Skip to comments.Tough U.S. stance on Iran Emerging strategy against Tehran focuses on strengthening exile groups
Posted on 02/13/2005 5:25:22 PM PST by Khashayar
In recent weeks, the Bush administration has toughened its stand against the fundamentalist Shiite Muslim government of Iran, calling it one of America's key enemies.
But the administration has not yet presented a clear-cut strategy for dealing with Iran, instead hinting alternately that the solution may be European-led negotiations with Tehran, an Israeli military attack or a rebellion led by the Iranian opposition.
The debate has echoes of the fight two years ago over Iraq, and some critics are saying the administration is making the same mistake -- relying on dubious intelligence sources to justify the case for overthrowing a hostile foreign government.
The U.S. threats have come back to back. Vice President Dick Cheney warned that Israel might attack Iran's alleged nuclear weapons sites. President Bush called Iran "the world's primary state sponsor of terror." Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called the Iranian regime "something to be loathed." And the White House left unchallenged media reports that U.S. commandos had been conducting spy missions inside Iran since last summer to prepare for a possible attack.
The tough U.S. stance has differed markedly from the attempt by Britain, France and Germany to negotiate an agreement with Iran over its nuclear facilities. The 2-year-old talks have produced preliminary accords but no final deal. Iran has been unwilling to give up the capacity to enrich nuclear fuel that it says it needs for its civilian nuclear power industry, while the Europeans are unable to meet Iran's key demand -- the guarantee that it will not be attacked by the United States or Israel.
In Europe last week, Rice expressed general support for the Iran negotiations. However, she declined her hosts' request to join the talks or to indicate willingness to offer Iran a security guarantee.
"The strategy of the United States is (to hope) that the Europeans can't deliver on some things Iran wants," said Shireen Hunter, an Iran analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. "The administration is expecting that, by late spring or summer, the European track will fail."
'America stands with you'
In place of negotiations, the administration and many members of Congress seem to be suggesting that the Iranian people should revolt. In his State of the Union speech, Bush seemed to signal such an approach, saying, "To the Iranian people, I say tonight: As you stand for your own liberty, America stands with you."
Last month, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., introduced the Iran Freedom Support Act, which would authorize direct aid to opposition radio and television stations. The bill was co-sponsored by Rep. Tom Lantos, D-San Mateo, and 49 other House members. A likely recipient of this aid would be NITV, a Los Angeles satellite station that beams its programs into Iran 24 hours a day.
"We think what is needed in Iran is not bullets but information about democracy," said Zia Atabay, a former Iranian pop star who is president of NITV and leads one of its news programs. "The United States has to provoke a democratic discussion in Iran."
Atabay's station is the most prominent foreign-based media outlet to Iran, and its views generally represent the 1 million Iranians in the United States, many of whom live in Southern California and went into exile when the monarchy was overthrown in the 1979 revolution.
Many proponents of this approach call it the "Solidarity strategy," likening it to the U.S. aid to the union-led opposition in Poland in the 1980s that eventually succeeded in overthrowing that country's communist regime.
But Iran's opposition has no equivalent to Solidarity, and its political parties, student groups and nongovernmental organizations are divided and in retreat as the government continues a gradual crackdown on dissent.
A more muscular strategy with support in Washington is modeled after Afghanistan's Northern Alliance, the loose coalition of militias that did most of the fighting for the United States in defeating the Taliban in 2001.
The key tool in this strategy is the Mujahedeen-e Khalq, an Iranian guerrilla force that has 4,000 fighters housed in a U.S.-guarded military base north of Baghdad. This group, known as MEK, is supported by some Washington neoconservatives and liberals, as well as by many European lawmakers, but nonetheless has been designated since 1997 as a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department.
The group has suspended its guerrilla activities within Iran since 2001, apparently hoping to improve its international reputation. Its backers hope the administration soon will take the MEK off the terrorist list and give it a green light to resume guerrilla activities in Iran.
"The MEK is very much hoping for a combination of Chalabi and Northern Alliance," said Abbas Milani, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, referring to Ahmed Chalabi, the Iraqi leader who used his influence with Bush administration conservatives to help build support for invading Iraq. "They want to be picked as foot soldiers and intelligence (operatives) for the United States," Milani said.
Guerrilla group wants action
The MEK's Paris-based civilian leadership avoids openly appealing for U.S. aid but makes clear that it sees itself as a U.S. ally.
Shahin Gobadi, a member of the foreign relations committee for the MEK's political wing, the National Council for Resistance in Iran, praised Bush's State of the Union speech. "The remarks by Bush were a very necessary and important step for distancing the West from its appeasement of the fascist dictatorship in Iran," he said. "But we hope for further, more practical steps in confronting this regime. We should be freed to help lead the opposition to the mullahs."
Most analysts say the MEK has little support within Iran, mostly limited to professionals and students, and outside Iran it is seen as a cult run by its husband-and-wife leadership, Massoud and Maryam Rajavi.
