Different Shades of Green
by MUHAMMAD SAHIMI in Los Angeles
04 Mar 2010 23:22
Some analysts interpreted the events as a tactical setback for the Greens. Others, including the author, thought that the very fact that the hardliners had to go to extreme lengths just to prevent the Greens from exhibiting their symbols and strength on the Islamic Republic's most important day of self-celebration was a victory for the Movement.
But whatever the February 11 events may have implied, new developments are taking place that may have a significant and undesirable impact on the Movement. These developments are being instigated by some self-appointed "leaders" and "spokesmen" of the Green Movement abroad. Their actions have been damaging to the Movement on two different fronts:
First, some of the self-appointed "leaders" set lofty and totally unrealistic goals for the February 11 demonstrations. They had gotten way ahead of the people in Iran, and ignored the realities of the country's power structure. In fact, in the run-up to February 11 some of these "leaders" spoke as if the Islamic Republic would be overthrown on the anniversary of the Revolution, and that the only thing the people needed to do to achieve this goal was just to show up on the streets of Tehran.
Second, the same self-appointed "leaders" are doing everything they can to endear themselves to the Obama administration and especially to American neoconservatives, who are making a comeback, in order to provoke a fundamental change in the direction of U.S. policy toward Iran. If the shift they desire does take place, it will bring more misery to ordinary Iranian citizens and destroy the Green Movement. Some "leaders" have argued publicly, and some behind the scenes, that crippling sanctions should be imposed on Iran, forgetting that ever since the 1979 Revolution, the United States has maintained tough sanctions against Iran in one form or another. The only people who have ever suffered from these sanctions have been ordinary Iranians. Among their gravest consequences have been the hundreds of deaths in crashes of obsolete passenger aircraft, resulting from prohibitions on Iran's purchase of modern airliners from Europe and the United States.
The latest round of sanctions was ordered by President Bill Clinton. On March 15, 1995, he signed Executive Order 12957, which banned U.S. oil companies from any involvement in the Iranian oil industry. The order was issued after Iran granted a $1 billion contract to the American oil company Conoco to develop two offshore oil fields in the Persian Gulf, the Siri A and E fields. In fact, the real winner of the bidding for that contract was not even Conoco, but the administration of then President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. Conoco was declared the winner as a gesture of détente, in the hopes that it would lead to improved U.S. relations.
Then, on April 30, 1995, Clinton issued Executive Order 12959, announced at a meeting of major pro-Israel organizations in the United States, which imposed total sanctions on Iran.
Less than a year later, the U.S. Congress passed the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act, imposing major penalties on foreign companies with investments of over $20 million in the development of Iranian oil resources. The act was illegal under international law; no nation has the right to impose penalties on foreign-owned companies for operations outside its own borders. In April 2000, after the reformists swept the elections for the 6th Majles, Clinton lifted the ban on imports of Iranian pistachio, caviar, and rugs, and exports of pharmaceutical products to Iran--token gestures, at best, amid the far more sweeping and economically significant sanctions that were maintained.
There were many absurd aspects of the sanctions. For example, in February 2004, the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the Department of the Treasury barred the publication of scientific manuscripts from Iran, and warned that U.S. scientists collaborating with Iranians could be prosecuted. The ruling scared the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers so much that it stopped accepting manuscripts from Iranian researchers. It took a lawsuit filed in federal court by Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi (in which I was closely involved) to force the OFAC to modify its position. Ebadi had been told that she needed to apply to the agency for a special permit to publish her memoir, Iran Awakening. While she was told that the permit would quickly be issued, Ebadi decided to sue the OFAC to assist the people of other countries, such as Cuba and Libya, who were suffering under similar bans. As a result of the suit, the agency announced in late 2004 that the publication of scientific works by Iranian researchers and scientific collaboration with Iranian universities would once again be allowed.
Let us now look at some of the self-appointed "leaders" and "spokesmen" who live outside Iran and supposedly support the Green Movement, to see whether what they have been doing has been helping or, in fact, hurting the Movement.
One is Mohsen Makhmalbaf. He is an accomplished Iranian movie director and producer whose films have won several awards. I have admired his cinematic work for years. His film school has produced other quality filmmakers, including his wife, Marzieh Meshkini--whose movie, The Day I Became a Woman, received many international prizes--and his two daughters, Samira and Hana, who are emerging stars.
