Monday, May 09, 2005

Just Say No To MKO

Dan Darling of Winds of has weighed in on's article this weekend entitled: A Third Option on Iran, which support the MEK. We hope that the editors of will rethink their position. Here is his analysis:
Dr. Zin over at Regime Change Iran has already done the lion's share of the work on this, but I just want to reinterate my opposition to the Mujahiden-e-Kalq (MEK, MKO, or People's Mujahideen) becoming the official US-backed Iranian opposition for a whole host of reasons that I hope this rant will make clear.

First of all, I want to make it quite clear that the vast majority of people in Washington who support the MEK in some capacity or another are not malicious, nor do they agree with the organization's objectives or ideology. Instead, MEK and its various front groups have been able to very successfully obfuscate or dissimulate around what they actually believe when dealing with Western officials and lobbying groups. This is classic cult behavior, where prospective converts are not informed as to the true nature of the sect until they're already thoroughly imbedded and the MEK very much exhibits the characteristics of a cult when one takes into account Massoud Rajavi's secular Marxist interpretation of the Qur'an and the rather bizarre cult of personality centered around the deification of Massoud's wife Maryam. As a result, when dealing with Westerners the MEK or its front organizations tend to focus almost exclusively on the very pressing issues of human rights and in particular women's rights as far as Iran is concerned. Also, before anybody starts trying to turn this into a partisan issue, it should be understood that various levels of support for MEK exist on a bipartisan basis on Capitol Hill, in large part due to the group's ability to successfully adopt rhetoric designed to win the favor of both conservative and liberal legislators.

One of the problems with the debate over the MEK is how it is framed. The usual manner in which debate occurs is that the MEK is to be condemned because it's on the US State Department's list of designated foreign terrorist organizations, whereas the MEK and its supporters argue that it was placed on the list in 1997 as part of an effort by the Clinton administration to reach out to the then newly-elected Iranian President Khatami. The group then points out that it has not attacked or attempted to attack US interests for more than 20 years, that the only attacks it ever did carry out against US citizens (usually the murder of US military advisors and defense contractors in pre-Revolution Iran) occurred within the context of its war against the Shah and it has long since repudiated those actions. All of this is arguably true and the MEK criticism that they are being blacklisted while the US is giving money to the Palestinian Authority even as the armed wing of the ruling Fatah party (al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades) continues to engage in activities that have resulted in the killing of US nationals in Israel is pretty hard to rationally refute. I myself must admit being rather agnostic as to whether MEK should be on the terrorist list, but whether or not they belong on the list has nothing to do with whether or not they should be the US choice for the recognized face of the Iranian opposition.

As I hope the reference to the belief in the deification of Maryam Rajavi above helped to demonstrate, the MEK is not an organization or a movement that is going to be all that appealing or even tolerable to the vast majority of Iranians. There are other reasons beyond simple matters of theology, however, as to why the MEK is so hated by the majority of Iranians. After their falling out with Khomeini, they went over to Saddam Hussein's side during the Iraq-Iran War and assisted the Baathists in killing tens of thousands of their own countrymen. Nor was this assistance merely limited to the Iraq-Iran War, for as p. 321 of the SSIC report on pre-war Iraq intelligence makes crystal clear, the Iraqi regime provided bases, training, protection, and funding for Saddam Hussein as well as helping Saddam with his internal security. In other words, the MEK were Quislings for the former Iraqi regime, helping Saddam to perpetrate his reign of terror. Do these really sound like people who should be trusted with sharp objects, let alone the composition of a post-Khomeinist Iran?

Any kind of US support for the MEK as an organized Iranian opposition would be a complete and utter disaster for any kind of movement for democratic revolution inside Iran. It would give the mullahs a propaganda victory that they would relish for years to come and completely discredit any legitimate pro-democracy groups that accepted US support. In absence of such support, it seems to me to be highly unlikely that current Islamic Republic will fall and anything that prolongs the life of the Khomeinist experiment is to be avoided like the plague in my view.

Another context that needs to be noted in amidst the current MEK publicity campaign (as Dr. Zin stated in his piece on the subject) is that a number of Iranian opposition groups have been seeking to organize in the hopes of presenting a "united front" against the regime. Most of this has been happening pretty much under the radar (unless you read Regime Change Iran, of course), but my guess is that the MEK has been watching these efforts with great interest and is seeking to move as quickly as possible to position itself to claim the mantle of "the official US-backed Iranian opposition group" before the pro-democracy forces can set aside their differences and unite under a shared set of beliefs. I would also note that even with some at the Pentagon pushing for rearming the MEK and sending them back across the border to carry out tit-for-tat attacks against the Iranians in retaliation for harboring the al-Qaeda leadership and supporting the Iraqi insurgency, none of them in their wildest dreams have contemplated using the MEK or its various front groups as the official "government-in-exile" because they know what an absurd move it would be to begin with.

Past readers may note that I have expressed tepid support on my own blog for the MEK assisting the US in gathering intelligence on Iran and in particular its nuclear program. This is true, in large part because MEK has the HUMINT assets in-country that it cultivated at Saddam's behest, HUMINT assets that are currently quite lacking to US intelligence. However, there is a marked difference between using the MEK for the purposes of intelligence collection and recognizing the MEK as the official face of the Iranian opposition. What the MEK needs to understand, however, is that if they do assist us on intelligence matters that they will be working for us, not the other way around.

One additional point I want to make is that a number of bloggers, eager to score political points, have attempted to assert that Dr. Ledeen supports the MEK even while ignoring the very real support for the organization expressed by former Democratic Senator Toricelli. Often, these charges against Dr. Ledeen are made simultaneously with the accusations that he is a monarchist and supports the restoration of the Pahlavi dynasty. How exactly he is supposed to manage these dual affinities is beyond me, but then my own impression is that most of the people making these charges are usually too shrill or partisan to clarify. In either case, Dr. Ledeen supports neither the Pahlavis restored or the MEK running Tehran in large part because, regardless of the merits or lack thereof of either party, his whole idea of democratic revolution as far as US intervention is concerned is based around the principle (and I'm articulating it rather crudely) that by helping to empower the existing pro-democracy forces. That's it and the actual composition and particulars of a future Iranian government will be decided by the Iranian people, not imposed from on high by the United States.

Now I want to go on the record as saying that I like Frontpage Magazine, I've taken part in one of their symposiums, and I'm pretty good friends with one of their writers. But you ask anybody with any knowledge of the MEK from AEI, Heritage, Brookings, Carnegie, Hudson, RAND, Jamestown, ad infinitum whether or not the MEK should be the official US-backed Iranian opposition group, they will you down the line "No!" with more unanimity than you'll get on just about any other issue I can think of off-hand. The whole point of the US supporting an Iranian opposition group is to help lay the groundwork for Iranian democracy when the mullahs crumble. Support the MEK and you'll end up with a People's Republic in place of an Islamic Republic - Mrs. Rajavi's "temporary interim presidency" would end up being like the "temporary state of emergency" that Egypt implemented in the wake of the Sadat assassination that has allowed Hosni Mubarak to remain in power almost unchallenged for the last 20 years.

Anybody contemplating US support for the MEK needs to ask themselves the following questions:

1. Can we really trust people who betrayed their country and served as one of Saddam's secret police forces to keep their word when they say they'll give up power after an interim period?

2. Do we really want the successor regime to the mullahs in Iran to look something like North Korea or Pol Pot's Cambodia?
I hope the editors of are listening.