Commentary Magazine


Topic: Green Movement

The Green Movement: A Work in Progress

The Foreign Policy Initiative hosted a timely program in Washington, D.C., this morning entitled Iran: Prospects for Regime Change. It comes at a time when the Obama administration is inching toward itty-bitty sanctions and has apparently rejected a serious policy of advancing the Green Movement’s efforts at regime change. Reuel Gerecht of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, Mehdi Khalaji of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and Mohsen Sazegara of the Research Institute for Contemporary Iran had a thoughtful discussion moderated by Bill Kristol.

Several key points emerged from the panel. First, the Green Movement is a work in progress. While we may look toward the end goal of regime change — toppling of the supreme leader — it has, as do most revolutionary movements, intermediary goals, the first of which Khalaji describes as the delegitimatization of the regime — which he contends has been largely successful within Iran, especially among the middle and upper classes in the first year of the Green Movement. He cautions  that “the Movement is young,” but it has already expanded geographically beyond Tehran to new social groups and to labor organizations. Those who contend the Movement has failed because the regime is still in place miss the ongoing process of revolutionary movements — delegitimazation to paralysis to regime change.

Second, the greatest hope for the movement is the loss of legitimacy and the isolation of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. As Sazegara explained, loyalty to Khamenei has replaced ideology or constitutional authority as the essence of the regime, casting as “soldiers of the cultural invasion every influential human being” who is not entirely loyal to the supreme leader. As a result, Khamenei is increasingly isolated. Sazegara notes that “every move was wrong” since the June 12 election — fueling opposition and solidarity against a regime increasingly viewed as corrupt and brutal.

Third, the Green Movement is  making efforts to reach out to the under class, which remains Ahmadinejad’s  base of support. The message will need to tie economic opportunity to political freedom to complete the process of undercutting the regime’s final base of popular support.

Fourth, the Revolutionary Guard, which was previously comprised of those who were ideologically motivated and dedicated to defense of the regime, is increasingly corrupt and needs to be “subsidized.” As the Guard has expanded, the opportunity for factions, rivalries, and divisions has also multiplied.

Finally, the U.S. can play a role. As Sazegara noted, “Every move, even indifference, affects the internal situation in Iran.” Silence in the face of brutality emboldens the regime and demoralizes those seeking to exploit its weaknesses. Efforts to aid the Green Movement’s essential communication tools — internet and satellite TV — can have a meaningful impact.  Gerecht summed up that in the 1980s,  it was apparent that “the regime was losing legitimacy. That process has only accelerated.” The Green Movement, he explains, “owns the middle and upper classes. The regime can’t replicate itself.” He urged those hoping for regime change to “be more patient. The regime has lost the best and the brightest. It eats its own.”

That the Obama administration has so obviously turned its back on the Green Movement and instead has gone out of its way to confer legitimacy on the brutal regime is a great moral and geopolitical failing. What the panel made clear is that the Obama adminstration is also missing a critical opportunity to assist and accelerate a movement that is steadily undermining the Islamic dictatorship.

The Foreign Policy Initiative hosted a timely program in Washington, D.C., this morning entitled Iran: Prospects for Regime Change. It comes at a time when the Obama administration is inching toward itty-bitty sanctions and has apparently rejected a serious policy of advancing the Green Movement’s efforts at regime change. Reuel Gerecht of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, Mehdi Khalaji of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and Mohsen Sazegara of the Research Institute for Contemporary Iran had a thoughtful discussion moderated by Bill Kristol.

Several key points emerged from the panel. First, the Green Movement is a work in progress. While we may look toward the end goal of regime change — toppling of the supreme leader — it has, as do most revolutionary movements, intermediary goals, the first of which Khalaji describes as the delegitimatization of the regime — which he contends has been largely successful within Iran, especially among the middle and upper classes in the first year of the Green Movement. He cautions  that “the Movement is young,” but it has already expanded geographically beyond Tehran to new social groups and to labor organizations. Those who contend the Movement has failed because the regime is still in place miss the ongoing process of revolutionary movements — delegitimazation to paralysis to regime change.

Second, the greatest hope for the movement is the loss of legitimacy and the isolation of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. As Sazegara explained, loyalty to Khamenei has replaced ideology or constitutional authority as the essence of the regime, casting as “soldiers of the cultural invasion every influential human being” who is not entirely loyal to the supreme leader. As a result, Khamenei is increasingly isolated. Sazegara notes that “every move was wrong” since the June 12 election — fueling opposition and solidarity against a regime increasingly viewed as corrupt and brutal.

Third, the Green Movement is  making efforts to reach out to the under class, which remains Ahmadinejad’s  base of support. The message will need to tie economic opportunity to political freedom to complete the process of undercutting the regime’s final base of popular support.

Fourth, the Revolutionary Guard, which was previously comprised of those who were ideologically motivated and dedicated to defense of the regime, is increasingly corrupt and needs to be “subsidized.” As the Guard has expanded, the opportunity for factions, rivalries, and divisions has also multiplied.

