Right Web

Tracking militarists’ efforts to influence U.S. foreign policy

Washington Failing to Understand Iran’s Opposition

The Arab Spring is spurring some neoconservatives to dust off their theories about how Iran’s “Green Movement” would benefit from U.S. military action against Iran, despite the fact that rights leaders in Iran argue that armed intervention would merely play into the regime’s hands.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Inter Press Service

The popular uprisings that have brought turmoil to Arab countries across the Middle East and North Africa have also underscored Washington's dearth of knowledge about forces on the ground in authoritarian states in the Middle East. One of the largest questions bedeviling policy makers has been the composition of various emerging opposition movements.

The same uncertainty, meanwhile, has been plaguing those in the U.S. dealing with policy questions around Iran for decades, most recently with Iran's embattled Green Movement. Nearly two years since a popular protest movement in the wake of a disputed presidential election, Washington still wonders: Just what exactly is the Green Movement? (For more on the Green Movement, see Jack Ross, “Iran’s Bizarro Green Movement,” Right Web, March 1, 2011.)

The sudden and vocal opposition was immediately fêted in the West, especially in capitals, as a viable opposition to not only re-elected hardline President Mahmood Ahmadinejad, but also the regime as a whole, with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei even targeted by protesters' slogans.

Though the movement was beat back by the authorities' brutal crackdown, causing some to question its viability, many in the West continue to celebrate Iran's Greens, often ascribing their own views to the larger, disparate opposition.

"The Green Movement seems to be a collection of hopes and dreams of Iranians outside of Iran and policy makers here in the United States," said Nagmeh Sohrabi, an assistant director at Brandeis's Middle East studies department.

The exiles and policy makers – among whom, Sohrabi points out, are many who don't want a military solution to Iran's nuclear stand-off with the West – base their characterisation of the movement as "what they want it to be and don't take into account the reality on the ground."

While most conferences about Iran in Washington tend to draw their expertise from the city's naval-gazing think tanks, at last week's conference at George Washington University, where Sohrabi spoke, most of the panelists throughout the daylong event were Iranian academics from outside the beltway.

With a granular knowledge of the politics and people of their land of origin, the academic experts – credentialed by means other than how many times pundits quoted them or their contacts with policy makers – delved seriously into questions about Iran that usually get short shrift in Washington. Their studies of and contacts in their own country of origin uniquely positions them to answer broad questions about the Green Movement.

Sohrabi proposed that Washington's discourse tended to be limiting instead of taking a broader approach: "There are multiple ideas of what the Green Movement is. We need to be more careful about what it is and what it isn't. That doesn't mean that it can't be all these things at the same time."

Hawkish pundits have also been among the chief cliques in Washington assigning their own motivations and aspirations to the Green Movement writ large.

For example, senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute Josh Block, promoting a new Iran task force he co-chairs, has displayed this tendency. Block, for most of the previous decade, served as the ubiquitous spokesperson for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), an organising hub of the U.S. pro-Israel lobby that has consistently pushed for harsher economic measures against Iran.

Contrary to some neoconservative hawks like Reuel Marc Gerecht of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, Block acknowledged, in an interview with the Washington Post, that a threat of or an actual military attack on Iran could be damaging to the country's opposition.

But Block also told neoconservative Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin, who supports attacking Iran and downplays the repercussions for the opposition, that he is certain what the opposition movement seeks: "It seems obvious the Iranian people want regime change. They voted that way in 2009." (Block did not respond to a query for clarification.)

Block's analysis of the vote and its aftermath capture none of the nuance presented by Iranians and Iranian-Americans at George Washington last week.

Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian human rights lawyer and Nobel laureate who is now based in the U.S., spoke directly to these issues in her keynote address at the conference.

"Within (the Green) movement, people with different ideologies exist," Ebadi said. "There are different groups. Some think we have to throw the regime out. But some others think this will not be possible without bloodshed, so the best thing is to do is use the present constitution."

"The Green Movement is a democratic movement, not ideological," she said.

Indeed, those Block cited who voted in the election – as opposed to an overlapping set of people who marched in the post-election protests – were the ones who voted for Reform candidates. Iranian politicians in the Reform camp are exactly those who Ebadi mentioned who seek to make changes within the framework of the existing constitution.

Ebadi did note that that more Iranians associated with the Green Movement are shifting into the regime change camp because of the intransigence of authorities to respond to the Reform camp's demands, but this transformation is far from complete.

