After describing the various formal organs and rules of government in Iran, this short study suggests that Iranian governance is best understood as an informal balance of contending forces under the aegis of a powerful, "but not omnipotent," supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The authors break down the ups and downs of these contending forces by decade: the 1980s belonged to the clerics, the 1990s to the Bonyads (charitable foundations), and the first decade of this century to the Revolutionary Guards. They interpret the political struggle as pitting revolutionary Iran ("a model of resistance and self-sufficiency") against republican Iran ("a model of a normal state"), with the former on the rise since the June 2009 presidential election. The United States, the authors conclude, would be well advised to appreciate this constellation of forces shaping Iranian foreign policy.
Get the best of Foreign Affairs' book reviews delivered to you.