Finally, the U.S. can play a role. As Sazegara noted, “Every move, even indifference, affects the internal situation in Iran.” Silence in the face of brutality emboldens the regime and demoralizes those seeking to exploit its weaknesses. Efforts to aid the Green Movement’s essential communication tools — internet and satellite TV — can have a meaningful impact.  Gerecht summed up that in the 1980s,  it was apparent that “the regime was losing legitimacy. That process has only accelerated.” The Green Movement, he explains, “owns the middle and upper classes. The regime can’t replicate itself.” He urged those hoping for regime change to “be more patient. The regime has lost the best and the brightest. It eats its own.”

That the Obama administration has so obviously turned its back on the Green Movement and instead has gone out of its way to confer legitimacy on the brutal regime is a great moral and geopolitical failing. What the panel made clear is that the Obama adminstration is also missing a critical opportunity to assist and accelerate a movement that is steadily undermining the Islamic dictatorship.

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Obami Pushing Israel to Act Unilaterally?

The Obami are promising another round of sanctions aimed at Iran. This will be the fourth round, and we should not, judging from press reports, expect them to be “crippling.” As Bill Kristol noted on Fox News Sunday:

The only things that can stop the Iranian nuclear program are — would be the success of the green movement in Iran, which the Obama administration has done nothing to help and remains incredibly indifferent to and standoffish to on the one hand, or military action on the other, which the Obama administration seems uninterested in doing and I’m afraid is setting up a situation where Israel will feel it has to act.

The abject lack of seriousness from the Obama administration — its disinclination to even suggest the use of force or to aid the Green Movement in any meaningful way — has not gone unnoticed either here or in Israel. At the AIPAC conference, the contrast between Hillary Clinton’s platitudinous “unacceptable” formulation and Tony Blair’s “whatever it takes” phraseology was hard to ignore. And, as Kristol points out, even doves in Israel like Ephraim Sneh, a former deputy defense minister, are talking about the need for an Israeli strike on Iran this year, absent the implementation of “crippling sanctions.” (“An Israeli military campaign against Iran’s nuclear installations is likely to cripple that country’s nuclear project for a number of years. The retaliation against Israel would be painful, but bearable.”)

We can speculate as to whether the Obami’s assault on Netanyahu over the Jerusalem housing permit was meant to stymie Israel’s plans for such action. If so, this is yet another gross error in judgment by the Obami, who have an exaggerated sense of their own ability to bully those who interfere with their plans. As fraught with peril as an Israeli military operation might be and as unseemly as it might be for the U.S. to stand idly by — ignoring its role as leader of the West and shrinking from its international responsibilities — Israel, if faced with the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran and a recalcitrant U.S. administration, will have no choice but to act in its own defense. Netanyahu said it clearly last month, no doubt to put the administration as well as the mullahs on notice. (“The future of the Jewish state can never depend on the goodwill of even the greatest of men. Israel must always reserve the right to defend itself.”)

By publicly savaging the Israeli government and making apparent just how not solid is the current relationship between the U.S. and Israel, the Obami are encouraging, not dissuading, the Israeli government to take matters into its own hands. Given the treatment by the Obama administration, what Israeli government could place its trust and the fate of the Jewish state in the Obami’s hands? It would be foolish and irresponsible — and the Israelis are neither. And once again we see that the folly-ridden Obama Middle East policy — engagement with Iran, renunciation of force, clubbing its closest ally — is creating a more dangerous and volatile world for the U.S. and its allies.

The Obami are promising another round of sanctions aimed at Iran. This will be the fourth round, and we should not, judging from press reports, expect them to be “crippling.” As Bill Kristol noted on Fox News Sunday:

The only things that can stop the Iranian nuclear program are — would be the success of the green movement in Iran, which the Obama administration has done nothing to help and remains incredibly indifferent to and standoffish to on the one hand, or military action on the other, which the Obama administration seems uninterested in doing and I’m afraid is setting up a situation where Israel will feel it has to act.

The abject lack of seriousness from the Obama administration — its disinclination to even suggest the use of force or to aid the Green Movement in any meaningful way — has not gone unnoticed either here or in Israel. At the AIPAC conference, the contrast between Hillary Clinton’s platitudinous “unacceptable” formulation and Tony Blair’s “whatever it takes” phraseology was hard to ignore. And, as Kristol points out, even doves in Israel like Ephraim Sneh, a former deputy defense minister, are talking about the need for an Israeli strike on Iran this year, absent the implementation of “crippling sanctions.” (“An Israeli military campaign against Iran’s nuclear installations is likely to cripple that country’s nuclear project for a number of years. The retaliation against Israel would be painful, but bearable.”)

