During a panel discussion of experts on the Middle East held by the U.S. Senate, there was a discussion about the influence of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and how to curtail that influence. Economically and politically, the IRGC has a strong influence in Iran, but also in the region. It’s funding and economic strength in the private sector have allowed the IRGC to fund military training and activities throughout the region.
As the U.S. Congress considers legislation that will include additional sanctions against Iran and the IRGC, there is also the question of designating the IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization. Part of the testimony from different panelists focused on how critical this is to impact the economic power of the IRGC.
Additionally, there have been questions raised about how this legislation could impact the Iranian election, set to be held in May. Many of the individuals running for the office of President have historical records of gross human rights violations and others were part of the death commission involved in the 1988 massacre of political dissidents.
John Bolton, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a senior advisor for Freedom Capital Investment Management with years of diplomatic experience, spoke at the meeting. He stated that waiting for the outcome of the election would be counterproductive, since the legislation is focused on protecting Americans, their allies in the region, and U.S. interests.
“The argument about what effect we are going to have on the elections in Iran pales under the significance of what the Ayatollah Khamenei and his people are going to do in the elections in Iran,” said Bolton. “These are not real elections. They are so manipulated, the candidacies are manipulated, and the outcomes are manipulated. Fundamentally, to the extent that they have any real impact, it is on domestic policy, not foreign policy.”
He noted that there is no difference between hardliners and moderates regarding the nuclear issue, so the domestic issues are significantly less of a concern.
“I think it is a mistake for the United States to preemptively limit our options on the theory that we are having an influence…where that influence is really very remote,” said Bolton.
Other panelists, including Ilan Berman, noted that if anyone thinks what we do will fundamentally impact the Iranian elections, then they do not understand the Iranian political system. It is essentially factions of the same conservative thought and not a true division of liberals versus conservatives or other political lines of thought.
“I think the U.S. media is in danger of being misled about the range of political opinion that is present within the Iranian system as we move into the election season in Tehran,” said Berman. “Rouhani may be embattled, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he is our guy.”
He pointed out that whoever ends up president will more or less be in line with the Supreme Leader and is unlikely to be a source of true political change within Iran. Alireza Jafarzadeh, a deputy director of the NCRI-US Washington office, pointed out that Rouhani’s track record is not one that can be supported internationally. He called the elections in Iran a “game”, because the Supreme Leader has all the power and authority.