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Does Designating the IRGC as a FTO Help or Hurt the US?

IRGC troops marching during the anniversary of the 1980-1988 war with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, in Tehran
Photo Credit: RadioFreeEurope/Radio Library

On April 8, 2019, President Trump designated Iran’s most powerful security organization, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO). He believed it was necessary as America has already labeled Iran a state sponsor of terrorism. This is the first time that the United States has ever designated another government entity as an FTO. In response to this designation, Iran’s Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) ordered that American troops in the Middle-East be designated as terrorists.

According to Daniel Benjamin and Jason M. Blazakis, two experts in terrorism and counterterrorism, designating the IRGC as an FTO was unprecedented and counterproductive. They stated that “FTO designations are supposed to be apolitical and preventative.”

The Trump administration didn’t act immediately to these attacks, therefore making this designation seem more as a punishment for Iran’s retroactive actions rather than focusing on other factors that pose a terrorist threat to the United States. Before imposing this designation on the IRGC, there have been executive orders long predating this Administration that have been taken by the State Department allowing the US to take further legal and financial actions against Iran.

The current policy states that the US will continue to place maximum pressure through sanctions to manipulate Iran to change its behavior. It’s hard to say when diplomatic relations will be restored but the US has rebuilt its relationship with both the Soviet Union and China.

The Secretary of State should revoke the designation within a specific time frame. The United States has a list of conditions for a policy change with Iran that include a revised nuclear deal and normalization of US relations. If the US and the Iranian government can engage in conversation within this time frame, it could leave room for negotiations.

There could be a significant backlash because of the absence of proper reasoning for this FTO designation. Benjamin and Blazakis believe that American troops in Iraq and Syria could be attacked by Iran. Others state that Tehran’s participation in the 2015 nuclear deal can’t stop Iran from retaliating in domains outside of proliferation. They could detain and imprison US citizens, assassinate people, and harass American ships in the Persian Gulf, or even exploring in the cyber realm.

Due to this being the first time that the United States has designated a foreign country’s government entity as an FTO, it should have been examined more closely. Rather than keeping the IRGC designated as an FTO, maybe the Administration should look at reopening dialogue with Iran. Having an open conversation on revoking the designation on the IRGC in return of some negotiation may lead to less or no negative effects toward the United States.

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