Guardians of the Revolution: Iran and the World in the Age of the Ayatollahs

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For over a quarter century, Iran has been one of America's chief nemeses. Ever since Ayatollah Khomeini overthrew the Shah in 1979, the relationship between the two nations has been antagonistic: revolutionary guards chanting against the Great Satan, Bush fulminating against the Axis of Evil, Iranian support for Hezbollah, and President Ahmadinejad blaming the U.S. for the world's ills.

The unending war of words suggests an intractable divide between Iran and the West, one that may very well lead to a shooting war in the near future. But as Ray Takeyh shows in this accessible and authoritative history of Iran's relations with the world since the revolution, behind the famous personalities and extremist slogans is a nation that is far more pragmatic—and complex—than many in the West have been led to believe. Takeyh explodes many of our simplistic myths of Iran as an intransigently Islamist foe of the West. Tracing the course of Iranian policy since the 1979 revolution, Takeyh identifies four distinct periods: the revolutionary era of the 1980s, the tempered gradualism following the death of Khomeini and the end of the Iran-Iraq war in 1989, the "reformist" period from 1997-2005 under President Khatami, and the shift toward confrontation and radicalism since the election of President Ahmadinejad in 2005.

Takeyh shows that three powerful forces—Islamism, pragmatism, and great power pretensions—have competed in each of these periods, and that Iran's often paradoxical policies are in reality a series of compromises between the hardliners and the moderates, often with wild oscillations between pragmatism and ideological dogmatism. The U.S.'s task, Takeyh argues, is to find strategies that address Iran's objectionable behavior without demonizing this key player in an increasingly vital and volatile region. With its clear-sighted grasp of both nuance and historical sweep, Guardians of the Revolution will stand as the standard work on this controversial—and central—actor in world politics for years to come.

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Editorial Reviews

Roger Cohen
…an authoritative and accessible overview of this pivotal Middle Eastern power…Mr. Takeyh, an Iranian-American whose family fled Iran in 1979, brings to his subject an unusual combination of analysis and empathy…Anyone wishing to understand why restored American-Iranian ties are so elusive, but also so critical, should turn to this important work, a riveting and consistently insightful study of revolutionary Iran and its still troubled place in the world.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

Since the 1979 revolution that transformed Iran, some U.S. decision makers have treated the Islamic Republic as a political monolith, ignoring internal disagreements and political factions in favor of broadly painting Iran's leadership as "evil." Takeyh (Hidden Iran) argues credibly that this approach has been to our own peril, as the foreign policies of Iran are often an expression of domestic politics, no matter how opaque these politics may seem to outsiders. Rather than continue to try to contain Iran by means of "a broad-based Arab alliance," an approach that's been failing for decades, Takeyh argues that the U.S. must instead "conceive a situation whereby Iran... sees benefit in limiting its ambitions." In his previous book, Takeyh expressed an unassailable optimism that "Iran will change" and was on an inexorable path to greater openness-almost regardless of who was in power. Takeyh is more pessimistic in his predictions now, writing that Iran has "confounded the West's anticipation of a forward historical progression." By failing to acknowledge his own shifting understanding of the situation, Takeyh misses an opportunity to provide a genuinely honest-however inconsistent-assessment. (June)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal
What are the factors that have shaped Iran's foreign policy posture toward the rest of the world in general and the West in particular? It's been a puzzle to many American decision makers for decades. Takeyh (Council of Foreign Relations), a well-known commentator on Iran's foreign policy, explains its evolution since 1979 in this lucidly written book. Takeyh demonstrates that Iran's foreign policy decisions are made based on ideological and pragmatic considerations. He compares and contrasts Iranian foreign policy decisions during the pragmatic presidencies of Rafsanjani and Khatami and analyzes the impact of the emergence of the "New Right" and the Ahmadinejad presidency on Iran's foreign policy. Recommended for students and general readers who are tracking the U.S.-Iranian relationship.—NE\
Kirkus Reviews
Forget Stalin, Mao and Reagan. The world leader with the greatest influence on the course of the here and now may be the Ayatollah Khomeini, architect of the 1979 Iran revolution. Khomeini, writes Takeyh (Hidden Iran: Paradox and Power in the Islamic Republic, 2006), merits consideration as "one of the most successful revolutionary leaders of the twentieth century." He also casts a shadow over current events as the tutelary spirit of Iran's current regime, and its shadow arm, Hezbollah, which has been doing so much damage elsewhere in the region. Iran's influence, writes Takeyh, owes a great deal to the Bush administration, which, by way of self-fulfilling prophecy, so demonized the Iranian government that a strange element came into power, exemplified by its Holocaust-denying president. "Iran has been offered unprecedented opportunities as its principal American nemesis finds itself unsure how to proceed in the Middle East," writes Takeyh, "while its oil wealth has provided it with sufficient revenues to offset Western financial pressures." Yet, the author counsels, Iran is not monolithic. It is full of pragmatists and even peacemakers, and it must be dealt with not as an arm of an imagined axis of evil but as a nation of considerable influence-one whose hard-line government may be forced to relax if an America that does not spoil for war or dominance suddenly figures on the scene. A friendlier Iran may, in the end, be of more influence in regional affairs than even a negotiated peace between Israel and Palestine. Two paths remain open to the younger conservatives who are now in power, Takeyh concludes: either "a more tempered relationship with the United States or open confrontationwith the ‘Great Satan' "-a choice that will likely depend heavily on American actions. Policy wonkish in tone, but will appeal to followers of events in the Middle East. Agent: Larry Weissman/Larry Weissman Literary
From the Publisher
"Superb...anyone wishing to understand why restored American-Iranian ties are so elusive, but also so critical, should turn to this important work, a riveting and consistently insightful study of revolutionary Iran and its still troubled place in the world."—New York Times

