- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 27, 2003

Rudyard Kipling called the late 19th-century struggle between Britain and Russia for dominance in the Caucasus and Central Asia with spies, secret plots and lots of assassinations “The Great Game.” Updating Kipling, I am adding a new sobriquet for the 15-year-old seduction by Iran of the United States, “The Great Con-Game.” It might also be considered a synonym for the “Good Cop-Bad Cop” routine, to describe how the Tehran mullahs bamboozled the State Department experts for 10 years. It’s possible that the State Department’s eyes, like those of a newborn babe, have at last opened wide.

A meeting yesterday of high administration officials reportedly adopted a more realistic policy and a new strategy toward the Tehran terrorist theocrats who have turned the country into a concentration camp.

“The Great Con-Game” came into full bloom in May 1997 with the election of Mohammed Khatami as president of Iran. Actually the game had begun earlier during the presidency of Hashemi Rafsanjani from 1989 to 1997, when some American newspaper editors were asked if they would be interested in visiting Iran and meeting its leaders. But the offer was never fully implemented.

Mr. Khatami’s election really made hope blossom, hope that Iran would stop being a terrorist state and a formidable enemy of the U.S. That hope reached a climax when Iran’s new president charmed a New York Times postelection interviewer by quoting Alexis de Tocqueville and thus hatched the myth of Iranian “moderates.” An Iranian who quoted the great French intellectual couldn’t be all bad, could he?

Unfortunately, American policy-makers forgot the lapidary words of former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger: “An Iranian moderate is somebody who has run out of ammunition.” Mr. Khatami’s election was enough to send State Department hopes flying higher than they had since 1979 when the successful Khomenei revolutionaries overthrew the shah and then imprisoned the U.S. Embassy staff for 444 days.

“The Great Con-Game” has been responsible for one of the most mysterious chapters in the making of American foreign policy over the past two decades. I am referring to the what-the-hell-is-going-on secret diplomacy between the State Department and Iran, a country that President Bush included as part of the “axis of evil.”

In a message to Congress Jan. 9, 2002, he said Iran “aggressively pursues these weapons [of mass destruction] and exports terror while an unelected few repress the Iranian people’s hope for freedom.”

For several years we were told (but not openly by anybody in authority) that Iran’s ayatollahs were showing signs of friendliness to the United States (a k a “the Great Satan”) and even softening their anti-American theocratic rhetoric. Even so wily an observer as the venerable William Buckley in a recent column wondered aloud “whether Iran will continue to move toward liberalism,” which, of course, raises the question: When did this putative “move toward liberalism” begin?

President Bush was a little more realistic. Speaking at the University of South Carolina May 9, Mr. Bush said that in Iran “the desire for freedom is stirring. In the face of harsh repression, Iranians are courageously speaking out for democracy and the rule of law and human rights. And the United States strongly supports their aspirations for freedom.”

Now you would think that in the face of such a presidential statement the State Department would be happy to find and enlist exiled Iranian groups in the battle against, to use the president’s words, “an unelected few [who] repress the Iranian people’s hope for freedom.” Not so. For the State Department the enemy until now has been the People’s Mujaheedin Organization, with a military wing stationed for several years along the Iran-Iraq border. The aim of the PMO was to oust the ayatollah fundamentalist dictatorship and establish a secular democracy. During those years, it exposed Iran’s nuclear and biological warfare sites, identified acts of Iranian terrorism and assassinations the world over.

PMO actions enlisted the enthusiastic support of a majority of members of Congress and many members of European parliaments. Despite all evidence to the contrary, the State Department put the PMO on a list of terrorist organizations. This designation was a Chamberlainesque act of appeasement, the successful triumph by the ayatollah regime as part of “The Great Con-Game.”

In outlawing the PMO, the State Department went so far as to authorize the Defense Department, while at war with Saddam Hussein, to bomb the PMO’s campsites where some 5,000 Iranian militants, enemies of Tehran, were on station. At some point after the bombing, the U.S. military in Iraq were ordered (the whole story is yet to be told) to sign a cease-fire with the PMO. It was a ridiculous cease-fire agreement since the PMO units hadn’t fired at anyone, least of all coalition forces fighting Saddam. On May 9 and 10, the PMO was ordered by the United States Central Command to surrender their arms, which they did.

At long last, the State Department, its Iran appeasement policy a heap of ash and rubble, has come, I think, to its senses and decided it would no longer be part of “The Great Con-Game.” U.S. Gen. Ray Odierno announced May 10 that the Mujaheedin “shared similar goals to the United States in forming democracy and fighting oppression and that they had been extremely cooperative,” according to an AFP dispatch.

“The Great Con-Game” appeasement policy began with the Clinton administration which put the PMO on the State Department list of terrorist organizations. An unnamed senior Clinton official told the Los Angeles Times (Oct. 9, 1997): “The inclusion of the People’s Mujaheedin was intended as a goodwill gesture to Tehran and its newly elected moderate President Mohammed Khatami.” Former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Martin Indyk told Newsweek on Sept. 26, 2002, that the terrorist designation of the Mujaheedin was part of the Clinton administration’s strategy and was due to “the White House interest in opening up a dialogue with the Iranian government.”

And, incredibly, the Bush administration was suckered into participating in “The Great Con-Game” including allowing the bombing of potential allies against the Iran theocracy. In the meantime, U.S. intelligence, according to The Washington Post, has found that al Qaeda militants operating in Iran were involved in the May 12 suicide bombings in Riyadh.

So at long last “The Great Con-Game” has come to an end. The question remains: What about the 5,000 PMO fighters?

Arnold Beichman, a Hoover Institution research fellow, is a columnist for The Washington Times.

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