MILLER: Fighting war with words

The Bush administration, in an unprecedented move, has expressed the intent to label the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a “specifically designated global terrorist.” This move marks the first time that a sovereign government’s armed forces have ever been labeled as “terrorists.” The Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution, commonly shortened in the media to the Revolutionary Guard, is the largest unit within the Iranian National Armed Forces. The Revolutionary Guard has its own navy, ground forces and intelligence, as well as its own special forces.

President Bush’s move comes amid growing tensions between the U.S. and Iran as allegations of Iran’s providing assistance to the militants in Iraq is compounded by the continuing issue of Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Bush made the designation through the use of Executive Order 13224, which he signed on Sept. 23, 2001. Executive Order 13224 provides the U.S. government a “means by which to disrupt the financial support network for terrorist and terrorist organizations.” Iran has been on the list of states that sponsor terrorism since 1984; however, the goal of this new designation is an attempt to clamp down on many of the Revolutionary Guard’s numerous financial operations.

One thing is for certain – the designation of a sovereign nation’s armed forces as a terrorist organization promises to have far-reaching repercussions. The words “terrorism” and “terrorist” are two of the most hotly debated issues in political science. As concepts, their meanings have been numerous and fluid. In 2001 the United Nations defined terrorism as “[any action] intended to cause death or serious bodily harm to civilians or noncombatants with the purpose of intimidating a population or compelling a government or international organization to do or abstain from doing any act.” U.S. Code defines terrorism as “premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents.”

These definitions denote what terrorism is, namely violence against noncombatants with a politically minded goal. The question that is not answered is who can perpetrate terrorism? In 1988, a U.S. Army study found more than 109 definitions of “terrorism,” and in 1999, terrorism expert Walter Laqueur found more than 100 definitions with the only common theme being the “involvement of or threat of violence.” Such a nebulous definition supplies the perfect enemy for what the Bush administration coined “The Long War” in preface of the 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review Report.

More than an issue of semantics, the ambiguous definitions of both “terrorism” and “Long War” provide the U.S. government with a rational to wage perpetual war. The idea of perpetual war is perhaps best expressed in George Orwell’s novel “1984,” in which the world is dominated by three superstates engaged in continually shifting alliances of war and peace.

The new definition of the Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization will allow the United States additional leeway in targeting their financial supports and business networks, essentially allowing the U.S. to avoid having to declare war on Iran but still engage in military suppression of the country.

Such a military-based move is troubling to those who have continued to counsel increased negotiation and communication as the solutions to the issues between the U.S. and Iran. Despite a continuing plea for dialogue and high-level political interaction from the international community, saber rattling and brinksmanship are quickly becoming the method of contact.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack recently told reporters, “We are confronting Iranian behavior across a variety of different fronts on a number of different battlefields.” The use of the word “battlefield” in relation to dealings with Iran concerned European envoys. Yahya Rahim Safavi, commander of the Revolutionary Guard, replied that Iran is capable of hitting warships anywhere in the Persian Gulf, implicitly suggesting that the U.S. battle carrier group stationed in the gulf is vulnerable.

Critics have repeatedly called for increased diplomacy in the Iran issue. Trita Parsi of the National Iranian American Council has criticized the move, saying, “While this step can deal a blow to efforts to utilize diplomacy with Iran to stabilize Iraq, the long-term effects can be even more decisive by further entrenching U.S.-Iran relations in a paradigm of enmity.”

This move underscores the Bush administration’s apparent disinterest in engaging in any high-level diplomatic talks in an attempt to garner a peaceful dialogue between nations. The administration seems intent on casting Iran as a enemy, further creation divisions and conflicts within the already tumultuous Middle East.

Given the fluid and nebulous definitions of a “terrorist,” the open admission of the United States’ involvement in a “Long War,” and the categorization of the Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist group shows a troubling trend in the administration to move away from negotiation and toward military interaction.

As citizens, we should demand a higher level of accountability from our government and challenge their open-ended statements that they make.

How exactly does the administration plan to win a war waged against a belief or set of beliefs? Who can be a terrorist? What is the difference between a solider and a state-sponsored terrorist? These are questions that are relevant to our lives and each question deserves an answer.

Quincy Miller is a senior in English from Altoona.