Commentary Magazine


Topic: Revolutionary Guard Corps

Obama’s Last Chance on Iran

There is reason to doubt whether at this late stage sanctions against Iran would be too little and too late to stop the revolutionary Islamic state from its pursuit of nuclear weapons. But Reuel Marc Gerecht and Mark Dubowitz make the best case one can for sanctions, in the processing dispelling the notion that the newest Obami craze — targeted sanctions against the Revolutionary Guard Corps — have any hope of success. They argue:

Gasoline and insurance sanctions are just about all we’ve really got left in the quiver. The Guard Corps elite, who oversee Iran’s nuclear program, are too well protected to be seriously hurt by financial and industrial sanctions. Targeted sanctions have increased the cost of Iranians doing business, but there is little evidence to suggest that sanctions so far have ever moderated the behavior of Iran’s rulers.

The administration’s “smart-sanctions” approach perpetuates a myth about Iran’s politics that has crippled our analysis for years. Mr. Khamenei isn’t an economic rationalist. He wasn’t waiting for George W. Bush to depart to make peace with the United States. Men who talk about crushing the “enemies of God” won’t give up their enriched uranium because transaction costs have increased. The acquisition of the bomb is now probably inseparable from the ruling elite’s religious identity.

And so Gerecht and Dubowitz argue that sanctions have to be “crushing” to be a game changer. But contrary to the Obami’s excuse-mongering spin, it is the presence of the Green Revolution that should weigh in favor of touch sanctions. (“If sanctions are waged in the name of the Iranian people, we are much more likely to see Western opinion remain solidly behind them. These sentiments will likely be reinforced by prominent Iranian dissidents who’ve moved from adamant opposition to severe sanctions to hesitant acceptance of the idea [Nobel Prize winner Shireen Ebadi, for instance].”) The Obami, of course, argue that we can’t pursue the only reasonable means of stopping the regime, because we’ll offend and alienate the democracy advocates.

The Obami have, by a series of policy choices, made it more difficult to halt the mullahs’ nuclear ambitions. They lost a year in the folly of engagement. They failed to seize on the openings – first, the June 12 election, and then the revelation of the Qom enrichment site – to rally public opinion. They let deadline after deadline pass, signaling to the mullahs their unseriousness and lack of resolve. And now they’re going to great pains to water down serious sanctions, which may be the only chance, faint as it may be, to prevent the mullahs’ acquisition of nuclear weapons.

One can perceive in all this a lack of competence and judgment. Or one can cynically assume that they never intended to reach a point of confrontation with the regime and have banked all along on the hope of “containing” the regime after it obtained nuclear weapons. Either way, it’s a disaster for Israel and its neighbors, for the West, and for Obama’s own pipe dream of a world without nuclear weapons.

There is reason to doubt whether at this late stage sanctions against Iran would be too little and too late to stop the revolutionary Islamic state from its pursuit of nuclear weapons. But Reuel Marc Gerecht and Mark Dubowitz make the best case one can for sanctions, in the processing dispelling the notion that the newest Obami craze — targeted sanctions against the Revolutionary Guard Corps — have any hope of success. They argue:

Gasoline and insurance sanctions are just about all we’ve really got left in the quiver. The Guard Corps elite, who oversee Iran’s nuclear program, are too well protected to be seriously hurt by financial and industrial sanctions. Targeted sanctions have increased the cost of Iranians doing business, but there is little evidence to suggest that sanctions so far have ever moderated the behavior of Iran’s rulers.

The administration’s “smart-sanctions” approach perpetuates a myth about Iran’s politics that has crippled our analysis for years. Mr. Khamenei isn’t an economic rationalist. He wasn’t waiting for George W. Bush to depart to make peace with the United States. Men who talk about crushing the “enemies of God” won’t give up their enriched uranium because transaction costs have increased. The acquisition of the bomb is now probably inseparable from the ruling elite’s religious identity.

