Revolutionary Guards now Terrorists?

Step over Osama and your rag tag mountain dwelling Taleban, there are new terrorists on the list,

The United States has decided to designate Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, the country’s 125,000-strong elite military branch, as a “specially designated global terrorist,” according to U.S. officials, a move that allows Washington to target the group’s business operations and finances.

The Bush administration has chosen to move against the Revolutionary Guard Corps because of what U.S. officials have described as its growing involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as its support for extremists throughout the Middle East, the sources said.

However, regardless of whether the political timing of this move is bad, it does pose an important question. As the article notes,

“They are heavily involved in everything from pharmaceuticals to telecommunications and pipelines — even the new Imam Khomeini Airport and a great deal of smuggling,” said Ray Takeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations. “Many of the front companies engaged in procuring nuclear technology are owned and run by the Revolutionary Guards. They’re developing along the lines of the Chinese military, which is involved in many business enterprises. It’s a huge business conglomeration.”

While a state military organization may not technically be a terrorist group, it does seem to engage in similar activities. Yet, where does one draw the line between covert operations and terrorism, or between a state run organization with tacit government approval and a non-governmental terrorist gorups? The definition of what constitutes a terrorist organization is becoming blurrier by the minute. As John Robb pointed out in Brave New War and Moises Naim in Illicit, many organizations often freely move between illegal activities and in addition, some switch between legal and illegal. Mexican smugglers may smuggle Mexican immigrants, drugs, weapons, terrorists, prostitutes and more. They may specialize in only transportation freely changing between products. Other cases, such as the Madrid bombings or FARC, show that terrorism is often financed by illegal activity such as the sale of narcotics. International criminal networks are often difficult to separate into individual “industries.”

If the definition of terrorism is broadened and bent for political purposes to include only “their terrorism” then we will be undermining the term itself by spreading it too thin to be credible. Should such a list be created for international organized crime, for example? One thing is for certain, the future is one of hybrids.

About Chirol

Sir Ignatius Valentine Chirol (1852 - 1929) was a journalist, prolific author, world historian, and British diplomat. He began his career as a foreign correspondent and later became editor of the London Times. After two decades as a journalist he joined Her Majesty's Foreign Ministry as a diplomat and was subsequently knighted for his distinguished service as a foreign affairs advisor. Additionally, he wrote a dozen books on foreign affairs including The Far Eastern Question (1896), Serbia and the Serbs (1914), The End of the Ottoman Empire (1920) and The Egyptian Problem (1921). He is generally credited with popularizing "Middle East" in reference to the Arabian Peninsula with his book The Middle Eastern Question (1903). "Chirol" is a US citizen and graduate student studying Defense and Strategic Studies and government contractor. As with the historical Chirol, he has traveled to over two dozen countries and lived abroad for many years. Chirol speaks English and German fluently with basic knowledge of manyl of others.
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3 Responses to Revolutionary Guards now Terrorists?

  1. beowulf says:

    I agree with your statement in the last paragraph, in re the weakening of the term “terrorist” to mean “anyone we don’t like.” The word “terrorist” now takes its place with “communist” in the 1950s and “heretic” and “witch” in the Middle Ages as a term for demonizing someone that those in power want to neutralize.

    Thus, the people being held in Guantanamo are “irregular combatants” and therefore not worthy of Geneva Convention protections, but Blackewater’s “contractors” aren’t, the IRA members were “terrorists” but the UDF members weren’t, etc.

    As far as the mixing of legitimate business and illegitimate business goes, how many morally pure businesses are there, especially if they are multinational? (That’s not a slam at corporations or multinationals, BTW, just a question.) This is also related to your question about covert operations vs. overt military ones. Even in “regular” wars, covert operators — spies and saboteurs — were often executed rather than being treated as POWs.

    Another thought that comes up — especially in re the recent weapons sales to Saudi Arabia — is whether the US is getting sucked into the squabble between between the Sunnis and Shias, a fight that has been going on literally since Mohammed’s death.

  2. Curzon says:

    Last I read, Washington was “considering” the label. And I’m not sure I’d call this a hybrid; labeling a state army a terrorist organization is a big step in a very new (and more old-fashioned) direction.

  3. subadei says:

    I agree. It’s a backwards, convenient (politically) and counter productive method of analysis and thought. Terrorism is better served to describe a tactic or strategy and not a group. Hamas and al Qaeda both employ terrorist tactics yet are significantly different in terms of their structures, political/ideological identities and general goals.