Iran, Its Proxies, and the Limits of Religion

Tue, Mar 5, 2019, 12:00 pm to 1:15 pm
The Institute for the Transregional Study of the Contemporary Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia

It is often said that Iran has benefitted more than any other state from the wars in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. This line of thinking rests on the notion that Iran’s relationships with co-religionist Shia (including Alawis and Zaydis) will enable it to secure an enduring and influential role across the region. However, that perception rests on a narrow understanding of Iran’s relationships, one that generally assumes that sectarian linkages transcend material concerns. This discussion will complicate that view and discuss why religion might not be as important as other factors in Iran’s relationships, and why Iran’s future influence in the Middle East should not be taken as inexorable.

Afshon Ostovar is Assistant Professor and Associate Chair for Research in the Department of National Security Affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. He was formerly a Research Scientist in the Center for Strategic Studies at CNA, a not-for-profit research organization in the Washington D.C. area; a Fellow at the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point; and an adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University. Dr. Ostovar’s has published widely on topics related to conflict, strategy, and security in the Middle East. His book, Vanguard of the Imam: Religion, Politics, and Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (Oxford University Press, 2016), explores the rise of Iran’s most powerful armed force—the IRGC—and its involvement in domestic politics and foreign affairs. He has recently published a series of articles that explore different angles of Iran’s relationships with its proxy allies. They include: “Sectarianism and Iranian foreign Policy,” (in Beyond Sunni and Shia, Oxford UP, 2018), which examines the regional and structural reasons for Iran’s reliance on co-religionist organizations; “The Grand Strategy of Militant Clients: Iran’s Way of War,” (Security Studies 28:1), which looks at why clients have become central to Iranian grand strategy; and “Iran, its Clients, and the Future of the Middle East: the Limits of Religion,” (International Affairs 94:6), which examines Iran’s successes and failures in building and maintaining client allies. Those articles broadly inform his current book project, which explores interstate competition in the Middle East and how it has shaped conflicts in the region. Dr. Ostovar is a contributor to Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, War on the Rocks, and Lawfare, and his commentary regularly appears in writing and through interviews in popular media such as New York Times, Politico, The Guardian, Reuters, Vox, Bloomberg, BBC, MSNBC, National Public Radio, and Frontline. 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.

Lunch will be served.

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