The already overstretched definition of terrorism took a beating today, as the U.S. government announced its intention to add Iran's Revolutionary Guards to its list of foreign terrorist groups. The Revolutionary Guards are a wing of the Iranian military formed after the 1979 revolution specifically to nurture revolutionary goals. These have included, in the intervening generation, a brisk business in exporting the revolution by training foreign militias, such as Lebanese Hezbollah.
The U.S. Administration is doing little to hide that its considerations are political. It is not so much that the Revolutionary Guards fulfill any of the known definitions of terrorism (they are, after all, the army of a sovereign state), that makes the idea of the label compelling. Rather, it is that foreign terrorist groups can be justifiably isolated and sanctioned by the international community, which are two of the things the U.S. would like to do most to Iran right now. As the New York Times reports, the U.S. is waving the threat of terrorist listing not only at Iran, but at the UN Security Council. Indeed,
Senior administration officials said current plans called for the declaration to be made this month, but cautioned that it could be put off, and that the effort could still be set aside if the Security Council moved more quickly to impose broad sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program.
Iran policy aside for the moment, the continued use of the terrorist label in such blatantly political ways will ultimately make the term itself so diffuse and broad as to be meaningless. This is bad not only for dictionaries, but also for all of those areas of international and domestic law, diplomacy and policy where definitions of terrorism are crucial in order to allocate resources and remedies.