Last month, the Donald Trump administration noted that it was contemplating whether to designate Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a foreign terrorist organization, a State Department listing that includes Hamas, Hezbollah, the Islamic State (also known as ISIS), and many other groups. But the administration’s critics decried even this as an unwise provocation, despite the fact that the United States has for the past three decades officially denounced Iran as the leading sponsor of terrorism. What's more, in 2007, a number of Democratic and Republican politicians, including then-Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, cosponsored a bill known as the Iran Counter-Proliferation Act that called on the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush to report on its efforts to designate the Revolutionary Guard as an FTO. But the bill did not pass.
From the IRGC’s inception in 1979, terrorism has been its defining feature. The 125,000-strong force has always been commanded by reactionary religious ideologues. During the 1980s, the IRGC conducted vicious campaigns against all forms of dissent as well as against ethnic minorities, especially the Kurds and the Baluchis. Throughout the 1990s, the group attacked the Iranian reform movement and became even more feared than Iran’s intelligence ministry, which had a reputation for human rights abuses. In 1999, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei unleashed the IRGC to crush student protests, a move that President Hassan Rouhani, then the secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, had passionately supported. In the summer of 2009, the guards also squashed the pro-democracy Green Revolution, arresting thousands and torturing hundreds. Since its foundation, the IRGC has overseen a terror apparatus that has assassinated intellectuals, journalists, dissident politicians, and literary figures.