Time in the Barrel

Iran Rising

The Survival and Future of the Islamic Republic

Amin Saikal

Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, 2019, 344 pages

Book Review published on: May 24, 2019

Iran Rising: The Survival and Future of the Islamic Republic is a detailed explanation of Iran since the 1978–79 revolution that led to the overthrow of the shah of Iran, a title bestowed upon people of royal or distinguished importance, and the institutionalization of a two-tier system of government that has lasted four decades. Its central idea is to present an in-depth analysis of how the Islamic Republic of Iran is governed and the political, economic, and military challenges it faces with its regional neighbors as well as on the international stage. The author, Amin Saikal, is a distinguished professor of political science, a public policy fellow, and the director of the Center for Arab and Islamic Studies at the Australian National University. He authored the book The Rise and Fall of the Shah, which is where Iran Rising picks up.

In Iran Rising, Saikal provides excellent historical background on Iran as well as the context for how and why the country thinks the way it does, especially when it comes to dealing with the United States. The book is organized into eight chapters that provide the background of Iran immediately after the overthrow of the shah with overwhelming popular support, to the adoption of a new form of government headed by the Shia clerical leader, Ayatollah Khomeini. In this new form of government, Khomeini was the supreme leader of Iran, but it also included a parliamentary system with an elected president and a constitution.

The first half of the book discusses how the various government offices are organized and how they relate to one another and, more importantly, how the elected president interacts with the supreme leader and his Council of Guardians. Saikal then provides analysis of each of the presidents’ tenures along with their successes and failures with internal and external issues. Subsequent chapters go into excellent detail about the regional and international relationships Iran has established over the last forty years. Saikal then concludes with some speculations about friction points with the current Trump administration.

Iran Rising is well written, laid out in a logical format, and well sourced with citations. It is an excellent primer on the country of Iran and offers a look behind the curtain on how the Iranian government is organized and administered. The book also illustrates the multifaceted nature of the elements of national power and that nothing is ever as simple as it seems. I highly recommend this book for all military and nonmilitary audiences because of its insight into one of the lesser understood countries that has been a thorn in the side of the United States for over forty years.

Book Review written by: Lt. Col. George Hodge, U.S. Army, Retired