In the rigged presidential election of June 12, 2009, Makhmalbaf supported Mir Hossein Mousavi, his friend of 20 years. For the first few days after the election he acted as an informal spokesman for Mousavi in Europe, and provided information to the outside world about what was happening. In particular, Makhmalbaf was one of the first people who reported the raid on Mousavi's election headquarters in Gheytariyeh in northern Tehran on the evening of Election Day, while polling stations were still open. I reported on those events and what Makhmalbaf said at the time.
Since then, Makhmalbaf has given many interviews and speeches in numerous countries. He even addressed the European Union (EU) Parliament last summer. Some of the statements that he has made have, in my opinion, hurt the Green Movement, and may create broader problems for Iran's people. For example, in his speech in the EU Parliament, he declared that, "The Green Movement does not want a nuclear bomb." Then, in an interview with Foreign Policy in September 2009, he repeated the point, going even further:
As someone who is in contact with prominent members of the Green Movement in Iran, and as someone who is intimately informed of their points of view, I declare to the world, particularly to the people and government of America, that the Iranian Green Movement does not want a nuclear bomb, but instead desires peace for the world and democracy for Iran. The Green Movement in Iran furthermore understands the world's concerns and in fact has similar concerns itself.
I have a hard time understanding the meaning of such statements, or the necessity of making them in the first place.
First of all, the question of nuclear weapons is simply not a central concern of the Green Movement.
Second, the statement implies that those who oppose the Greens -- the hardliners -- want to produce nuclear weapons, though all the reports by the International Atomic Energy Organization (IAEA) have confirmed that, at least up to now, there has not been any evidence that Iran has a secret nuclear weapons program.
Third, such statements are dangerous for Iran generally, because they provide fodder for the neoconservatives who for years have tried to provoke the United States government to order an attack on Iran.
Fourth, regardless of any other aspect, these matters concern Iran's national security and foreign policy, in which Makhmalbaf has no expertise whatsoever.
In an interview with the British newspaper The Independent, Makhmalbaf said, "I am simply speaking on behalf of all the people who are protesting and dying on the streets of Iran." While any supporter of the Green Movement should, of course, speak publicly about the ongoing atrocities, this does not mean that one should speak about issues that are neither the concerns of the Movement at the moment, nor within one's own area of expertise.
Then, on November 20, The Wall Street Journal reported on Makhmalbaf's visit to Washington. Referring to him as the "campaign spokesman for the Iranian presidential challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi," the paper reported that he had called for President Barack Obama "to increase his public support for Iranian democrats and significantly intensify financial pressure on Tehran's elite military unit, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps." He was quoted further as saying that "the Iranian opposition movement supports targeted economic sanctions"; that "we need certain sanctions that put pressure on the government but not the people"; and that "we definitely want Obama to say he supports democracy. If he doesn't say that, he will lose his support in Iran." Such statements demonstrate Makhmalbaf's utter naiveté, as well as his deep ignorance of current conditions.
First of all, the Obama administration, or any U.S. administration for that matter, has no particular interest in a democratic Middle East. Every administration tries to protect, and if possible expand, what it perceives as the country's vital interests. If that entails supporting a democratic movement or making a deal with a dictator, so be it. All we need to do to confirm this is to look at the history of American involvement in Iran over the past six decades. If the United States has a genuine interest in a democratic Middle East, why does it not begin with its own allies in that region--Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the Arab states of the Persian Gulf, Jordan--all dictatorships of one type or another?
Second, Makhmalbaf does not seem to know that, as I described above, the United States has maintained tough sanctions against Iran for the past 30 years! It is thus no surprise that he is completely blind to the fact that these sanctions have always empowered the hardliners and hurt ordinary Iranians.
Let me make one point clear: I would support any sanction that takes the tools of repression and oppression away from the hardliners. But purely economic sanctions only increase the power of the Revolutionary Guards, which play a central role in Iran's economy, and the several Mafia-like groups that control Iran's underground economy and are reported to have ties with some hardline ayatollahs. I find it very difficult, if not impossible, to identify an effective economic sanction that would specifically target and hurt only the Guards.