We can speculate as to whether the Obami’s assault on Netanyahu over the Jerusalem housing permit was meant to stymie Israel’s plans for such action. If so, this is yet another gross error in judgment by the Obami, who have an exaggerated sense of their own ability to bully those who interfere with their plans. As fraught with peril as an Israeli military operation might be and as unseemly as it might be for the U.S. to stand idly by — ignoring its role as leader of the West and shrinking from its international responsibilities — Israel, if faced with the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran and a recalcitrant U.S. administration, will have no choice but to act in its own defense. Netanyahu said it clearly last month, no doubt to put the administration as well as the mullahs on notice. (“The future of the Jewish state can never depend on the goodwill of even the greatest of men. Israel must always reserve the right to defend itself.”)

By publicly savaging the Israeli government and making apparent just how not solid is the current relationship between the U.S. and Israel, the Obami are encouraging, not dissuading, the Israeli government to take matters into its own hands. Given the treatment by the Obama administration, what Israeli government could place its trust and the fate of the Jewish state in the Obami’s hands? It would be foolish and irresponsible — and the Israelis are neither. And once again we see that the folly-ridden Obama Middle East policy — engagement with Iran, renunciation of force, clubbing its closest ally — is creating a more dangerous and volatile world for the U.S. and its allies.

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Give Green a Chance

The Obama administration is working to convince the United Nations Security Council to impose yet another round of sanctions on Iran. Those efforts have to overcome the recalcitrance of China, Russia, and other Security Council members. But even if the effort succeeds, how much impact will it have? To judge by the historical evidence, not much. The New York Times ran a fascinating article last Sunday with a horrifying headline that sums it all up: “U.S. Enriches Companies Defying Its Policy on Iran.”

The article examines the implementation of the Iran Sanctions Act of 1996 — legislation passed by Congress and signed by President Clinton that is far tougher than anything the Security Council might approve. It imposes, in theory at least, major American sanctions on companies that invest in Iran’s energy sector or its nuclear or missile programs:

The law gives the president a menu of possible punishments he can choose to levy against offending companies. Not only do they risk losing federal contracts, but they can also be prevented from receiving Export-Import Bank loans, obtaining American bank loans over $10 million in a given year, exporting their goods to the United States, purchasing licensed American military technology and, in the case of financial firms, serving as a primary dealer in United States government bonds or as a repository for government funds.

It is well known that not a single company has actually been sanctioned under the act. The administrations of Clinton, Bush (yes Bush!), and Obama have all refused to act in ways that might hinder relations with the European Union, China, Japan, India, or other countries whose firms do big business in Iran. But the Times account makes clear that the situation is even more ludicrous. Far from sanctioning companies doing business with Iran, the federal government has awarded them “more than $107 billion in contract payments, grants and other benefits over the past decade.”

Both houses of Congress recently have passed legislation, now heading for reconciliation, that will toughen up the existing sanctions on Iran’s oil sector. But if existing sanctions aren’t being enforced, what hope is there for future sanctions, whether they come from Congress or the United Nations? The U.S. and its allies simply have not displayed the will to get tough with Iran. With time running short before Iran has the capability to field nukes, it’s time to look at other alternatives — starting with more support for the Green Movement. Between 2003 and 2009, we spent an average of more than $100 billion a year on the Iraq war. Imagine what only a small portion of that that money — say $10 billion, or one month’s worth of operations in Iraq — could achieve if given to groups working for the peaceful overthrow of the Iranian regime. That, to me, seems a more rewarding approach than sanctions, which have failed time and again.

The Obama administration is working to convince the United Nations Security Council to impose yet another round of sanctions on Iran. Those efforts have to overcome the recalcitrance of China, Russia, and other Security Council members. But even if the effort succeeds, how much impact will it have? To judge by the historical evidence, not much. The New York Times ran a fascinating article last Sunday with a horrifying headline that sums it all up: “U.S. Enriches Companies Defying Its Policy on Iran.”

The article examines the implementation of the Iran Sanctions Act of 1996 — legislation passed by Congress and signed by President Clinton that is far tougher than anything the Security Council might approve. It imposes, in theory at least, major American sanctions on companies that invest in Iran’s energy sector or its nuclear or missile programs:

The law gives the president a menu of possible punishments he can choose to levy against offending companies. Not only do they risk losing federal contracts, but they can also be prevented from receiving Export-Import Bank loans, obtaining American bank loans over $10 million in a given year, exporting their goods to the United States, purchasing licensed American military technology and, in the case of financial firms, serving as a primary dealer in United States government bonds or as a repository for government funds.

It is well known that not a single company has actually been sanctioned under the act. The administrations of Clinton, Bush (yes Bush!), and Obama have all refused to act in ways that might hinder relations with the European Union, China, Japan, India, or other countries whose firms do big business in Iran. But the Times account makes clear that the situation is even more ludicrous. Far from sanctioning companies doing business with Iran, the federal government has awarded them “more than $107 billion in contract payments, grants and other benefits over the past decade.”

