May 26, 2017

Don’t enable Iran’s offenses

Mercury News
Bob Filner & Lord Corbett
Posted: May 15, 2008

Peace movements always struggle with the balancing act of wanting to engage enemies without appeasing them. Peace activists don’t want war, but they also recognize that peace at any price can be costly. In the case of Iran, these choices are becoming painful and difficult.

The peace movement is determined to ensure that we not make an Iraq-like mistake by launching a military campaign against Iran. Calls for “engagement” with Iran have been a central component of the drive to deal with the despotic regime in Tehran. But in our desire to end the U.S.-led mission in Iraq, and to avoid any intervention in Iran, significant elements in the peaceful anti-war movement risk being turned into unwitting enablers of Iran’s appalling human rights violations, nuclear proliferation, weapons trafficking and support for international terrorism. The dysfunction of Iraqi politicians, the endless casualties on all sides, and indeed the seemingly widening Iranian influence in Iraq have led to calls for the withdrawal of American-led troops and a simultaneous call for Western engagement with Iran.

Iran taking advantage

Iran’s rulers are more than happy to see this development. Indeed, the Iranian regime is taking full advantage of conflicted sentiments within the activist community – and inside Western governments – that are leading a policy of appeasement toward one of the world’s most anti-democratic and militaristic governments. Despite its clandestine and overt yet destructive behavior, Iran stands poised to achieve its longstanding strategic goal of expanding its influence over a weak and chaotic Iraq, and extending its hegemony over the Persian Gulf region. In fact, critics of the decision by the United States, the United Kingdom and their allies to invade Iraq five years ago cite the deepening Iranian influence in Iraq as an inevitable consequence of the invasion.

The mullahs in Tehran don’t hold all the cards, however. The Iranian regime’s aggressive policies are rooted in the growing weakness of the mullahs. The unrelenting assault on the civil and human rights of the Iranian people is a direct response to the unpopularity and illegitimacy of the extremist theocratic government, most recently demonstrated by the massive boycott of last month’s engineered parliamentary elections.

It would seem logical that the liberal democracies of the West, with the support of the activist community, should use all peaceful means possible to isolate the Iranian regime. Yet, the desire for a peaceful resolution has been conflated into policies that would provide the regime with the legitimacy it craves and a strengthened hand to pursue its expansionist agenda.

A notable remnant of the West’s previously unsuccessful attempt at “engagement” with Iran is the designation of the main Iranian opposition group, the Mujahedeen e-Khalq (MEK) as a foreign terrorist organization. By branding the MEK as a terrorist group, the West hobbled one of the strongest advocates for domestic reform and the organization that blew the whistle on Iran’s clandestine nuclear weapon and missile development programs.

Recently, several court decisions in the UK and the EU invalidated the unjust terrorist designation of the MEK. Just this week the government of the United Kingdom was ordered to remove the MEK from its list of banned terrorist organizations. The peace movement should urge the American and all European governments to remove the terror designation of the MEK as a necessary step to empower the Iranian people and their genuine, nationwide movement for fundamental change in that country.

Exploiting weakness

Launching a military attack on Iran would be a tragic mistake, but it is an error almost as grave to think that continued pacification of the Iranian regime is the only alternative to war. It is time to recognize that the Iranian regime regards concessions not as gestures to be reciprocated in kind, but as signs of weakness to be exploited. That is not to say that there will never be any room for conversation with Iran, but Western diplomats and policy-makers must avoid the trap of letting Tehran set the terms of the discussion. Western policies toward Iran have failed because they ignore the immense power of the disenchanted people of Iran. Today, the Iranian people are imbued with democratic aspirations and a well-organized resistance movement. Both pragmatism and principle argue that we should be
helping to empower the Iranian people in their brave and determined struggle against the world’s most repressive government – and not coddling that government to achieve what former Prime Minister Chamberlain, returning from a visit to Adolf Hitler, would have called “peace in our time.”

BOB FILNER is co-chair of the bipartisan U.S. Congressional Human Rights and Democracy Caucus. LORD CORBETT, a member of the House of Lords from the Labor Party, is chairman of the British Parliamentary Committee for Iran Freedom. They wrote this article for the
Mercury News.

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