas A&M University

'In their analysis of key turning points in US-Iranian relations, Malici and Walker show misperception and misunderstanding on the part of the United States in trying to cast Iran in an inferior or client role. Their use of role theory is innovative and provides a fresh take on an important subject. This book is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the source of Iranian enmity toward the United States.' - Deborah Welch Larson, Professor of Political Science, University of California, Los Angeles

Table of Contents

1. Making Friends and Enemies in World Politics.

2. The Iranian Quest for Independence

3. Role Theory and U.S.-Iran Relations.

4. The Oil Nationalization Crisis and the Coup.

5. Remaking Patron-Client Relations.

6. The Iranian Revolution and the Hostage Crisis.

7. Making Enemies.

8. Iran’s New Leader and the September 11 Attacks.

9. Making Partners.


About the Authors

Akan Malici is Associate Professor at Furman University. His teaching and research interests are in international relations, foreign policy analysis, and peace and conflict studies.

Stephen G. Walker is Professor Emeritus in the School of Politics and Global Studies at Arizona State University. His research interests focus on conflict management and resolution, foreign policy analysis, and political psychology.

About the Series

Role Theory and International Relations

Advisory Board: Marijke Breuning (University of North Texas), Sebastian Harnisch (University of Heidelberg), Valerie Hudson (Texas A & M University), Paul Kowert (Florida International University), Stephen G. Walker (Arizona State University).

The Role Theory and International Relations Series aspires to attract and publish the latest and best research integrating knowledge in the field of International Relations with role theory. This aspiration cuts across a wide swath of subfields, including foreign policy analysis, peace and security studies, international political economy, diplomatic studies, and international organization. While each of these subfields of study is presently organized as an "island of theory," this series intends to integrate their signature phenomena within a system of knowledge, a "theory complex" or an alliance among different subfields. This series showcases the ability of role theory to generate useful theoretical insights on its own or in combination with existing theories across these traditional subfields. Role theory’s conceptual repertoire, plus its ability to span multiple levels of analyses and the major meta-theoretical divides in the discipline position it to be an important integrative force in the study of International Relations.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
POLITICAL SCIENCE / International Relations / General
POLITICAL SCIENCE / World / Middle Eastern