Both houses of Congress recently have passed legislation, now heading for reconciliation, that will toughen up the existing sanctions on Iran’s oil sector. But if existing sanctions aren’t being enforced, what hope is there for future sanctions, whether they come from Congress or the United Nations? The U.S. and its allies simply have not displayed the will to get tough with Iran. With time running short before Iran has the capability to field nukes, it’s time to look at other alternatives — starting with more support for the Green Movement. Between 2003 and 2009, we spent an average of more than $100 billion a year on the Iraq war. Imagine what only a small portion of that that money — say $10 billion, or one month’s worth of operations in Iraq — could achieve if given to groups working for the peaceful overthrow of the Iranian regime. That, to me, seems a more rewarding approach than sanctions, which have failed time and again.

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Any Hope for a Change in Iran Policy?

On Fox News Sunday, the roundtable discussed Obama’s Iran policy. Indeed, none of the participants was exactly sure there is an Iran policy, or if there were, who is making it. What is clear is that we have an opening to do something more productive than the kabuki dance of engagement with the release of the International Atomic Energy Agency report. Bill Kristol inquired:

“If the Obama administration is serious about stopping Iran from getting nuclear weapons, we now have the authoritative international agency, which in the past has been somewhat hostile to U.S. analysis, now explicitly saying they have, as Susan Rice, our U.N. ambassador, said, been flouting their international obligations. And then the question is simply is the administration going to get serious, or are we going to — is our response to their past flouting of international obligations to — let’s have some more international obligations, let’s spend months getting a meaningless resolution through the Security Council, or let’s spent months even working on very targeted, limited sanctions against the Revolutionary Guard corps, or are we going to be serious about doing gasoline sanctions and insurance sanctions, the two that would really make a big difference on Iran? And are we going to be serious about helping the Green Movement there possibly topple the regime?”

Most who have followed the Obama administration’s excuse-filled year of do-nothingness have a sinking feeling that the Obami won’t push for serious sanctions or make an effort to get behind the Green Movement. The most recent indications (especially the bizarrely counterproductive comments that we won’t consider military force) suggest the Obami are in the mode of doing the least possible so as to not be accused of doing absolutely nothing. But, they are doing nothing that might actually set back the Iranian nuclear program.

Mara Liasson on the roundtable senses we are evolving toward a “much tougher, more confrontational, you know, Hillary Clinton-esque approach to Iran.” Unfortunately, it was Clinton who took the potential for military force off the table, and it has been Clinton talking in circles about engagement. So if we’re now banking on Clinton to devise a robust, regime-change, sanctions-serious alternative to engagement, I think we’re bound to be disappointed. Because, you know, the Hillary Clinton-esque approach, like the James Jones approach, is pretty much the Barack Obama approach. That is and will remain, I would suggest, one of conflict avoidance at all costs. And the cost will be huge if, in fact, Obama presides over an enfeebled policy that allows Iran to go nuclear.

On Fox News Sunday, the roundtable discussed Obama’s Iran policy. Indeed, none of the participants was exactly sure there is an Iran policy, or if there were, who is making it. What is clear is that we have an opening to do something more productive than the kabuki dance of engagement with the release of the International Atomic Energy Agency report. Bill Kristol inquired:

“If the Obama administration is serious about stopping Iran from getting nuclear weapons, we now have the authoritative international agency, which in the past has been somewhat hostile to U.S. analysis, now explicitly saying they have, as Susan Rice, our U.N. ambassador, said, been flouting their international obligations. And then the question is simply is the administration going to get serious, or are we going to — is our response to their past flouting of international obligations to — let’s have some more international obligations, let’s spend months getting a meaningless resolution through the Security Council, or let’s spent months even working on very targeted, limited sanctions against the Revolutionary Guard corps, or are we going to be serious about doing gasoline sanctions and insurance sanctions, the two that would really make a big difference on Iran? And are we going to be serious about helping the Green Movement there possibly topple the regime?”

Most who have followed the Obama administration’s excuse-filled year of do-nothingness have a sinking feeling that the Obami won’t push for serious sanctions or make an effort to get behind the Green Movement. The most recent indications (especially the bizarrely counterproductive comments that we won’t consider military force) suggest the Obami are in the mode of doing the least possible so as to not be accused of doing absolutely nothing. But, they are doing nothing that might actually set back the Iranian nuclear program.

Mara Liasson on the roundtable senses we are evolving toward a “much tougher, more confrontational, you know, Hillary Clinton-esque approach to Iran.” Unfortunately, it was Clinton who took the potential for military force off the table, and it has been Clinton talking in circles about engagement. So if we’re now banking on Clinton to devise a robust, regime-change, sanctions-serious alternative to engagement, I think we’re bound to be disappointed. Because, you know, the Hillary Clinton-esque approach, like the James Jones approach, is pretty much the Barack Obama approach. That is and will remain, I would suggest, one of conflict avoidance at all costs. And the cost will be huge if, in fact, Obama presides over an enfeebled policy that allows Iran to go nuclear.