Third, why should President Obama care whether the Iranian people support him? The only support that any president cares about is that of the citizens of his own nation.
What is Makhmalbaf's objective in making such strange and damaging statements? Endearing himself to the United States, or to the neoconservatives? They certainly hurt the Green Movement.
The author asked Makhmalbaf for an interview back in December 2009. He accepted the invitation, and asked that the questions to be sent to him in Persian. Several questions were sent to him, including one about his views on sanctions, and another about taking a stance on nuclear weapons vis-a-vis the Green Movement. No response was ever received.
If some of Makhmalbaf's actions and statements might be attributed to his lack of knowledge and naiveté, the same thing cannot be said about Mohsen Sazegara, another "leader" and "spokesman" for the Green Movement in the United States. I will not get into his political career in Iran before he emigrated in 2006. Suffice it to say that I believe that he exaggerates many aspects of his career. What is most salient is that he arrived in the United States with an agenda.
Upon arrival, he went directly to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), an offshoot of Israel's lobbying group, the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Both AIPAC and WINEP have been behind many sanction resolutions against Iran, supported the invasion of Iraq, and have tried to provoke a war with Iran for years. Neither group cares the slightest bit about democracy in Iran, or anywhere else in the Middle East for that matter. Their sole concern is protecting Israel's interests. In fact, many analysts believe that AIPAC represents only Israel's right-wing Likud Party, which has long sought a U.S.-led war against Iran. Did Sazegara know what type of organization WINEP is? It is difficult to believe that he did not.
Sazegara then became cozy with Michael Rubin, a resident neoconservative "scholar" at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), where most of the provocations and "rationales" for attacking Iraq were conceived. Rubin, a leading supporter of the invasion, worked at the Pentagon and was a special advisor to L. Paul Bremer III, the U.S. proconsul who ran Iraq from May 2003 to June 2004.
As Robert Dreyfuss of The Nation puts it, "The AEI, and Rubin, had consensual intercourse with Chalabi for years, and now Chalabi has emerged in full blossom as a pro-Iranian villain purging Tehran's opponents in Iraq." Remember Ahmed Chalabi? He was the man who, with the help of neoconservatives, fooled everyone into believing that invading Iraq would be a cakewalk. Dreyfuss also explains how Chalabi has purged 500 Sunni candidates perceived as Tehran's opponents from the upcoming March elections, and how Rubin justifies what Chalabi has done! And, to learn about Rubin's view of Iran, just read his testimony to the House of Representatives on July 22, 2009.
Reflecting the views of many Israelis, many at the AEI wanted Ahmadinejad to win the June 12 election, because in their view that would justify their strategy of pursuing crippling sanctions and eventual war against Iran. Many of them, including some Iranians who work for the AEI, such as Ali Alfoneh, a supposed expert on the Revolutionary Guards, even ridiculed those who voted in the election. Sazegara himself was opposed to voting.
Despite Rubin's background, Sazegara became chummy with him and participated in seminars on Iran he organized at the AEI. Sazegara appeared at these events as an "expert" on the Revolutionary Guards; see here for just one example. See also here to read how Jashua Muravchik, the neoconservative who called for bombing Iran, talks about Sazegara. Muravchik was so hardcore that he didn't even last at the AEI.
Progressive journalist Reese Erlich recently interviewed Sazegara for his new book, Conversations with Terrorists: Middle East Leaders on Politics, Violence and Empire. Defending his ties with the neoconservatives, Sazegara told Erlich that George W. Bush, "in his speeches, supported the freedom and democracy struggle in Iran. As an Iranian, I agreed with his stands. Not only him, but any government."
Now, anyone who knows anything about Bush, or the human catastrophes in Iraq and Afghanistan, and still believes that Bush was actually interested in democracy in the Middle East and Iran is either fooling himself, or extremely ill-informed and naive, or seeking to fool others, or all of the above. If Sazegara did not know this when he arrived in the United States, he should certainly know it by now. But, in fact, Sazegara is so fond of the totally discredited president that he has joined the George W. Bush Presidential Institute.
