Originally appeared on The American Conservative.
The Trump administration’s destructive Iran policy may be about to get even worse:
Under plans recommended by Mr. Pompeo and some White House officials, the State Department would designate Iran’s military Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps as a foreign terrorist organization. It would be a first instance of the United States designating a unit of another government’s military as a terrorist group; American officials said it could put United States troops and intelligence officers at risk of similar actions by foreign governments.
The plans also would designate some Iraqi Shiite militias as foreign terrorist organizations. As a result, the Iranian-trained militias – and Iraqi officials who support them – would be subject to new economic sanctions and travel restrictions.
The administration’s plans would be guaranteed to increase tensions with Iran and sour relations with the Iraqi government. The designation of the IRGC and Iraqi militias could very well provoke attacks on U.S. forces by those same groups. Previous proposals to designate the IRGC have prompted some of their officers to threaten to do just that. The designation could also provide a pretext for the administration to initiate hostilities against Iran and the armed groups that it supports in Iraq and Syria. When this bad idea first start cropping up over ten years ago, then-Sen. Obama opposed it because he argued that it could be used as an excuse for an attack on Iran. It is potentially very dangerous, and it isn’t going to achieve anything, so it is very much like the rest of the administration’s bankrupt Iran policy.
Military and intelligence officials are understandably wary of labeling part of another state’s military establishment as terrorists:
Officials at the Pentagon and the C.I.A. – which Mr. Pompeo ran in the Trump administration’s first year – oppose designating the Iranian Revolutionary Guards or the Iraqi militias as terrorist groups, fearing a backlash that could constrain American troops.
The fact that Pompeo is proposing these measures in the wake of Rouhani’s successful visit to Iraq and his unprecedented meeting with Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani shows how tone-deaf and oblivious to Iraqi politics the Secretary of State is. Iraqi opposition to a continued US military presence in the country was on the rise even before Trump put his foot in his mouth about “watching Iran” from Iraq, and that opposition seems certain to increase if these proposed designations of Iraqi militias and officials go ahead.
Iraq’s government was already resisting the administration’s efforts to force them into joining the anti-Iranian pressure campaign. If the US starts slapping sanctions on militias and the Iraqi officials linked to them, that will make it politically impossible for the Iraqi government to cooperate with Washington on much of anything. The administration’s Iran obsession poisons everything, and in recent months we have seen how it has poisoned our relations with the Iraqi government.
The proposed terrorist designations are a good example of why the Trump administration is having such difficulty building international support for its “maximum pressure” campaign. They make a habit of insisting that other governments cooperate against Iran. Then, instead of giving them incentives to cooperate, they threaten them with penalties and drive the other governments to find workarounds to increase their cooperation with Iran instead. The US is used to having its allies and clients fall in line when our government tells them what they are supposed to do, but that isn’t happening here. In this case, the administration has handled relations with allies and clients so poorly and their demands are so unreasonable that their ultimatums have provoked significant resistance from states that have not been accustomed to opposing American preferences.
Daniel Larison is a senior editor at The American Conservative, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and is a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Dallas. Follow him on Twitter. This article is reprinted from The American Conservative with permission.