Only the sort of projection Sohrabi discussed could account for Block's assessment that not just protesters but Iranian voters in the 2009 election voted for regime change. The leading opposition candidate in the race, former Iranian Prime Minister Mir Hossein Moussavi, ran on a Reform platform.

Even as she sees the shift in the Green Movement, Ebadi herself still believes that the constitution has provisions that, if enforced, could enable reforms and that outright regime change would likely bring violence she seeks to avoid.

Furthermore, Ebadi warned against threats of military action against Iran, let alone an attack.

"The worst solution is a military attack. Remember that democracy is not merchandise to be exported to a country," she said. "Democracy cannot be purchased and sent to another country. For these reason, wars and military attacks of non-democratic countries should be forgotten. The dictators actually like to be attacked by foreigners so, under the excuse of national security, they can put away their opposition."

Ali Gharib writes for the Inter Press Service and is a contributor to Right Web (http://www.rightweb.irc-online.org/).

Share RightWeb

Featured Profiles

Former Vice President Dick Cheney was a leading framer of the “global war on terror” and a staunch supporter of aggressive U.S. military action around the world.


Mike Pompeo, the Trump administration’s second secretary of state, is a long time foreign policy hawk and has led the public charge for an aggressive policy toward Iran.


Right Web readers will be familiar with Mr. Fleitz, the former CIA officer who once threatened to take “legal action” against Right Web for publicizing reports of controversies he was associated with in the George W. Bush administration. Fleitz recently left his job at the conspiracy-mongering Center for Security Policy to become chief of staff to John Bolton at the National Security Council.


Norm Coleman is chair of the Republican Jewish Coalition and a former senator from Minnesota known for his hawkish views on foreign policy.


Billionaire hedge fund mogul Paul Singer is known for his predatory business practices and support for neoconservative causes.


Keith Kellogg, national security adviser to Vice President Mike Pence, is a passionate supporter of Trump’s foreign policy.


Christians United for Israel (CUFI), the largest “pro-Israel” advocacy group in the United States, is known for its zealous Christian Zionism and its growing influence in the Republican Party.


For media inquiries,
email rightwebproject@gmail.com

From the Wires

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The Trumpian new regional order in the Middle East is predicated on strongman rule, disregard for human rights, Sunni primacy over Iran and other Shia centers of power, continued military support for pro-American warring parties regardless of the unlawfulness of such wars, and Israeli hegemony.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

A comparison of U.S. nuclear diplomacy with Iran and the current version with North Korea puts the former in a good light and makes the latter look disappointing. Those with an interest in curbing the dangers of proliferating nuclear weapons should hope that the North Korea picture will improve with time. But whether it does or not, the process has put into perspective how badly mistaken was the Trump administration’s trashing of the Iran nuclear agreement.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Numerous high profile Trump administration officials maintain close ties with anti-Muslim conspiracy theorists. In today’s America, disparaging Islam is acceptable in ways that disparaging other religions is not. Given the continuing well-funded campaigns by the Islamophobes and continuing support from their enablers in the Trump administration, starting with the president himself, it seems unlikely that this trend will be reversed any time soon.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The Trump administration’s nuclear proliferation policy is now in meltdown, one which no threat of “steely resolve”—in Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s words—will easily contain. It is hemorrhaging in part because the administration has yet to forge a strategy that consistently and credibly signals a feasible bottom line that includes living with—rather than destroying—regimes it despises or fears. Political leaders on both sides of the aisle must call for a new model that has some reasonable hope of restraining America’s foes and bringing security to its Middle East allies.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Congressional midterm elections are just months away and another presidential election already looms. Who will be the political leader with the courage and presence of mind to declare: “Enough! Stop this madness!” Man or woman, straight or gay, black, brown, or white, that person will deserve the nation’s gratitude and the support of the electorate. Until that occurs, however, the American penchant for war will stretch on toward infinity.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

To bolster the president’s arguments for cutting back immigration, the administration recently released a fear-mongering report about future terrorist threats. Among the potential threats: a Sudanese national who, in 2016, “pleaded guilty to attempting to provide material support to ISIS”; an Uzbek who “posted a threat on an Uzbek-language website to kill President Obama in an act of martyrdom on behalf of ISIS”; a Syrian who, in a plea agreement, “admitted that he knew a member of ISIS and that while in Syria he participated in a battle against the Syrian regime, including shooting at others, in coordination with Al Nusrah,” an al-Qaeda offshoot.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The recent appointment of purveyors of anti-Muslim rhetoric to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom exposes the cynical approach Republicans have taken in promoting religious freedom.


RightWeb
share