Over the last several months, peoples in several Middle Eastern countries have taken to the streets in protest of oppressive governments — reflecting a profound desire for reform and an end to corruption. Many politicians in Washington have hailed these protests and openly encouraged government leaders in the countries affected to take meaningful steps to transition to democratic rule. Except for Iran.
When the Iranian people rose up in June 2009 and began a wide and continuing protest against the Ahmadinejad administration and its religious leaders, all we heard from Washington was a modest degree of lip-service. Meanwhile, scores of Iranian youths wearing green, the color of the opposition, were killed, tortured, or imprisoned.
Iran remains the elephant in the room in terms of U.S. foreign policy. While sanctions have been placed on the country and other punitive diplomatic initiatives imposed, there has been no serious focus on or support for the Achilles Heel of the regime in Tehran — the Iranian people and their organized opposition.
In fact, the past three U.S. administrations have seriously and expressly weakened the ability of opposition forces in Iran to effect positive change. All three have done this by abusing U.S. law that permits the State Department to designate entities as “terrorist organizations” and thereby deny them recognition and access to resources. This is precisely what the federal government for 14 years has done to the single most important and best organized Iranian opposition group, the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK).
The MEK is not in fact a terrorist organization, but was so designated in 1997 by the Clinton Administration to curry favor with Tehran. This ill-placed “goodwill gesture” effectively destroyed the ability of MEK to develop support and raise resources in the U.S. and elsewhere. Both George W. Bush and Barack Obama continued the policy, despite its obvious lack of success at producing any positive changes to the repressive regime in Iran. In fact, a strong argument can be made that continuing to placate Tehran by designating the most important opposition group in the country as a “terrorist organization,” has actually strengthened the regime.
Ramifications of this policy extend also to military and national security concerns. Iran’s continued development of nuclear and missile capabilities very well could be slowed by strengthening, rather than weakening, civil opposition groups. Groups like the MEK are more concerned with increasing freedom within Iran than with saber-rattling and wasting resources on dangerous nuclear weaponry.
To be sure, the MEK is controversial, and other Iranian opposition groups, including those associated with the former Shah, despise it. But being “controversial” is hardly a basis on which to black ball a legitimate political entity whose goals – freeing the Iranian people from the grip of religious zealots – coincide with official U.S. policy.
This view is shared by many leading military, intelligence and diplomatic experts in the United States. Earlier this year, three former Bush Administration officials – Michael Mukasey, Tom Ridge, Frances Fragos Townsend – along with Rudy Giuliani, wrote in the National Review that “MEK is not a terrorist group.” They noted also that the organization had, in fact, proved to be an asset to the United States by “provid[ing] valuable intelligence to the United States on Iranian nuclear plans.” John Bolton, Bush’s former UN Ambassador, concurs in this assessment.
Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle also see the value in helping rather than hurting the MEK — 83 members of the House have co-sponsored a resolution encouraging the State Department to delist the organization.
Ironically, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has made statements publicly supporting “all Iranians who wish for a government that respects their human rights, their dignity and their freedom.” But the gulf between her public statements and official administration policy continuing the unfair and counterproductive punishing of MEK, belies Washington commitment to “human rights, dignity and freedom” in Iran.
by Bob Barr — The Barr Code