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Mullahs, Guards, and Bonyads: An Exploration of Iranian Leadership Dynamics

Overview

The Islamic Republic of Iran poses serious challenges to U.S. interests in the Middle East, and its nuclear program continues to worry the international community. The presidential election of June 2009 that returned Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power and led to broad protests and a government crackdown presents yet another cause for U.S. concern. Yet the U.S. ability to "read" the Iranian regime and formulate appropriate policies has been handicapped by both a lack of access to the country and the opacity of ...

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Mullahs, Guards, and Bonyads: An Exploration of Iranian Leadership Dynamics

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Overview

The Islamic Republic of Iran poses serious challenges to U.S. interests in the Middle East, and its nuclear program continues to worry the international community. The presidential election of June 2009 that returned Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power and led to broad protests and a government crackdown presents yet another cause for U.S. concern. Yet the U.S. ability to "read" the Iranian regime and formulate appropriate policies has been handicapped by both a lack of access to the country and the opacity of decisionmaking in Tehran. To help analysts better understand the Iranian political system, the authors describe

Iranian strategic culture, including the perceptions that drive state behavior

the informal networks, formal government institutions, and personalities that influence decisionmaking in the Islamic Republic

the impact of elite behavior on Iranian policy formulation and execution

factionalism, emerging fissures within the current regime, and other key trends.

The authors observe that it is the combination of key personalities, networks based on a number of commonalities, and institutions-not any one of these elements alone-that defines the complex political system of the Islamic Republic. Factional competition and informal, back-channel maneuvering trump the formal processes for policymaking. The Supreme Leader retains the most power, but he is not omnipotent in the highly dynamic landscape of Iranian power politics. The evolving role of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the vulnerability of the elite "old guard" to challenge, and the succession of the next Supreme Leader are key determinants of Iran's future direction. In light of complexities in the Iranian system, U.S. policymakers should avoid trying to leverage the domestic politics of Iran and instead accept the need to deal with the government of the day as it stands. Moreover, they must take as an article of faith that dealing with Iran does not necessarily mean dealing with a unitary actor due to the competing power centers in the Islamic Republic.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780833047731
  • Publisher: Rand Publishing
  • Publication date: 1/1/2010
  • Pages: 168
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Table of Contents

Preface iii

Figures ix

Summary xi

Acknowledgments xxi

Abbreviations xxiii

Chapter 1 Introduction: Leadership Dynamics in the Islamic Republic of Iran 1

Chapter 2 Assertiveness and Caution in Iranian Strategic Culture 5

Iran: The Conquering and Conquered Nation 6

Nationalism as a Tool of Policy 9

A New Revolutionary Paradigm 13

Exporting the Revolution 14

From Revolution to Pragmatism-and Back Again? 16

The End of Pragmatism? 17

Challenges to Iranian Power 19

Chapter 3 Formal Structures of the Islamic Republic 21

The Supreme Leader 24

The President 25

The Majles 27

The Assembly of Experts 28

The Guardian Council 29

The Expediency Council 30

The Judiciary 31

The Supreme National Security Council 32

The Strategic Council for Foreign Relations 33

Iran's Security Forces 33

Concluding Remarks: Formal Structures 35

Chapter 4 Factionalism and the Primacy of Informal Networks 37

The System: A Web of Personalities, Networks, and Institutions 39

A Men's Club of Key Personalities 43

The Supreme Leader: A Dominant Personality, but His Power Is Not Limitless 44

Other Personalities: Prominence Is Tied to Proximity to the Supreme Leader 48

A New Generation 51

Informal Networks and Patronage Systems of the Khodi 52

The 1980s: Era of the Clerics 54

The 1990s: Era of the Bonyads 56

The 2000s: Era of the Revolutionary Guards 58

Formal Institutional Structure as a Playing Field for Informal Networks 64

Factions: Supernetworks of Individuals, Relationships, and Power Centers 67

Concluding Remarks: Factionalism and Informal Networks 73

Chapter 5 The Nexus of Domestic Politics and Policymaking in Iran 75

Foreign Policy as a Backdrop for Domestic Politics 76

Factional Policy Differences 78

Iranian Policy in the Middle East: Factional Determinants and Geopolitical Context 82

Factional Views of Middle East Policy 84

Summary: Leadership Dynamics and Iranian Middle East Policy 91

The Nuclear Case: Factionalism, Personality, and Policymaking 92

The Reformist Approach: Building Confidence Abroad, Losing Ground at Home 93

The Principlist Approach: Maintaining "Steadfastness" 95

Factionalism and Personal Rivalry Deepen Under Ahmadinejad 97

Khamenei's Factional Preferences Regarding the Nuclear Issue 102

Summary: Leadership Dynamics and Iranian Nuclear Policy 106

The Emergence of the Economy as a Factional Battleground 107

Summary: Leadership Dynamics and Iranian Economic Policy 112

Concluding Remarks: Domestic Politics and Policymaking 113

Chapter 6 Conclusion: Power and Politics in the Islamic Republic 115

Key Observations on How the Iranian Political System Works 115

The Informal Trumps the Formal and Is the System 116

The Supreme Leader Retains the Most Power, but He Is Not Omnipotent 116

Factional Competition Drives Political Discourse and Policymaking 118

Iran's Domestic Power Politics Are Highly Dynamic and Periodic 119

Emerging Trends to Watch in Iran 120

The Revolutionary Guards: Will They Rise or Fall? 120

The Old Guard: Vulnerable to Challenge? 122

The Next Supreme Leader: Who or What Will Succeed Khamenei? 123

Concluding Thoughts for U.S. Policymakers 124

Bibliography 127

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