Barbara Slavin's new book Bitter Friends, Bosom Enemies complicates this commonly held view of the Pasdaran.
In our interview in 2006, [Mohsen] Rezaie [a former Revolutionary Guards commander and number two in the Expediency Council] disputed the notion that the Guards had increased its political power dramatically since 2003. He said that military veterans had long played a major role in the Iranian government, and the only difference was that "sometimes the media talks about it more." A crucial test of the Guards' power could come in the transition period following Khamenei's passing as supreme leader, when the Guards could be a kingmaker.29The Guardians of the Revolution, upon closer examination, are as complex as the rest of Iran, harboring contradictory tendencies within itself. Moreover, cultural contradiction is compounded by class contradiction. Many of the rank and file of the Revolutionary Guards, like other young working-class people in Iran and many other nations in the South, probably favor changes that broaden their cultural horizon and yet at the same time remain opposed to changes that open their country's political economy to more exploitation by capitalists, not only Iranian but also multinational, to say nothing of changes that make their country vulnerable to the empire's military attacks.
Many outside observers assume that Guards members and veterans are all conservatives opposed to liberalizing the regime or improving ties with the West, but, as so often is the case with Iran, the situation is more nuanced. Like the American military, the Guards leadership tilts to the right while the rank-and-file are more moderate. In 1994, local Guards commanders refused to use force to put down riots in the city of Qazvin, northwest of Tehran. In 1997, 73 percent of the Guards -- 4 percent more than in the general electorate -- voted for Khatami when he scored his upset victory for president.30 . . .
Guards members seem more overtly religious than many Iranians, but that actually reinforces diversity within the ranks, because in Shiite Islam believers can choose the cleric who will be their personal spiritual adviser. For example, Grand Ayatollah Montazeri, the moderate dismissed by Khomeini as his designated successor, retained a strong following among Guards members even after he became Iran's most prominent dissident cleric.33 According to Paul Pillar, a CIA veteran and former Middle East chief on the National Intelligence Council, which advises the U.S. president, it would be hard to identify a Guards position on issues such as reconciliation with the United States. "You've probably got debates within the Guards just as in other Iranian organizations," he said.
29. Ali Gheissari and Vali Nasr, "The Conservative Consolidation in Iran," International Institute for Strategic Studies, Survival vol. 47, no. 2 (Summer 2005), pp. 175-90.
30. [Wilfried] Buchta, Who Rules Iran? [The Structure of Power in the Islamic Republic] [Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 2000] p. 125.
33. Buchta, Who Rules Iran? p. 93.
(Barbara Slavin, Bitter Friends, Bosom Enemies: Iran, the U.S., and the Twisted Path to Confrontation, St. Martin's Press, 2007, pp. 96-97, 237)
Iran can use a leader who thinks like Ahmadinejad on economic and foreign policies and thinks like Khatami on cultural policy, speaking to the Third World like Ahmadinejad and speaking to the West like Khatami, and is immensely more charismatic than either, for the purpose of wresting power from the Leader and the Guardian Council. Because of many historical reasons, all these virtues cannot be found in one political figure in Iran.