IGS Introduction

This course is designed to introduce students to, and promote understanding of, Iran’s grand strategy and how it is impacting the Middle East region and beyond. While Iran is understood to be an important regional actor, there is still little understanding of its history, its strategic intent, its capability and reach, and, perhaps more importantly how these elements interact to produce a grand strategy that challenges the status quo. This course will investigate the following question in depth: What is Iran’s Grand Strategy? Relatedly, this course will seek answers for the following questions. 1) What are the foundations of Iranian power? 2) How has the current strategic culture emerged? 3) How does Iran project power? 4) What are the elements of that power? And 5) what are the best ways to approach strategic interaction with Iran?

To do so this course is organized into three sections. Section I introduces theoretical and historical approaches to analyze and understand the background and formation of Iran’s grand strategy. It locates part of the answer in Iran’s strategic orientation as resistance to U.S. power. Section II concentrates on the several domains in which Iran is active and how Iran projects power in these domains:  diplomatic, ideological, military, economic, and technological. The final section of this course will assess extant analysis and examine potential strategic policy choices for the U.S.

Students who complete “Iranian Grand Strategy” should demonstrate the ability to:

  • Understand the origins of the Iranian ideology of resistance
  • Understand the nature and scope of Iranian power
  • Understand the practical application of Iranian power across multiple domains
  • Understand the regional context within which these projections of power are cast and their effects
  • Apply classroom theories to relevant domains and facilitate understanding of how and why Iran is engaging in certain activities
  • Assess Iranian grand strategy holistically and
  • Asses U.S. policy towards Iran

Course Requirements

The first and most important rule is that we are all to be courteous and respectful of the opinions of others. Some of the issues discussed in this seminar may be considered controversial. In order to facilitate discussion/academic freedom, we must have an environment in which each member can speak freely and thoughtfully.

The required readings listed for each topic must be read before class meets. The faculty has selected the readings for their relevance, quality of ideas, readability, and timeliness. Supplemental readings are offered for background reference and for those who might wish to pursue a particular topic in greater depth, but they are neither required nor reprinted. They are particularly useful as additional sources for papers and in-class presentations.

The specific graded elements of the course are:

  1. Class Contribution and Attendance: Students are expected to attend each class. For students to be excused from class they must produce documentation from the appropriate administrator. Students are also expected to have read the assigned readings and to be prepared for class discussion. Students are encouraged to use the “Study Questions” in each section as a guideline for the topics that will be discussed in class. Students are required to leave comments on the topic discussion board for that week and review all comments before coming to class. Class contribution constitutes 20% of the final grade.
  2. Presentation: Each student will give a 15-minute presentation to the class to kick off discussion on that particular week’s topic. There will also be a Q&A period after the presentation. These presentations must follow the rubric that will be distributed separately. Presentations are not to be a regurgitation of readings but offer some insight—historical, comparative, or analytical. Arguments should be constructed utilizing evidence from the week’s readings. Topics (which week and issue area) will be chosen during the first week. There will be no student presentations for week 1. Presentations will comprise 15% of the final grade.
  3. Current Events: The materials in this course are historical, theoretical, and broad in nature. The application of these themes to current events is a critical part of learning and understanding. Therefore, each student must be informed of current events and spend at least 15 minutes reading news articles. Each week, all students will share what they learned from the news and how it relates to our class discussions. To better prepare to discuss these events students will prepare a brief memo, no more than two pages, with at least three questions on a third page. Memos and current event discussion will constitute 10%
  4. Final Paper: Students will complete a research paper based on the questions relating to each week. The paper and its components will comprise 55 percent of the course grade. Students should select their topics and turn in an annotated outline with clear thesis statement by 27 February. This will be graded and considered 10% of the final grade. By 27 March students must submit a five-page rough draft of the paper. This will be graded and considered 10% of the final grade. The draft must include revisions from instructor comments on annotated outline. Students are strongly encouraged to meet with the professor to discuss paper topics, outlines, and drafts. The full remaining 35% of the paper grade will be assessed on the following:
    1. Required Format: The body of the paper should be 15–20 pages, double-spaced, 12-point Times New Roman font, with standard 1 inch margins. It is expected that all papers will be properly referenced with footnotes, paginated, and have a bibliography. Please refer to the Chicago Manual of Style for the correct format.
    2. Final papers are due on the last day our class meets. Early submissions are welcomed and encouraged. No late submissions will be accepted without written departmental or college-level permission, no exceptions.

The final grade for the course will be computed with the following weights:

Class Participation:                             20%
Presentation:                                       15%

Current Events:                                   10%

Annotated Outline                              10%

Rough Draft                                        10%
Final Paper:                                         35%

Letter Grade Grade Points Numerical Scale Criterion-referenced at grade level
A 4.0 93-100 Firm command of knowledge domainHigh level of analytical development
A- 3.67 90-92.99
B+ 3.33 87-89 Command of knowledge beyond minimumAdvanced analytical development
B 3.0 83-86
B- 2.67 80-82
C 2.0 70-79 Command of only basic concepts of knowledge, demonstrated basic analytical ability
F 0 69 and below No command of knowledge domain
I 0 Failure to complete course requirements

The following serve as guidelines in the assessment of students in the course.


There are six cornerstones of a superior paper:

  1. It establishes the relevant question clearly;
  2. It answers the question in a highly analytical manner;
  3. It proposes a well-defined thesis, stated early on;
  4. It presents evidence to support that thesis;
  5. It addresses, explicitly or implicitly, opposing arguments or weaknesses in the thesis and supporting evidence (this constitutes a counterargument); and,
  6. It accomplishes the above in a clear and well-organized fashion.

