Several panelists spoke at a briefing on July 25 regarding the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and its meddling throughout the region, as well as its part in the domestic repression of the Iranian people. The event was hosted by the Organization of Iranian-American Communities (OIAC) and multiple states from the U.S.
The event included short speeches before a question and answer period began, with Dr. Ramesh Sephrrad, Scholar practitioner at the School of Conflict Analysis and Resolution (SCAR) at George Mason University.
Panelists included Michael Pregent, Adjunct Fellow, The Hudson Institute, National Defense University; Lee Smith, Senior Fellow, The Hudson Institute, Senior Editor, the Weekly Standard; Nadar Uskow, Visiting Fellow, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy; and Ilan Berman, Senior Vice President, American Foreign Policy Council.
Recently, the administration certified that Iran was meeting its obligations under the JCPOA, although Berman called this mixed message. That is because although they were certifying to various aspects of the agreement, it did not mean that Iran was completely playing by the rules, particularly in regard to their ballistic missile tests.
Other speakers noted that the IRGC is in charge of militias throughout the region, some of which have been created to fight ISIS. However, ISIS is nearly defeated, but these militias are still going strong and under the command of Khamenei by means of the IRGC.
“There are existing executive vehicles…in order for this administration to act comprehensively against these [groups],” said Berman. During his speech at a recent lunch on the IRGC, Berman noted that this was a critical time, as the U.S. administration is undergoing a comprehensive review of Iran and all the potential threats it presents to the United States.
Other speakers noted that Iran’s total threat would not be mitigated without regime change. “Sanctions are tools, but they are not a strategy,” said Ambassador Robert G. Joseph, former Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security. He noted that sanctions have not turned North Korea from their path, but instead, he called them “abject failures” of real strategic change. Joseph noted that the JCPOA cut against the national interests of the United States.
Part of the strategy needs to also focus on human rights and other issues, in addition to the nuclear threat from Iran.
“We need to give the people of Iran a sense that we are supportive of their aspiration to have freedom and democracy,” said Joseph. Some pointed out that the uprisings in 2009 lacked international support and that is why they failed.
The question is who should the international community support in terms of resistance and regime change in Iran. “Rouhani is part of a continuum of ideology that makes that this regime dangerous,” said Berman. He noted that changing the regime needs to recognize that without a change of this ideology, there can be no change from within.
“At the end of the day, the whole of the IRGC needs to be dismantled,” said Uskowi. He noted that wasn’t just for the United States, but for the region as a whole.
Smith noted that the U.S. policy is currently making it possible for the U.S. to fund by default groups that are working with the IRGC, which emboldens the IRGC. When sanctions were lifted, they also got an economic lift. This current designation, according to Pregent, has power because it would limit the IRGC’s ability to use finances to control groups and movements. It is a tool and lever to put pressure on the regime.
“The regime cannot survive without the IRGC,” said Uskowi.
The overall theme was focused on the need to move forward with the IRGC designation as a terrorist organization, as it could reduce their ability to continue to its ability to meddle and create havoc throughout the region. The various panelists also talked about various countries throughout the region, including Iraq and Syria.
“We need a strategy to curtail IRGC activities,” said Pregent. He noted that the IRGC gets into a country economically first and then exploits the divisions that it finds in that country. This is what they have done in Lebanon and other countries throughout the Middle East.
The moderator also pointed to the alternative, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), and their role and platform for the future of a democratic Iran. “Their intelligence is valuable,” said Pregent. He also noted that he was impressed by the umbrella aspects of the organization as a whole.
“The 10-point plank strikes all the right themes,” said Joseph, when talking about Rajavi’s set of messages to the international community, but also to the Iranians themselves. “It is truly inspiring…We need to support the NCRI as one of the principle opposition forces.” He noted that the regime will fall and now is the time to prepare an agenda so that we know what follows.
Finally, they noted that the NCRI is a source that continues to bring a spotlight to the activities within Iran, including the revolution that is building with the people who are being repressed by the regime.
“We need to move forward to a more comprehensive strategy,” said Berman.