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New Regime Change Think Tank Opens in DC

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Spencer Akerman at the TPM Muckraker reports on the opening of a new Iran Regime-Change Think Tank in Washington DC.

Meet Mahtaub “Mattie” Hojjati. A well-connected government and business consultant Hojjati is about to embark on a new career: revolutionary provocateur. She has two missions: to hasten the overthrow of the Iranian regime, and to convince the American public to support her.

Mrs. Hojjati wrote an op-ed in the Washington Times under the name Mattie Fein outlining her vision for the new Institute for Persian Studies.

Success [for Regime Change in Iran] is plausible through one of two means: Either hope for an internal rupture fueled by economic hardship; or, encourage an indigenous revolt with a covert promise of military support. Skeptics of regime change in Iran based on the failures in Iraq and Afghanistan are wrong. In contrast to the latter, Iran’s history, culture, and constitutional experience provide fertile soil for a regime change in 2007.

Mrs. Hojjati’s promotion of external regime change does not share consensus by all Iran policy analysts, however, her criticism of the funds set aside by the US Congress for regime change is widely shared by most Iran scholars and democracy advocates:

The publicly appropriated $75 million for regime change proponents is counterproductive. Remember the background. In 1953, the Central Intelligence Agency orchestrated the overthrow of Iran’s nationalist Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadeq, the most popular leader in Iran’s modern history. Mossadeq was replaced by the much despised Shah Reza Pahlavi. The 1953 overthrow is etched in the memories of Iranians every bit as much as the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor is remembered by Americans.

So any person or group in the Iranian Diaspora or otherwise who openly receives or is suspected of receiving U.S. financial backing are propaganda fodder for the mullahs. Indeed, at present, three Iranian Americans are ridiculously charged with conspiring to overthrow the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Publicizing the $75 million has unwittingly worked to silence criticism of the mullahs among the Diaspora. Most have many relatives in Iran whom the mullahs would abuse in retaliation for speaking in favor of regime change. The $75 million should have been appropriated in a secret classified annex.

It is worth noting that the 1953 coup of Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadeq by the CIA was also part of a covert operation which was not publicized at the time. Therefore in this regard, it shares similarities with the secret classified annex preferred by Mrs. Hojjati.

However, although Mrs. Hojjati favors a secret classified annex rather than publicly appropriated funds, her general dismissal of the program as counterproductive parallels statements made by Iranian Noble Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi. In a recent op-ed in the International Herald Tribune Mrs. Ebadi stated:

But the most important reason [for detention of Iranians] has to do with President George W. Bush’s policy toward Iran. Last year, the administration requested and received $75 million from Congress to “bring” democracy to Iran.

Some of the $75 million has been devoted to the U.S.-funded Radio Farda, Voice of America and Radio Free Europe, as well as to VOA satellite TV, which are beaming Persian programs into Iran. Other portions have been given secretly to exiled Iranian groups, political figures and nongovernmental organizations to establish contacts with Iranian opposition groups.

But Iranian reformists believe that democracy can’t be imported. It must be indigenous. They believe that the best Washington can do for democracy in Iran is to leave them alone. The fact is, no truly nationalist and democratic group will accept such funds.

…The Bush administration should put an end to its misguided policy and immediately declare which organizations and public figures have received funds from the $75 million. This will make it clear that the scholars, journalists and other figures who travel to Iran have nothing to do with Bush’s policy on Iran.

Mrs. Ebadi’s evaluation is shared by the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) and as reported by NIAC, the appropriations have come under scrutiny for their effectiveness.

[Thomas] Malinowski called the US assertions of direct funding for the Iranian democracy movement inaccurate and counterproductive. “The US is trying to exaggerate the impact of this initiative to say that we are helping the Iranians inside,” Malinowski said. “In fact, no US aid money is actually reaching the people of Iran.” Those targeted for aid have refused to accept it. Instead of aiding the pro-democracy forces in Iran, the scholar testified, the US assertions are actually undermining their efforts, leading in part to a clamp-down on political freedoms and the imprisonment of visiting Iranian-American scholars such as Haleh Esfandiari. “By saying we are [funding the pro-democracy leaders], we are placing a target on their backs” said Malinowski.

Panelist Amr Hamzawy of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said that the revelation of the 75 million dollar appropriation for democracy promotion was being used by the Iranian government to “discredit homegrown democracy.” The targeting of Iranian dissidents for US aid, said Hamzawy, “provides the Iranian regime an opportunity to point out that democracy promotion is simply a disguise for an American effort for regime change.”

Though there is some consensus regarding the failure of the appropriations to serve their purpose, it is important to highlight the significant distinctions between Mrs. Hojjati and Mrs. Ebadi which lie in the debate between regime change as promoted by Mrs. Hojjati versus grass-roots indigenous reforms as favored by Mrs. Ebadi.

Irancove @ July 7, 2007

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