Standards for assessing student papers are as follows:

A (93–100):  Work of superior quality that contains original thought.

A- (90–92):  Work of high quality that demonstrates original thought.

B+ (87–89):  A sound effort which meets all six cornerstones above.

B (83–86):  A solid essay which is, on the whole, a successful consideration of the topic.

B- (80–82):  An essay that addresses the question and has a clearly-stated thesis, but which fails fully to support the thesis and either does not address counterarguments thoroughly, has serious structural flaws, or does not fully develop conclusions.

C+ (77–79):  Sufficiently analytical to distinguish it from a C, but lacks sufficient support, structure, analysis, or clarity.

C (73–76):  Expresses a reasonable argument but makes inadequate use of evidence, has little coherent structure, is critically unclear, or lacks the quality of insight deemed sufficient adequately to explore the issue at hand.

C- (70–72):  Attempts to address the question but does not come to a responsible, defensible conclusion worthy of serious attention or is below average in one or more of the six cornerstones listed above to require significant remedial effort.

F (69 and below): The submission does not merit graduate credit. Students may be asked to resubmit the essay.

Class Contribution:

The following standards are employed to assess student grades for seminar contribution:

A (93-100): Strikes a good balance between “listening” and “contributing.”  Demonstrates superior preparation for each session as reflected in the quality of contributions to group discussion.  Frequently demonstrates insightful and original thought. Respects the opinions of others but challenges when appropriate.

A- (90-92):  Above the average expected of a graduate student.  Well prepared for classroom discussion at each seminar session. Respects the views of colleagues and, by the quality of contributions, commands their respect in return.

B+ (87-89):  A solid contributor to seminar sessions.  Joins in most discussions.  Contributions to group understanding of the topic and discussions reflect an understanding of the material.  Respectful of the views of others.

B (83-86):  Contributions to discussions reflect average preparation for class.  Supports group efforts.  Occasionally interrupts others.

B- (80-82):  Contributes.  Often speaks out without having thought the issue through.  Sometimes fails to show regard for a colleague’s opinions or proper consideration or courtesy toward others in the seminar group.

C (70-79):  Preparation is adequate, but frequently fails to respect the views of others, is sometimes belligerent in discourse with colleagues and/or instructor.  Rarely steps forward to assume a fair share in group discussions.  Usually content to let others form the class discussions and develop required seminar positions.

F (69 and below): Class preparation and contributions do not merit graduate credit. Student will be referred to the faculty, faculty advisor or Dean of Students for counseling.


PowerPoint briefings are to be provided to the instructor electronically prior to the presentation, although there is no obligation to use PowerPoint.

Assessment of student presentations will employ the following criteria:

  • Content: Does the briefing inform on the topic in an appropriate manner? Does it have a proper balance of detail?
  • Delivery: Is delivery of the presentation smooth with few pauses? Does the briefer express a sense of confidence in the subject matter?
  • Presence: Does the briefer interact with the audience and make eye contact?
  • Use of Notes: Does the briefer employ notes with subtlety? Is the briefer able to present with minimal or no use of notes?
  • Slides or Other Presentation Materials: Does the briefer use slides or other materials to support the presentation? If the briefer employs slides, are they visually interesting, informative and readable? How well does the briefer transition between slides?
  • Timing: Does the briefer stay within the state time parameters?
  • Questions: How well is the briefer able to respond to questions on the material covered in the brief? Has the briefer anticipated likely questions and counterarguments?
  • Adaptability: Does the briefer exhibit grace under pressure—the ability to respond and forge ahead in the face of technical problems or to summarize and skip slides when time constraints arrive?

Standards for assessing student presentations are as follows:

A (93-100):  Work of superior quality that shows a high degree of original thought; presentation and supporting graphics set forth points in a well-organized, comprehensive yet sustainable manner.

A- (90-92):  Above the average expected of graduate work; contains original thought. An insightful presentation but one which has gaps that leave it short of an “A”.

B+ (87-89):  A sound effort which meets all criteria above; a well-executed presentation which includes complete analysis of the question.

B (83-86):  Average graduate performance.  A solid presentation which is, on the whole, a successful consideration of the topic.

B- (80-82):  A presentation that addresses the assigned topic and has a clearly-stated point or narrative but which fails fully to support these and either does not address counterarguments thoroughly, has serious structural flaws, or does not fully develop conclusions.

C (70-79):  Expresses a responsible opinion but makes inadequate use of evidence, has little coherent structure, is critically unclear, or lacks the quality of insight deemed sufficient adequately to explore the issue at hand.

F (69 and below): The presentation is unrepresentative of the qualities expected of graduate-level work or fails to address the assigned topic.   Resubmission is at the instructor’s discretion.

Course Readings

Robert Baer, The Devil We know: Dealing with The New Iranian Superpower, New York: Crown Publishers, 2008.

Alistair Crooke, Resistance the Essence of the Islamist Revolution, New York: Pluto Press, 2009.

Augustus Norton, Hezbollah: A Short History, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007.

Afshon Ostovar. Vanguard of the Imam: Religion, Politics, and Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, New York, N.Y.: Oxford University Press, 2016.

William Polk, Understanding Iran, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.

Additional Core Readings will be delivered to all students via professor’s website.