- The IRGC has always played a unique role in Iran. @MRubin1971
- Over the past 2 decades, IRGC power has increased militarily, politically and economically. @MRubin1971
- “The Rise of the Pasdaran” is a useful but flawed manual in understanding the IRGC’s history and roles. @MRubin1971
BOOK REVIEW: The Rise of the Pasdaran: Assessing the Domestic Role of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps. By Frederic Wehrey, et al. Santa Monica: RAND Corporation, 2009. 129 pp. $26.
The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), or Pasdaran as it is known in Persian, has always played a unique role in Iran; it has served not only as a territorial defense force, but as an ideological army, merciless toward political opposition, and as the main tool in the regime’s export of revolution. Over the past two decades, the corps’ power has increased militarily, politically, and economically.
The Rise of the Pasdaran is a useful but flawed manual in understanding the IRGC’s history and role. Separate chapters sketch out the organization’s various domestic functions; its training and indoctrination; its economic role; and its increasing influence in politics. Not covered at all, however, is the IRGC’s external activity, its role in terror sponsorship, including its relationship to the Qods Force, the IRGC unit responsible for the deaths of dozens of Americans. Nor is the IRGC’s military doctrine or its divisions covered adequately. Perhaps the authors believed the focus on the Guards’ domestic role precludes discussion of these matters, but this lack, especially regarding the IRGC navy and its ballistic missile wing, weakens the book, as both have a considerable impact on the domestic sphere.
The authors rightly note that IRCG involvement in domestic politics makes it vulnerable to factional disputes, but the study of such infighting is superficial. Determining the ideological breakdown of specific units is important for U.S. policymakers; if the IRGC controls any future nuclear arsenal, the predilections of that unit should be an important consideration in any U.S. deterrence or containment strategy. Here, the authors might not be faulted, for the Pasdaran remains largely a black box for outsiders, a mystery this RAND project does little to change.
The authors ask what the future holds for the IRGC and offer three scenarios: One in which its power will effectively trump that of Iranian supreme leader Khamene’i but in which the clergy will still remain as figureheads; another in which the IRGC will seize more overt control, finalizing, in effect, what has been a slow, creeping coup d’état against the clergy; and the third, in which the IRGC emulates the former role of the Turkish military, weighing in on political decision-making to guide the future of the country. Here, the authors do themselves a disservice by failing to mention the groundbreaking work of Iran scholar Ali Alfoneh, whose various essays and analytical articles on such scenarios—and, indeed, much of the nitty-gritty of the IRGC organization—both predates the RAND study and remains superior to it.