And so Gerecht and Dubowitz argue that sanctions have to be “crushing” to be a game changer. But contrary to the Obami’s excuse-mongering spin, it is the presence of the Green Revolution that should weigh in favor of touch sanctions. (“If sanctions are waged in the name of the Iranian people, we are much more likely to see Western opinion remain solidly behind them. These sentiments will likely be reinforced by prominent Iranian dissidents who’ve moved from adamant opposition to severe sanctions to hesitant acceptance of the idea [Nobel Prize winner Shireen Ebadi, for instance].”) The Obami, of course, argue that we can’t pursue the only reasonable means of stopping the regime, because we’ll offend and alienate the democracy advocates.

The Obami have, by a series of policy choices, made it more difficult to halt the mullahs’ nuclear ambitions. They lost a year in the folly of engagement. They failed to seize on the openings – first, the June 12 election, and then the revelation of the Qom enrichment site – to rally public opinion. They let deadline after deadline pass, signaling to the mullahs their unseriousness and lack of resolve. And now they’re going to great pains to water down serious sanctions, which may be the only chance, faint as it may be, to prevent the mullahs’ acquisition of nuclear weapons.

One can perceive in all this a lack of competence and judgment. Or one can cynically assume that they never intended to reach a point of confrontation with the regime and have banked all along on the hope of “containing” the regime after it obtained nuclear weapons. Either way, it’s a disaster for Israel and its neighbors, for the West, and for Obama’s own pipe dream of a world without nuclear weapons.

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The Iranian Regime’s Battle of Karbala

The Iranian citizens’ uprising against their government has been sustained for six months now, and it took an interesting turn over the weekend. Security forces reportedly opened fire against demonstrators and even killed the nephew of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi – and they did it during Ashura. There are few things “supreme guide” Ali Khamenei could have done to enrage religious conservatives and harden them against his regime more than this. As one demonstrator put it, “killing Muslims on Ashura is like crucifying Christians on Christmas.”

“The clock began to tick for Ayatollah Khamenei’s fall from today,” said one of Iran’s few former female members of parliament Fatemeh Haghighatjou. “Killing people on Ashura shows how far Mr. Khamenei is willing to go to suppress the protests. People are comparing him more with Yazid because they consider him responsible for the order to use violence against people.”

Ashura is a Shia religious holiday, and it is not joyous. It is a day of lamentation that marks the date when the forces of the Umayyad caliph Yazid killed Hussein, son of Ali and grandson of the Prophet Mohammad, during the Battle of Karbala in the year 680. It’s one of the most infamous episodes in the struggle for power that permanently ruptured the house of Islam into its warring Sunni and Shia halves. The Shia – the partisans of Ali and his lineage – have been at war with the Sunnis – those who took the side of Yazid – for thirteen centuries. That Khamenei’s security people would murder unarmed demonstrators on this day of all days, and that his opponents now denounce him as the Yazid of Iran, may very well set most of the religious conservatives against him for as long as he and his government live.

Haghighatjou isn’t the only one using this kind of language. You’ll find regular citizens comparing Khamenei to Yazid and Tehran to Karbala with even a cursory scan of Iranian Internet commentary during the last couple of days.

The Iranian government knows very well what a devastating accusation this is. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini compared the tyrannical Shah Reza Pahlavi to Yazid during the revolution he led in 1979, and his successor Khamenei tries to pass himself off as a modern Ali even now. More recently, the regime’s Revolutionary Guard Corps commanders used this charge against Israel in 1982 to ignite a decades-long insurgency in South Lebanon.

When Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982 to demolish the Palestinian state-within-a-state that Yasser Arafat had built there, the Shia of the south hailed the Israeli soldiers as liberators. Hezbollah may wish this inconvenient fact was forgotten, but it’s true. That’s what happened. That’s how the Shia of Lebanon felt. Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization was a foreign Sunni militia that pushed the Shia around at gunpoint and turned their previously quiet part of the world into a war zone.

