Background: Totalitarians always have a yin to play against an unruly yang. The Roman emperors had a Praetorian Guard to protect them from the Army, just in case. When the Red Army got to powerful and influential, Stalin sicced the KGB on their leadership; when the KGB in turn got big enough to threaten him, he turned the Army and the Party on them, killing its leadership. Likewise, Hitler had the SS – which pledged loyalty to him at the Party directly – to serve as an insurance policy against the Wehrmacht, whose Prussian Junker leadership was loyal to the German state, drawing Hitler’s distrust; the SS “Blackshirts” themselves were a response to what Hitler saw as the excessive power in the hands of the SA (“Brownshirts”), whom he formed the SS to counter and, eventually, dismantle. Saddam Hussein had multiple levels of backups; against the Army, he had the Republican Guards – again, smaller but better trained and better-equipped – and beyond that, a smaller, even more elite group of guards in case the Republican Guard got uppity.
Iran has had the same arrangement for most of the past thirty years. The Iranian Army – once by far the largest in the Middle East, and by far the best-equipped in the Moslem world – was cut town to size after the Revolution, and especially after the Iran-Iraq War, as the mullahs established an “elite”, or at least intensely-loyal, “Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps” (IRGC). The IRGC were the foot soldiers and muscle of the Revolution, and developed over time into an entire parallel military, serving the mullahs directly in parallel to the regular (and now cash-starved) regular Iranian military, which is a faint shadow of its shah-era self.
According to Time, that development has continued; the IRGC has taken over Iranian policy:
On Monday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton finally got around to acknowledging what a lot of people have known since Iran’s contested election last June — there’s been a military takeover in that country, with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) grabbing every important lever of power. As Clinton put it during a televised town-hall meeting, “The Supreme Leader, the President [and] the parliament is being supplanted, and Iran is moving toward a military dictatorship.”
No doubt one reason it took Clinton so long to admit that the mullahs have been forced to cede power to the IRGC, Iran’s élite military force, is that Washington hates to be the bearer of bad news, especially news that moves us closer to war.
Especially when the Administration’s campaign-era pledge was that to deal with the mullahs, all you needed was love.
Since its birth in 1979, the IRGC has been the hardest of the hard core of Ayatullah Khomeini’s Islamic revolution. It thrives in confrontation with the U.S. and Israel, and does even better when Iran is at war. The IRGC looks at the 1982-2000 war in Lebanon as its most glorious moment, when its proxy Hizballah forced the West and Israel out of Lebanon. It left Hizballah with the enviable reputation of being the only force in the Middle East to have beaten both the West and Israel. Not to mention that Hizballah is now the de facto government in Lebanon. No wonder the IRGC would like an encore in the West Bank and Gaza, where it has been arming militants for more than a decade.
There’s method to what we in the West could consider the Madness:
It may make us feel better to label the IRGC as a terrorist organization, but it’s more instructive to look at things from the IRGC’s perspective. It truly believes that its brand of asymmetrical warfare can defeat a modern, well-equipped force in a limited war. It did so in Lebanon, and given the right circumstances, it would do so in other parts of the Middle East. But the real point is that in a limited war with the U.S. and Israel, the IRGC could predominate, or at least wear us down to the point that we would decide it’s better to settle.
And as western thinkers have known for centuries – nothing takes the pressure off a dictator like a perennial state of war:
With inflation and unemployment running at 30% in Iran, continuing demonstrations in the country and shaky oil markets, the Obama Administration should be considering the distinct possibility that the IRGC may welcome an open conflict with the U.S. (and Israel), its coup d’état solidified.
All by way of saying; it’s possible we’re not re-living the Carter years in nearly every coneptual particular. I’m just not seeing it.