Although the strategy is older than the mean sheriff and his less sadistic deputy in the Old West, we need to only go back a few years here. If one recalls, prior to the US/UK invasion on Iraq in 2003, there were several initiatives to “promote democracy” in that country. Usually it was the State Department that played the good cop to the Defense Department’s bad cop. Give money to dissident groups and others opposed to the regime of Saddam Hussein — that was the good guy approach. (If there was no organized opposition, then the US would create one). Let’s go in now and blow them to bits with “shock and awe” was the “bad guy” approach, more or less. Of course, on March 20, 2003, there was no difference between the two departments as their leaders watched FoxNews and cheered on the impending mass murder being perpetrated per their intentions.
So, here we go again. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice has formally asked the Congress to provide at least $75 million to “promote democracy” in Iran. Already, the bad guys over in Defense have been ramping up the call to arms, including nuclear ones, in their desire to eliminate the regime in Tehran once and for all. So, the stage is slowly being set for a rerun of the same ol’ carrot and stick. The question is, exactly what groups does Condi gave in mind? State Department officials have made it fairly clear that the most well-known groups opposed to the regime of the mullahs, the People’s Mujahedin (PMOI) and National Council for Resistance in Iran (NCRI), will not be receiving any of these funds. Furthermore, contacts aligned with these groups tell me that their leadership has no interest in monies from foreign governments, believing that any change in the Iranian government must come from within the Iranian popular will.
The only other Iranian exile groups that exist (and aren’t Maoist or some other leftist formation) are groups linked to the son of the former Shah, Reza Pahlavi. A quick history lesson reminds us that the Shah was installed in 1953 after a coup against the populist government of Mohammed Mossadegh. That coup was organized, funded, and directed by Kermit Roosevelt and the CIA. The impetus for the coup was Mossadegh’s decision to nationalize Iranian oil. After the Shah was installed on the Peacock Throne, he began a campaign of industrial modernization and secularization in Iran. At the same time, his government made oil deals favorable to US oil companies and used a large percentage of the profits from those deals to enrich his family and friends. Although the middle class grew during his reign, so did impoverishment among the rural and urban poor. In addition, the nature of capitalist progress forced many Iranians off their small plots of land and into the cities, where life was considerably harsher.
From the beginning of his rule, the Shah had many enemies. In order to maintain control and keep his enemies down, the Shah imprisoned thousands of students, workers, and others that opposed his rule. In addition, his secret police — the SAVAK — were known for their brutal methods of torture and their wanton executions. The repression increased the opposition until, finally in 1979, the groundswell became so vast that he was forced into exile. Out of what seemed to be nowhere to the western observer, the Ayatollah Khomeini appeared in the capital of Tehran, ready to take over the reins of the revolutionary government. Khomeini, who spoke the words of the revolution, won the day in the struggle for power that ensued after the Shah’s government disappeared, and proceeded to methodically destroy all opposition to his socially reactionary and economically stagnant program. After ten years of rule, Khomeini died and was given a martyr’s funeral, with millions of Iranians mourning in the streets. Since his death in 1989, the Iranian government has continued to repress its opponents, despite some liberalization of Khomeini-era laws. Constantly rife with rumors of corruption, the economy has prospered, but many Iranians continue to struggle.
The election of the fundamentalist Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the presidency in 2005 was seen by many observers as a reaction of the rural and urban poor to the government’s corruption and failure to meet basic needs of the poor. The current crisis over Iran’s nuclear energy program is a crisis contrived by Washington in its drive to return Iran back to Washington’s fold — a drive that began even before the Shah was overthrown back in 1979. For whatever reason, Ahmadinejad has played into Washington’s hands nicely by making bellicose statements and by appearing to be hiding the program’s true intentions. Whether or not Iran’s nuclear program is intended purely for energy production, the perception is that it isn’t. Therefore, there is little Iran can do at this point in terms of changing world opinion except back down.
So, there is a possibility that some of the monies earmarked for Condi Rice’s Iranian democracy project will go to the Shah’s son. Indeed, at least one other group — Kenneth Timmerman’s Foundation for Democracy in Iran — that is rumored to be at least tangentially connected to Pahlavi’s small organization has already received funds from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). Pahlavi is also on record encouraging foreign governments to aid the Iranian resistance, especially his group. Another plot in this scenario is a repeat of the game plan Washington used against Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi government. In other words, the State Department will work with willing exiles and form a so-called national congress. The intention of this group will be to make contacts with potential allies inside Iran who will help them distribute propaganda and organize dissent. Other exiles will work with the CIA and Pentagon, conducting military surveillance operations on the ground and staging small-scale terror attacks and instigating local insurrections. Meanwhile, the bombardment of the US public with truths and half-truths about Iranian nuclear plans and human rights abuses will continue, perhaps even culminating in another grand televised act at the United Nations where Condi Rice repeats Colin Powell’s Great Lie, complete with fuzzy photographs, anthrax vials, descriptions of underground WMD sites, and expressed fears that the end of the world is at hand unless Iran is attacked.
According to an article by Farah Stockman in the Boston Globe, the US is prepared for “a long struggle” against Iran. An Office of Iranian Affairs was recently opened inside the State Department and an “embassy-in-exile” was just opened in Dubai. The main purpose of the Dubai installation will be to broadcast propaganda into Iran and to help coordinate US-sponsored exile groups and black ops against Iran (9 March 2006). As for the possibility of other countries like Russia or China heading off any showdown between Tehran and Washington, the very fact that the US is now insisting that the Iranian nuclear issue be brought to the UN Security Council without delay seems to indicate that Washington is once again only interested in making demands and ultimatums, not in genuine negotiations. Of course, all of this could quickly become irrelevant, given a number of statements by Israeli government officials, the most recent being one by the ultra-hawk Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, who told the media on March 8, 2006: “My answer to this question [of whether Israel will attack Iran] is that the state of Israel has the right to give all the security that is needed to the people in Israel. We have to defend ourselves” (Reuters). If Israel jumps in, all bets are off.
Ron Jacobs is author of The Way the Wind Blew: A History of the Weather Underground, just republished by Verso. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch‘s new collection on music, art and sex: Serpents in the Garden. He can be reached at <firstname.lastname@example.org>.