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Is Iran’s Choice Between Theocracy and Totalitarianism?

There has been no shortage of commentary trying to dissuade Americans from taking the Iran nuclear threat seriously. The arguments run the gamut from attempts to show that Iran’s leadership is reasonable to attempts to assert that it is the Islamic Republic’s right to develop nukes. But one of the consistent themes we’ve heard in the last year is that the Western emphasis on the statements and ill intentions of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is wrongheaded. Time and again, we have been told that, as unpleasant as the Holocaust-denying and Israel-hating Ahmadinejad may be, he is not the real source of power in Iran. Rather, we are reminded, it is Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei we should worry about. In the view of apologists for the rogue regime, the focus on the loathsome Ahmadinejad merely demonizes Iran rather than dealing with it.

That argument was undermined by the events of the past summer, when the Islamist government went all out to steal the presidential election for Ahmadinejad. If he were just Khamenei’s errand boy, why would the ayatollahs unleash its religious militia to murder and intimidate the masses of Iranians who took to the streets to protest the stolen election? At the very least, Khamenei’s decision to stand by Ahmadinejad, even at the price of the regime’s internal legitimacy, illustrated that the president is a key part of the ayatollahs’ plan to hold onto power, if not an essential element of the regime, itself.

But now, as President Obama is mounting a half-hearted and belated attempt to enact sanctions against Iran for its refusal to halt its nuclear program, there comes a different point of view about Ahmadinejad’s importance. Jamsheed K. Choksy of Indiana University writes in Newsweek that not only is Ahmadinejad nobody’s errand boy but he has also become an independent power in his own right who may be challenging the ayatollahs.

According to Choksy, Ahmadinejad is regularly defying Khamenei and may have a different view about confronting the West than his alleged master. Choksy claims that Ahmadinejad, who has heretofore been considered an ardent backer of the theocracy, is putting forward a more pragmatic and less dogmatically religious approach to governance, including championing the rights of women. This may sound hopeful to some who would like to think that, even without foreign pressure or support for an internal rebellion, Iran ultimately could be able to reform itself and become a more moderate nation.

But don’t get too excited. The sort of government that Ahmadinejad might be aiming for may actually be more repressive and nationalistic than the current one. For Choksy, an Ahmadinejad victory over the mullahs will not be a victory for liberalism: “Together with the IRGC [the Iranian Revolutionary Guard] and Basij (a volunteer paramilitary group that has attacked opposition protesters), Ahmadinejad and his ilk are turning to totalitarianism, rather than the fundamentalism of Shiite clerics, to suppress the steadily growing democratic aspirations of the Green Movement.”

If Choksy is right, we ought not to be cheering for Ahmadinejad and his violent allies to take control from the clerics. But if this potential conflict is real, and that is far from certain, what it does mean is that there is more reason than ever for the United States to push hard for crippling sanctions on Iran as well as to speak up for the democracy movement. We cannot sit back and wait until we are faced with either a nuclear totalitarian Iran or a nuclear theocratic Iran. Either would be a disaster and a deadly threat to peace.  If there is a real division between the rogues that run Iran, now is the time to put the maximum amount of pressure on these tyrants.

There has been no shortage of commentary trying to dissuade Americans from taking the Iran nuclear threat seriously. The arguments run the gamut from attempts to show that Iran’s leadership is reasonable to attempts to assert that it is the Islamic Republic’s right to develop nukes. But one of the consistent themes we’ve heard in the last year is that the Western emphasis on the statements and ill intentions of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is wrongheaded. Time and again, we have been told that, as unpleasant as the Holocaust-denying and Israel-hating Ahmadinejad may be, he is not the real source of power in Iran. Rather, we are reminded, it is Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei we should worry about. In the view of apologists for the rogue regime, the focus on the loathsome Ahmadinejad merely demonizes Iran rather than dealing with it.

That argument was undermined by the events of the past summer, when the Islamist government went all out to steal the presidential election for Ahmadinejad. If he were just Khamenei’s errand boy, why would the ayatollahs unleash its religious militia to murder and intimidate the masses of Iranians who took to the streets to protest the stolen election? At the very least, Khamenei’s decision to stand by Ahmadinejad, even at the price of the regime’s internal legitimacy, illustrated that the president is a key part of the ayatollahs’ plan to hold onto power, if not an essential element of the regime, itself.

But now, as President Obama is mounting a half-hearted and belated attempt to enact sanctions against Iran for its refusal to halt its nuclear program, there comes a different point of view about Ahmadinejad’s importance. Jamsheed K. Choksy of Indiana University writes in Newsweek that not only is Ahmadinejad nobody’s errand boy but he has also become an independent power in his own right who may be challenging the ayatollahs.

