So what will the No. 1 foreign-policy challenge be for the Obama administration in 2011? The answer perhaps was given by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida Republican and the incoming House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman, when she said Iran was challenge “number one, number two and number three.”
As the WikiLeaks’ revelations made clear, the entire Middle East, from Israel to Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf countries, is in a state of extreme anxiety over Iran’s policies. Those countries’ concern is not limited to the regime’s determined efforts to acquire nuclear weapons but includes its brutal and systematic violation of human rights, its persistent support for extremist and Islamic fundamentalist groups and its determination to interfere in the affairs of other nations, especially Iraq.
The Obama administration needs to realize that its “dual track” policy toward Iran of diplomatic engagements and sanctions is not only incompatible with the situation, it is directly counterproductive.
The administration’s attempts to engage with the Iranian regime have been both fruitless and completely divorced from reality. State Department doves consistently have advocated this failed policy out of a mistaken view that the regime in Tehran is powerful and stable, and they consequently have argued that the only plausible option was to cut a deal with the mullahs’ regime and ignore its opponents. Events have proved the doves to be wrong.
The anti-government protests that began in 2009 have consistently highlighted the weakness of their case and proved the opposite to be true. They repeatedly exposed a regime that is fragmented, devoid of a sound political base and fiercely opposed by a generation of young men and women who yearn for freedom and overwhelmingly support the demands of the organized resistance for internal regime change. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s ruthless regime has not only failed to stop the unrest, it has exacerbated internal schisms and underlined the regime’s weaknesses. The new realities call for a new policy on Iran.
The time has come to adopt internal regime change as the U.S. policy on Iran. That is not a call for U.S. military intervention; it is a call to stand at the side of the Iranian people and their organized resistance to bring about democratic change.
Last week, at an international conference in Paris, dozens of political figures and former high-ranking officials from the United States, Europe and Arab countries, including Rudolph W. Giuliani, former mayor of New York City; Frances Townsend, adviser to President George W. Bush on homeland security and counterterrorism; Michael Mukasey, former attorney general; and Tom Ridge, former homeland security secretary, urged the international community to adopt a new approach toward the Iranian regime and the threats it poses.
As a first step, they all called on the American government to remove the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), the main opposition movement, from the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations.
The PMOI, which supports the overthrow of the Iranian government and the establishment of a democratic secular government, has been on the list since 1997, when the Clinton administration put it there in a bid to secure closer cooperation with Tehran. The results of this approach are clear.
Calling the designation a “disgrace,” Mr. Giuliani said the U.S. should act enthusiastically on the side of the PMOI and its objectives.
Ms. Townsend reiterated that “the greatest single step … the United States government can take to really put pressure on the Iranian regime and enable change is by delisting the PMOI. We should do that because the listing is not warranted by the evidence that is public, nor is [it] justified by anything that is classified.”
In July, a U.S. federal appeals court challenged the basis of this designation and ordered the State Department to reconsider its decision. The United Kingdom and European Union removed the PMOI from their lists of proscribed terrorist organizations in 2008 and 2009, respectively.
Removing the terrorist tag would gain considerable support in Congress. A bipartisan group of more than 110 members only recently sponsored a House resolution calling for the delisting of the PMOI.
The blacklisting of the PMOI has not only restricted the main Iranian opposition, it has positively encouraged the mullahs’ regime to more vigorously suppress its opponents, especially PMOI supporters, inside Iran. (Ali Saremi, 63, was executed Tuesday after spending 24 years behind bars over his support for the PMOI.) The mullahs’ proxies in Iraq exploit the label to justify threats to Camp Ashraf in Iraq, where 3,400 members of the organization live. In July 2009, the camp came under attack by Iraqi forces at the behest of Tehran. Eleven people died, all of them unarmed and designated “protected persons” under the Fourth Geneva Convention, and 500 were wounded. The listing therefore puts the lives of these people at risk.
As Maryam Rajavi, president-elect of the Iranian resistance, put it, “The correct solution to the Iranian problem is regime change, a democratic change by the Iranian people and resistance. This is the defining factor in the Iranian equation. Thus, any policy that blocks the resistance ignores the most important factor for change in Iran and protects the regime.”
When Iranians need all the resources at their disposal to bring about change, the unjust designation sends the wrong message to the brave Iranians who regularly take to the streets asking, “Obama, Obama, are you with them or with us?”
It is time to answer with a clear message: “We are with you.”
Brian Binley is a member of Parliament from the United Kingdom’s Conservative Party and a member of the British Parliamentary Committee for Iran Freedom.