The US administration’s well-informed proposal to designate Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) a “foreign terrorist organization” has been stalled. Those who fear taking a tougher position on Iran and its military, and those who are politically and financially benefiting from covertly serving Tehran’s interests in the West, are attempting to alter White House calculations and change US public opinion.
The first group has fallen for Iran’s bluffing regarding its military power and capacity to harm the national security of the US and regional states if Washington blacklists the IRGC. This group has been taken in by the concerted efforts of Iranian lobbies and other campaigns, disguised as “liberals,” in the mainstream leftist media.
These lobbies infuse fear in the public and officials by exaggerating the repercussions of taking tough positions against Iran, such as blacklisting the IRGC. Also, the predominant Western media outlets, particularly leftist ones, do not have a meticulous and nuanced grasp of foreign affairs, particularly Iranian politics. They follow a binary view of depicting the US and its allies as the ones to blame, and Iran as the victim.
This view is characterized as “educated” because it goes against orientalism. But they fail to understand what I would call “inverted orientalism,” which happens when two conditions are met. First, governments that are depicted as victims take advantage of the situation, suppressing their own people and doing the same beyond their borders.
Second, they master exploiting the predominant orientalist view in the West by constantly stereotyping and blaming other countries. In Iran’s case, the government has long used inverted orientalism to justify its repressive and militaristic actions, and to stereotype and blame other countries.
The 38-year history of the Islamic Republic has shown that appeasement only empowers and emboldens it. Tehran views appeasement, thoughtful words, amicable gestures, smiles and concessions as weakness.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
Those who fear blacklisting the IRGC, and those who are paid to advocate for Tehran, argue that if the IRGC is designated a terrorist organization, Iran will further inflame conflicts in many countries, including Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Bahrain and Lebanon. This is like saying people should not stand against injustice because they will face graver injustices.
Iran is already using the highest level of militaristic, advisory, intelligence and financial capacities that it can exploit to advance its regional hegemonic ambitions and influence, and to tip the regional balance of power in its favor and that of Shiite militias. There is nothing more consequential that it can do. We need to understand that Tehran desires to hold its throne, so it will stop short of conducting direct military warfare.
There is an argument that blacklisting the IRGC will scuttle US-Iranian rapprochement. Advocates of this argument fail to recognize that a core revolutionary pillar of Iran’s foreign policy is anti-Americanism.
That is why no diplomatic initiative — even the nuclear deal, and the resultant lifting of sanctions and delivery of billions of dollars to Tehran — has not changed its opposition toward the US. It wants to maintain America as an enemy in order to survive.
Another argument is that enforcing such a proposal might make Iran withdraw from the nuclear agreement. However, Tehran needs the deal more than the other parties because of the financial incentives it is obtaining. When Iran feels the deal no longer serves its interests, it will pull out of it, whether the IRGC is blacklisted or not.
Some other scaremongers argue that blacklisting it will draw opposition from US allies. In reality, there has not been such opposition, and the US needs to take leadership in order to unify and galvanize support.
An additional argument is that this proposal will lead to the IRGC’s reluctance to fight Daesh or cooperate with other nations in this regard. This argument is also oversimplified and unsophisticated. The IRGC’s actions in Syria and Iraq, and its support for Shiite militias, are the main factors behind Daesh’s empowerment, as well as its increasing ability to recruit fighters against Shiite militias. In other words, Iran is directly contributing to Daesh’s growth.
The 38-year history of the Islamic Republic has shown that appeasement only empowers and emboldens it. Tehran views appeasement, thoughtful words, amicable gestures, smiles and concessions as weakness. History also shows that diplomatic, political and economic pressure makes Tehran think twice about inflaming tensions and interfering in other countries’ affairs.
Designating the IRGC as a terrorist organization would restrict its militaristic adventurism in the region. This will definitely improve regional stability and security.
• Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated, Iranian-American political scientist. He is a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, a businessman and president of the International American Council. He serves on the boards of the Harvard International Review, the Harvard International Relations Council and the US-Middle East Chamber for Commerce and Business. He can be reached on Twitter @Dr_Rafizadeh.