Iran: Rogue State with Growing Arsenal and International Leverage

Rubin’s criticism was not limited to Obama, however, as he pointed out that every American president since Jimmy Carter has made similar missteps in the form of overtures to Iran. In Rubin’s view, this was a mistake in each instance because the Islamic Republic of Iran qualifies as a “rogue state,” something that Rubin demonstrates through reference to its use of terrorism and its attacks on embassies, its regional expansionism, its penchant for public executions and repression of minorities at home, and its general rejection of international norms.

But Rubin’s particular criticism for the Obama administration is that it has not learned the lessons of these past errors, which have emboldened Tehran to continue with its rogue state activities in absence of credible military threats and other such pressures.

Rubin warns that the nature of the Iranian regime means that any perceived leverage on its part will be utilized to facilitate a strategy of brinksmanship, and that any concessions that are offered to it, as in the form of the 11 billion dollars in sanctions relief already provided by the Obama administration, will only be re-invested in dangerous, rogue-state activities.

Rubin suggests that Obama has effectively given away crucial American leverage by reversing a trend of internationally-imposed economic contraction while also providing Tehran with the equivalent of two years’ operating budget for the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. Indeed, under the presidency of Hassan Rouhani, whom Rubin sarcastically refers to as a “reformer-by-comparison” with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the IRGC has been slated to receive a nearly two-thirds increase in funding in the forthcoming Iranian year.

Ironically, and also reflective of Iran’s rogue state status, this arrangement comes in spite of political sparring that has been ongoing between the Rouhani administration and the more visibly hardline elements of the ruling system, including the IRGC.

An article in IranWire on Monday described how the administration and the IRGC have recently used prosecution of corrupt officials in order to score political points over one another but in the process have exposed that both sides of that political competition are similarly culpable for the very corruption that they are supposedly targeting.

The latest arrest on corruption charges took place on March 5 and the IRGC reported that the unnamed individual had significant ties to President Rouhani. However, previous targets have had similar ties to the IRGC, which is well-known to have financial interests in the black market through which sanctioned goods are smuggled into the country.

IranWire indicates that all those who have actually been prosecuted for financial crimes have essentially been “fall guys” for a much more deeply rooted problem. In his court case, one of these individuals declared his corrupt activities to be tantamount to “taking a bucket of water from the sea.”

These domestic trends help to support Rubin’s characterization of Iran as a rogue state, and they point to some of the effects that that status has upon the citizenry. But for analysts like Rubin, the most important aspects of that regime’s behavior have to do with its foreign policy activities and its militarism. This was on display from several angles on Monday.

In the first place, the Jerusalem Post reports that the Islamic Republic unveiled yet another addition to its ever-growing missile arsenal on Sunday. The Soumar missile has a range of more than 1,500 miles according to analysts, making it a 25 percent improvement over the country’s previous missile range and putting Europe well within range of an Iranian attack.

Secondly, on Monday Iran was reportedly prepared to launch a new 90-yard, 1,300-ton warship in the Caspian Sea, according to the Times of Israel. Iranian naval commander Admiral Habibollah Sayyari described the Damavand destroyer as faster and more agile than other Iranian ships of its kind. While the first such ship may give Iran increased leverage over a waterway that lacks clear territorial boundaries, three additional Damavands may eventually be launched from the south of the country, strengthening Iran’s naval presence in and around the Persian Gulf.

It may not be obvious that these and other shows of force are aimed at standing up against Western interests, but other pieces of news from the start of this week serve as effective reminders of whom the Islamic Republic considers to be its enemies.

Thomson Reuters reports that the FBI has increased from one million to five million dollars the reward that it is offering for information leading to the safe return of Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent and private investigator who disappeared from Iran’s Kish Island in 2007. His family received indications that he was alive as late as April 2011, but the Iranian government has made no acknowledgement of his case.

While Levinson’s background makes claims of espionage at least modestly credible, other American citizens are known to be held in Iran today for no reason other than their association with a declared enemy of the Islamic Republic. These include Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian and Christian Pastor Saeed Abedini. Some analysts speculate that Tehran views such individuals as potential sources of leverage in international relations, a possibility that further underscores Rubin’s warning about the perils of negotiating without precondition with a rogue state like Iran.