The question is, why does Sazegara want to join such an institution? Is it because he needs financial support? If that is the case, why does he not ask his "army" of supporters, which he claims numbers tens of thousands (see below), for help? Is it because he has an ideological kinship with the former president and the neoconservatives? Does Sazegara have any moral qualm about being extremely close to the ideologues who have brought to the Middle East nothing but destruction, and have been trying for years to provoke a military attack on Iran? Or does he believe that the end justifies the means? If so, what is the end, the goal, here?
As I mentioned earlier, Sazegara opposed voting in the June 12 election. In his program broadcast by Voice of America into Iran, he urged people not to vote. However, once voting took place and the Green Movement, which had actually been born before the election, was strengthened, Sazegara jumped in and overnight became a "leader" of the Movement in a crass attempt to ride its wave to power. He has no base of support whatsoever in Iran. If he did, people would have heeded his call and not voted in the first place. He claims that his YouTube postings are seen by tens of thousands of people, which he interprets as a sign of his popularity. But, even if such figures are accurate, they are no indication of credibility and popularity. The reasons are threefold.
First, the vast majority of the people who watch his postings do not know about the neoconservative warmongers in the United States with whom he has been intimately associated.
Second, when the hardliners have closed essentially all the opposition newspapers, websites, and other means of mass communication, and have jailed the reformists, university students leaders, and journalists, and when the national radio and television broadcast sheer hardline propaganda, the people will read and watch anything from abroad.
Third, if Sazegara called on the Iranian people to take a specific action, such as not voting or gathering at a particular place to demonstrate, and it actually transpired, then we would know how popular the man is. But nothing like this has ever happened.
The fundamental issue, however, is not Sazegara's popularity. The issue is what he is doing both behind the scenes and in public, and with whom he is associating in the name of the Green Movement. Just like Makhmalbaf, he is taking actions and making statements that are totally unrealistic, have no relation with the facts on the ground in Iran, actually hurt the Green Movement, and make it seem like the Movement is associated with the neoconservative warmongers. Sazegara has firmly associated himself with the right-wing ideologues who have long sought to provoke a military confrontation with Iran. I would not care about his links with the neoconservatives if he did not present himself as a "leader" of the Green Movement.
Listen to what he said the next day. Just before the anniversary of the Revolution, Sazegara alternately claimed that Ahmadinejad might be arrested by the Revolutionary Guards while speaking at Azadi Square, and that the Greens planned to covertly flood the square and overwhelm Ahmadinejad with a shock attack, similar to what happened to Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu in 1989 in Bucharest's Palace Square (now Revolution Square). None of that happened, of course.
The author sent a detailed e-mail to Sazegara asking for a comment in response to the issues raised. In particular, he was asked about his association with the neoconservatives and his reason for joining the Bush Institute. As of the time of completing this article, the author had not received a response.
Both Sazegara and Makhmalbaf always state that they have no claim to the leadership of the Greens, although they are often introduced as Movement leaders by conservative and neoconservative publications; see here for one example.
Regardless, they both act as if they are the "leaders" of the Green Movement, issuing joint statements on every important occasion. See, for example, here and here. At one point, when there were widespread rumors that Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi were about to be arrested, Sazegara and Makhmalbaf, along with London-based analyst Alireza Nourizadeh, issued a statement. Their communication warned that if the arrests took place, "The leadership of the Green Movement in the absense of Mousavi, Karroubi
and Khatami will be transferred abroad..." Transferred to whom? Themselves?
It was perhaps due to such actions by Sazegara, Makhmalbaf, and others that Mousavi declared on February 8 that "the Green Movement has no spokesman outside Iran." A source in Washington, who has access to information about what is going on behind the scenes and does not want to be identified, told me that Mousavi's declaration and other statements that he has made in the past have angered a lot of exiles who claim to be speaking on behalf of the Green Movement, and have made them more determined than ever to try to discredit him and move the Obama administration toward a policy of "regime change."
A third figure, not known to many Iranians even in the United States, is Karim Sadjadpour. He used to work for the International Crisis Group as an Iran analyst. He then joined the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington as an associate in its Middle East Program. He presents himself as a great supporter of the Green Movement, often wearing a green wrist band when he makes public appearances and gives interviews.
But, the problem is that Sadjadpour says one thing in public, but takes positions in meetings and conferences that seem to contradict his public position.
