August 30, 2007

More Poor Policy: Special Designation of Revolutionary Guards

Regular readers of Belgravia Dispatch likely sensed my dismay when the Administration floated that Iran's Revolutionary Guards were likely going to be declared a foreign terrorist organization. (Actually, a "specially designated global terrorist", seemingly something of a sui generis category born of breezy 'transformationalist diplomacy' that apparently allows the largest branch of a sovereign state's army to be designated a foreign terrorist group. And, yes, in case you're wondering, this doesn't really logically fit into this more established listing of foreign terrorist organizations, which I guess is "quaint" now).

Beyond the sloppiness, however, the policy itself is unlikely to have any material financial impact on the Guards, but will very likely help dash any meaningful chance of fruitful diplomatic dialogue with the Iranians on issues like the nuclear dossier. As Ray Takeyh explains in yesterday's FT:

...the US has no trade linkages to Iran that it can sever, and European companies are unlikely to adhere to yet another set of American sanctions. Moreover, given the murky and ambiguous nature of the Revolutionary Guards' business enterprises, it is difficult to suggest in a conclusive manner whether a company is really operating on their behalf. As such, the type of information and intelligence that is needed for targeted sanctionsis unlikely to be available.

While the economic ramifications of the new policy will probably be in-adequate, its political impact is likely to be considerable. Past and present Guardsmen permeate Iran's security network. The staff of Ali Larijani, Iran's national security adviser and chief nuclear negotiator, is composed mostly of Revolutionary Guards. Iran's policy toward Iraq and Afghanistan is also under the purview of the Guards.

Despite their attempts to arm and train Iraqi Shia militias and advance Iran's nuclear programme, the Guards have not opposed negotiations with the US. Indeed, it would be inconceivable for talks on the nuclear issue or Iraq to have proceeded without the Guards' approbation. The administration's attempt to coerce and put pressure on this organisation is likely to trigger its antagonism towards further dealings with the US.

So we merrily continue to go down a road where conflict with Iran increasingly looks to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. This is hugely troublesome, not least because--as Anthony Cordesman has pointed out--the repercussions of such a conflict could be disastrous. Cordesman describes potential Iranian retaliation (with some tweaks for context/language) to include:

1) Iranian retaliation against US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan using Shahab-3 missiles armed with CBR warheads; 2) using proxy groups including...Sadr in Iraq to intensify the insurgency and escalate the attacks against US forces and Iraqi Security Forces; 3) turning the Shi’ite majority in Iraq against the US presence and demanding US forces leave; 4) attacking the US homeland with suicide bombs by proxy groups or delivering CBR weapons to al-Qa’ida to use against the US; 5) using its asymmetric capabilities to attacks US interests in the region including soft targets: e.g. embassies, commercial centers, and American citizens; 6) attacking US naval forces stationed in the Gulf with anti-ship missiles, asymmetric warfare, and mines; 7) attacking Israel with missile attacks possibly with CBR warheads; 8) retaliating against energy targets in the Gulf and temporarily shutting off the flow of oil from the Strait of Hormuz; and 9) stopping all of its oil and gas shipments to increase the price of oil, inflicting damage on the global and US economies.

And yet, as Glenn Greenwald notes well, no one really seems particularly alarmed about such a prospective debacle. What to say? I mean, whether on civil liberties issues (as Hilzoy describes to devastating effect here), or on the foreign policy side of things (we all know we're 'surging' now through March '08, don't we, whatever September festivities aside, as this report indicates strongly?), one feels compelled to ask, where is the effective opposition?

I know, I know. Larry Craig has wandering toes, and we're busily chronicling the travails of the blow-dried, bow-tied vigilante class roaming malls off "M" Street. But really, and speaking of "grit" as we've been doing here these past days, what about the abysmal meekness and unseriousness we are manifesting as a nation in refusing to attentively broach any number of issues of critical import to the future direction of this country?

Posted by Gregory at August 30, 2007 06:20 PM

The departure of Karl Rove signaled that the only important question left for the Bush Administration had been decided: What would be the most politically advantageous date to attack Iran. With that resolved, Karl's work was done.

Posted by: easterpig at August 30, 2007 07:15 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Isn't it also possible that Rove's departure from the WH signals that he has lost the internal struggle over what to do about Iran, and that he wants to get out of the way before the storm hits? Say what you will about Rove's ethics or politics, he certainly has an instinct for self-preservation, and I believe he's smart enough to see that a military confontation with Iran, while bringing some possible short-term political benefits (people always rally around in the flag in times of crisis), would be disastrous in the long term for the country and the Republican party in particular.

Posted by: Anonymous at August 30, 2007 07:30 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

How much - if at all - does Cheney feel bound by political considerations? And how much influence does Cheney have over things any more? To me, those are the key questions.

