In This Review

Guardians of the Revolution: Iran and the World in the Age of the Ayatollahs
Guardians of the Revolution: Iran and the World in the Age of the Ayatollahs
By Ray Takeyh
328 pp, Oxford University Press, 2009

The Islamic Republic of Iran, born in revolution, is now 30 years old. It has already bested the survival record of the state that arose from the French Revolution and would appear to be following on the regional level the trajectory of the state that arose from the Russian Revolution, which by 1947 had become a Stalinist autocracy of global reach. 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. In Takeyh's periodization, the revolutionary 1980s of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's leadership and the long, brutal Iran-Iraq War were followed by the pragmatism and opportunism of President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani's tenure. Thereafter came the two presidential terms of the reformist Muhammad Khatami and then Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's flamboyant presidency. Looming ever larger in the post-Khomeini period was Khomeini's successor as supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Told largely in terms of these leaders, the story also illuminates Iran's institutional tilt toward revolutionary purism, juxtaposed with state-centered foreign policy pragmatism (Islamism in one country?). Takeyh, who has now joined the Obama administration to work on Iran policy, lets his appraisal of the tortured relations between Iran and the United States take center stage without, however, neglecting Iran's multifaceted regional diplomacy. A short conclusion advises how the United States might best cope with this revolutionary regime, seemingly set to endure well past its first 30 years.