USG Designates Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps as Terrorist Organization

Strategic move or pointless provocation?

The US Treasury Department today designated the IGRC as a terrorist organization, escalating tensions between the US and Iran. So what, you might ask. The US has designated the Quds Force as a terrorist organization since 2007, so how is this really any different? Good question. The only reason I can think of to designate the IGRC is to provoke and goad the Iranian government as a step in a strategy to provoke further crisis or conflict, consistent with the US withdrawal from the JCPOA (the Iran nuke deal). The practical effect is that individuals dealing financially with the IGRC, including IGRC officers and leadership, could find themselves on the wrong end of a Material Support to Terrorism indictment. And there is no citizenship requirement for such an indictment: the US could indict a non-American as easily as an American, though reaching non-Americans for prosecution is more problematic and involves extradition agreements, capture abroad with rendition, etc.

The reasons not to designate the IGRC: (1) it doesn’t obviously accomplish much more than making it a little inconvenient for the IGRC to contract with vendors and suppliers, move money, etc.; (2) it’s mostly symbolic and needlessly escalatory, unless escalation is the purpose; (3) it invites reciprocity; (4) it keeps the IGRC from being any sort of moderating influence in Iranian strategic thought or political calculus.

I’m not hard over against it. The IGRC has had some hand in causing American deaths in Iraq, though clearly the Quds Force (itself a subelement of the IGRC) had a much greater role. I’m just trying to figure out if this is a one-off lash out at Iran, or part of some greater strategic move.

I haven’t yet located an Executive Order or Treasury Department designation document, but will update with a link so we can read the actual terms of the designation for analysis.

FILED UNDER: National Security, Terrorism, , , , ,
Butch Bracknell
About Butch Bracknell
Butch Bracknell is an international security lawyer. A career Marine, he is a father, Truman National Security Project member, and Sorensen Political Leaders Program fellow. All posts are his personal views only, not representing any organization. Follow him on Twitter at @ButchBracknell.


  1. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    Is it some sort of idea from the fever swamp that is Trump’s brain that this designation will somehow encourage the other signatories of JCPOA to join him in abandoning the deal?

  2. James Joyner says:

    I’m seeing a “Statement from the President on the Designation of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a Foreign Terrorist Organization” at the White House website but no detailed Executive Order. One wonders if there was an NSC process followed or this was just done on a whim.

  3. gVOR08 says:

    On it’s face I would take it as a strategic move. The strategy being to get more campaign money from Sheldon Adelson.

  4. Michael Reynolds says:

    1) What @gVOR08 said.
    2) Plus some bright bulb probably thought it would pressure the Europeans to get on-board.
    3) Check MBS’ bank account.
    4) And Trump’s.

  5. OzarkHillbilly says:

    I’m just trying to figure out if this is a one-off lash out at Iran, or part of some greater strategic move.

    None of the above. It’s not a one off lash out because poking the Iranians in the eye with a stick is just how these guys roll, but neither is there some strategy greater than “This’ll piss them off.”

  6. mattbernius says:

    This is yet another reminder that maybe Tillerson, McMaster, and Mattis weren’t so bad (though it’s probable that Mattis would have supported this move).

    Either way, this definitely has Bolton, Pompeo, the Saudi’s and the Isreali’s all over it. Just remember that his supporters still think Trump is for limited Foreign Engagement…

  7. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    In fact, for the entire Presidential campaign, the Trump Organization knew that it was actively involved with a company that was likely laundering money for the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. This is not a wild conspiracy theory; it is an acknowledged fact, confirmed by Alan Garten, the Trump Organization’s general counsel, and not disputed by the White House or any of the people involved. Ivanka Trump directly oversaw the relationship with the Mammadov family, led by Ziya Mammadov, a man whom American diplomats have called “notoriously corrupt even for Azerbaijan.”

  8. Gustopher says:

    I’m very wary of declaring parts of the military of a sovereign state as terrorist organizations, especially when they are operating in a war zone next door to their country. I don’t see it as productive.

    Are our military advisors across the world terrorists? The people of El Salvador might say so, just to pick one example. And Panama, Nicaragua, Chile, Argentina… And that’s a lot further from our borders.

    Iran has strategic interests in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are not the same as ours, and they are often determined by our own actions. Big, plodding military of a country that calls you evil setting up camp next door? We weren’t happy with that in the Cuban Missile Crisis, and I don’t see why the Iranians would be happy with it in Iraq.

    We should be talking with the Iranians, not calling names.

  9. al Ameda says:

    This really seems like Bolton and Trump are doing Netanyahu a campaign favor.
    Plus, Bolton would love to bomb ‘strategic’ installations in Iran.
    Will it bring the Euros on board? Who among them wants that?
    Hungary? Yes. Everyone else? None that I can think of.

  10. An Interested Party says:

    I’m just trying to figure out if this is…some greater strategic move.

    When has this White House ever done anything as advanced as that…

  11. de stijl says:

    Amateur hour theatrics.