Tyrants resort to a Big Lie when they have nothing truthful to say to the world or their people. The theory is that if you say something outrageous often enough, people will start to believe it.
Last month, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad uttered a brazen Big Lie against the West, suggesting to the United Nations that the U.S. government had masterminded the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, resulting in the deaths of thousands.
That ranks right along with stories that Franklin D. Roosevelt helped plot the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in an effort to get the United States into World War II on the side of his British friends.
As Big Lies go, they don’t get much bigger.
But brazen remarks are not anything new for Mr. Ahmadinejad. He began by denying the Holocaust in 2005. The next step was denying Israel’s right to exist, and now he’s reached the pinnacle - claiming Sept. 11 could have been a U.S. government conspiracy.
I happened to be in New York at the same time as the Iranian president. I was literally across the street from the U.N., addressing a major anti-Ahmadinejad rally of thousands of Iranian dissidents - and discussing another of the regime’s Big Lies.
In 1980, in the early days of the Iranian Revolution, when faced with growing criticism of rampant torture in Iranian prisons, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini appointed a “fact-finding commission.” The commission’s findings were very telling. It declared that the opposition - primarily the People’s Mujahedeen Organization of Iran (PMOI) - tortured its own members in order to blame the regime.
Now fast-forward 30 years. This time Khomeini’s fervid disciple, Mr. Ahmadinejad, used the same tactic to describe Sept. 11.
Why do despots resort to the Big Lie? To cover up what they don’t want their own people or the world to know. In the present case, Mr. Ahmadinejad is trying to divert attention from what is happening in Iran - the opposition is getting stronger and the regime has to resort to ever-tougher suppressive measures to try to keep control.
That’s why, just the other day, President Obama signed an executive order imposing sanctions on eight Iranian officials determined to be responsible for or complicit in severe human rights abuses in Iran since the presidential election last year.
The executive order puts severe restrictions on these individuals and bars any Americans from engaging in any transactions with them. Mr. Obama’s action is a welcome change from the West’s previously timid response to actions by Mr. Ahmadinejad and the mullahs who have propped him up.
The United States keeps insisting that sanctions are hurting the Tehran regime and are the key element in a drive to change Tehran’s behavior. In reality, the problem with U.S. policy is that it has failed to factor in the mullahs’ key weak point, i.e., the enemy within.
The Iranian political scene is very dynamic. Iranians showed their outrage last year by pouring into the streets time after time, crying “Freedom,” “Down with the dictator,” and “Down with Ali Khamenei,” the supreme leader.
This also was very evident at the rally outside the U.N. when Mr. Ahmadinejad spoke inside. Thousands of Iranians from all age groups and all strata cried no to Mr. Ahmadinejad, and yes to Rajavi, referring to Maryam Rajavi, the leader of the opposition.
Iranians called for removal of the PMOI from the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations. They were joined by the former mayor of New York, Rudolph W. Giuliani, and former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton, among others (myself included).
The lifting of the ban on the opposition is more justified now in light of the fact that on July 16, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia said the decision of former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to maintain the designation of the PMOI violated the group’s due-process rights. The court cast doubt on the accuracy of information used against the PMOI and remanded the case to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Removing the terrorist tag would enjoy the backing of Congress. A bipartisan group of more than 80 members co-sponsored House Resolution 1431, explicitly calling for the delisting of the PMOI, “thereby denying the regime the pretext to crack down on dissidents inside Iran.”
It is ironic that as Mr. Ahmadinejad keeps lashing out against the very principles of the United States, the U.S. keeps the main opposition enchained.
The time has come for a new Iran policy, with the opposition at its core, instead of further rounds of futile negotiations. Is there any red line for the West, or is everything open to compromise and negotiation? The next time Mr. Ahmadinejad challenges Western civilization, and the time after that, his quiver might not be limited to words.
David Amess is a British member of Parliament from the Conservative Party and a member of the Parliamentary Committee for Iran Freedom.