Jan 5, 2010
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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
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.
Introduction: Leadership Dynamics in the Islamic Republic of Iran
Assertiveness and Caution in Iranian Strategic Culture
Formal Structures of the Islamic Republic
Factionalism and the Primacy of Informal Networks
The Nexus of Domestic Politics and Policymaking in Iran
Conclusion: Power and Politics in the Islamic Republic