Iran’s Revolutionary Guards


Looking Ahead

Analysts differ widely on what the future holds for Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps. Some, like Alfoneh, suggest the guard’s rising political and economic clout has put it in a position to challenge the clerical establishment. “For the past thirty years the Islamic Republic has been based on a fundamental alliance between the clergy and the Revolutionary Guard,” Alfoneh says, “where the clerics have been ruling the country, and the Revolutionary Guard has guarded the Islamic Republic” and its values. But now the dynamic has changed to “where there Revolutionary Guard is both ruling, and guarding,” Alfoneh says. Stanford’s Milani, writing in The New Republic, suggests that the post-June 2009 election crisis in Iran could strengthen the guard’s hand even more. If Khamenei calls on the Revolutionary Guard for a full crackdown on protestors, Milani says it would be “difficult to imagine the IRGC quelling the current protests and then simply turning power over to the clergy.” Milani adds: “It is even conceivable that faced with irresolution among the clergy, they will act on their own, and establish a military dictatorship that uses Islam as its ideological veneer–similar to Pakistan under Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq.”

Wehrey doubts the guard and its commanders would go that far. For one, Wehrey notes, the organization today is overly factionalized and made up of competing currents. During the Khatami era, for instance, the guard’s leadership supported conservative elements within the Iranian establishment, while the rank-and-file were more empathetic to the reformists. Under Ahmadinejad, splits have emerged most noticeably on economic policy. And to suggest that the guard would orchestrate an overt bid for power misses the “checks and balances on the system,” Wehrey says. “There is so much else going on behind the scenes. It’s intensely driven by personalities, by political differences that overlap the formal structures. To say that the guards are acting in lockstep to assert themselves as a political actor ignores the factional divisions … that permeate the guard.”

Given the guard’s uncertain direction and cloudy ambition, it is unclear what tools the Obama administration might bring to bear to counter the organization’s rise. The U.S. State Department has included Iran on its list of state sponsors of terrorism since 1984, and the agency’s most recent country assessment designated the Revolutionary Guard (specifically its Quds force) a terrorist entity.

Read the full text on the The Council on Foreign Relations website

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