On this week’s POMEPS Conversation, Marc Lynch speaks with Afshon Ostovar about Iran and the role of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.

“The IRGC’s powers are often exaggerated…. but on the flipside of that, I think it’s also often dismissed— particularly from the U.S. perspective, they see the IRGC as a convenient foil. How do we how do we make the case against Iran? We use the IRGC and all of its nefarious activities as an excuse,”  Ostovar said. “You see this in Yemen in particular, where there’s countless articles that come out that say the IRGC is not important in Yemen… This sort of thing, I think, is also missing the point.”

“It’s hard to get them right, but it’s easier to sort of exaggerate or minimize their influence.”

Ostovar is an Assistant Professor of National Security Affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School. His recent book, Vanguard of the Imam: Religion, Politics, and Iran’s Revolutionary Guards  examines the rise of Iran’s most powerful armed force—the IRGC—and its role in power politics, regional conflicts, and political violence.

“I see the IRGC as being much not just devoted to [Ali] Khamenei, but being devoted to the office of the supreme leader. The supreme leader itself is the centerpoint of the Islamic system of Iran…And I think that the symbolic importance of the supreme leader is something that that the IRGC doesn’t want to doesn’t want to do without,” said Ostovar  “A few years ago, particularly after 2009 when the IRGC was involved in the crackdown, and you had a lot of talk about their rise in power at that time. One of the discussions was, ‘Well is is Iran moving towards a dictatorship or are they just going to squeeze out the supreme leader?'”

“One of the arguments that I make in my book is I don’t think that they’ll do that. I think the supreme leader is very much— not just important to them symbolically— but he is tied into their identity. They are the servants of the supreme leader. They are literally the guardians of that Islamic system. They don’t want to be the leaders of it. That doesn’t mean that they don’t want to have their way— they get their way more often than not— but they they survive when they don’t get their way.”

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Iran’s Revolutionary Guards: A Conversation with Afshon Ostovar