War in Afghanistan and Iraq

Published — October 16, 2008 Updated — May 19, 2014 at 12:19 pm ET

The U.S. military delves into cultural intelligence in Iran

A field guide made public by PaperTrail


PaperTrail has obtained an exclusive copy of the military’s field guide for cultural intelligence for possible military operations in Iran, which is designed to help the U.S. military understand foreign cultures. Though nowhere near as enjoyable as the U.S. Army’s 1943 Instructions for American Servicemen in Iraq During World War II, this “For Official Use Only” intelligence document describes in detail what our soldiers are learning about Iran — and it’s everything from paranoia within the military to preferred pants widths.

The existence of fault lines among Iran’s military organizations and its ethnic groups is a major theme in the Marine Corps’s CD-ROM, Cultural Intelligence for Military Operations: Iran.

The guide also paints a picture of endemic paranoia within Iran’s armed forces. “Relationships between superiors and subordinates are characterized by deference and gratitude but also by cynicism and manipulation. Iranians expect their social inferiors are scheming somehow to oust or overthrow them, even though they profess allegiance and obedience,” according to a section called Cultural Influences on Military Effectiveness.

The military is not the only place where distrust is common in Iranian society. Persians, particularly in Tehran, view the Bakhtiari ethnic group as both something like the American image of the cowboy, “a symbol of freedom,” but also (or at least their tribal cousins, the Lur) as “dirty people.”

But don’t mess with the Bakhtiari: “The Bakhtiari give the pejorative term ‘shawlar-tang’ (straight trousers) for anyone not belonging to their group. This term comes from the symbolic significance of their own wide trousers; anyone not wearing this type of pants is viewed with skepticism and distrust.” Hipsters and non-Bakhtiari Iranians beware.

The field guide was created for the Marine Corps Intelligence Activity and developed in large part by the contractor SAIC (Science Applications International Corporation), which was profiled in Vanity Fair by investigative duo Don Bartlett and James Steele last year.

This guide was specifically “designed to help U.S. military forces understand the mindset of foreign cultures. Emphasis is placed on cultural factors with the greatest impact on military operations. This product is written entirely at the unclassified level.”

Also included is a brief history and discussion of the Iranian defense community’s views toward nuclear weapons. In Iran “there is consensus that Iran is threatened by the U.S., Israeli, and Pakistani nuclear arsenals. There is also consensus that Iran has a right to nuclear technology for civilian energy use. They believe nuclear technology is not just a strategic but also an economic imperative, which the United States and others prohibit to prevent further development,” according to the guide.

The most recent U.S. intelligence community assessment on Iran’s nuclear intentions stated that Iran has likely ceased its nuclear weapons program. “We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program,” according to a declassified summary of the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear intentions and capabilities. The assessment did however state a “moderate-to-high confidence that Tehran at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons.”

Other Cultural Intelligence for Military Operations field guides exist for Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, China, Taiwan, Mongolia, North Korea, South Korea, Japan, the Andean Ridge, Georgia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and more countries. Get started on your collection right away.

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