At midday on Fridays in south-central Tehran, when the day of rest hushes even the city’s normally deafening traffic, it is possible to walk along the streets lining Iran’s largest university and hear the booming anthem of the revolution that shook this country, and the world, more than a generation ago. The refrain of “Marg bar Amrika” (Death to America) echoes from the congregation of Tehran’s Friday prayers with sufficient regularity to remind Iranians and visitors alike of both the catalyzing impact and the unexpected endurance of Iran’s Islamic Revolution.
Nearly thirty years have passed since Iranians gathered by the tens of millions in the streets of the capital and other major cities and drove their monarchy from power. Iran’s revolution reshaped the country, the region, and Iran’s interaction with the rest of the world, especially the United States. The majority of those living in Iran today are too young to remember this period, and yet as their 2005 election of an Islamic firebrand demonstrates all too clearly, the Islamic Revolution remains the defining narrative for Iran’s political, social, and economic development. By virtue of its size, history, resources, and strategic location, Iran under any circumstances would hold particular relevance for U.S. policy, as it did throughout the 1960s and 1970s. But the 1979 revolution and the political system that it wrought have placed Iran squarely at the heart of U.S. security challenges for the past twenty-nine years and will continue to so so for the foreseeable future.