Part geopolitical tour d'horizon, part behind-the-scenes travelogue of a CIA operative-turned-author, The Devil We Know aspires to chronicle Iran's ascent to power. But intelligence fieldwork is one thing, strategic forecasting quite another. Baer, a former CIA case officer and a columnist on intelligence for Time.com, may be a savvy observer of regional trends with much experience in the Middle East, but his views are colored by interactions with questionable characters, from jet-setting businessmen to shadowy power brokers. What emerges is a less-than-faithful rendering of regional realities.
Baer argues, for example, that the Iranian regime—confident in its ability to project power asymmetrically via regional proxies—places little real value on its nuclear program. This, despite the billions of dollars Iran's leaders invested over the past quarter-century in atomic capabilities and the prominence that nuclear status has assumed in their political lexicon and strategic planning. His analysis makes little sense.
But on his larger point, that the past decade has seen Tehran formulate a comprehensive strategy for regional hegemony, Baer is considerably more convincing. Washington, meanwhile, has no corresponding macro-plan for preventing Iran's ascendancy—or even for successfully managing it.
Baer's solution to this vexing challenge is troubling. In his words, the United States should "settle with Iran" and accept its regional will to power. "What America needs to do," he counsels, "is ask for a truce with Iran, deal with it as an equal, reach a settlement one issue at a time, and continue along the same course until Iran is ready for détente—and maybe more."
That advice has already failed. The Obama administration spent the past two years testing the proposition that the United States and the Islamic Republic can coexist. In response, Iran's leaders have displayed little willingness to engage Washington or alter their pattern of subversion and irregular warfare. As such, The Devil We Know amounts to little more than an already-discredited argument that America should learn to love the Middle East's newest hegemon.