Do Neoconservatives Really Care About The Iranian Opposition?
The rumblings of the largely underground Iranian Green Movement encourage neoconservative pundit Reuel Marc Gerecht. "I think it's the most amazing intellectual second revolution...that we've seen in the Middle East," he told a packed briefing room at Bloomberg's D.C. headquarters last month.
But even a she called on President Barack Obama todo more to vocally support the embattled rights movement -- thinly veiled U.S.encouragement for regime change, in other words -- Gerecht pushed for bombingIran.
Yet Green activists who work on the ground in Iranroundly oppose a military attack precisely because it will undermine oppositionefforts. Confronted with their warnings against strikes by his debate opponent,Gerecht was dismissive. He derided dissident journalist Akbar Ganji as"delusional" and spoke in dangerous innuendo about Shirin Ebadi, a humanrights lawyer and Nobel laureate. "There is a huge difference between whatsome dissidents will say privately and what they'll say publicly," saidGerecht of Ebadi, "and I'll leave it at that."
In a phone interview, Ebadi couldn't rememberGerecht by name (noting that she speaks to four or five journalists a day), butemphatically denied the charge that she talks out of both sides of her mouth."Me, no! Everything I say, is exactly what I say," she told me inFarsi. "Whoever said this, that Isay different things in public andprivate, is wrong." "I'm the same person in public and private,"she went on. "And I'm against war."
Ebadi hasn't been in Iran since the crackdown ondemonstrators in the wake of the June 2009 elections, but she's nonetheless atireless advocate for reform and human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran. "Themilitary option will not benefit the U.S. interest or the Iranianinterest," she said recently in an interview with Think Progress, a Centerfor American Progress blog. "It is the worst option. You should not thinkabout it. The Iranian people --including myself -- will resist any militaryaction."
Yet no neoconservative in punditry -- the field towhich the movement has been mostly relegated by electoral defeat -- has beenmore strident in calling for an attack on Iran than Gerecht. A former C.I.A.agent and current fellow at the neoconservative Foundation for Defenseof Democracies, Gerecht makes no secret of his ambitions. In thepenthouse of the Bloombeg building, Gerecht boasted that he'd "counted upthe other day: I've written about 25,000 words about bombing Iran. Even my momthinks I've gone too far." Gerecht's disappointment that theadministration of Barack Obama remains unlikely to strike was palpable, and hestated his unequivocal support for an Israeli attack, lamenting that if they didn'tact soon, the opportunity might be lost.
"Ibelieve Obama's Middle East policy iscorrect," Ebadi told MattDuss ofThink Progress, noting that by offering engagement Obama reveals the Iraniansas the intransigent party in talks. Ganji, the dissident journalist, has alsochimed in on Obama's policy. "[T]he mere fact that Obama didn't makemilitary threats made the Green Movement possible," Ganji said at theNational Press Club in Washington this summer. Thefollowing day, in his acceptance speech forthe 2010 Cato Institute's Milton Friedman Award, Ganji also said militaryattacks were counter-productive for reforming Iran: "The Iranian regimewill abuse the current emergency conditions – brought on by the threat of amilitary strike -- to push the democratic Green Movement away from the centerof world attention."
Ganji, who spent six years in Tehran's notoriousEvin Prison before leaving Iran in 2006,told me by phone that a military attackwould hurt the middle class at the center of the Green Movement. For thisreason, both Ebadi and Ganji have also opposed the escalation of broad economicsanctions advocated by Gerecht. (Ebadi supportspolitical sanctions against officials responsible for rights abuses.)
"I have a great deal of respect for AkbarGanji, but he's delusional," Gerecht said at the Bloomberg forum afterCenter for American Progress's Brian Katulis mentioned Ganji as an opponent ofbelligerent U.S. rhetoric. "Ganji and the entire movement of the ‘liberalreformers' -- and I use that in quotes --were probably the most errant of theanalysts on Iran in the 1990s.""They really did think there was goingto be a soft revolution," he went on. "They really did think theycould internally push the ball and that Khamenei would not crush them."(The current incarnation of the "liberal reform" movement -- theGreen Movement that Gerecht so admires -- was also crushed in the wake of thedisputed presidential election.)
I described Gerecht's comments and positions toGanji, using the word ‘neocon,' for lack of a better translation. Ganjirecognized the word. "Those who try to see theworld this way created theproblems in Iraq and Afghanistan," he said. "The work of theseneocons" -- Ganji used the word, too, amid his Farsi -- "who are ‘notdelusional' have helped increase Islamic fundamentalism."
Many other Iranian opposition figures andreform-aligned activists have publicly spoken out against broad-basedsanctions, including movement leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi(and,more recently, one of histopadvisers) and Mehdi Karroubi."Human rights activists have been fighting for human rights for years and theyconsistently have gone on record opposing war and sanctions," Sussan Tahmasebi,a women's rights activist who's worked in Iran for 11 years, told me. "I'mopposed to war and sanctions because it hurts Iranian people on the ground. Itstifles the voices for change. It stifles the message for human rights insideIran."
Noting ther are opposition figures that havewondered if sanctions will pressure the regime, others have pointedout that perhaps Iranian activists can't speak out publiclyfor concern out of their safety. But Tahmasebi, who came to the U.S. recentlyfor a visit and was given an awardby Human Rights Watch, said that Iranian activists' opposition to war and sanctionsare principled human rights positions. "Human rights activists have to betransparent to ensure that their voices are credible at home. And they have tobe consistent with their message," she told me. "In public and inprivate, they have been consistent in their opposition to sanctions and warbecause they are an extension of human rights abuses. They only serve to hurthuman rights in Iran."
Nonetheless, Gerecht called for communicationssupport for Iran's would-be opposition, and endorsed passive support for thosewho "are willing to risk their lives for the case of democracy." Butthose same people who "risk their lives" on the ground are almostuniversally against Gerecht's policy proscriptions for Iran. To couch one'sunabashed support for bombing Iran as a vital security interest for the U.S.and its allies despite thewarnings of current and former top Pentagon brass is one thing(and raises issues not discussed herein). But to simultaneously endorse war andthose who insist it will hurt them is quite another.
Gerecht can't have his Keik-e Yazdiand eat it too.