According to Choksy, Ahmadinejad is regularly defying Khamenei and may have a different view about confronting the West than his alleged master. Choksy claims that Ahmadinejad, who has heretofore been considered an ardent backer of the theocracy, is putting forward a more pragmatic and less dogmatically religious approach to governance, including championing the rights of women. This may sound hopeful to some who would like to think that, even without foreign pressure or support for an internal rebellion, Iran ultimately could be able to reform itself and become a more moderate nation.

But don’t get too excited. The sort of government that Ahmadinejad might be aiming for may actually be more repressive and nationalistic than the current one. For Choksy, an Ahmadinejad victory over the mullahs will not be a victory for liberalism: “Together with the IRGC [the Iranian Revolutionary Guard] and Basij (a volunteer paramilitary group that has attacked opposition protesters), Ahmadinejad and his ilk are turning to totalitarianism, rather than the fundamentalism of Shiite clerics, to suppress the steadily growing democratic aspirations of the Green Movement.”

If Choksy is right, we ought not to be cheering for Ahmadinejad and his violent allies to take control from the clerics. But if this potential conflict is real, and that is far from certain, what it does mean is that there is more reason than ever for the United States to push hard for crippling sanctions on Iran as well as to speak up for the democracy movement. We cannot sit back and wait until we are faced with either a nuclear totalitarian Iran or a nuclear theocratic Iran. Either would be a disaster and a deadly threat to peace.  If there is a real division between the rogues that run Iran, now is the time to put the maximum amount of pressure on these tyrants.

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Defenders of NIAC

Since Eli Lake’s blockbuster story and the follow-up by Ben Smith — which revealed, among other things, that the NIAC has been seeking to dislodge Dennis Ross, working to defund Iranian democratic activists, misrepresenting itself as the broad-based representative of the American Iranian community, and actively lobbying the U.S. government without registering as a foreign agent — a curious phenomenon has occurred. The Left and those self-proclaimed non-Leftists who nevertheless uphold each and every one of the Left’s positions have come rushing to the defense of the NIAC and of the now embattled Trita Parsi (who turns out not to be an Iranian-American at all, although that’s been part of his spiel).

Weren’t these the folks painting their websites green and crying crocodile tears over the mullahs’ brutality? Why are they now in the business of flaking for the mullahs’ flak? Take one point: the accusation that the man being sued by the NIAC is a terrorist, Hassan Daioleslam. (The litigation has, it seems, provided the documents that now are the source of the NIAC scandal.) Daniel Luban breathlessly asserts: “Daioleslam is an unsavory character, said by multiple sources to be affiliated with the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK, or MKO) — a terrorist group (classified as such by the State Department) with close ties to the Saddam Hussein regime.” Now that’s a serious charge. Where is the proof that this man is a terrorist, and who are these multiple sources? Did Luban check with Daioleslam, as Eli Lake meticulously checked with each source in his account? Or is this another element in the Leftist smear-fest? And the “our critics are MEK terrorists” line is, surprise, surprise, right out of the NIAC playbook.

But because the story involved no gynecological intrigue, Andrew Sullivan — who surely seemed to be on the side of the democracy protesters whom Parsi conspired to defund — decided that there was no story there at all. And he seems to be very, very confused regarding who’s on the side of the Greens here (“Smearing the non-neocon Green opposition as essentially pro-Khamenei solidifies the neoconservative war project.”) Uh, actually it is Parsi and his J Street friends who were in the business of fending off opposition to the Iranian regime and depriving the Greens and democracy organizations of funds and support. He really thinks the Green movement and its American supporters look upon Parsi as their ally? (As Lake details, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, the Iranian filmmaker and defender of the Green Movement abroad, explained: “I think Trita Parsi does not belong to the Green Movement. I feel his lobbying has secretly been more for the Islamic Republic.”) Well, if Sullivan can get to the bottom of Sarah Palin’s faked pregnancy, then anything is possible, I suppose.

This hue and cry, the mimicking of the NIAC line, and the utter absence of facts to rebut Lake’s account suggest that the name of the game here is distraction. For after all, what can they say — that Parsi really represents the American-Iranian community? Well, 2,500-3,000 members isn’t much. That he’s not been pushing the mullahs’ line to further their uranium-enrichment ambitions? But he has, as he assures us:

The current nuclear impasse is partly rooted in the questionable assumption that zero enrichment is the only route to avoid an Iranian bomb. While the optimal situation is one in which Iran does not enrich, this goal is no longer possible. . . But that does not mean that a small-scale Iranian enrichment program is tantamount to a nuclear bomb. According to nuclear experts like Bruno Pellaud, former deputy director general and head of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Department of Safeguards, intrusive inspections is the best tool to ensure that Iran doesn’t divert its civilian program into a military one. Yet these inspections can only take place as part of a package deal with Iran that includes some level of enrichment. This makes reassessment of the zero-enrichment objective all the more important.