Iran’s Khomeinist regime redeployed Revolutionary Guard Corps units from battlefields in the Iran-Iraq war to Lebanon to foment a Shia insurgency there against the Israelis, but most people weren’t interested. Not at first, anyway. Everything changed the following year, in 1983, when IDF patrol trucks made a wrong turn and ended up in the middle of an Ashura procession in Nabatieh. The drivers tried to barge their way through a crowd. Some of the mourners threw rocks, and Israeli soldiers shot them.

Israel unwittingly cast itself in the role of a modern Yazid 26 years ago, and most of the Shia of Lebanon have been in a state of war with their former allies ever since. The Israeli soldiers in that fateful incident didn’t realize what they were doing, but Khamenei of all people should have known to back off during Ashura. The pious Shia who live in Iran won’t easily forget that he didn’t.

The Iranian citizens’ uprising against their government has been sustained for six months now, and it took an interesting turn over the weekend. Security forces reportedly opened fire against demonstrators and even killed the nephew of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi – and they did it during Ashura. There are few things “supreme guide” Ali Khamenei could have done to enrage religious conservatives and harden them against his regime more than this. As one demonstrator put it, “killing Muslims on Ashura is like crucifying Christians on Christmas.”

“The clock began to tick for Ayatollah Khamenei’s fall from today,” said one of Iran’s few former female members of parliament Fatemeh Haghighatjou. “Killing people on Ashura shows how far Mr. Khamenei is willing to go to suppress the protests. People are comparing him more with Yazid because they consider him responsible for the order to use violence against people.”

Ashura is a Shia religious holiday, and it is not joyous. It is a day of lamentation that marks the date when the forces of the Umayyad caliph Yazid killed Hussein, son of Ali and grandson of the Prophet Mohammad, during the Battle of Karbala in the year 680. It’s one of the most infamous episodes in the struggle for power that permanently ruptured the house of Islam into its warring Sunni and Shia halves. The Shia – the partisans of Ali and his lineage – have been at war with the Sunnis – those who took the side of Yazid – for thirteen centuries. That Khamenei’s security people would murder unarmed demonstrators on this day of all days, and that his opponents now denounce him as the Yazid of Iran, may very well set most of the religious conservatives against him for as long as he and his government live.

Haghighatjou isn’t the only one using this kind of language. You’ll find regular citizens comparing Khamenei to Yazid and Tehran to Karbala with even a cursory scan of Iranian Internet commentary during the last couple of days.

The Iranian government knows very well what a devastating accusation this is. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini compared the tyrannical Shah Reza Pahlavi to Yazid during the revolution he led in 1979, and his successor Khamenei tries to pass himself off as a modern Ali even now. More recently, the regime’s Revolutionary Guard Corps commanders used this charge against Israel in 1982 to ignite a decades-long insurgency in South Lebanon.

When Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982 to demolish the Palestinian state-within-a-state that Yasser Arafat had built there, the Shia of the south hailed the Israeli soldiers as liberators. Hezbollah may wish this inconvenient fact was forgotten, but it’s true. That’s what happened. That’s how the Shia of Lebanon felt. Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization was a foreign Sunni militia that pushed the Shia around at gunpoint and turned their previously quiet part of the world into a war zone.

Iran’s Khomeinist regime redeployed Revolutionary Guard Corps units from battlefields in the Iran-Iraq war to Lebanon to foment a Shia insurgency there against the Israelis, but most people weren’t interested. Not at first, anyway. Everything changed the following year, in 1983, when IDF patrol trucks made a wrong turn and ended up in the middle of an Ashura procession in Nabatieh. The drivers tried to barge their way through a crowd. Some of the mourners threw rocks, and Israeli soldiers shot them.

Israel unwittingly cast itself in the role of a modern Yazid 26 years ago, and most of the Shia of Lebanon have been in a state of war with their former allies ever since. The Israeli soldiers in that fateful incident didn’t realize what they were doing, but Khamenei of all people should have known to back off during Ashura. The pious Shia who live in Iran won’t easily forget that he didn’t.

Read Less




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