June 5, 2003
The war hawks in the Bush administration who promoted regime change in Iraq are now pushing for intervention against Tehran.
Behind them is a formidable lobby -- made up of a few thousand well-connected Iranian expatriates in the United States, many of whom were government officials or wealthy businessmen rejected in the popular Iranian revolution in 1979. The revolution itself was a delayed reaction to a CIA coup that returned this corrupt class to power in 1953.
With help from the American Enterprise Institute and other neoconservatives think tanks in Washington, this lobby has drummed up support for tough policies toward Iran, arguing that less confrontation amounts to "appeasement." It has tried especially to piggyback on the momentum from the U.S. attack on Iraq.
The elite Iranian exiles represent a minority among immigrants from Iran, but they have the most vocal and best-funded groups. Several, including Azar Nafisi and Fereydoon Hoveyda, are clients of Benador Associates, the New York agency that specializes in marketing America's prominent unilateralists. Most recently, they have campaigned to receive federal funding from the United States in legislation introduced last month by Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., a favorite of the Christian Right.
The far right wing of the exile community advocates a return to the Pahlavi monarchy, something the United States tried with disastrous results once before with the Shah of Iran. This monarchist lobby reacts harshly to the majority in the Iranian-American community who do not share its views. It automatically condemns any discussion of the United States easing tensions with Iran as treasonous, even though freedom of thought and tolerance are the supposed themes of its campaign.
Similarly, this lobby condemned as unpatriotic thousands of Iranians in Los Angeles who protested in December against mistreatment by the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
As in the campaign against Cuba, Iranian right-wing exiles are taking to the airwaves. A half-dozen privately owned satellite radio and television stations in Los Angeles are dedicated to spreading the message to Iran around the clock. Washington's own "Radio Farda" is soon to be supplemented by 24-hour U.S.-funded Farsi television beamed into Iran, as Radio and TV Marti target Cuba from Florida.
Lately, several thousand Iranian fugitives in Iraq, formerly allied with Saddam Hussein and branded as "terrorists" since 1997 by the State Department, now seem to be favored by the Pentagon as an instrument of policy.
The renegade army, named Mojahedin-e Khalq, has in the past invaded Iran repeatedly and taken responsibility for rocket attacks against political targets there. It has negligible support among Iranians of any persuasion. Mojahedin's stated goal is to overthrow the current government in Tehran, a position Bush is reportedly moving closer to now, against State Department counsel.
If Washington is serious about reducing extremism in the region, it would be wise to allow genuine self-determination, instead of backing more unsavory short-term solutions that could blow up in America's face again. The European Union is taking that course of action, and the United States should, too.
Ross Pourzal is a member of the Alliance of Progressive Iranians, based in Washington, D.C.