The MEK has been a major source of U.S. intelligence on Iran's alleged nuclear program, producing evidence of clandestine centrifuge production that has proved accurate when checked by U.N. inspectors. Other allegations by the MEK have been proved wrong, however, and experts warn that the Bush administration is making the same mistakes on Iran as it did before leading the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
"There is an eerie similarity to the events preceding the Iraq war," David Kay, who directed the CIA's search for weapons of mass destruction in postwar Iraq, wrote in an op-ed article in Monday's Washington Post. "Now is the time to pause and recall what went wrong with the assessment of Iraq's WMD program and try to avoid repeating those mistakes in Iran."
Kay warned that information from the MEK and other exile sources is untrustworthy, just as Chalabi's Iraq intelligence proved to be.
"Having gone to the Security Council on the basis of flawed evidence to 'prove' Iraq's WMD activities, (the United States) only invites derision to cite unsubstantiated exile reports to 'prove' that Iran is developing nuclear weapons," Kay wrote.
Although pro-American sentiment is relatively widespread among the Iranian people, some analysts and exiles say military attacks by the United States or Israel would provoke a surge of nationalism among Iranians and would allow the clerical regime to gain support.
Atabay said most Iranians in exile want change in Iran, but without bloodshed.
"Most Iranians within the United States are with U.S. policy," he said. "They are against the mullahs, but they don't want war. No Iranians want an invasion, because Iranian young people love America, but if America attacks them, they will turn into the enemy. Why should we have to change our close friends into the enemy?"
At the Ashraf camp south of Baghdad, U.S. forces have confined 3,850 MKO members since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, largely because the MKO were once Saddam's allies against Iran during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War and were thus seen by the U.S. military as unreliable.
But now some members of the Bush administration, notably in the Pentagon and CIA, are seeking to recruit useful MKO members to operate in or simply to pressure Iran -- even as it insists that it does not deal with the MKO as a group.
Some Pentagon policy planners are hoping a corps of informants can be selected from among the MKO at Ashraf, trained as spies and then be infiltrated back into Iran to gather intelligence, particularly on Iran's nuclear activities.
One MKO official complains, "They (want) to make us mercenaries." The MKO has its roots in Marxism.
Its former role in terrorist attacks dates back to its support for the U.S. embassy takeover in February 1979.
During the 1970s, when the shah ruled Iran, the MKO assassinated U.S. military and civilian personnel working on defense projects.
I am an Iranian student and I'd like to speak loud on the US-MEK cooperations,
I'd rather live under the Mullahs and their oppression than seeing the MEK in power in Tehran
I'd rather defend the Mullahs than standing with the MEK terrorists to be named as a so-called fighter.
I'd rather have Mullahs than MEK in power.
And I would like the US to hear our words...
STOP SUPPORTING AND USING MEK terrorists.
You've got to be kidding me....
Iraq was a relatively minor player when it came to exporting terror, so I can understand some dissent.
But is there ANY case for exonerating Iran? Iran has had a butt whooping coming for a loooong time.
Then what do you suggest we do instead?
Khashayar, you want our gov't to hear YOUR words. Your gov't needs to hear OUR words (thru Pres. Bush): Don't Do it!
We cannot back MEK. They are an islamic/marxist group.
They are HATED by Iranians.
President Bush has said that he stands with the Iranian people. If he allows arming MKO members, they will kill Iranians who oppose them, not just regime members.
He will alienate the Iranian people and turn them against the U.S.
I'd like to do as much as I can to help you out, I run a newspaper on my campus that we can use to support your revolution/regime change. I'm also affiliated with several collegiate networks in the US. Let me know if you're interested.
I agree that it would be a poor idea to back the Communists. They are good at organizing revolutions, but bad at relinquishing power after they have taken over.
I frankly don't know who we should support, but we need some mature, stable figures who could run the country until the youngsters grow into it, something along the lines of Alawi.
I should think there must be someone who fits the bill. I just don't know the players very well.
Sometimes it's just a matter of luck. Poland couldn't have had a better revolutionary leader than Lech Walensa. He was unable to continue in power after the revolution succeeded, but he was there when he was needed, he was honest and brave, and he relinquished power when he proved inept at political maneuvering.
First Syria, which will lead to complete Iranian isolation and add another front. Then who knows, perhaps some covert strikes to take out the leadership. The final chapter in this one has not yet been written, but it will end badly for the mullahs, that much is certain.
check your private mail please!
The Mullah regime is not my government!
I hate them and I would do as much as I can to see their destruction ASAP
Overthrowing a hostile government is not a mistake.
Now, as for Iran...first we negotiate, then we blockade. Let the internal pressure for change build.
Introduce enough pressure and they'll beg for an American solution.
Back legitimate opposition groups, students and oil sector labors
Supporting a Terrorist group is a BIG mistake!
Thanks a lot.
We Iranians rely on what your president says and we also have no better friends than Americans in the world!
God Bless America
I hate them and I would do as much as I can to see their destruction ASAP
Well put, Khashayar. I think we ALL wish the same for your people.
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