An American Enterprise Institute monograph published in November, 2008 described how the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps began reorganizing itself to meet internal threats late last year. The change was significant, because for the first time since it was formed, the IRGC reoriented its mission from meeting external threats to suppressing internal threats. (Hat tip: Doug) The IRGC is normally called the “Revolutionary Guards” in the media. It is a state within a state. “The IRG is separate from, and parallel to, the other arm of the Iran’s military, which is called Artesh (another Persian word for army). The IRG is a combined arms force with its own ground forces, navy, air force, intelligence, and special forces. It also controls Basij force, which has a potential strength of eleven million, although Basij is a volunteer-based force, and consists of 90,000 regular soldiers and 300,000 reservists.”
The AEI monograph, authored by Ali Alfoneh noted that the reorganization was designed to counter “any attempts to decapitate it, such as might occur should U.S. or Israeli military forces strike the Islamic Republic”. But it also created a network of anti-riot capabilitiesnot only to suppress “velvet revolutionaries” but to face down other power groups within the Islamic Republic. Alfoneh wrote:
Likewise, the IRGC’s new provincial structure simply legalizes what had become informal reality. The IRGC has long acted as a parallel bureaucracy in the provinces. Whether [ Major General Mohammad Ali] Jafari truly wants reform is impossible to tell. What is clear is that reform is difficult for the Islamic Republic. Still, sometimes even cosmetic reform can be telling. Whenever the Islamic Republic looks for internal enemies, it finds them. Indeed, having made defense against velvet revolutions his defining issue, Jafari must now prove that he will succeed. The Basij-IRGC merger and the Mosaic Doctrine may not do much for national defense, but they certainly suggest strengthening of the IRGC in internal politics of the Islamic Republic–a power that is more than likely to be used, not only against dissidents, but also against loyal elements of the Islamic Republic who challenge the creeping coup d’etat of the Revolutionary Guards.
Michael Rubin at NRO warned against the danger of seeing events in Iran through the prism of Western Democratic politics. The elections are part of a wider struggle for power whose intensity is beyond anything ordinary citizens in the West know.
A lot of pundits are making silly analogies comparing Iran’s elections to those in the United States. Laura Secor, a left-of-center pundit, makes a similar analogy in The New Republic, for example, comparing this year’s election in Iran to the U.S. election in 2004. The worst thing an analyst can do, however, is engage in projection and assume that politics in countries like Iran are like those in America. …
The Islamic Republic is not the United States. We do not disqualify 99 percent of candidates. We do not have a Supreme Leader. We do not have a Revolutionary Guard that intervenes in elections. Barbara Slavin and Robin Wright used to describe Ahmadinejad as a “neoconservative.” This was equally disingenuous and showed a willingness to allow political bias to trump honest reporting. Ahmadinejad, for example, comes from a faction that dubs itself as the “Principalists,” meaning people that go back to the principles of the first years of the Islamic Revolution. Not only are they not a “new” faction in the Iranian context (indeed, they are the oldest faction), but they represent the most socially conservative segments of society. You can pretty much assume that whenever anyone makes a cheap analogy like this, they are letting their own political advocacy trump analysis.
Which is why it may be dangerous and somewhat ludicrous for the Obama administration to be waiting on the results of the election in the same way that it might pause for the outcome of an election in Canada or Australia. The current Iranian regime is not so much a government as it is a criminal conspiracy. Jennifer Rubin at Commentary describes how belatedly that realization has hit home.
James Taranto and others have remarked on the eye-opening effect the Iranian regime’s brutality has had on the Left punditocracy. Ah, now they get it! The mullahs are brutal thugs who share none of our values nor desire for peace. … But one wonders what if anything the members of Obama’s national security team have learned. Have they figured out that there is no deal to be had with a regime of this nature? Does this give them any concern about their self-assurances that we can “contain” a nuclear-armed Iran? Well it should.
It should, but maybe it won’t. Michael Totten’s column in Commentary warns that if Obama recognizes the “elections” then he will be following the lead of Kim Jong Il.
North Korea’s Kim Jong Il congratulated Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on his “election victory” in Iran, as did Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, Hamas, and Hezbollah. Syria’s Bashar Assad is bound to follow if he hasn’t already. Meanwhile, Iranian students in Iran asked a CNN correspondent to pass on a message to the United States. If President Obama accepts the “election” result, they told him, “we’re doomed.”
The reorientation of the IRGC mission to face internal threats is a tacit admission of political weakness. Contrary to the narrative that Iran has been strengthened by the events of recent years, it is strongly suggestive that the opposite is true. And now that the internal threat has actually materialized, the Obama administration should ask itself whether it is wise public policy to throw a regime racked by internal dissention and possibly collapsing upon itself the lifeline of “engagement”; whether it is opportune to give it international legitimacy and remove the sanctions at a time when it is beating itself up. In others words, the administration must ask whether it makes any sense to ring the bell just as Teheran is on the ropes. Following the lead of Kim Jong Il can be described as an act of dialogue without precondition, or it may simply be stupidity without precedent.