At some point the NIAC, Parsi, and those who consorted with them to influence U.S. policy, to oust Dennis Ross, to cut off funds to the democracy dissidents, and to push the mullahs’ propaganda line will have to face tough questions. And so will those who went out on a limb to defend them with nothing more than smears against those who exposed them.

UPDATE: Beyond whether the NIAC registered as a foreign agent is the more glaring issue as to why the group and its officials were not not registered as lobbyists. As Ben Smith wrote, the documents that have come to light “bolster the notion that the group works to change U.S. policy, part of the definition of lobbying.”

Since Eli Lake’s blockbuster story and the follow-up by Ben Smith — which revealed, among other things, that the NIAC has been seeking to dislodge Dennis Ross, working to defund Iranian democratic activists, misrepresenting itself as the broad-based representative of the American Iranian community, and actively lobbying the U.S. government without registering as a foreign agent — a curious phenomenon has occurred. The Left and those self-proclaimed non-Leftists who nevertheless uphold each and every one of the Left’s positions have come rushing to the defense of the NIAC and of the now embattled Trita Parsi (who turns out not to be an Iranian-American at all, although that’s been part of his spiel).

Weren’t these the folks painting their websites green and crying crocodile tears over the mullahs’ brutality? Why are they now in the business of flaking for the mullahs’ flak? Take one point: the accusation that the man being sued by the NIAC is a terrorist, Hassan Daioleslam. (The litigation has, it seems, provided the documents that now are the source of the NIAC scandal.) Daniel Luban breathlessly asserts: “Daioleslam is an unsavory character, said by multiple sources to be affiliated with the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK, or MKO) — a terrorist group (classified as such by the State Department) with close ties to the Saddam Hussein regime.” Now that’s a serious charge. Where is the proof that this man is a terrorist, and who are these multiple sources? Did Luban check with Daioleslam, as Eli Lake meticulously checked with each source in his account? Or is this another element in the Leftist smear-fest? And the “our critics are MEK terrorists” line is, surprise, surprise, right out of the NIAC playbook.

But because the story involved no gynecological intrigue, Andrew Sullivan — who surely seemed to be on the side of the democracy protesters whom Parsi conspired to defund — decided that there was no story there at all. And he seems to be very, very confused regarding who’s on the side of the Greens here (“Smearing the non-neocon Green opposition as essentially pro-Khamenei solidifies the neoconservative war project.”) Uh, actually it is Parsi and his J Street friends who were in the business of fending off opposition to the Iranian regime and depriving the Greens and democracy organizations of funds and support. He really thinks the Green movement and its American supporters look upon Parsi as their ally? (As Lake details, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, the Iranian filmmaker and defender of the Green Movement abroad, explained: “I think Trita Parsi does not belong to the Green Movement. I feel his lobbying has secretly been more for the Islamic Republic.”) Well, if Sullivan can get to the bottom of Sarah Palin’s faked pregnancy, then anything is possible, I suppose.

This hue and cry, the mimicking of the NIAC line, and the utter absence of facts to rebut Lake’s account suggest that the name of the game here is distraction. For after all, what can they say — that Parsi really represents the American-Iranian community? Well, 2,500-3,000 members isn’t much. That he’s not been pushing the mullahs’ line to further their uranium-enrichment ambitions? But he has, as he assures us:

The current nuclear impasse is partly rooted in the questionable assumption that zero enrichment is the only route to avoid an Iranian bomb. While the optimal situation is one in which Iran does not enrich, this goal is no longer possible. . . But that does not mean that a small-scale Iranian enrichment program is tantamount to a nuclear bomb. According to nuclear experts like Bruno Pellaud, former deputy director general and head of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Department of Safeguards, intrusive inspections is the best tool to ensure that Iran doesn’t divert its civilian program into a military one. Yet these inspections can only take place as part of a package deal with Iran that includes some level of enrichment. This makes reassessment of the zero-enrichment objective all the more important.

At some point the NIAC, Parsi, and those who consorted with them to influence U.S. policy, to oust Dennis Ross, to cut off funds to the democracy dissidents, and to push the mullahs’ propaganda line will have to face tough questions. And so will those who went out on a limb to defend them with nothing more than smears against those who exposed them.

UPDATE: Beyond whether the NIAC registered as a foreign agent is the more glaring issue as to why the group and its officials were not not registered as lobbyists. As Ben Smith wrote, the documents that have come to light “bolster the notion that the group works to change U.S. policy, part of the definition of lobbying.”

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Eli Lake on NIAC

Eli Lake has a blockbuster story in the Washington Times concerning the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), which made its name as a reliable apologist for the mullahs and has consistently advocated lifting sanctions against the Iranian regime. (Some background is here and here.) NIAC, according to Lake’s report, worked hard to create a media storm over Obama Middle East adviser Dennis Ross, fearing he would advocate a tougher line against the mullahs. Moreover, it turns out NIAC hasn’t played by the rules:

Law enforcement experts who reviewed some of the documents, which were made available to The Times by the defendant in the suit, say e-mails between Mr. Parsi and Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations at the time, Javad Zarif — and an internal review of the Lobbying Disclosure Act — offer evidence that the group has operated as an undeclared lobby and may be guilty of violating tax laws, the Foreign Agents Registration Act and lobbying disclosure laws.

