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Event Summary

In 2010, then-US secretary of state Hillary Clinton stated that Iran was becoming a military dictatorship. At an AEI book event on Tuesday, Ali Alfoneh, a former resident fellow of AEI, expanded on this observation and other issues facing Iran that he details in his recently released book “Iran Unveiled: How the Revolutionary Guards Is Turning Theocracy into Military Dictatorship” (AEI Press, April 2013).

Alfoneh attributed much of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ (IRGC) infiltration of Iran’s political, economic, and cultural spheres to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s 2005 election as Iran’s president and the resulting privatization process. Alfoneh also claimed that Ayatollah Khamenei is essentially a hostage of his own military and bolsters the IRGC’s power through his efforts to secure his own rule and protect the regime.

Regarding US-Iranian policy, Alfoneh stated that Obama’s words and actions are often misunderstood by Iranians, and are therefore ineffective. Frederick Kagan of AEI asserted that the US has consistently treated Iran as an opaque and incomprehensible entity despite the availability of open-source information. 

Alfoneh and Kagan also touched on the IRGC’s worldview. Alfoneh emphasized the role that the Iran-Iraq War has played in shaping Iranian politics and in shaping the IRGC’s conduct and beliefs. Kagan described the IRGC’s ideology as a convergence of nationalism and Islamism coupled with anti-imperialism and anti-colonialism.
–Heather Malacaria

Event Description

Iran is currently experiencing the most important change since the revolution of 1979: the regime in Tehran, traditionally ruled by the Shia clergy, is transforming into a military dictatorship dominated by the officers of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). As IRGC commanders have infiltrated Iran’s political, economic, and cultural spheres, they have eschewed diplomatic norms and left few policy options for the US other than to unsuccessfully contain the threat. Is Washington prepared to tailor its strategy based on an evolving Iranian power structure? What will further advances by IRGC leaders portend for Iran’s strategic calculations?
Ali Alfoneh explores these and other issues in his new book “Iran Unveiled: How the Revolutionary Guards Is Turning Theocracy into Military Dictatorship” (AEI Press, April 2013). At this event, Alfoneh and panelists will discuss the rise of the IRGC in Iran and the resulting challenges for American interests in the Middle East and beyond.

If you are unable to attend, we welcome you to watch the event live on this page. Full video will be posted within 24 hours.


12:00 PM
Registration and Lunch

12:30 PM
Ali Alfoneh, Former AEI Resident Fellow
Frederick W. Kagan, AEI
Mehdi Khalaji, Washington Institute for Near East Policy

Karim Sadjadpour, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

2:00 PM

Event Contact Information

For more information, please contact Daniel Vajdic at [email protected], 202.862.5942.

Media Contact Information

For media inquiries, please contact [email protected], 202.862.5829.

Speaker Biographies

Ali Alfoneh is a former resident fellow at AEI and a doctoral candidate at the department of political science at the University of Copenhagen. His research areas include civil-military relations in the Middle East, with a special focus on Iran and the role of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps in the politics of the Islamic Republic. Previously, Alfoneh was a research fellow at the Institute for Strategy at the Royal Danish Defence College and taught political economy at the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Southern Denmark.

Frederick W. Kagan
is the Christopher DeMuth Chair and director of the Critical Threats Project at AEI. In 2009, he served in Kabul, Afghanistan, as part of Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s (ret.) strategic assessment team, and he returned to Afghanistan in 2010, 2011, and 2012 to conduct research for Gen. David Petraeus (ret) and Gen. John Allen. In July 2011, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen awarded him the Distinguished Public Service Award, the highest honor the chairman can present to civilians who do not work for the US Department of Defense. Kagan is the coauthor of the report “Defining Success in Afghanistan” (AEI and the Institute for the Study of War, 2010) and author of the series of reports “Choosing Victory” (AEI), which recommended and monitored the US military surge in Iraq. His most recent book is “Lessons for a Long War: How America Can Win on New Battlefields” (AEI Press, 2010, with Thomas Donnelly).

Mehdi Khalaji is a senior fellow at the Washington Institute, focusing on the politics of Iran and Shiite groups in the Middle East. A Shiite theologian by training, Khalaji has also served on the editorial boards of two prominent Iranian periodicals and produced for the BBC as well as the US government’s Persian news service. From 1986 to 2000, Khalaji trained in the seminaries of Qom, the traditional center of Iran’s clerical establishment. In Qom, and later in Tehran, he launched a career in journalism, first serving on the editorial board of the theological journal Naqd va Nazar and then the daily Entekhab. In 2000, Khalaji moved Paris where he studied Shiite theology and exegesis at the École pratique des hautes études. He also worked for BBC Persian as a political analyst on Iranian affairs, eventually becoming a broadcaster for the Prague-based Radio Farda, the Persian-language service of the US government’s Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. At Radio Farda, he produced news, features, and analysis on a range of Middle Eastern, Iranian, and Islamic issues.

Karim Sadjadpour is a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He joined Carnegie after four years as the chief Iran analyst at the International Crisis Group based in Washington, DC, and Tehran, where he conducted dozens of interviews with senior Iranian officials and hundreds more with Iranian intellectuals, clerics, dissidents, paramilitaries, businessmen, students, activists, and youth, among others. He is a regular contributor to BBC TV and Radio, CNN, National Public Radio, PBS NewsHour, and Al-Jazeera. He has also appeared on the Today Show, Charlie Rose, Fox News Sunday, and the Colbert Report, among others. He contributes regularly to publications such as The Economist, The Washington Post, The New York Times, the International Herald Tribune, and Foreign Policy. Frequently called upon to brief US, EU, and Asian officials about Middle Eastern affairs, he regularly testifies before Congress; has lectured at Harvard University, Princeton University, and Stanford University; and has been the recipient of numerous academic awards, including a Fulbright scholarship.

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