For example, in an online interview with Der Spiegel a few days ago, Sadjadpour said,
More comprehensive sanctions that hurt the Iranian people would be counterproductive for the Green Movement. I think it's paramount that we do no harm, and sanctions on petrol have unpredictable consequences. While I question the notion that sanctions will rally people around the government -- that hasn't been the case the last few decades in which sanctions have been in place -- it's also true that Iran is going to be facing major economic challenges in the coming months. More comprehensive sanctions could offer Ahmadinejad a pretext for his disastrous management of the economy.
On the other hand, in a Los Angeles Times op-ed published last October 15, "Cripple Iran to Save It," neoconservative John P. Hannah, a senior WINEP fellow and national security advisor to former Vice President Dick Cheney, wrote about the "message" that he had heard "at a recent gathering of Iranian activists in Europe, including figures closely linked to the green movement's leadership [emphasis mine]." According to Hannah, those figures believe "Sanctions must be imposed, and in strong doses... A weak dose, or gradual approach, only allows the regime to adjust... To be effective, sanctions must act like a shock, not a vaccine."
Hannah then quoted "prominent Iran expert" Karim Sadjadpour as telling a Washington conference in September that while the leaders of Iran's opposition had once been "unequivocally opposed to any type of punitive measures by the United States...that's not the case anymore."
This is interesting. I am not aware of any "leaders of Iran's opposition" who have called for sanctions against Iran, unless Sadjadpour is speaking about the pretenders to the leadership in the United States. In fact, in his latest interview with the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, Mehdi Karroubi has opposed any sanctions against Iran, saying that they will only hurt the common people. Among the reformists in Iran, including Mousavi, Khatami and other prominent figures in the Green Movement, no one had said a word that indicates support for sanctions.
More interestingly, in his testimony before the House of Representative last July, Sadjadpour said, "Many members of the opposition and the population actually are starting to come around. Their views towards sanctions have changed. They're not in a position to publicly articulate that right now... They're starting to see value in it."
In an interview on July 16, Sadjadpour said, "The country that has the greatest potential to influence internal Iranian affairs in the short term is Saudi Arabia. The Iranian economy is heavily reliant on oil revenue, and each one dollar drop in oil prices is nearly one billion dollars of lost annual revenue for Iran. If Saudi Arabia--whose relations with Iran have deteriorated since Ahmadinejad became president--were to quietly increase output in order to provoke a price drop it could prove devastating to Iran, far more damaging than any sanctions that are now being deliberated."
So, what is Sadjadpour suggesting? That Saudi Arabia drawn the world in cheap oil and starve the Iranian people in the process, in order to force the hardliners to back down? He should perhaps study what happened during the Iran-Iraq war. During that period, Saudi Arabia did exactly what he is suggesting now, and it did not stop the hardliners from dragging out the conflict; it did, however, bring hardship on the Iranian people.
My Washington source tells me that at any panel discussion held by the U.S. government to which Iran experts are invited, Sadjadpour always takes the most hawkish positions. But, again, he largely avoids articulating such positions in his frequent appearances on CNN and interviews in other widely followed media outlets.
The author contacted Sadjadpour for a response to the issues raised above and received a detailed response. In his e-mail response to the author, Sadjadpour wrote, "regarding the accusation that I privately take 'the most hawkish positions' -- which I assume to mean military action -- I have ALWAYS [emphasis his] opposed military action against Iran." He referred me to several links in which he has spoken against military attacks, including his testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee in July 2009, in which he stated that, "Based on both recent and historical precedent, there's good reason to believe that not only would Khamanei and Ahmadinejad not be cowed by military threats, but that they would actually welcome U.S. or Israel strikes in order to try and achieve the same outcome as Saddam Hussein's 1980 invasion of Iran -- namely, to unite squabbling political factions against a common threat and keep agitated Iranian minds busy with foreign quarrels."
Other links included an interview with the Los Angeles Times in December 2009, Interview with Center for American Progress, in which he stated that, "I sincerely believe that Khamenei and Ahmadinejad would welcome an Israeli strike on their nuclear facilities; it is perhaps the only thing that could mend internal political rifts, silence the opposition movement, and entrench the most radical elements of this regime for years to come," and a most recent interview with the CNN on February 10th in which he stated that military action would "kill" the green movement and be "disastrous" for U.S. interests.
