Trump Calls Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Terrorist Organization
In the meantime, though, the administration has declared the Islamic State territorially defeated and is planning a withdrawal of most of its troops from Syria, where the IRGC has a strong presence. Tillerson has left the State Department, and Pompeo, who has advocated a much tougher line against Iran, has joined. The State Department last week publicized declassified Pentagon figures, calling Iran responsible for the deaths of more than 600 U.S. service members in Iraq. “This accounts for 17 percent of all deaths of U.S. personnel in Iraq from 2003 to 2011,” said Brian Hook, the State Department’s special representative for Iran, at a State Department briefing last week. “This death toll is in addition to the many thousands of Iraqis killed by the IRGC’s proxies.”
A spokesman for Senator Ted Cruz, the Texas Republican who has been pushing for the designation for five years, wrote in an email: “Iran is trying to blackmail the U.S. by threatening even more terrorist attacks if we call out their ongoing terrorist attacks, but [Senator] Cruz believes we can’t accept that blackmail.”
Depending on what exceptions apply to the new designation, it also potentially exposes U.S. troops to a different kind of risk: the possible need to coordinate with a group their government considers a terrorist organization. “In the battle of Tikrit against the Islamic State, the US Air Force provided air support to Major General Qassem Suleimani, the Quds Force, and the Iraqi Shia militias under Suleimani’s direct or indirect command,” Ali Alfoneh, a senior fellow at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington and an expert on the IRGC, wrote in an email. “In doing so, the US Air Force provided material support to a terrorist organization, a deed prohibited by the U.S. Treasury.”
Just as the U.S. was in de facto alignment with the IRGC against ISIS, Alfoneh pointed out, there will be another terrorist group that threatens both parties’ interests. “Sooner or later,” Alfoneh wrote, “the U.S. government will cooperate with the IRGC, a U.S. designated terrorist organization, to fight a real terrorist organization. How does the administration explain that to the public?”
Whatever the regional consequences of the designation, there’s a whole other set of domestic political consequences ahead of the 2020 campaign for the presidency. The Democratic National Committee has called for returning to the Iran deal Obama negotiated and Trump left; the more sanctions are layered on to the Iranian regime, the more complicated it becomes to unravel them in the event a Democrat wins the presidency and seeks to reenter the deal.
Iran, administration officials have said, already faces “unprecedented” financial pressure—but more may be coming. The Cruz spokesperson wrote that the senator intended to push to codify the designation alongside “layers of sanctions for the full range of the IRGC’s malign activities”; Dubowitz advocated in The Wall Street Journal building “a wall of sanctions”—to encircle Iran, but also, by implication, to constrain any Trump successor’s freedom of maneuver. “Politically, it would be hard to make the case for dismantling these sanctions, since all evidence points to Tehran’s wrongdoing,” he wrote. “If blocked from delivering sanctions relief to Iran, the next administration would have little choice but to wield U.S. economic leverage and negotiate a follow-on agreement that addresses the fundamental flaws of the JCPOA”—the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as the Iran deal is formally known.