Neither Mr. Parsi nor anyone else at NIAC has registered as a lobbyist or filed papers with the Justice Department as a local agent of the Iranian government or Iranian companies. … Mr. Parsi defended his decision to organize NIAC as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and declare on tax forms that his group does not engage in lobbying — a status that enables donors to deduct contributions on their taxes.

Lake also exposes the NIAC claim to represent “the Iranian community” in America — or least many in it — to be, well, laughable. He explains: “The organization has between 2,500 and 3,000 members, according to Mr. Parsi, but had fewer than 500 responses to a membership survey conducted last summer, internal documents show. Yet NIAC asserts that it is the largest such group and represents the majority of the nearly 1 million Iranian Americans.” Five hundred, 1 million, whatever.

Parsi and NIAC have done their best to insulate the Iranian regime from criticism and to oppose any military or economic action against it. Parsi, you may recall, did his anti-anti-Iran routine recently at J Street’s conference. (J Street and NIAC share a common goal: prevention of sanctions against the regime. In addition, Genevieve Lynch, a NIAC board member, is on J Street’s finance committee and gave a cool $10,000 to the J Street gang.) As Jeffrey Goldberg observed, he does “a lot of leg-work” for the mullahs in the U.S. Lake quotes famed Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf as saying, “I think Trita Parsi does not belong to the Green Movement. I feel his lobbying has secretly been more for the Islamic Republic.”

One other note, John Limbert was a board member of NIAC before recently being named deputy assistant secretary of state for Iran. Lake notes, “Mr. Limbert declined to comment, citing his new position, but has appeared at NIAC conferences in the past and expressed admiration for the organization and for its charismatic leader, Trita Parsi.”

Lake’s bombshell piece will no doubt cause a huge stir among those both within and outside the Obama administration who’ve chosen to cozy up to NIAC, and in turn give the mullahs a helping hand.

Eli Lake has a blockbuster story in the Washington Times concerning the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), which made its name as a reliable apologist for the mullahs and has consistently advocated lifting sanctions against the Iranian regime. (Some background is here and here.) NIAC, according to Lake’s report, worked hard to create a media storm over Obama Middle East adviser Dennis Ross, fearing he would advocate a tougher line against the mullahs. Moreover, it turns out NIAC hasn’t played by the rules:

Law enforcement experts who reviewed some of the documents, which were made available to The Times by the defendant in the suit, say e-mails between Mr. Parsi and Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations at the time, Javad Zarif — and an internal review of the Lobbying Disclosure Act — offer evidence that the group has operated as an undeclared lobby and may be guilty of violating tax laws, the Foreign Agents Registration Act and lobbying disclosure laws.

Neither Mr. Parsi nor anyone else at NIAC has registered as a lobbyist or filed papers with the Justice Department as a local agent of the Iranian government or Iranian companies. … Mr. Parsi defended his decision to organize NIAC as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and declare on tax forms that his group does not engage in lobbying — a status that enables donors to deduct contributions on their taxes.

Lake also exposes the NIAC claim to represent “the Iranian community” in America — or least many in it — to be, well, laughable. He explains: “The organization has between 2,500 and 3,000 members, according to Mr. Parsi, but had fewer than 500 responses to a membership survey conducted last summer, internal documents show. Yet NIAC asserts that it is the largest such group and represents the majority of the nearly 1 million Iranian Americans.” Five hundred, 1 million, whatever.

Parsi and NIAC have done their best to insulate the Iranian regime from criticism and to oppose any military or economic action against it. Parsi, you may recall, did his anti-anti-Iran routine recently at J Street’s conference. (J Street and NIAC share a common goal: prevention of sanctions against the regime. In addition, Genevieve Lynch, a NIAC board member, is on J Street’s finance committee and gave a cool $10,000 to the J Street gang.) As Jeffrey Goldberg observed, he does “a lot of leg-work” for the mullahs in the U.S. Lake quotes famed Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf as saying, “I think Trita Parsi does not belong to the Green Movement. I feel his lobbying has secretly been more for the Islamic Republic.”

One other note, John Limbert was a board member of NIAC before recently being named deputy assistant secretary of state for Iran. Lake notes, “Mr. Limbert declined to comment, citing his new position, but has appeared at NIAC conferences in the past and expressed admiration for the organization and for its charismatic leader, Trita Parsi.”

Lake’s bombshell piece will no doubt cause a huge stir among those both within and outside the Obama administration who’ve chosen to cozy up to NIAC, and in turn give the mullahs a helping hand.

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