Ignore Iran's Exiled Dream Merchants
By Mehrzad Boroujerdi and Geneive Abdo, Daily Star 24/6/08
Jun 25, 2008 - 10:36:16 AM
The assumption at the heart of that debate is not whether
Iran's government will collapse, but when and by what means.
participant from the US State Department makes clear her annoyance with the
speaker. "You keep talking about the parliamentary elections and who won
and who lost. We don't care about the players in the state. They are all the
same. We care about civil society." Another self-assured participant
declares that a revolution is inevitable.
particular discussion is not a figment of the Iranian imagination. It happened
a few weeks ago at a quasi-governmental institution, which must remain anonymous
because the event was closed to the press. But how can Washington be so
delusional to believe a velvet revolution in Iran is possible? Faced with
perpetual problems in Iraq and congressional pressure to do something about the
meddlesome Iranians, the administration is eager to conceive of a change in
the surprise of many, this Iranian playbook seems to follow a similar script as
the activities orchestrated before the invasion of Iraq. Like the funding for
exile groups which accompanied the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998, the Bush
administration has recently allocated $75 million for "democracy
promotion" in Iran. While some of the money is simply devoted to beaming
Persian-language radio and television programs into Iran, substantial funds have
also been given to Iranian dissidents who, in theory at least, will work inside
the country to foster rebellion.
some circles in Washington, including US-funded institutions, internal
rebellion as a form of regime change is preferred over a military strike. But
just like the military option, it is anyone's guess to what degree the Bush
administration plans to pursue this strategy during its final months in office.
What is certain is that the Iranian exile community will peddle the popular
rebellion idea with the next administration, no matter who is elected
is a practical problem, however, for the Bush administration and its successor.
There is hardly any agreement within the Iranian opposition on how to change
the regime. For dissidents inside Iran, money or endorsements from the United
States are the kiss of death. Activists themselves point out that the Bush
administration's decision to fund civil society organizations has tainted the
credibility of non-governmental organizations and other groups in the eyes of
the democracy activists inside Iran do not advocate yet another revolution,
velvet or otherwise. As the former Yugoslav politician and author Milovan
Djilas used to say: "[N]ormal life cannot sustain revolutionary attitudes
for long." If we consider what Iranians have gone through since 1979, when
the shah was overthrown, their yearning for normality and averting radical
change becomes quite understandable.
Iranian exiles agitating for "regime change" constitute a diverse
group. Some are opposed to the Tehran-based regime, but don't trust American
intentions. Some are relatively well-established opponents who offer
paternalistic and smug messages of "liberation" on satellite TV
stations beamed into Iran from California or Washington. Still, others are
recent arrivals, some of whom were involved in the late-1990s student movement
that was crushed. They long to return to a democratic Iran and are working
toward that end. Intoxicated by their own rhetoric, warped nostalgia, and
forlorn hopes, the latter two categories of exiled activists have now turned
their attention toward the goal of rebellion from within.
result is a marriage of convenience. The Bush administration can tell its impatient
critics that it is proactively pressuring the Iranian leadership while placing
the military option on hold. Iranian exiles genuinely feel that with the help
of US funding they can finally exert real pressure on a brutal regime. If
things don't go according to plan, the excuses are built in. The US government
can always claim that "Iranian Ahmad Chalabis" only offered misplaced
hope and misleading promises, and the Iranian exiles can claim that the US
would not follow their recommendations.
the meantime, neither side is interested in asking the many disconcerting
questions raised by the regime-change approach: Are these Iranian exile groups
the right people for the job? What social backing do they enjoy inside Iran?
Why can't they cooperate among themselves? How will their activities be
received in an Iranian polity where suspicion of Western imperialism runs deep
and spans the political spectrum? Won't this activity further bolster a
paranoid and security obsessed regime?
fact remains that the Bush administration's search for an Iranian Lech Walesa
has been as futile as the notion of the Iranian opposition closing ranks behind
a single leader. Hence, one is left with the question of the American
alternatives, short of a military attack or a revolution. One approach is for
Washington to drop all preconditions and enter into serious direct negotiations
with Iran. This is the least palatable option for the Bush administration, but
for the next administration (particularly if it is a Democratic one) it may be
the most realistic.
and when Washington decides to settle on the option of unconditional
negotiations, it would be wise to remember that it must engage the whole
spectrum of political power in Iran, rather than imprudently picking and
choosing "moderates" or "pragmatists." The ones who should
have Washington's ear are those in charge in Tehran, not the dream merchants of
the Iranian diaspora. The US should think hard before allowing yet another
active exile community to direct US foreign polic
Source: Ocnus.net 2008