Small Wars Journal

Iran and Victimization

Sun, 09/25/2016 - 8:02am

Iran and Victimization

Frank Kisner

In the year after the United States brokered a nuclear deal with Iran, and after reviewing numerous incidents where United States Navy ships, lawfully operating in international waters in the Persian Gulf, are being harassed by Iranian Navy boats, I find myself reflecting on the relations between our two nations, and I come to the following conclusions with regard to Iran, and their self-view as a victim of the United States (otherwise derisively called by them, “the great Satan.”)

Anytime "victimization" is employed as a long-term strategy for support of a goal, an ideology, or a government, there can be no evolution of order on a world stage, and no transformation to a better life for the supporters--by definition, the "victims."  As a means to galvanize support, "victimization" is a powerful catalyst.  Take a look at our own American Revolution--arguably the authors of our Declaration of Independence embraced the idea of "victimization" for the effect it would have on the populace in general, a population that at times was somewhat apathetic towards the idea of an independent nation.  The Declaration is replete with "victimization verbiage," as highlighted in the following extract from that incredible document (with my added emphasis):

"But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.--Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States."

The success of our nation is that, while serving as a rallying cry in 1776, our Founding Fathers "got over it!"  Once Independence had been achieved, and after determining the Articles of Confederation didn't really meet the needs of the new Republic, they turned to crafting our Constitution—and left victimization behind.  Signed in 1787 and ratified (officially) on 21 June 1788 once that ninth State’s vote had been received, the Constitution became our governing principle on 4 March 1789, and has remained the foundation upon which Americans depend.  So almost 12 years to the day after the Declaration of Independence was courageously signed by representatives of 13 colonies, the States which birthed from those colonies looked to the Ideals and Balance of Power captured in our Constitution to define rule of law, and rights--with the acknowledgement that subsequent Amendments have further ratified and provided greater clarity to ideals present in the original document.  And then this new nation looked to normalize relations with its former enemy, and our relations with Great Britain have grown so strong that they are considered in the highest category of our strongest and closest Allies.

So based on my premise that in order for a movement, a government, and most importantly, a population set to grow and evolve, the people must move beyond the "victimization" stage, one can see that it was our Constitution that served and continues to serve as the premier evidence and world-recognized visible representation of that “movement beyond.” 

Let us now examine Iran, and its ability to move beyond its "victimization" stage.  Or, more accurately, let us examine the Iranian government’s INABILITY to move beyond "victimization."  By the very nature of how they define themselves, they continue to embrace victimization.  The most apparent example of this inability is represented in the title given the most employed and most fervent of their armed forces, known formally as the Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution, but more commonly referred to as Iran’s Revolutionary Guards or Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).  The naval component of the IRGC is likewise named the Navy of the Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution, or Revolutionary Guards’ Navy.  The IRGC, to include their special forces Quds Force, is heavily employed in extraterritorial operations in many nations in the Middle East, as well as in the waters of the Persian Gulf—clearly evident as operating in Syria as highlighted in the media, although the IRGC and Quds forces are possibly executing other operations—surveillance, etc., in other parts of the world. 

So what’s in a name—in this case, everything.  Iran’s Revolution Guard--we note that they are "guards of the Revolution," which was an occurrence from the last century, with the overthrow of the Shah in 1979--exists as the heart of Iranian military power.  But even though 37 years have passed since that revolution and the overthrow of the Shah, Iran continues to define itself as victims of the Great Satan (USA), and they continue to employ armed forces (both in uniform and out of uniform) under the title of Revolutionary Guard.  By doing so, these forces serve as a constant reminder of the revolution, which logically means that they derive their legitimacy from the revolution.  Which also means they derive their legitimacy from opposition to the “Great Satan.” 

And if you follow this train of logic, the IRGC, and even the government from which they draw their legitimacy, would be ILLEGITIMATE if relations were ever normalized with the United States.   Because with normalized relations, both Iran and the IRGC would no longer be “victims.”  And after 37 years, how does a government and its most ardent supporters in its armed forces, the IRGC, then turn to the general population and say, “oh never mind, everything we’ve been telling you for the past four decades is no longer valid.”  Basically, they can’t without fear of losing power.

To perpetuate the lie and to reaffirm their existence and raison d’etre, the IRGC must provoke a response from the USA, and the Navy of the Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution is taking increasingly dangerous action to provoke that response.  It is only due to the tremendous professionalism of the United States Navy that Iran has been denied their desired results.  What Iran really wants is for the US to strike...thereby "proving" the "Great Satan" is still a threat to Iran, and thereby serving as a catalyst for demonstrations, national fervor, and an outpouring of support to the IRGC.  So far they have been thwarted, but instead of that being good news, it means they will continue to take a more and more provocative posture in the Gulf. 

I am not advocating the United States turn tail and run.  Far from it, as it would be strategically and diplomatically disadvantageous for us to abandon our international right to maneuver in international waters.  Rather, I am advocating that we identify what is happening, and tell our story now--before a contrived "incident" twists the facts to the point where we lose our ability to illuminate the enemies intent and enemies obvious course of action.  We need to get ahead of the “news cycle,” not only to diffuse possible outcomes, but also to dissuade the IRGC Navy from its provocative actions.

So back to my premise that in order for a movement, a government, and most importantly, a population set to grow and evolve, the people must move beyond the "victimization" stage, Iran is destined to remain a “victim” because its leaders have determined it is in their best interest to do so.  But it would be far better for the international community and for peace, security and stability if Iran would embrace rather than alienate the international community.

About the Author(s)

Frank Kisner retired from the USAF in 2013 after having spent the majority of his Air Force career in Air Force and Joint Special Operations units.  He commanded USAF special operations units at the squadron, group and wing levels, commanded an airlift wing, and was commander Special Operations Command Europe, and the NATO Special Operations Headquarters.  He held staff assignments at Headquarters U.S. Air Force, Joint Special Operations Command, Headquarters Pacific Air Forces, Headquarters U.S. Pacific Command, and Headquarters U.S. Special Operations Command.  He is a graduate of Squadron Officer School, Air Command and Staff College, Army Command and General Staff College (Residence), Air War College, and Naval War College (Residence).


The question that should be asked, that is impolite to ask, is how does the theocratic aspect play into this. Iran is a centrifuge for Islamic revolution, to address that very real aspect is to be labeled an Islamophobe.
I do not doubt the Iranian hierarchy is locked into a cycle of violence that rationalizes a consequence "victimization" of Western ascendancy, but not comparative to the American Revolution which was not a religious war.
The tendency to understate the religious significance of the Iranian theocracy ignores an important aspect of the victimization psychology. The religious aspect remains unaddressed because in this country the country of the "Great Satan", Islam has already gained a position from which it can neither be ridiculed or criticized. In that respect Iran has won a significant victory over the USA.
In turn this fuels the underlying strategy to propagandize the false narrative of Iranian victimization. It isn't a simple rationalization of victimization, it is a sanctification. Unlike the Founding Fathers who have must recently characterized as a bunch of agnostic deists, whether true or false, the rebels and tories may have been blessed in their churches but they were not "crusaders" aka "Jihadis".
Victimization had rested upon a choice the USA made between advocating a Shah that approved despotic measures versus the Soviets candidate. Given what the Soviets did in Afghanistan the Iranian Ayatollahs and Imams should rethink their realpolitik as should their useful idiots and agents of influence in greater democratic modern nations. But the shift from secular exploitation f Iran is characterized today as a frustration of the Iranian global Jihadi intent. Changing the victimization persona and the role of the revolutionaries of 1979.