Page 1 of 2 US steps closer to war with Iran
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi
The Bush administration has leaped toward war with Iran by, in essence,
declaring war with the main branch of Iran's military, the Iranian
Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), which it plans to brand as a terrorist
A logical evolution of US President George W Bush's ill-defined, boundless "war
on terror", the White House's move is dangerous to the core, opening the way
for open confrontation with Iran. This
may begin in Iraq, where the IRGC is reportedly most active and, ironically,
where the US and Iran have their largest common denominators.
A New York Times editorial has dismissed this move as "amateurish" and a mere
"theatric" on the part of the lame-duck president, while at the same time
admitting that it represents a concession to "conflict-obsessed administration
hawks who are lobbying for military strikes". The political analysts who argue
that the main impact of this initiative is "political" are plain wrong. It is a
giant step toward war with Iran, irrespective of how well, or poorly, it is
thought of, particularly in terms of its immediate and long-term implications,
let alone the timing of it.
Coinciding with President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's highly publicized trip to
Afghanistan, Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan, the news received front-page coverage
in the New York Times, next to a photograph of Ahmadinejad and his Afghan host,
President Hamid Karzai, as if intended to spoil Ahmadinejad's moment by
denigrating the Iranian regime. Just two weeks ago, US Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice implicitly put Iran on a par with the Soviet Union by invoking
comparisons to the Cold War, and in essence compared it to al-Qaeda.
Thus if an unintended side-effect of the Cold War terminology was to enhance
Iran's global image, the "terrorist" label for the IRGC aims to deliver a
psychological blow to Iran by de-legitimizing the country.
Also, it serves the United States' purpose at the United Nations Security
Council, where a British-prepared draft of a new round of sanctions on Iran
over its nuclear program has been floating around for a while and will likely
be acted on this autumn. The draft calls for tightening the screws on Iran by
broadening the list of blacklisted Iranian companies and even may lead to the
interdiction of Iranian ships in the Persian Gulf. This is indeed a dangerous
move that could easily trigger open confrontation.
With the window of opportunity for Bush to use the "military option" closing
because of the US presidential elections next year, the administration's hawks
- "it is now or never" - have received a huge boost by the move to label the
IRGC as terrorists. It paves the way for potential US strikes at the IRGC's
installations inside Iran, perhaps as a prelude to broader attacks on the
country's nuclear facilities. At least that is how it is being interpreted in
Iran, whose national-security concerns have skyrocketed as a result of the
"The US double-speak with Iran, talking security cooperation on the one hand
and on the other ratcheting up the war rhetoric, does not make sense and gives
the impression that the supporters of dialogue have lost in Washington," a
prominent Tehran University political scientist who wished to remain anonymous
told the author.
The US has "unfettered" itself for a strike on Iran by targeting the IRGC, and
that translates into heightened security concerns. "The United States never
branded the KGB [Russian secret service] or the Soviet army as terrorist, and
that shows the limits of the Cold War comparison," the Tehran political
scientist said. His only optimism: there are "two US governments" speaking with
divergent voices, ie, "deterrence diplomacy and preemptive action", and "that
usually, historically speaking, spells policy paralysis".
However, no one in Iran can possibly place too much faith on that kind of
optimism. Rather, the net effect of this labeling, following the recent "shoot
to kill" order of Bush with regard to Iranian operatives in Iraq accused of
aiding the anti-occupation insurgents, is to elevate fears of a US "preemptory"
strike on Iran. Particularly concerned are many top government officials,
lawmakers and present or former civil and military functionaries who are or
were at some point affiliated with the IRGC.
There is also a legal implication. Under international law, the United States'
move could be challenged as illegal, and untenable, by isolating a branch of
the Iranian government for selective targeting. This is contrary to the 1981
Algiers Accord's pledge of non-interference in Iran's internal affairs by the
US government. 
Should the terror label on the IRGC be in place soon, US customs and
homeland-security officials could, theoretically, arrest members of
Ahmadinejad's delegation due to travel to the UN headquarters in New York next
month because of suspected ties to the IRGC. Even Ahmadinejad, with his past as
a commander of the Basij Corps, a paramilitary arm of the IRGC, risks arrest.
The US has opened a Pandora's box with a hasty decision that may have
unintended consequences far beyond its planned