Within his first month in office, the Republican president has directed his State Department to begin a review that could actually lead to the hard-line Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) being designated as a foreign terrorist organization. It appears not improbable that President Donald Trump’s intends the United States to move to confront Iran’s paramilitary force with expanded economic sanctions, writes Lord Maginnis of Drumglass.
Moreover, the US Congress has recently shown support for related measures, and the Senate has signalled the need for more punitive measures to confront the IRGC’s terrorist sponsorship.
Of course, some among the US self-styled ‘liberals’, and even more in the UK and the rest of Europe, oppose these sorts of measures out of concern that challenging the IRGC may be regarded as an affront to the Islamic Republic as a whole. But surely this is a false premise on which the leaders of modern, Western democracies would formulate a strategic policy. Negotiating with Iran over issues unrelated to its support for terrorism and its human rights abuses is cowardly and dangerous. It is simply not reasonable to sweep those issues aside.
Tehran may be angry with the West, but is the US and are European nations to somehow pretend that liberal democracy, safeguarding the rights of all people should no longer be a universal principle. Each is a challenge to the other’s fundamental vision of governance and the future ideological landscape across the globe.
The Islamic Republic of Iran may see itself as the prototype of modern theocracy and a paradigm for all factions of political Islam. The antithetical natures of that and of our perception of government may not mean “No contact” but the West cannot afford to “be taken to the cleaners” as they have been in respect of the 2015 nuclear agreement. Future deals of that sort does preclude the kind of broad-based reconciliation that some of the more optimistic Western policy makers seem to envision.
Antagonizing Tehran is not a reason for imposing sanctions on the IRGC or designating it as a terrorist organization, but it is an unavoidable consequence of taking well-justified measures to confront one of the most destabilizing and anti-democratic forces in the world today.
The IRGC has been a driving force behind a massive crackdown on any internal dissent, which were evident after the conclusion of nuclear negotiations and now, in the run-up to the presidential elections due to take place in Iran in May. The IRGC has also been responsible for a number of aggressive manoeuvres directed against U.S. and British naval forces and commercial vessels in the Persian Gulf. This force-projection only serves to reinforce the imperialist aims of the IRGC that are on display in its escalating support for foreign proxies and direct intervention in regional conflicts like the Syrian and Yemeni civil wars.
In recent weeks, the leading Iranian opposition organization, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) has released several reports on the IRGC, detailing not only the growth of its training programme among foreign terrorists and militant groups, but also its acquisition of ever-greater shares of the Iranian GDP, whereby it finances its terrorist activities and tightens its grasp upon the Iranian political and judicial infrastructure. The NCRI’s intelligence stands alongside the reports of numerous human rights organizations that are keen to highlight how the IRGC has taken it upon itself to round up prominent activists and journalists as well as anyone whose social activities or online communications suggest sympathy with secular or pro-Western viewpoints.
Left to its own devices, the IRGC will continue to seek more wealth and power both at home and abroad, and it will use these means to thoroughly undermine any optimistic Western visions for internal reform and the emergence of a kinder, gentler Islamic Republic. In this sense, the pressure to avoid sanctioning the IRGC or labelling it as a terrorist organisation is dangerously self-defeating. The more we strive to keep Tehran feeling happy and unperturbed, the more freedom we will give it to its continuing commitment to the hard-line identity embodied by the IRGC.
The argument against Donald Trump’s approach to Iran policy often seems to hinge on the notion that upsetting Iran with terror-related sanctions could lead to the failure of the nuclear agreement. This is certainly a possibility, but if it happens it will be a result of Tehran’s choosing to defend its terrorist activities at the expense of re-engaging with the international community. This is not just an acceptable option; it should be seen as a further incentive to understand and sanction the approach being proposed by the US president. The Iranian regime should be placed squarely in the position of having to choose between terrorism and compromise. Iran must clearly show the world that the theocratic regime’s priorities can be more flexible.
The principal question when considering a strategy like President Trump’s is whether its implementation will violate the commitments already made by the countries implementing it. Without question, the European leadership is committed to the defence of the nuclear agreement. And that leadership has recently received assurances of the same from the White House. But, it is not the responsibility of Washington, London, or any other Western capital to look beyond the given agreement in order to discourage Tehran from violating its own commitments. Neither is it in Western interests to do so.
The European countries have demanded guarantees from the President Trump’s administration regarding the nuclear deal, and they have received them. Now, they must reciprocate by providing the U.S. with assurances that no Western power will stand in the way of efforts to disrupt and diminish the most hard-line institutions in the Islamic Republic. Doing so would not directly undermine the nuclear deal; it would hinder any sanctions needed to impose any deal to prevent Iran from continuing to finance terrorism or to worsen the suffering of the Iranian people.
There is no logic whereby any democratic government can reasonably oppose such measures. Strategic planning dictates that Britain and other European Nations should follow suit with complementary and concurrent sanctions and terrorist designations for the IRGC.
The Trump Administration plans, to achieve the structured success necessary and essential need proper corporate strategic planning – not an option but a duty.
Lord Maginnis of Drumglass is an independent Ulster Unionist member of the UK House of Lords and prominent member of the British Committee for Iran Freedom (BCFIF).