"Elegant anatomy of Iran's foreign policy since 1979."—Malise Ruthven, New York Review of Books

"An excellent, straightforward primer for anyone who has not explored Iran's history before and wants a fair and unsparing portrayal of its ambitions and a keen understanding of its internal politics."—The Jerusalem Post

"Lucidly written... Recommended for students and general readers who are tracking the U.S.-Iranian relationship."—Library Journal

"Guardians of the Revolution is a "must read' for policy makers in Iran, in the United States, and throughout the world. Thirty years after the Revolution, this is the only comprehensive book in any language on the dynamics of change in Iranian domestic and foreign policy since the revolution. Timely and balanced, it should command the attention of the Obama administration in reviewing America's policy toward Iran."—R. K. Ramazani, Edward R. Stettinius Professor of Government, University of Virginia

"Ray Takeyh is one of our country's most insightful observers of Iran. In this book, he offers an interesting portrait of how and why Iran's approach to the world has evolved since the revolution. His explanations of the interplay of different groups within the elite and the rise of the new right are thought provoking and raise important questions for policy-makers. If one wants to understand the different forces affecting Iranian foreign policy, Takeyh's book is a good place to start."—Dennis Ross, author of Statecraft: And How to Restore America's Standing in the World

"Ray Takeyh has given us a succinct, well-written, and cool-headed analysis of Iran's foreign policy since the 1979 revolution. This book should be read by academics working on contemporary Iran as well as by foreign-policy experts in Washington grappling with the issue of how to deal with Tehran."—Ervand Abrahamian, author of A History of Modern Iran

" A useful aid.... [This book] provides a narrative background to the insights in his earlier Hidden Iran. Takeyh's two books together offer as instructive a portrait as one can find of politics in Tehran and why it generates sometimes maddening Iranian postures toward the outside world."—The National Interest

"Anyone who wants to understand whats going on in Iran must read the terrific ... Guardians of the Revolution ... a lucid, clear-headed explanation of Irans perplexing foreign policy since 1979."—Daily Beast

"An excellent way to take the measure of revolutionary Iran today is to read this up-to-date, well-researched, and perceptive history of its foreign policy since 1979."—Foreign Affairs

"[An] excellent history of Iran's foreign and security policies in the three decades since the revolution.... A highly successful balancing act between breadth and depth...[and] a first-class book."—Middle East Journal Review

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195327847
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 5/27/2009
  • Pages: 328
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Ray Takeyh is a Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of Hidden Iran and The Origins of the Eisenhower Doctrine . He lives near Washington, DC.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: Through the Looking Glass: Iran's Approach to the World

Part One: The Revolutionary Years

Chapter 1: Khomeini's Ideology and Iran's Grand Strategy
Chapter 2: Relations with the "Great Satan"
Chapter 3: Turmoil in Levant: Iran, Israel and the politics of Arab East
Chapter 4: Iran-Iraq War

Part Two: The Rise of Pragmatism and the New Priorities

Chapter 5: Pragmatic Restraint: Iranian Politics during the Rafsanjani era
Chapter 6: Reconciliation Diplomacy and its Limits
Chapter 7: The Satans

Part Three: The Age of Reform

Chapter 8: The Odyssey of the Reform Movement
Chapter 9: September 11th and the Politics of Fear, Hope and Necessity

Part Four: Hegemony at last?

Chapter 10: The Rise of the New Right
Chapter 11: The Ahmadinejad Era


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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 18, 2009

    Takeyh toes the beltway line: less insight and illumination than in HIDDEN IRAN

    I was expecting Takeyh to be as illuminating in this book as he had been in HIDDEN IRAN, but I was disappointed to find that he wrote this book primarily for his Council on Foreign Affairs colleagues and D.C. hacks than as an effort to reveal Iran's complexities. Yes, he frequently discusses complications and contradictions, but invariably from a "beltway" view. A more interesting and valuable book would have explored Iran's foreign policies from a more "revolutionary perspective." While I would put myself in Takeyh's political camp with respect to his observations and criticisms of the Iranian regime, I do not believe that he has captured the imagination (flawed though it may be) that lies behind the policies of Ayatollah Khomeini and his followers.

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  • Posted July 31, 2009

    Disappointing & Imbalanced

    The author once again does not pay serious attention to Iran's offer to negotiate all issues in 2003 and the Bush administration's rejection of that offer. I found recent books on Iran by William O. Beeman, Trita Parsi, and Thomas R. Mattair more valuable.

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    Posted August 28, 2009

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    Posted August 22, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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