When Khomeini died in , shortly after agreeing to a cease-fire to end the brutal eight-year war with Iraq, there was no clear successor. He was made an Ayatollah overnight, but, lacking the respect of the seminary, instead sought the legitimacy of the barracks. Khamenei cultivated the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps IRGC , selecting its top cadres, and shuffling them every several years to prevent them from establishing independent power bases.
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The checkered IRGC scarf Khamenei wears around his neck signals a symbiotic relationship: politically expedient for Khamenei and financially expedient for the Guards, who have become a dominant economic force in the theocracy they defend. Between banking, construction, smuggling and other nebulous enterprises, the IRGC, one study estimates, now accounts for one-third of the Iranian economy.
Iran, which is publicly edging toward resuming its nuclear program , will likely always want to be a screwdriver turn away from having atomic weapons. But for now it has been doing well without them.
The Arab countries in which Tehran wields the most influence—Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen—are engulfed in civil strife and ruled by weak, embattled central governments. At the same time, Iran is the only nation in the world simultaneously fighting three cold wars—with Israel, Saudi Arabia and the U. Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, in contrast, is his shield, deflecting Western economic and political pressure.
Soleimani deals with foreign armies, Zarif with foreign ministries.
And the 80 million Iranians? Khamenei has shown himself willing to subject them to indefinite economic hardship rather than hold his nose, swallow his pride and do a deal with the U.
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His insensitivity—his own brother, a reformist cleric, was once beaten by a hard-liner mob—has allowed Khamenei to play a weak hand strongly. Trump, hypersensitive to his domestic political fortunes, has played a strong hand weakly. President than nuclear nonproliferation and human rights. Yet Khamenei is too proud, and dogmatic, to flatter Trump. If Tehran ever does come to the table, another difference presents new obstacles. Trump prefers public spectacles about broad topics, while Khamenei favors covert discussions on narrow ones.
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But then Trump faces re-election in 13 months. Khamenei serves for life. Once again, no successor is in sight. Revealing the names of more than fellow spymasters across the globe, this is a raw, blistering account of the lengths to which the US went during the cold war. He describes how the CIA made common cause with dictators and their torturers, how they suborned trade union and political movements, and in short did everything they could to fight communism at all levels.
This fascinating exploration of the motives behind treachery is by a former Soviet spy chief in London, the controller of the so-called Cambridge Five ring of spies. Modin says the Cambridge spies were essentially self-recruited because of their ideology.
Once hooked into the spy game, their enthusiasm for Marxism fell away, but it was hard for them to escape. It required extraordinary ingenuity to keep contact with the few secret agents in place — and to keep them alive. Embroiled in the Iran-Contra scandal, Clarridge was and is an unapologetic man of action. But in describing, for instance, how arch-enemy Abu Nidal was defeated, he gives a glimpse into the fusion of covert action, subtle analysis, and classical espionage that counter-terrorist work has become.
In eschewing the action sequence, he brings alive the psychological tension, the absurdities and the sheer greyness that is spy work. Which of his books to choose? Perhaps some of the recent works such as the The Constant Gardener , or A Delicate Truth are a little too moralising: the secret service seems always in league with some evil corporation.
The revolution needs enmity with the United States. And the Iran nuclear program and negotiations engrossed the Obama presidency. Trump inherited from Obama an Iran that resembled the late-stage USSR, powerful beyond its borders but hemorrhaging billions of dollars in foreign entanglements and mired by internal economic malaise and ideological fatigue. To this day, senior U. Although Khomeini died 30 years ago, his sinister daily presence on American TV sets through the day hostage crisis left a lasting impression.
The confusion—like so much the U. But in reality they are all led by individuals handpicked by Khamenei or unfailingly loyal to him. They serve to buttress rather than check his authority. Khamenei is a reader. Iran makes a great show of its highly manipulated presidential elections, and their importance to the public became clear when the ballot was stolen. Marring the ballot was a dangerous miscalculation by Khamenei, and perhaps an unnecessary one.
No matter the challenge brought by a President—the economic challenge of Hashemi Rafsanjani — , the democratic challenge of Khatami, the populist challenge of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — or the pragmatic one of Rouhani —present —Khamenei emasculated each. In more than two decades researching Iran, both in Tehran and the U. Khamenei projects a life of piety and service. His modest official residence in working-class central Tehran is hidden from the public, and his clothing usually consists of dull robes and cheap slippers.
Among his two daughters and four sons all of whom became clerics only one, Mojtaba, has a public profile. And in contrast to Arab first ladies whose spendthrift ways have fueled popular anger, Mrs. Khamenei has never been seen in photographs. The conglomerate was built on the seizure of property of Iranians, many of them religious minorities, and holds stakes in sectors as diverse as oil, telecommunications, the production of birth control pills and ostrich farming.
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But if Khamenei controls more billions than Trump ever claimed to, his origin story is both humbler and bloodier. Those who know Khamenei personally have speculated that the roots of his hatred toward Israel and the U. When Grand Ayatollah Khomeini returned in triumph in , having overthrown the Shah, his disciple was catapulted from anonymity.