In the new book Battlegrounds written by Lt. General H.R. McMaster, we gain several important insights on the current state of affairs in Iran. For those who want to see a peaceful and prosperous Middle East, it is worth reading the two highly detailed chapters that McMaster dedicates to understanding Iran and his policy recommendations for the Islamic Republic.
Lt. General H.R. McMaster definitely has the credentials to understand Iran. Between 2017-2018, he served as National Security Advisor to President Trump. That position culminated a distinguished military career of 34 years in the U.S. Army. He also took time off during his career to earn a PhD in American History.
While deployed to Iraq, McMaster came to see firsthand the destructive role of Iran in the Middle East. In 2004, he took command of the 3rd Armored Calvary Regiment. During that time, his unit fought Iraqi insurgents who were funded, trained and equipped by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
McMaster wrote that Iran’s supply of sophisticated roadside bombs to Iraqi insurgents were responsible for the deaths of “…six hundred U.S. soldiers, over 17% of all U.S. deaths in Iraq from 2003 to 2011.”
This one example supports his wider point about how Iran dedicates enormous resources to proxy wars that have destabilized the Middle East in order to “export the Islamic Revolution” and pursue the destruction of Israel.
When seen in its entirety, the list of proxies supported by Iran is astounding. It includes, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza, Kataib Hezbollah and Asaib Ahl al-Haq in Iraq, the Houthi rebels in Yemen and of course Iran’s massive economic and military support for the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad.
The price for the Iran’s proxy wars has been paid for by the blood of the people of the Middle East, while the bill was footed by the people of Iran. McMaster wrote, “From 2008 to 2018, Iran spent $140 billion dollars on its military and combat operations aboard.”
One can only imagine how the lives of average Iranians could have been improved had Iran invested that same $140 billion dollars in nation building at home through the improvement of Iran’s crumbling national infrastructure.
McMaster makes the point that today the people of Iran are suffering not only from the economic sanctions of the United States, but also due to internal factors: the enormous budget that Iran dedicates to sustaining proxy wars -mentioned above- and the endemic corruption of the regime.
McMaster highlights two key aspects of regime corruption: the “bonyads” and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
He explains that the bonyads are, “…religious foundations that provide cover for extensive patronage networks from which the ayatollahs and government officials profit. Bonyads control businesses, receive government contracts, launder money, operate without any external audits and pay no taxes.” The businesses controlled by the bonyads range from “…auto manufacturing to agriculture to oil and gas and financial services.”
The second aspect of regime corruption is the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). The same IRGC that sponsors Iran’s proxy wars throughout the Middle East also controls some 20-40% of the Iranian economy according to McMaster.
At the 2018 Munich Security Conference, McMaster warned, “When you invest in Iran, you’re investing in the IRGC. You might as well cut the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a check and say, ‘please use this to commit more murder across the greater Middle East.”
McMaster makes the point that today the people of Iran are tired of the regime’s corruption and misguided spending priorities.
He concludes his two chapters on Iran by writing, “The IRGC and mullahs in Tehran are in a weakened position. The country’s infrastructure is deteriorating. The corruption of the bonyads and the IRGC-controlled companies are a further drain on the economy.”
The facts speak for themselves. According to a report by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), in 2019 Iran’s GDP shrank by 7.6% and inflation rose above 30%.
These economic hardships have caused massive protests against the regime over the past five years. However, since these uprisings have been brutally suppressed by the IRGC and its thugs, the Iranian people are now voting with their feet.
To make the point, McMaster cites an astonishing fact: “Iranians with the means and opportunity are leaving; the country is experiencing a massive brain drain. Approximately 150,000 educated Iranians emigrate every year.”
As a historian, McMaster draws an interesting historical parallel between the current situation of the Iranian regime and the situation of the Shah before he was overthrown by the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
He wrote, “The Shah fell, in part, because the economy was collapsing, corruption was rife, military spending was excessive and efforts to develop political alternatives to his rule were stifled.”
McMaster argues that for decades the West has tried a conciliatory approach toward Iran that has only encouraged the regime to support proxy wars throughout the region and pursue the development of nuclear weapons.
He concludes his chapter titled “Forcing a Choice” with this important recommendation. He wrote, “… the IRGC and the Iranian regime are particularly vulnerable to a concerted multinational effort to force them to choose between continuing their murderous proxy wars or behaving like a responsible nation.”
Whoever wins the November election for President of the United States should take note of McMaster’s advice. The path recommended by McMaster, the soldier-scholar, is clear: Iran is in a very vulnerable position. Now is the time for a “concerted multinational effort” to force Iran to end its destructive behavior so that there can be a renewal of hope for a better future for the people of Iran and the wider Middle East.