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on 29 May 2011
As one would expect from a Council of Foreign Relations publication, Guardians of the Revolution not only fails to disappoint, but delivers immeasurably in its chronicling and analysis of post 1979 Iran.
Speaking as a post Graduate who wrote an MA Dissertation on Iran, this highly readable volume has delivered a great deal of insight into, what was for myself at least, a very familiar subject matter.
Guardians of the Revolution has the revelatory aspect rarely found in modern scholarship, comparable to insights that are delivered upon the opening of archives. While dealing primarily with the 1979 Revolution and its aftermath, much greater insight is shed upon the earlier life of Khomeini. We learn how Khomeini was able to seize power in the Revolution and move it in his direction, how he was able to consolidate his hold on power, and why the political system he founded lives to this day.
Much insight is given in the post Khomeini era of Rafsanjani and later Khatami, but a curious insight is given into the rise of "The New Right." The ubiquitous Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is only one of many vanguards of the Revolution who cut their teeth in the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s. This new elite contrasts to the Revolutionary elite as they are not of clerical stock, rather veterans of the conflict with Iraq, and frequently, former members of the Revolutionary Guard. The rise of the new right is something the West failed to anticipate, and it is aptly explored by Takeyh in the latter part of the book.
On the whole, Guardians of the Revolution is not just an insightful exploration of Iran's Revolution and the regime it created, it is a highly readable and page turning volume that one struggles to put down, and leaves one wanting more after the final page has been turned.
In short a devastating account of modern Iran, and one of the best political science books I have read in recent years.
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VINE VOICEon 22 August 2009
Dr Takeyh has written a book with the policymakers in Washington very much in mind, focussing as he does on post-revolutionary Iran's foreign relations and its relations with the US in particular. If I were an American policymaker, or American Iran wonk, I might have different views on the book, but the book's great value to me is its succinct account of the development of Ayatollah Khomeini's thinking on the role of the clergy in an Islamic state, his role in forging the 1979 revolution, and the force of his personality that created a powerful legacy that resonates today, in the Iran of the 2009 presidential elections and their aftermath. Unlike Con Coughlin's recent "Khomeini's Ghost", which is written in a free-flowing, somewhat journalistic style (which is not to criticise it), Takeyh's approach is measured, considered, bordering on the prescriptive. Concurrently with the foreign policy considerations, he examines Iran post-1979 as falling into four distinct periods, more or less coinciding with the period up until Khomeini's death, the the three presidencies that followed: Rafsanjani, Khatami, and Ahmadinejad, each showing different approaches to the world and to the internal business of government in a revolutionary society. I found his explication of the origins of Khomeini's political "philosophy" (if one can call it that) to be more persuasive and realistic than that of Ervand Abrahamian in "Khomeinism", who seems to be at pains to depict the ayatollah not as a fanatic but as a "populist", almost as though to de-demonize him. Takeyh adverts to the populist elements in Khomeini's vision, but doesn't downplay the ruthlessness and, at times, duplicity, of the old man to achieve his single-minded aim of toppling the Persian monarchy. Certainly the creation of any sort of republican democracy was the last thing in Khomeini's mind. It seems that the revolutionaries, and Khomeini among them, had no ideas about governing the country other than getting rid of the Shah, and then ridding themselves of inconvenient rival revolutionary or liberal rivals. Of economics, diplomacy, military strategy, civil governance and all the other appurtenances of the modern state, Khomeini and his closest supporters, many of whom remain at or near the top of the Iranian government/theocracy today, seem to have been completely ignorant, even not interested. Dr Takeyh is good on the Iran-Iraq war. He also reassesses the significance of President Khatami's two terms as a "reformist" president, and shows clearly how the aspirations of Khatami and his millions of supporters were progressively thwarted and reversed by the conservative elements in the theocratic side of the complex matrix that Khomeini handed down as the constitution of Iran. What would be interesting would be to read Dr Takeyh's take on the 2009 presidential elections.

"Guardians of the Revolution" is no easy read, but repays the effort of reading carefully. What I did find irritating, however, is that Takeyh insists, almost petulantly, in transliterating fairly well-known Arabic or Persian names into unfamiliar forms, e.g., Saddam Huseyn (who he, you may ask?), Ayatollah Bihishti (Beheshti), Ayatollah Muntaziri (Montazeri). It's only a small criticism, however.
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