Guardians of the Revolution, by Council on Foreign Relations scholar Ray Takeyh, offers candid insights into Iranian politics, delving into the origins of the Islamic Revolution of 1979 and tracking its evolution over the past 30 years. The current debate in Iran and among outside observers centers around whether or not the spirit of that revolution is still alive today. Many of the figures instrumental in building and sustaining the Islamic Revolution and which Takeyh brings to life in his book — Mir Hossein Mussavi, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Ali Larijani, Mohammad Khatami, and Hosein-Ali Montazeri are now virulently opposed to the regime. On the other side of the debate, Takeyh explains the rise of the New Right, a group of conservatives headed by Ayatollah Khamenei and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who have slowly gained and entrenched themselves in the heart of the Iranian government.
Since 2005, these conservatives have not only rolled back the reforms of the Khatami era but have increasingly antagonized the United States and Arab nations, brazenly pursued a nuclear program, and extended Iran’s influence throughout the region. According to Ray Takeyh, “By choice and chance, Iran has now emerged as a leading power of the Middle East, whereby its preferences and predilections have to be taken into consideration as the region contemplates its future.”
The most interesting part of Takeyh’s book is his call for a strategy of engagement and regional integration. Throughout the book, he portrays Iran as a new regional power; it is strong, has vast natural resources, is building a nuclear capacity, and has influence throughout the region. As a result, the U.S. policy containment cannot succeed. Takeyh outlines a geopolitical situation in the Middle East that is markedly different from the Cold War period: “whereas during the cold war, confronting communism meant promoting capitalism and democracy, in the Middle East version, it will mean promoting Sunni extremism.”
As an alternative, Takeyh suggests a policy that will help ease tensions and work toward peace. First, a regional security network that includes all actors should be created that will allow all Middle Eastern countries to engage in dialogue and partnership to protect their own interest. A recent public opinion poll in Iran conducted by World Public Opinion has found that nearly half of Iranians would prefer to be part of such a regional network. A natural outgrowth of this regional security network would be regional disarmament, which Iran has supported if its neighbors do the same.
Ultimately, Takeyh argues, the United States must facilitate such an organization through its own leadership. If the current U.S. administration does not reverse the containment policies of the Bush era, Iran will act increasingly like a cornered animal. Also, unlike Iraq and Afghanistan, Iran is a preeminent military power in the region, being the only country with long- and medium-range missiles. With animosity between Iran and Israel at an all-time high, and Iran’s continuing nuclear program, there is a serious prospect of regional war in the absence of regional integration. The United States has the power and influence to help avert such a crisis. As Takeyh concludes, “Ultimately, security for Arabs and Israelis will be more achievable if Iran is part of the region and is vested in its stability rather than excluded from it.”