Subsequent to the June 9 elections tarred by fraud, a poorly-known organization further increased its power in Iran. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini created the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (“Pasdaran” or “IRGC”) following the 1979 Islamic Revolution to safeguard the foundations of the Islamic Republic of Iran, while countering influence of the regular military. Today, the IRGC, nominally still charged to enforce the strict moral codes of the nation, has delegated that responsibility to a volunteer paramilitary Islamic group, the “Basij,” technically under the IRGC umbrella.
Although the IRGC numbers a mere 130,000, it has become the main socio-economic political powerhouse in Iran. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, himself a former IRGC member, has awarded the IRGC more than 750 significant government contracts, appointed more than 50 IRGC members to prominent government posts and afforded the IRGC a prominent role in Iranian politics. The IRGC falls under the direct command of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei--he has provided IRGC members key positions in intelligence and in oversight of the country’s nuclear program.
Mohsen Sazegara, a co-founder of the IRGC, who has repudiated the Islamic Republic and now lives in the United States, has said that although IRGC’s advent into Iranian politics began with Khamenei, its role has increased with Ahmadinejad. Khamenei allowed key IRGC members to enter politics “as part of a strategy aimed at safeguarding Khamenei’s own position of power, which was threatened by a clear absence of popular support.”
Notwithstanding the increased prominence of the IRGC, the struggle continues between the theocratic alliance of Mir-Hossein Mousavi, Mehdi Karroubi and Mohammad Khatami on the one hand, and the military alliance of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Ayatollah Khamenei, IRGC, Basij and Guardian Council on the other. The fraudulent elections, IRGC’s consolidation of power and the militarization of foreign policy effectively render the current Iranian government a military dictatorship. Unfortunately, left in the middle are the Iranian people. Although they would prefer the theocratic alliance over the military, the vast majority want neither and would prefer a democratic republic.
The United States of America has a compelling opportunity to support democratic change in Iran. The Obama Administration’s lack of moral clarity and of vocal support for Iran’s Green Movement has understandably been criticized. Further, the administration’s two-track strategy of offering Iran negotiations and threatening sanctions has been ineffective, mainly because the military establishment in Iran has no intention (or margin) to negotiate.
President Obama’s official position as to Iran’s nuclear program is that “all options are on the table,” including force. This coupled with its lack of support for the Green Movement leads to a probability that this administration is laying the foundations for a military strike on Iran. Military strikes on Iran’s nuclear facilities are inevitable unless the administration alters its failed strategy. Neither war nor sanctions is an effective option on Iran. Instead, we should support the Iranian people in their struggle for democracy via technological advancements and a well-crafted strategy supporting Iran’s Green Movement.
Democracy needs the United States and retreat is still not the answer.