Most Americans have never heard of Camp Ashraf, but recent events at the refugee camp tell us why President Obama’s foreign policy toward Iran is heading for a train wreck of catastrophic proportions.
The fate of 3,400 Iranian dissidents at Camp Ashraf illustrates that Mr. Obama’s appeasement policy toward Iran’s radical mullahs has consequences beyond America’s shameful silence about the sham presidential election. These Iranian dissidents are caught in a diplomatic no man’s land that puts them in peril, unable to emigrate and no longer welcome in the camp set up by the United States in 2003 for their protection.
The root of the problem is the State Department’s refusal to take the People’s Mujahedeen off the list of terrorist organizations. That listing prevents them from getting visas to enter the U.S. and many other Western countries.
Even though the State Department’s own counterterrorism expert, Dell L. Dailey, recommended delisting the group in 2008, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice overruled that decision. Mr. Obama’s State Department has continued that misguided policy in obedience to the strategy of appeasing the mullahs in the name of “engagement” and new diplomatic overtures.
Early in 2009, the U.S. military turned over to Iraq the responsibility for protecting Camp Ashraf despite the fact that the 2003 written agreement with the residents of Ashraf specified that the U.S. would protect them until their final status in Iraq was decided.
On July 28, Iraqi security forces stormed Camp Ashraf on the pretext of establishing a police station within the camp. The Iraqi move was praised by the mullahs in Iran, who want the camp disbanded and the dissidents sent back to Iran for arrest and imprisonment.
The U.S. State Department has not yet condemned the raid but did arrange for a U.S. Army medical team to visit the camp to aid over 450 people injured in the police raid. That gesture is cold comfort to the relatives of the 12 Iranian residents killed by Iraqi forces in the melee that accompanied the police move into the camp.
Human Rights Watch has called for an impartial investigation into the Iraqi police action. Videos of the July 28 attacks show police wielding not only batons and water canons but iron bars in their assault on unarmed residents. Military Humvees ran over injured protesters. Residents also claim that at least two people were killed by sniper fire. Iraqi security forces have prevented journalists from entering the camp to interview residents.
Independent observers know that the action on July 28 is hardly an isolated incident, as it came on the heels of repeated Iraqi government statements that it intends to disband the camp and evict its residents. Such statements are contrary to the agreement signed with the United States guaranteeing the safety of the refugees.
Iraq is also a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which forbids the forcible return of political refugees who face torture or cruel punishments. But where can they go if the United States continues to label them terrorists?
What’s wrong with this picture? The 3,400 pro-democracy Iranian dissidents at Camp Ashraf are being treated as undesirables and left to the mercy of vengeful Iraq forces. Meanwhile, thousands of pro-Hamas refugees from Gaza, who, less than a year ago, were throwing rocks and firing missiles into Israel, are being welcomed into the United States by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on “humanitarian grounds.”
Great Britain and the European Union, in the past year, have removed the People’s Mujahedeen from the list of terrorist organizations. It is time for the United States to follow suit instead of using the residents of Camp Ashraf as pawns in a diplomatic shell game.
The change makes obvious sense from a humanitarian perspective because it will gives Camp Ashraf residents new status within Iraq and opens new possibilities and options for their eventual resettlement. Equally important, the change also makes sense politically because the Iranian mullahs need to see consistency and realism in U.S. policy toward Iranian dissidents.
The U.S. cannot credibly decry the mistreatment of protesters in the streets of Tehran while demonstrating cynical disregard for the plight of dissidents in refugee camps under control of our own allies. Any suggestion that the mullahs — who dare to fix elections and shoot protesters to stay in power — can be trusted to keep negotiated agreements not to build nuclear weapons is naive to the point of stupidity.
This is one case where the interests of diplomatic realism and the imperatives of morality support the same policy: If Mr. Obama truly wants to get the mullahs to the bargaining table on the nuclear-weapons issue, he needs to change course and begin giving strong and vocal support to all Iranian dissidents.
The United States must send the radical mullahs in Tehran a strong and consistent message: The United States will not betray the rights of dissidents who seek only democracy and the end of repression in Iran. Only when Iran begins to recognize and respect the rights of its own citizens can its rulers be trusted to negotiate in good faith on matters of international concern.
Tom Tancredo is a former member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and five-term member of Congress from Colorado. He currently serves as the chairman of the Rocky Mountain Foundation.