Although most commentators on Asia and Africa are familiar with Edward Said's "Orientalism" and its costs, few are familiar with the costs of its converse, "Occidentalism." The term, which refers to ignorant views on the West held by Easterners and even some Westerner "useful idiots," was coined by Ian Buruma in his 2005 collaboration with Avishai Margalit. Occidentalism, a coherent ideology, held by people ranging from Russian anarchists to Islamic terrorists, sees the West as spiritually bankrupt, prone to collapse, and incapable of exerting the sheer force of will to triumph in the cutthroat world of international politics.
Occidentalism is a way of rationalizing civilizational, national, and group failures. It misreads Western nations totally, and those who subscribe to it have often found at the cost of their own lives that when the gloves come off Western Nations can be tougher, more resilient, and more destructive than they realized. Those who hold Occidentalist beliefs also routinely overestimate their own power over world politics. The bizarre thing is that it is originally a Western, Splengerian ideology that came to migrate to the East and has been made into an Eastern one by countless dictators, insurgent, and terrorist groups.
So for all of the talk about America misreading Iran, one potential cause of war is Iran misreading America's domestic politics, Dan Drezner argues in a lengthy post. Saddam Hussein did so utterly, in which he bet (twice) on the idea that the US was so timid and afraid of casualties that it could be easily deterred through bellicose rhetoric and his army of rusting Soviet hulks.
The idea that Iran is ruled by religious fanatics out to sacrifice themselves for the 12th Imam is pure rubbish. But a scenario in which they, like other adversaries of America, might come to believe their own propaganda is a more serious problem in an environment that is starting to look more and more like an early Cold War standoff.