THE proposal by the Bush administration to add Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps to the list it keeps of foreign terrorist organisations may be one of those summer Washington diversions which are intended primarily for internal effect.
From Vice President Cheney downwards through Republican senators and congressmen to right wing commentators and grass roots supporters, there is a feeling among the party faithful that the United States needs to talk tough to Iran. This is partly an extension of concern over Iran's disinclination to abandon its nuclear ambitions despite strong international pressure on it to do so, but it is also a reflection of anger in the US that so many of the casualties it is currently taking in Iraq are the result of weapons supplied by Iran and used by insurgents trained there. The US Deputy Commander in Iraq, General Raymond Odierno, recently said that Iranian weapons were employed in more than 70 per cent of attacks that killed or wounded American soldiers in July.
Although the Bush administration should not at all be playing internal political games with Iran, it is to be hoped that the proposal to blacklist the Revolutionary Guard remains no more than that - a proposal. If it is turned into something more formal, enabling the US, for instance to strengthen sanctions against Iran without UN support, then the matter would become much more serious and dangerous. The organisations currently on Washington's terrorist list are non-governmental in character (al-Qaeda, Hezbollah and Hamas) whereas the Revolutionary Guard is one of the most powerful state instruments at the disposal of Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and many of the country's leading politicians, including President Ahmadinejad, have backgrounds in the Guard. Its precise size is not known, but is probably well over 100'000, and it is extremely well-equipped and led.
President Bush should not be surprised if others see this latest threat to Tehran as confirmation that he is ready to take military action against Iran if it does not step into line.
The prospect of a third war in the Middle East when the two current ones show no sign of a conclusion may be mind-boggling but it is unlikely that military action against Iran would involve land forces.
Even if Mr Bush's immediate horizon does not extend beyond sanctions it is difficult to see how their imposition can persuade Iran to be more accommodating over its nuclear plans or over its involvement in Iraq, which it anyway denies. An intensification of diplomacy should be the course of choice rather than empty yet dangerous gestures. If diplomacy can bring a solution in the Korean case, then it cannot be without utility with Iran.
Unfortunately Mr Bush still dreams dreams of the Iranian people rising up to assert their freedom. This week he said: My message to the Iranian people is, You can do better than this current government. You don't have to be so isolated. You don't have to be in a position where you can't realise your full potential. Why cannot Mr Bush see that the more he antagonises the Iranian regime the less chance the Iranian people will have to respond to his words?