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RAND: Mullahs, Guards, and Bonyads: An Exploration of Iranian Leadership Dynamics

Authors: David E. Thaler, Alireza Nader, Shahram Chubin, Jerrold D. Green, Charlotte Lynch, and Frederic Wehrey
February 11, 2010

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The objective of this book is to offer a framework to help United States policymakers and analysts better understand existing and evolving leadership dynamics driving Iranian decision-making.

The Islamic Republic of Iran is now perceived by many as a rising power in the Middle East and a long-term challenge to U.S. regional interests. The fall of Iran's archenemy, Saddam Hussein, has enabled it to expand its influence in Iraq and beyond. Its nuclear program continues relatively unabated, with the Islamic Republic defying international condemnation and sanction to pursue an ostensibly civilian nuclear program-a program that could, technically, provide Tehran with a "breakout" capacity for nuclear arms, if it is not already a cover for a dedicated military effort. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has fueled the fire through his inflammatory rhetoric about the United States, its allies in the Persian Gulf region, and Israel and through his systematic denial of the Holocaust. And the presidential election in June 2009-after which the government's quick declaration of a landslide Ahmadinejad victory was challenged as fraudulent by reformist candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi and a wide array of opposition groups endured a government crackdown- presents yet another cause for U.S. and Western concern.

Yet the U.S. ability to gauge the extent and totality of the challenges posed by Iran is handicapped by the lack of official relations between the two states since 1980. Moreover, observers of the Iranian regime, both within Iran and abroad, often lament the opacity of Iranian decisionmaking processes, which presents serious impediments not only to those observers trying to understand the Iranian system and the policies it produces but even to average Iranians themselves. U.S. policymakers need both a more complete picture of the driving characteristics of the Iranian regime than they currently have and a framework to appropriately interpret Tehran's words and actions and formulate effective policies for securing U.S. interests vis--vis the Islamic Republic.

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