PARIS — For the first time in history, the United States has designated a military unit of a foreign country as a terrorist group.
U.S. President Donald Trump offered no real explanation for placing the terrorist designation on the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, a branch of Iran’s armed forces, but it’s also the first time an entire government entity has been given the terrorist label.
That announcement on Monday prompted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to comment on Twitter, in Hebrew: “Thank you for responding to another important request of mine, which serves the interests of our countries and countries of the region. We will continue to work together in any way against the Iranian regime, which threatens the State of Israel, the U.S. and world peace.”
Except that labeling Iran’s elite military unit as a terrorist organization doesn’t do anything for America’s interests, however beneficial it may be to Israeli interests. It’s not as if Iran is committing terrorist acts against Americans. The White House announcement of the move contained no details of any alleged Iranian terrorist acts or activities, despite being heavy on rhetoric.
This isn’t a minor detail — it’s one of the three legal requirements for inclusion on the list of designated foreign terrorist organizations. The first requirement is that the group must be foreign. Check. The second is that it must engage in terrorist activity. OK, so what act of terrorism has the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps committed? The Trump administration needs to show its work on that issue. Third, any alleged terrorist activity must “must threaten the security of U.S. nationals or the national security (national defense, foreign relations, or the economic interests) of the United States.” Now that’s a stretch.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo would have triggered the terrorist designation under the labeling rules, but Congress has a week to review it and could block it. It should, and Congress should also demand more information than it has been provided.
You might say, “Who cares? What does it matter if some country’s army unit is labeled a terrorist entity?” Well, it matters if the administration ultimately uses terrorism as a pretext for demanding that American troops once again risk their lives to regime-change a foreign government so that a bunch of cronies can get first dibs on business deals from the newly installed puppet government.
This strategy has been an abysmal failure. America removed Saddam Hussein in Iraq, eventually leading to a more Iran-friendly government there. Then the U.S. tried regime-changing Syria, which prompted Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to ask Iran to send military assistance to help fend off America’s attempted coup d’état. Then the U.S. tried meddling in Yemen, providing weapons and other support to Saudi Arabia’s intervention there, but a bunch of Iran-associated Houthi fighters have thus far ruined those plans.
It’s poor sportsmanship to start moving the goalposts around when you’re losing the game. Suddenly labeling a government entity as a terrorist group is, quite frankly, a dirty move. In the post-9/11 era, the so-called “war on terror” provides a far-too-convenient pretext for justifying the otherwise unjustifiable. Just slap the terrorist label on something, and most of the public will shrug and conclude that the government must know what it’s doing.
But there’s proof that the government really doesn’t know what it’s doing when it comes to labeling terrorists.
In 1997, the U.S. formally labeled the Iranian opposition group Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MEK) a terrorist organization. The group, known for paying tens of thousands of dollars to speakers at its frequent conventions here in Paris, began featuring some high-profile Americans at its rallies, including current national security adviser John Bolton, Trump personal attorney and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, the late Sen. John McCain and former House Speaker (and current Trump ally) Newt Gingrich.
In 2012, MEK was magically removed from the designated terrorists list, and it is shaping up to be a key player in any potential U.S.-, Israel- and Saudi-backed puppet government in Iran. (Saudi Arabia’s former head of intelligence, Prince Turki al-Faisal, has also rallied in Paris with MEK, raising questions about Saudi funding of the group.)
Without specifics, labels like “terrorist” can be tools of political abuse. Iran has already caught onto the game, responding to the U.S. by designating the United States Central Command as a terrorist organization and labeling America as a “supporter of terrorism.”
An outbreak of international name-calling seems destined to end up in an unnecessary military intervention.
Rachel Marsden is a columnist, political strategist and host of an independently produced French-language program that airs on Sputnik France. Her website can be found at www.rachelmarsden.com.