In my opinion, while it is clear that Sadjadpour is against military attacks on Iran, it is also true that the most hawkish position does not have to be identified with advocating military attacks. Even now, many Israeli leaders, considered to be the most hawkish with regards to Iran, advocate crippling sanctions.
Sadjadpour reaffirmed his position that some leaders of the Green Movement do support sanctions. In his e-mail, he wrote,
"The green movement is not monolithic. It lacks consensus on many important issues, including the potential efficacy of foreign pressure and sanctions. I have no doubt that many figures within the movement sincerely believe that Western sanctions would be hurtful to their cause. At the same time, I've been struck over the last several months by how many prominent reformists and moderates who in the past were strongly opposed to punitive measures have now come to see targeted sanctions as a necessary evil (I have even spoken to some who support much harsher measures). I suppose this shouldn't be surprising, given that many of their contemporaries have been imprisoned, endured humiliating show trials and forced confessions, and tortured."
Sadjadpour did not, however, identify any Green Movement leader who supports sanctions as a "necessary evil," saying that, "I'm sure you can understand that I cannot divulge the identities of people I speak with," but also that, "I make no claims about the breadth of these views, only that they do exist."
The danger with such statements is that, by claiming that some leaders of the Green Movement support sanctions without identifying them, one creates the impression that such sentiments do actually exist, whereas there is no evidence for them.
Regarding the assertion that his public and non-public positions do not seem to be the same, Sadjadpour responded that, "I don't think anyone would take me seriously if I privately argued precisely the opposite of what I say and write publicly."
In response to the assertion that the neoconservatives are trying to drive Iran policy towards confrontation, Sadjadpour said, "To be honest, I am much more concerned about the behavior of the Iranian leadership which is terrorizing and even raping my generation of Iranians, as opposed to the limited influence of a foreign policy clique that abdicated power over a year ago."
Many, including the author, do not agree. A visit to most progressive and antiwar websites, and the avalanche of articles by neoconservatives published in every conceivable news outlet on a daily basis appear to prove otherwise. More importantly, President Obama has proven himself to be susceptible to pressure.
There are other people who have close connections to Washington, and have been speaking about the necessity of imposing sanctions. Consider, for example, Dr. Abbas Milani, who is the Hamid and Christina Moghadam Director of Iranian Studies at Stanford University, a visiting professor in the school's department of political science, and a research fellow and co-director of the Iran Democracy Project at the Hoover Institution. In his testimony to the House of Representatives last July 22, he said that if diplomacy fails, he would support "crippling" international sanctions--as opposed to the current ones, which he called "half-baked"--akin to what was imposed on apartheid South Africa; see here and here.
Milani argued that unilateral sanctions do not work and would only help the Islamic Republic. But he also said that he would support sanctions on the import of gasoline by Iran. Referring to a proposal for refined petroleum sanctions described by Rep. Howard Berman (D-California), chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Milani said he favored it "as plan C. After plan A and B fail, then the plan C is certainly called for, and I believe many Iranian democrats will be calling for it as well."
It is due to such behind-the-scenes maneuvering that the Obama administration seems to have suddenly changed direction regarding its Iran policy. On February 2, in response to a question posed by MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell on whether the administration wanted to see regime change in Iran, Vice President Joe Biden said,
We are moving with the world including Russia and others to put sanctions on them. I think that we've moved in the right direction in a measured way... We're going to end up much better off than we would have had we tried to go in there and physically tried to change the regime.
Then, on February 14, in an interview on Fox News Sunday, President Obama's national security adviser, retired General James Jones, made the link between new sanctions and the encouragement of regime change explicit, when he said of Iran, "We know that internally there is a very serious problem... We're about to add to that regime's difficulties by engineering, participating in very tough sanctions, which we support. Not mild sanctions. These are very tough sanctions." He expressed his belief that the combination of internal and external problems "could well trigger a regime change."
The danger of such statements is that, as soon as "regime change" enters the parlance of a U.S. administration, it begins to take on a life of its own, one that impels policy down a dangerous path. While Biden and Jones are not yet speaking of "regime change" in the manner that George W. Bush and company did, what will stop them in the future, especially if the self-appointed "leaders" and "spokesmen" of the Green Movement encourage them to do so?
