On April 8th, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the United States government has decided to classify the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organization. Pompeo said “This is the first time that the United States has designated part of another government as an FTO. We’re doing it because the Iranian regime’s use of terrorism as a tool of statecraft makes it fundamentally different from any other government.
Its operatives have worked to destabilize the Middle East, from Iraq to Lebanon to Syria, and to Yemen….The IRGC will take its rightful place on the same list as terror-groups it supports – Lebanese Hezbollah, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hamas, Kata’ib Hezbollah, among others, all of which are already designated as foreign terrorist organizations….”
We need not worry too much about this move being a precursor to the United States waging war on Iran. There are all kinds of reasons why the United States simply does not have the option of waging war on Iran. Iran has 81 million people and a median age of 31 years. It can call on quite enormous military reserves, and the Revolutionary Guard is already battle-hardened. Furthermore, Iran is an extremely tech-savvy society, producing the highest per capita number of engineering-graduates on Earth.
History also teaches us that societies which embody a revolutionary ethos tend to be very good at defending themselves. All of these factors make Iran far too formidable an opponent for the United States to consider going to war with. Such a war would mean a level of military commitment far greater than both Iraq and Afghanistan combined. For a nation such as the United States, which has been chronically militarily overstretched for the past 15 years, waging war on Iran is entirely unrealistic.
The timing of Pompeo’s announcement is also an indicator of its motivations – the US government decided to designate the IRGC as a terrorist organization only after US proxies had militarily lost in Syria.
So no matter which provocative noises fanatics like Pompeo or John Bolton make, you may rest assured that there will be no war on Iran. If they seriously suggested it, then the US military leadership would explain to them that it is simply impossible. If anything, this announcement by Pompeo is an indicator of the United States’ impotence in the Middle East and of Iran’s increasing influence in the region.
Iran will play a significant economic role in the reconstruction of Syria, and President Rouhani recently visited Baghdad to hold discussions with the Iraqi government on the development of an Iranian-Iraqi-Syrian integrated economic zone.
Among other items, one agreement reached concerned the construction of a railway connecting Iran’s Shalamcheh border-crossing to Basra, then continuing on to the Syrian port of Latakia. The establishment of this integrated economic zone will in turn enhance the role played by Iran in China’s Belt and Road initiative, as it gives Iran access to Syria’s Mediterranean ports.
This is precisely why the United States has chosen to target the IRGC specifically, as it is quite highly integrated in the Iranian economy, with interests in the energetic, telecommunications, automotive and construction sectors. Being unable to hurt the IRGC militarily, the United States is seeking to punish any person or entity which economically cooperates with any Iranian organization within which the IRGC plays a role – any such person or entity may now be accused of “giving material aid to a terrorist organization.”
In short, this move is primarily just another means of attempting to implement sanctions on Iran, and to thereby prevent Iranian-Iraqi-Syrian economic integration.
As Pompeo himself stated, this decision is historically unprecedented – it is the first time that the United States has designated part of another government as a foreign terrorist organization. The implications of this for declining American hegemony are clear. Let us compare the United States’ position as global hegemon today to its historical apex, which was the 1990’s.
During the 1990’s, the United States used its economic power, and sometimes its military power, to unilaterally rewrite international law whenever it wished. However, precisely because its economic and military dominance was so unassailable at that time, there was no need for its leadership to explicitly say that they unilaterally rewrote international law whenever they wanted.
They recognized that hypocrisy was prudent, so they still paid lip-service to the norms of international law. If you’re completely dominant, then you can afford to be gracious – there’s really no need whatsoever to keep reminding everybody of how completely dominant you are. In this case, hypocrisy and the pretense of respect for other nations’ sovereignty are more prudent.
However, as American hegemony has steadily declined, as it has done for over 15 years, its unilateralism has become increasingly explicit. The implication of Pompeo’s statement was “We alone arbitrarily decide who is a terrorist and who isn’t. Our laws have global, universal extension. Other nations’ laws simply don’t count. Our legal jurisdiction is global.”
During the historical apex of American hegemony, the Clinton presidency, the US government very often acted like that, but never actually talked like that. There was simply no need. Hypocrisy worked better.
So regarding the point that senior US government officials now make public statements which imply that they see their legal jurisdiction as global in scope, and that other nations’ laws simply don’t count, that the United States postulates itself as a world-government, what does this imply about the United States state of geopolitical strength today?
It implies that the lady doth protest too much. It implies that magic thinking has taken over, that not only is the United States a hegemon in rapid decline, and is also a declining hegemon in denial.