Tom Barry, last updated: May 18, 2006
At a time when the Republican Party is divided on immigration reform and when the Democrats and the Republicans are positioning themselves for the mid-term elections on such issues as gay marriage, Congress is demonstrating alarming bipartisan unity on Iran.
On April 27 the House of Representatives passed the Iran Freedom Support Act by a vote of 397 to 21. The bill tightens sanctions imposed on Iran under the Iran Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA) of 1996 and tightens sanctions on companies that invest in the country's energy industries. The bill would make U.S. sanctions against Iran under ILSA permanent unless there is a change of government in Iran.
Sponsored by Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Tom Lantos (D-CA), the bill authorizes the president "to provide financial and political assistance to foreign and domestic individuals, organizations, and entities that support democracy and the promotion of democracy in Iran. The Senate version of the bill, S. 333, sponsored by Sens. Rick Santorum (R-PA) and Evan Bayh (D-IN), currently has 58 co-sponsors.
Ohio Democrat Dennis Kucinich, who opposed the bill, argued: "While this bill makes a point of so-called not using force against Iran, be assured this is a stepping stone to the use of force, the same way that the Iraq Liberation Act was used as a stepping stone."
The American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is the most prominent lobbying group pressing for congressional approval of the Iran Freedom Support Act. After the House's approval of the bill, AIPAC told its members and supporters: "Please thank your Representative for voting for the bill and urge your Senators to co-sponsor S.333." On its website, AIPAC lists the 58 senators who have already agreed to support the companion bill when it comes to the Senate. The Senate bill counts on such Democrats as Barbara Boxer, Maria Cantwell, Dianne Feinstein, and Barbara Mikulski as well as such conservative Democrats as Joe Lieberman and Mary Landrieu.
While AIPAC is the most powerful group advocating a tougher U.S. policy toward Iran, numerous other pressure groups calling for regime change in Iran have emerged over the past several years. One of the earliest, the Coalition for Democracy in Iran (CDI), formed in late 2002, ceased functioning in mid-2005. Operating out of the office of Morris Amitay, the former director of AIPAC, CDI worked closely with AIPAC to encourage Congress to pass resolutions condemning Iran. The CDI principals continue their efforts to promote regime change in Iran through other organizations, including the Foundation for Democracy in Iran, Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, Committee on the Present Danger, and the American Enterprise Institute.
Raymond Tanter, one of the original members of the Coalition for Democracy in Iran, founded the Iran Policy Committee (IPC) in January 2005. Tanter, who was a senior staff member of the National Security Council during the Reagan administration, is also associated with several other right-wing policy organizations, including the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Middle East Institute, and the Committee on the Present Danger. Since its founding the Iran Policy Committee has sponsored conferences and policy briefings on the Hill, and has also published four policy papers-a common theme being that the U.S. government should declassify the People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) as an international terrorist organization and recognize it as being the "indisputably largest and most organized Iranian opposition group."
According to Kenneth Timmerman, executive director of the Foundation for Democracy in Iran, the MEK (Mujahedin-e Khalq) is shifting its militant rhetoric and is now claiming to be a nonviolent, pro-democracy group. The MEK, which is characterized as a terrorist group, operates a political front organization called the National Council of Resistance of Iran, which is sponsoring conferences in Paris and Washington during the last week of May on regime change in Iran. The Paris conference, according to Timmerman, is being organized by the London-based Gulf Intelligence Monitor.
Timmerman reports that the "five American participants-Ray Tanter, Maj. Gen. (ret.) Paul Vallely, Lt. Gen. (ret.) Thomas McInerney, Navy Capt. (ret) Chuck Nash, and Lt. Col. (ret). Bill Cowan-are all members of the Iran Policy Committe e, an organization set up by Tanter and by former CIA officer Clare Lopez in early 2005." According to Timmerman, "The group has published a number of 'white papers'-all of which have one thing in common: they urge the Bush administration to take the MEK and its various front organizations off the State Department list of international terrorist organizations."
Timmerman asks where the MEK is getting the money to finance the conferences and why the FBI is allowing an international terrorist organization to operate openly in the United States.
Clare Lopez, the executive director of the Iran Policy Committee, is, like Tanter, a resident scholar at the Middle East Institute. Another leading member of IPC is Bruce McColm, who is the president of the Institute for Democratic Strategies and the former president of the International Republican Institute. Most of the other principals of IPC are retired military officers.
