By: Zachary Shucklin
In past presidencies, United States foriegn policy was a nuanced issue, meticulously formed in partnership with strategists, the military, and intelligence communities. Decisions affecting our global standing—and that of our allies—were carefully weighed. Acknowledging that whole Iraq War snafu, one could even say there was some aspect of a thought process there, albeit totally misguided. This is not the case in 2019. Our diplomacy—or lack thereof—has fallen victim to Donald Trump’s slot machine of logic. Analyzing the critical thinking of this president will eventually merit it’s own doctoral course. Which is why no one could have predicted that Donald Trump would destabilize the Middle East on a whim this past Monday by naming Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) a terrorist organization. Let’s break this down.
The IRGC is Iran’s most elite military unit, and was implemented after the 1979 Shah outing to enforce the country’s new Sharia-based system. By no means are these guys good guys. In his statement defending Trump’s FTO designation, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said this “maximum pressure campaign” was a “direct response to an outlaw regime and should surprise no one.” But it did. It surprised everyone.
Mainly because this is the first time the US has named another nation’s military a foriegn terrorist organization. “We’re doing it,” Pompeo continued, “because the Iranian regime’s use of terrorism as a tool of statecraft makes it fundementally different from any other government.” This point isn’t untrue. Iran undisputedly has its hands in the Syrian regime, Lebanon's Hezbollah and multiple assisination plots in Europe (CNN). That said, presidents have avoided feeding this fire because…
“It allows Iran to target our military and designate the United States government as a terrorist group, which is exactly what Iran did in retaliation of Trump’s move” said Ana. By starting this who-is-bigger contest—which we are losing—Trump has put our troops in the region in danger. Antagonizing a corrupt government that we’ve already sanctioned is the worst thing he could do for our military’s safety. Tehran even threatened to put American soldiers on par with ISIS—whom they are at war with—back in 2017 if this exact situation happened. And despite some US officials suggesting that this is a largely “symbolic” label to placate everyone’s worries, Cenk and Ana aren’t convinced.
“It is not largely a symbolic move, because it does affect their banking and financial interests, and as we saw with Russia, that is their number one concern literally with a bullet,” explained Cenk. Because of this designation, companies could distance themselves from doing business with Iran, and it’s estimated that the IRGC controls up to 50% of the economy, from banking to shipping to telecommunications (Reuters). Money “is what oligarchs care about whether they’re in Russia or Iran…so when you touch the money, that is when they go nuclear.” Literally.
Choice timing…one potential reason for Trump doing this now could be the fact that he thought he was helping Benjamin Netanyahu, who is running for his fifth consecutive Israeli PM term in an election that is currently too close to call. “You get into a war with Iran and you are poking a bear for no goddamn reason, except to help the political careers of Netanyahu and Donald Trump,” said Cenk. While the Islamic Republic doesn’t have nuclear weapons capabilities (that we know of), it’s missile arsenal can certainly hit Israel and US military bases in the region. “If you go to war with Iran, you will light the whole world on fire,” warned Cenk. “I couldn’t think of a worse move for America, or Israel or our allies, or anyone.” The IRGC’s terrorist status doesn’t take effect until April 15th, so if Trump wants to avoid another Iraq situation, hopefully, it isn’t too late to squash this.