Episode from the podcastNew Books in Middle Eastern Studies

H. M. E. Tagma and P. E. Lenze, "Understanding and Explaining the Iranian Nuclear 'Crisis'" (Lexington Books, 2020)

Released Friday, 15th January 2021
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How can multiple theoretical approaches yield a better understanding of international political politics?
In Understanding and Explaining the Iranian Nuclear 'Crisis': Theoretical Approaches (Lexington Books, 2020), Dr. Halit M. E. Tagma, assistant professor in the department of politics and international affairs at Northern Arizona University and Dr. Paul E. Lenze, senior lecturer in the department of politics and international affairs at Northern Arizona State University combine established theories in both Political Science and International Relations to encourage “eclectic pluralism” – an approach that embraces a variety of different theoretical approaches to understand and explain the historical, geopolitical, international, and domestic dimensions of a particular case: the early 21st century case of the government of Iran’s construction of a uranium enrichment and heavy-water facility and the international response. The book aims to explore what is often called (in their view misrepresented as) the Iranian Nuclear “crisis” in a nuanced and complex manner by slicing it into sub-cases to focus on different forces and actors.
For Tagma and Lenze, the analysis of international relations (in this case Iran) risks a problem of bias as European and American observers, for example, interpret Iran through the lens of their own national interest. Their book aims to overcome this bias by “providing alternative and contending theoretical perspectives to understand the contention surrounding Iran’s nuclear program.” Tagma and Lenze insist that IR theories are often good at simplifying very complex cases but weaker when accounting for some of the nuances and specifics. Eclectic pluralism, they argue, brings back some of the nuance and also shows how each of these different theories collides. In that collision, eclectic pluralism sees a mosaic in providing a larger picture of political reality.
While Tagma and Lenze believe that gender, post-colonialism, constructivism, and green theory are possible lenses, they set them aside to focus on history, realism, and political economy. They provide (chapter 1) a historical review of Iran’s nuclear program by breaking it down into three separable historical phases: preliminary; stagnation; and renewed interest, (chapter 2) a focus on the security challenges and perceptions of threat using two Realist hypotheses (defensive and offensive), (chapter 3) a structuralist exploration of how the Iranian nuclear contention fit into a larger context of global capitalism and world systems rather than anarchy, (chapter 4) a neoliberal institutional lens focused on Iran’s violation of nuclear nonproliferation norms as reflective of powerful interests in sanctions and their effect on domestic politics, (chapter 5) an emphasis on domestic politics with attention to the complex decision-making that neither occurs in a vacuum nor reflects unitary political responses, and (chapter 6) a further exploration into domestic politics arguing that a two-level game approach captures the politics of the “crisis” particularly the need to consider the interests of both Obama and Khamenei.
Susan Liebell is associate professor of political science at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. Her Why Diehard Originalists Aren’t Really Originalists recently appeared in the Washington Post’s Monkey Cage and her “Retreat from the Rule of Law: Locke and the Perils of Stand Your Ground” was published in the Journal of Politics (July 2020). Email her comments at sliebell@sju.edu or tweet to @SusanLiebell.
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