The Bush administration announced last week it officially considers the Iranian Revolutionary Guards of being a proliferator of weapons of mass destruction, and the “elite” Quds Force within the Guards of being a sponsor of terrorism.
This is the first time a military force of a foreign country has been designated as a terrorist organization; nation-states usually adhere to the pleasant fiction that government military organizations are legitimate users of deadly force, not terrorists.
These official designations will bring on new sanctions, but whether they will have any real effect on Iran’s behavior, especially an effect that would be beneficial to the United States, is dubious at best. Actions like these are something of a mirror of the juvenile behavior of Iranian President Ahmadinejad, like fifth-graders taunting one another in a schoolyard.
There is little doubt Iran has supplied missiles to Hezbollah in Lebanon, which is the justification for calling the Revolutionary Guards a proliferator of weapons. And there is little doubt Iran has subsidized and probably provided training for Hezbollah, Hamas and others.
But does declaring Iran’s military a terrorist organization do any good?
Robert Hunter, a senior adviser at the Rand Corporation who was the U.S. Ambassador to NATO from 1993 through 1998, said this action is most “likely to strengthen those people in Iran who argue that they need nuclear weapons.”
He believes it will increase support for Ahmadinejad, who has been losing support in Iran lately, and have a negative impact on the potentially powerful but still vulnerable democracy movement within Iran.
What could possibly have motivated such a childish move? Combined with recent harsh statements about Iran from both President Bush and Vice President Cheney, it is not out of the question to imagine they are paving the way for some kind of military action against Iran before this administration leaves office.
An alternative explanation might be that they are designed to make sure the next president does not have sufficient flexibility to negotiate seriously with Iran.
As for the economic sanctions that will accompany this declaration, if such sanctions worked Castro would have been kicked out of Cuba 45 years ago. Sanctions generally strengthen rather than weaken dictatorial regimes and add to the misery of the people the dictators misrule.
These latest actions suggest the administration would rather sound tough and puff out its collective chest than do the hard diplomatic slogging required to deter Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.