With the emergence early in the twentieth century of the Soviet Union and its paradigm of socialist economy and totalitarian polity, promoting democracy and free markets in the vast territories behind the Iron Curtain became increasingly important. The Cold War and the expansion of totalitarianism around the world intensified over the years and added urgency to the work of Hoover scholars. Through its vast collection of original documents on communism—uniting the Hoover archives with the research mission of the Institution—the Hoover Institution established a reputation as the premier research center in the world on the study of the Soviet Union as a formidable obstacle to the promotion of democracy, free markets, and peace.
Today the Iron Curtain has been removed, but another one, equally as unbending, statist, antidemocratic, and oblivious to individual rights has emerged. Just as Soviet ideology sought world revolution and banked on the utopian illusions of many in the free world, so too is this ideology fired by an expansionist creed and utopian designs. It looms large on the horizon as an enemy of democracy and a significant obstacle to global cooperation. It is more nefarious, amorphous, and disparate than Soviet Union ideology. The main component of this new threat is a vociferous interpretation of Islam. The possibility of a nuclear-armed militant Islam is a grave threat to the security of the United States and the rest of the free world. To the contrary, the more moderate voices of Islam are an important ally to the West.
The Iran Democracy Project at the Hoover Institution was created to understand the process and prospects for democracy in Iran and the rest of the Middle East. The central goal is to help the West understand the complexities of the Muslim world, and to map out possible trajectories for transitions to democracy and free markets in the Middle East, beginning with Iran. The project also seeks to identify, analyze, and offer policy options on the existing obstacles to democratic transition and ways to remove them and to ensure that policy makers in Washington receive advice that is non-partisan and reliable. The history of the Middle East in the last one hundred years has shown Iran to be a bellwether for the rest of the region in the areas of political, social, and economic reform.
Hoover fellow Abbas Milani is coordinator of the Iran Democracy Project along with Hoover fellows Larry Diamond and Michael McFaul who are recognized scholars in their fields and bring widely different but complementary areas of expertise to their joint effort. Dr. Milani is also the director of the Iranian Studies Program at Stanford.
The Iran Democracy Project at the Hoover Institution is part of the Hoover initiative Diminishing Collectivism and Evolving Democratic Capitalism, an area of study that includes analysis and documentation of how totalitarian societies transition to freedom, representative government, and private enterprise.