One of the conceits behind Obama-era diplomacy with Iran was that the Islamic Republic was a normal state. Its aggressive rhetoric was simply a means to assuage a domestic constituency rather than something truly believed. This was the ultimate projection on the part of President Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, and their team, as they assumed arrogantly that everyone, everywhere shared their goals and their values.

Indoctrination matters, however. The Islamic Republic is 37 years old and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) which serves as the Supreme Leader’s Praetorian Guard has never been more powerful. It’s all well and good to talk about how moderate ordinary Iranians are—they are indeed—but in any dictatorship, it’s the guys with the guns that matter. Hence, the recent declaration of IRGC General Mohammad Ali Haqbin that “the martyred defenders of the shrine,” as Iranian leaders call the student volunteers dispatched to fight in Syria and Iraq, “are a practical model for young people” should raise concern, especially as it coincided with his call “to introduce and explain the culture of sacrifice and resistance to the Iranian youth.”

Indoctrination matters. Some students might game the system and simply keep their true thoughts private, but others who offer opinions divergent from the political leadership’s might soon simply find themselves out of the university. Indoctrination and cultural revolution in the universities is something with which the Iranian government has long experience.

That the Iranian government appears ready to double down on revolutionizing its youth might be a sign that young Iranians want something more than their regime offers. The fact that the regime which controls their lives wants to promote and prioritize a value system by which young Iranians go abroad to destabilize regimes and massacre those who pray a different way should raise alarm bells among any American policymaker who believes that the problem in U.S.-Iranian relations lies in Washington.

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