The U.S. government has committed at least $75 million for projects that directly or indirectly support a regime change strategy in Iran. Over the last couple of years, several million dollars in U.S. democracy assistance aid for Iran has been distributed to an array of organizations, including Freedom House, a neocon led organization in Washington. New funding would also be channeled to Iranian dissidents, mostly expatriates, although groups like IPC would like to see the MEK, which has bases in Iraq, benefit from U.S. "democracy building" funding.
Following the March announcement that the Bush administration wanted to commit $75 million for media and political organizing, Senator Santorum, sponsor of the Iran Freedom Support Act, said, "Given the administration's recent commitment to provide $75 million to pro-democracy efforts within Iran, I intend to increase the level of funding authorized by my bill to $100 million."
Michael Rubin, an AEI scholar who formerly worked as an Iran adviser under Douglas Feith at the Pentagon, said: "Many Iranians have shown they are not embarrassed to take American assistance." However, numerous Iranian experts say that U.S. aid would undermine the credibility of Iranian dissidents. Abbas Milani, director of Iranian studies at Stanford, told the New York Times , "Anyone who wants American money in Iran is going to be tainted in the eyes of Iranians."
Well aware of U.S. regime change politics, the Iranian government, according to news reports, has launched a $15 million program to "discover and neutralize American plots and intervention."
Tom Barry is policy director of the International Relations Center, online at www.irc-online.org.
Tom Barry, "Iran Freedom and Regime Change Politics" (Somerville, MA: International Relations Center, May 19, 2006).
Max Boot, a neoconservative military historian based at the Council on Foreign Relations, has urged the United States “unambiguously to embrace its imperial role” and asserted that “America should be the world’s policeman.” Boot, who is also a veteran of the Project for the New American Century and a lifelong Republican, is among a small group of neoconservatives—many of whom are concerned about the rise of an anti-interventionist faction in the GOP—to express tentative support for a potential presidential candidacy by Hillary Clinton, whom Boot has credited as “a principled voice for a strong stand on controversial issues, whether supporting the Afghan surge or the intervention in Libya.”
Despite Robert Kagan's deep ties to the neoconservative movement, the Brookings Institution historian has carefully sought to frame his work in a bipartisan manner. Kagan's efforts have earned him an audience in the Obama White House, where he has had the opportunity to exchange views with the president. Now, with a resurgent anti-interventionist wing challenging the neoconservatives for dominance in the GOP, Kagan has hinted that he would consider backing a presidential bid by Hillary Clinton, who has frequently expressed hawkish views. "I feel comfortable with her on foreign policy," said Kagan, a lifelong apologist for U.S. "superpower."
Ahmed Chalabi, the onetime Iraqi exile who aggressively courted neoconservative support for the U.S. invasion of Iraq by spreading falsehoods about Saddam Hussein's weapons programs, long ago fell out of favor in Washington and has never enjoyed much popular support in Iraq, where he currently serves in parliament. But amid Iraq's current political crisis, Chalabi has been floated as a possible compromise candidate to replace Nouri al-Maliki as the prime minister of Iraq—and some of his old neoconservative allies, especially Richard Perle, have expressed joy at the possibility. Concluded a writer for the Washington Post, "It seems a sad indication of the absurdity of the past 11 years of Iraqi history that the man who helped dupe U.S. officials into that invasion should now be backed in his bid for leadership by those very same people."
Reuel Marc Gerecht, a senior fellow at the neoconservative Foundation for Defense of Democracies, has advocated bombing Iran for years, once admitting that even his mom thought he’d “gone too far.” He recently wrote that U.S. credibility "is overwhelmingly built on Washington’s willingness to use force" and lamented that the Obama administration's reluctance to intervene in Syria's civil war amounts to "retreat" from the region. Dismissing the supposed moderation of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Gerecht has also advised U.S. policymakers to "forget diplomacy" with Iran and instead bolster sanctions and military threats.
Liz Cheney, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney and an avid foreign policy hawk in her own right, is slowly returning to the spotlight after her disastrous primary challenge to Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY) last year. In addition to penning hawkish screeds against the Obama administration’s policies in Iraq and cofounding a hardline new 501(c)4 group with her father Dick Cheney, Liz Cheney is reportedly seeking to mend ties with the Republican establishment she alienated during her Senate bid, possibly in preparation for another run for office.
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