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 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 more "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 lists potential Iranian retaliatory moves including (with some tweaks for context/language):

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, 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 strongly indicates?), 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?

(Cross-posted at Belgravia Dispatch)