Why labeling the Revolutionary Guard as terrorists is counterproductive

 In Iran

I reported last week about the vote on the Lieberman-Kyl amendment, recommending that the US government designate the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization.  While the most provocative language was removed from the final version of the amendment, Karim Sadjadpour describes why the terrorist designation is still aggressive and counterproductive:

The guard certainly has many unsavory characters, but unlike al-Qaeda, it is not a monolith of Islamist radicals. Polls conducted at guard barracks in 1997 and 2001 found that about three-quarters of members supported then-President Mohammad Khatami, a reformist, evidence that the guard is actually more reflective of Iranian society — and its discontents — than was once thought.

Mohsen Rezai, who was a longtime head of the guard and is still influential among its members, has advocated U.S.-Iranian reconciliation for years, echoing the sentiments of many mid-ranking members I used to encounter in Tehran. It is not unlike the recent experience in the United States that military men who have faced the horrors of combat are often less likely than their civilian counterparts to favor new military adventures…

…Two lessons from U.S. policy experiences are instructive here. First, while Bush administration officials often liken their Iran policy to some of America’s Cold War policies, they ignore a fundamental aspect of the reform processes in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe: They began to bear fruit when disillusioned communist dons and military personnel became convinced that they and their countries would be better off in a different system.

The second lesson is from Iraq. When the Baathist army was disbanded, nearly 300,000 men — few of whom had a strong affinity for Saddam Hussein — were stripped of their livelihoods and made to feel they had no place in Iraq’s future. As a result, many joined forces with the insurgency.

The amendment was the subject of discussion at the recent Democratic presidential debate, with Sen. Hillary Clinton, the only presidential candidate who voted in favor, put on the spot to defend her vote:

Yes. Let me respond. My understanding of the revolutionary guard in Iran is that it is promoting terrorism. It is manufacturing weapons that are used against our troops in Iraq. It is certainly the main agent of support for Hezbollah, Hamas and others, and in what we voted for today, we will have an opportunity to designate it as a terrorist organization, which gives us the options to be able to impose sanctions on the primary leaders to try to begin to put some teeth into all this talk about dealing with Iran. We wouldn’t be where we are today if the Bush administration hadn’t outsourced our diplomacy with respect to Iran and ignored Iran and called it part of the "axis of evil." Now we’ve got to make up for lost time on the ground.

She seems to have taken the outpouring of criticism to heart, as she signed on this week as a cosponsor of S. 759, Sen. Jim Webb’s bill to prohibit funding for military operations in Iran without congressional authorization. 

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