KASRA NEJAT Jan 29, 2017
As the Donald Trump presidency gets underway, there will be a good deal of lingering uncertainty about the nature of some of his policies.
Internationally, Iran remains one of the most critical challenges to U.S. strategic interests and foreign policy. The final form of Trump’s policies on Iran will depend in part on the new information and insight he becomes privy to as president.
Put simply, many people will be trying to bend the ear of the new president in the days ahead. And the public should be aware of some of those efforts and the motives behind them. Where those motives are pure, the public ought to strive to support the efforts. One such effort came in the form of a very rare bipartisan letter sent to the president-elect on Jan. 9 and signed by 23 figures from America’s political, military and intelligence communities.
The letter called upon the new administration to adopt a new Iran policy, specifically one that recognizes the primacy of human rights issues, reclaims leverage over Iran that was lost under the policies of the Obama White House and restores “American influence and credibility in the world” by asserting “universally shared norms and principles reflecting the ideals of peace and justice.”
These are significant recommendations both for the defense of American interests in the Middle East and also for the United States’ reputation as a defender of liberty and human dignity around the world. Unfortunately, where Iran is concerned, the United States has failed to live up to this reputation for some time. President Barack Obama contributed to the problem, but he was by no means the first to favor short-term interests such as the nuclear deal over more fundamental issues relating to the character of the Iranian regime.
A significant portion of the letter advises the new president to recognize and counteract past missteps concerning the democratic opposition to the Iranian theocracy. Since the establishment of the Islamic Republic, that opposition has been led by the Mujahedin-e Khalq (PMOI or MEK). The MEK has been the primary victim of Tehran’s unbridled terror but survived owing to its vast popular support inside Iran, especially among women, youths and middle-class Iranians.
Yet successive U.S. administrations sought to reach out to the illusory moderates within this regime, highlighted by President Obama’s unjustified concessions to Tehran to secure a nuclear deal.
The letter to Trump emphasizes the folly of this endeavor, pointing out that President Hassan Rouhani has overseen a dramatic increase in the number of executions since taking office. More than 3,000 people have been put to death, and 2015 was the bloodiest year in more than two decades, in a country that already held the record for the highest per-capita rate of executions in the world. At the same time, Tehran’s imprisonment of political dissidents has continued, and its anti-Western rhetoric and provocative regional behaviors have only intensified.
If it was not clear before, it has become clear during the Obama era that these Iranian behaviors are endemic to the current regime. “Moderation” in this theocracy is nothing but a mirage.
The task of American foreign policy experts is to convince the new president of this fact and to urge him toward action that addresses the fundamental evils of the clerical regime.
The recent high-profile letter is backed up by the signature of prominent Trump backer Rudy Giuliani, as well as by those of such national security experts as former FBI Director Louis Freeh, former National Security Adviser Gen. James Jones, former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Hugh Shelton.
These and other figures are urging Trump to officially recognize the democratic Iranian opposition, led by an anti-fundamentalist woman, Maryam Rajavi, as a viable alternative to the repressive, theocratic regime that is responsible for so many abuses against its own people and so many terror acts the world over.
The American support for that movement is by no means limited to the 23 signatories to the letter. There are quite literally hundreds of other bipartisan figures from the U.S. political, military and intelligence communities and in Congress who share the same views.
Each year, Western support for Rajavi and her movement grows, undermining past skepticism regarding the movement’s chances for bringing true democracy and secular governance to the Iranian people.
The Iranian resistance deserves the next administration’s attention to adopt a new policy that protects the interests of both the United States and the Iranian people.
Kasra Nejat, a resident of St. Louis, is president of the Iranian American Cultural Association of Missouri, a member of the Organization of Iranian American Communities in the U.S. (OIACUS).