Sunday’s deadly drone attack on U.S. forces along the Jordan-Syria border attributed to an Iran-backed militia underscores the commitment of the Iranian regime and its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to drive the United States out of the Middle East.
Iran and the IRGC, Naval Postgraduate School professor Afshon Ostovar, tells me in the latest episode of The Pivot podcast, are emboldened by a string of successes in the region, including in Iraq and Syria, where they feel they defeated not just the U.S., but also a broad coalition that includes other Western and Gulf Arab countries.
Iran’s will to win stems from a strategic culture of “us against the world,” Ostovar says, that was formed in the Islamic Republic’s first decade after the revolution, amid the Iran-Iraq war. Iraq, which invaded Iran in 1980, was backed by Gulf Arab states and the U.S., in part to contain Iran’s “Islamic revolution” within its territory. With great resolve, Iran survived — though at great cost and involving great folly.
Inside the IRGC
Loyal to Iran’s Supreme Leader, the IRGC is tasked with guarding Ayatollah Khomeini’s revolution from within and extending the Islamic Republic’s strategic depth beyond Iran’s territorial limits.
The IRGC, as the group is also known, was born in the cauldron that followed Iran’s 1979 revolution. As Ayatollah Khomeini sought to impose hegemony over a diverse movement that overthrew the Shah, the new Islamic Republic found itself at war after it was invaded by Iraq in 1980.
For the IRGC and Qassem Soleimani, the longtime and now slain leader of its external operations wing, the Quds Force, this was a baptism by fire.
Today, the IRGC is involved in conflicts in Gaza, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, and elsewhere. And it also plays an ever-growing role at home.
The IRGC, as Ostovar explains in the podcast and his book “Vanguard of the Imam: Religion, Politics, and Iran’s Revolutionary Guards,” is a “multifaceted” organization with reach into the economic, intelligence, social, and cultural domains. Its economic empire, according to some estimates, equals roughly 30 percent of GDP. But it “is foremost a military organization.”
The IRGC is now not only one of the two most powerful institutions in Iran, it’s also among the most powerful in the Middle East.
Ostovar discusses that path to power in a new book, “Wars of Ambition: The United States, Iran, and the Struggle for the Middle East,” which will be out this August.
Afshon Ostovar, an associate professor at the Naval Postgraduate School, joins host Arif Rafiq to discuss how Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) transformed from being a ragtag militia to a preeminent outside force in Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere in the Middle East. They explore the IRGC’s network of partners, including the so-called Axis of Resistance, and evaluate the strengths and weaknesses in how IRGC leverages these groups as part of its strategy of asymmetric warfare against its adversaries and rivals, including the U.S. and Israel.
Dr. Afshon Ostovar is an associate professor of national security affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School. He was most recently a research scientist in the Center for Strategic Studies at CNA, a not-for-profit research organization in the Washington D.C. area. Previously, he was a Fellow at the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point and has taught at Johns Hopkins University.
Ostovar is a contributor to War on the Rocks and Lawfare, and his commentary regularly appears in Politico, Foreign Policy, Vox, The Guardian, and other popular media such as The New York Times, Reuters, Bloomberg, and National Public Radio. He earned a B.A., summa cum laude, in Near Eastern Studies from the University of Arizona and a Ph.D. in history from the University of Michigan.
Books by Afshon Ostovar
Ostovar is the author of “Vanguard of the Imam: Religion, Politics, and Iran’s Revolutionary Guards,” the first comprehensive history of the IRGC. It delves deep into the ideas and history that shape the IRGC and Iran’s revolutionary system.
Georgetown University Professor Dan Byman calls it a “detailed, nuanced, and definitive guide.” Middle East scholar Juan Cole hails it as a “brilliant and unique achievement.”
Ostovar’s next book, “Wars of Ambitions,” which will be published in August 2024, touches upon many of the themes in this podcast episode, providing a historical narrative of the contestation of power between Iran and the U.S. since the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
If you enjoyed this podcast, you’ll certainly want to read this book. It’s available for pre-order today.
Arif Rafiq is the editor of Globely News. Rafiq has contributed commentary and analysis on global issues for publications such as Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, the New Republic, the New York Times, and POLITICO Magazine.
He has appeared on numerous broadcast outlets, including Al Jazeera English, the BBC World Service, CNN International, and National Public Radio.