It's not clear to me that GOP political considerations matter to Cheney. He's still driving towards the goal of military confrontation w/ Iran. Either he doesn't care and wants to press forward, or he does care but also concludes that those who take over in 2009 won't have the determination necessary to "get" Iran. (Or he does care but things by 2009 it will be too late to stop Iran from getting nukes.)

Cheney seems to have been marginalized to some degree since 2006. But doesn't he have a host of sympathizers spread out amongst the executive bureaucracy? If so, Cheney might still have enough foot soldiers to fight the bureaucratic battles that need to be fought to get the U.S. into a shooting war with Iran. Yet someone somewhere seems to be marginalizing him to some extent. Who that is (Bolten?) and what their agenda is (protecting the GOP? Protecting Dubya?) I couldn't say.

Posted by: Kurzleg at August 30, 2007 08:17 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Maybe no one in Washington is particularly alarmed about this, but I'm scared shitless. I'm going to make sure my Congresspeople know how I feel, too.

Posted by: Gus at August 30, 2007 10:28 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Or Rover told 'em to go on ahead because the GOP was already toast in 2008. This reminds me of the Schweizerhalle fire of 1986, where, once Sandoz lost containment on its toxic waste site, everyone else opened theirs up too since the the Rhine was dead already. Iraq and the scandals have already cost the GOP 2008 big-time, so Cheney gets to bomb Iran since it can't make things worse, at least election-wise. The long term disaster happens on the Dems' watch, see? Their problem and a great thing for the GOP to campaign against in 2012. Kurzleg's right about Cheney: he's dying of congestive heart failure, I think, and the GOP isn't on his mind at all.

Posted by: John Shreffler at August 30, 2007 10:33 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Maybe no one in Washington is particularly alarmed about this, but I'm scared shitless. I'm going to make sure my Congresspeople know how I feel, too.

I believe our illustrious Senators already expressed how they feel, what with their 97-0 resolution that, in the hands of players like Bush and Cheney, may be all the "justification" needed to launch the planes. It is almost like a perfect jewel of irresponsible servility -- a Lieberman brainchild passed via Stalinesque unanimity. And it's almost the exact opposite of the measure that Andrew Bacevich described: A Congressional resolution that action against Iran is NOT authorized without explicit Congressional approval.

I don't believe we *have* an opposition party any more -- if we ever really did. We may now be entering the is the biggest national crisis since the Cuban missile standoff, and the entire Congress may as well not even bother to show up.

Posted by: sglover at August 31, 2007 06:31 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

There are no words for how insane-dispiriting-unbelieveable, etc. this emerging inevitability is.

But there's hope. You're just a lawyer working for a financial firm. You can't be right. Nick Burns says its all about diplomacy. And it's the VSP's from the FPC, like Max Boot, who really understand what's going on. Sure is nice to have Gerson to back him up. Deeply serious go-with-the-gut foreign policy expert with the direct line to God and all.... Probably looks directly into the souls of foreign leaders. Can't match that, can you?

Haven't thought about moving to Canada for years, but.... To think I actually laughed when the Republican Party nominated RR. "That airhead? You can't be serious." Not laughing now.

Nice to see you and GG on the same page, though. You make a formidable team. But, like 70% of all Americans, you're not really serious people. Can't be listened to. Reality-based. Think too much. Bad, bad, bad.

We make our own reality now. Not tied to quaint concepts like the Constitution, Bill of Rights, rule of law, Geneva Accords, or any other treaties, agreements, practices, customs, etc. Wake up. Smell the carnage.

Posted by: Adams at August 31, 2007 06:19 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Late to comment, but IMO nobody inside the Beltway cares because they don't think Bush will actually go ahead and bomb Iran. The Army's worn to the nubs, and there might not be much left in the pantry for the remaining armed services. We can only crank out so many smart bombs a year, after all. What's more telling is that we've been waiting for the shoe to drop for years, even through last year's election, and all we've gotten from the White House is continued saber-rattling.

It is likely that Bush and Cheney really really really want to put some JDAMs in the Ayatollah's lap. But with Gates and the Pentagon looking at their reports and war games with shock and awe of their own, the actual bombing has never gotten past Big Time's daydreams. The Administration's only recourse has been to continue the jingoism in hopes that Iran does something really stupid to rally the American people behind another war. (Not very likely.) Everyone's banking on this remaining the status quo until January 2009.

Posted by: Doug H. at September 3, 2007 03:03 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The US is already busy losing two wars -- one to opium growers and Pakistani-based terrorists in Afghanistan, and one to just about everyone in Iraq. Is the US really run by people stupid enough to desire losing a third war as well, against a much more dangerous enemy?

Posted by: John Rogerse at September 6, 2007 08:29 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

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Gregory Djerejian comments intermittently on global politics, finance & diplomacy at this site. The views expressed herein are solely his own and do not represent those of any organization.

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