Opinion: Anti-neocon rhetoric versus reality

14 July 2005

In his post yesterday, Trita Parsi revealed the agenda that lurks behind the human rights rhetoric of the neoconservatives. He says many Iranians believe they mask a desire for "Iraqi-style regime change in Iran, aerial bombings, shock and awe, and the promotion of an Iranian Ahmed Chalabi hand-picked by the Pentagon."

Mr. Parsi must have fantastic sources. In all of my reporting on those who seek regime change for Iran, I have never encountered this secret agenda. Then again, I am only going on what lawmakers and pundits are actually saying, instead of divining their "real" intentions as Mr. Parsi does.

Consider the record. The Committee on the Present Danger, earlier this year, released a paper calling on a direct diplomatic engagement with Iran in order to persuade or coerce the Supreme Leader to allow free and fair elections. The sinister Senator Santorum has proposed legislation calling for international monitors in Iran to oversee a referendum on the Islamic Republic's constitution. The Pentagon Iran policy recommendations from 2002 and 2003 advocated sending cell phones and lap tops to student activists and creating a strike fund for Iranian workers.

Mr. Parsi says neoconservatives believe that the democracy movement in Iran would not exist without them. Quite the opposite is true. People like Mr. Ledeen and others have spent a good deal of time screaming at American policy makers to pay attention to Iran's dissidents and activists. It has been the bureaucratic foes of the neocons who have insisted for years that there is not much of an opposition to speak of in Iran. I remember in December Council on Foreign Relations President Richard Haass telling a luncheon that the prospect of an Iranian nonviolent revolution was a "pipedream."

Why, moreover, does Mr. Parsi say that Iranian democrats "imagine" they are "abandoned" by the left and then in the next sentence write of the left's "self-imposed silence" regarding their plight? The abandonment is "imagined" because the neocons really don't care about Iranians, Mr. Parsi reasons. A more straightforward application of logic would lead Mr. Parsi to conclude that it is silent progressives who don't care about human rights in Iran, not the neocons who clamor on about Persian political prisoners.

It is also slippery to say that those who have called for lifting economic sanctions on Iran have done so out of a humanitarian desire to assist Iranian NGOs. As I remember these debates, the primary advocates for lifting sanctions were American oil services companies like Halliburton, usually a reliable target of progressives. The reason they wanted to lift sanctions was to win contracts the 1995 executive order prohibited them from bidding on.

I think Mr. Parsi is allowing his imagined ideological opponents do his thinking for him.

Eli Lake is the national security reporter for the New York Sun.

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