The reader may wonder whether I support a change of the political structure in Iran. I do. But "regime change" has two completely different meanings. In the United States, regime change has always been associated with crippling sanctions and, ultimately, military attacks. Regime change in Iran, on the other hand, means continuing the civil-political struggle for democratization of the political system, and eventual elimination of the doctrine of Velaayat-e Faghih, under which the clerics hold supreme power.
In addition, suddenly unnamed Green "spokesmen" have emerged outside Iran who are pushing for crippling sanctions against the country. Consider, for example, the following from the Atlantic Council:
Leading spokesmen for the Green Movement outside Iran are convinced that the average Iranian will blame the regime, not the US, for the economic pain caused by crippling sanctions. One such representative said last December that "while no Green Movement or reformist leader inside the country is in a position to publicly validate the imposition of sanctions, they all feel that it is critical that serious sanctions should be imposed... [T]he two legs that support the Islamic regime are forces of coercion and the country's oil income... Minus the oil income, there will be no forces of coercion. Hence, it is impossible to defeat the regime without limiting the economic capabilities of the ruling establishment
In recent weeks, senior Green Movement figures -- who have been speaking at major Washington think tanks -- have made up a list of IRGC-related companies they suggest targeting, which has been forwarded to the Obama administration by third parties.
I would really like to know who these faceless, nameless "leading spokesmen for the Green Movement" are. If they truly believe in what they say, why do they not state it publicly?
Even some of the Green Movement's prominent supporters who do not live in the United States and have no connection to a U.S. institution, have made major missteps. For example, Sazegara is not the only exile who has visited the pro-Israeli WINEP. Jackson Diehl of the Washington Post reported on November 2, "Ataollah Mohajerani, who has been a spokesman in Europe for presidential candidate-turned-dissident Mehdi Karroubi, came to Washington to address the annual conference of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy." Why did Mohajerani go there? Did no one tell him what sort of organization WINEP is?
Investigative journalist Akbar Ganji is another case. In many ways I admire him, and have done so for years. He shed considerable light on the infamous Chain Murders and paid dearly for it by spending six years in jail. Ever since he moved to the United States, he has refused to meet with any neoconservatives or government officials and has instead associated himself with intellectuals and progressives.
But Ganji has been speaking about issues that are of no concern to the Green Movement, and expressing views that can only harm the Movement and its leaders in Iran. For example, he has stated that the Quran is not the word of God, and the Mahdi, the Shiites' 12th Imam, does not exist. Regardless of the merits of what he says, and regardless of whether he actually has expertise beyond that of any ordinary person in such matters, are these the most urgent concerns at this point? Such pronouncements have succeeded only in providing fodder for the hardliners' propaganda and their accusations that supporters of the Movement and its leaders in Iran are attacking people's faith.
Ganji has also indulged in conflicts with other supporters of the Green Movement in the United States, including Dr. Mohsen Kadivar. The two men have been criticizing and belittling each other, http://news.gooya.com/politics/archives/2010/02/100509.php even though they both joined with Mohajerani, Dr. Abdolkarim Soroush, and Abdolali Bazargan to issue a statement that expressed their view of what the Greens' minimum demands should be:
After the statement was released, Mohajerani declared his and his comrades' intention to play the role of an otagh-e fekr -- roughly, a think tank -- for the Green Movement. This is absurd for at least two reasons. First, a distinct feature of the Green Movement is the fact that it is broad and inclusive. It draws support from people with widely varied goals, hopes, and ideals. A "think tank" for the entire Movement that includes only people whose views overlap in almost every important way, regardless of their merits, is opposed to the Movement's essential nature and one of its greatest strengths.
Second, anyone even contemplating the establishment of such a "think tank," or thinking of contributing to it, must first recognize that democracy in Iran does not pass through Washington or any foreign capital, or through such organizations as WINEP, the Bush Institute, AEI, or the National Endowment for Democracy.
The Green Movement and the struggle for democracy in Iran are the result of the sacrifices of countless courageous Iranian men and women for over a century. Their fate should be decided in Iran, not in Western capitals, particularly Washington. Iranian people are fully capable of advancing their own democratic cause.
Photo by Scienceduck via Flickr.