Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Should MKO be legalised

The Mujaheddin-e Khalq (MKO)organisation are a dissident Iranian group that are violently opposed to the Islamic Republic. They have been on the US state Department list of terrorist organisations since 1997 when President Clinton placed them on the list as part of a detente between Washington and Tehran. MKO were up until 2009 also considered a terrorist organisation by the European Union. However the EU reversed that decision after a lengthy legal battle with the French based organisation. There are now calls for the US to follow suit. Last week Prominent US Republicans including former NYC Mayor Rudy Guiliani, former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, former White House adviser Frances Townsend and former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, flew to Paris to speak in support of the Mujaheddin-e Khalq (MKO)organisation. This from the Washington Post

PARIS - A group of prominent U.S. Republicans associated with homeland security told a forum of cheering Iranian exiles here Wednesday that President Obama's policy toward Iran amounts to futile appeasement that will never persuade Tehran to abandon its nuclear projects.

"Appeasement of dictators leads to war, destruction and the loss of human lives," Giuliani declared. "For your organization to be described as a terrorist organization is just really a disgrace."

The four GOP figures appeared at a rally organized by the French Committee for a Democratic Iran, a pressure group formed to support MEK.

Their crowd-pleasing appeals, they said, reflected growing bipartisan sentiment in the U.S. Congress and elsewhere that the 13-year-old terrorist designation of the Paris-based dissident group should be ended because it is unfounded and has not made the Iranian government easier to deal with or halt its nuclear program. In addition, they noted, a Washington federal appeals court in July ordered Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to review the listing, and cast doubt on some of the information brought forward to support it.


Read the entire article here

There are a couple of points I want to make.

1. The trip to Paris by the republicans reeked of being a partisan stunt for the purpose of throwing a dig at Obama. Guliani in particular is obsessed with the appeasement concept and I have heard him use it on occasions when it was entirely inappropriate. He compares just about everything to 1938 Europe. Conservatives like to criticise Obama for being weak on national security. However, the objective ones concede that he has pursued the war on terror in a more aggressive fashion than they would have thought. They also know that the Iranian situation is an exceptionally difficult tightrope to navigate and that his approach to Iran has been little different than the previous administration. So while I welcome the debate on MKO, I think it was a cheap shot by Guliani and co.

The French based MKO harbour an intense hatred of the Islamic Republic.


2. As the article points out, the MKO are a controversial organisation to put it mildly. They were originally the Marxist portion of the revolutionary movement that culminated with the over throw of the Shah in 1979. Their left wing agenda was obviously incompatible with that of Khomeini and the Mullahs so it wasn't long before they started butchering each other. MKO's most spectacular attack came in June 1981 when they killed 70 high ranking officials of the new Islamic government in a bomb attack at their party headquarters. Perhaps most controversially though, the MKO backed Iraq in the Iran Iraq war. MKO fighters that avoided death or capture at the hands of Khomeini's regime fled to Iraq where they were pledged support by Sadam Hussein who was at that time engaged in an all out war with Iran. In the days following the UN brokered ceasefire that ended the Iran Iraq war in 1988, 7000 MKO fighters invaded Iran from Iraq in an attempt to overthrow the regime. It failed. However, I believe the real legacy of MKO's alliance with Iraq is that they are now detested within Iran. While MKO remains popular with many Iranians in exile I suspect they have little or no support at home. The eight year war with Iraq means everything to the Iranian people. Everyone knows someone who fought and died in the conflict. The memory of the war is part of Iran's national character and its legacy continues to have a deep psychological effect on the nation, similarly to how Britain viewed the war during the 1950s and 60s. The Iranian nation, so famously nationalistic will never forgive MKO for siding with the enemy. This makes support for them only positive in the sense that they could be a thorn in Tehran's side in the event of war, but it would be counter productive if subtle regime change is the agenda.


3. The wider issue of to what extent the US should support opposition movements is relevant here. Any opposition movement in Iran should be seen as indigenous. Although this is a moot point because any internal dissent in Iran will automatically be smeared as a puppet of the west by the regime. Supporting militant, even violent opposition would be even more risky. Iran already does initiate attacks on US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan via its proxies, however Tehran could drastically increase the quantity of such attacks, destabilising the situations in those countries in the process. But again this is a bridge that will eventually have to be crossed, as the show down over Iran's nuclear programme reaches its climax.

In conclusion I have to say that for now, I believe that unleashing MKO on Iran would accomplish little. As I have said many times on Gubu World the only positive solution I see to the Iranian crisis would be if it turns out that the US has been in secret negotiations with Tehran about an opening, Nixon China style. This is unlikely I accept but permitting a nuclear Iran is unacceptable, and striking their nuclear facilities probably wont work and will be met with devastating retaliation. The military option may be necessary, but this third way is the only potential solution that does not end in war. My advice, keep the MKO card for a later date. Who knows perhaps maintaining the ban on MKO might be part of such an opening. If Iran were to give up its nuclear programme in its entirety as part of such an agreement, it would certainly be worth it.

6 comments:

Gary said...

Ted,
Your analysis is, as always, excellent. However, I can not completely agree with you on a couple of points. First, like Giuliani, I believe the Obama Administration is pursuing a public policy of appeasement which I consider wrong headed, ineffective and dangerous. The comparisons with 1938 are quite valid. Giuliani may be using it partially as a political ploy but so what, he is after all a politician.

Secondly, while I agree with you regarding the character of this organization, I believe Iran is undoubtedly an enemy of my country, the West and the Free World in general. I therefor believe using this group, even if it is only as a thorn in the side of the Iranians, is perfectly acceptable.

Lastly, as regards to the Iranian ability to increase attacks on US troops, failing to act out of fear of such reprisals is doing exactly what the Iranians want. It is cowering from the issue rather than solving it. Iranian support of the terrorist groups must be addressed and suppressed. The failure of both the Bush and Obama Administrations to face this problem has and is costing lives and prolonging the conflict. It is a major mistake that should be dealt with -and the sooner the better.
Gary

Ted Leddy said...

Gary

Thanks as always for your articulate comments.

On Giuliani's trip to Paris, I think it was cringy to watch him head off to France to support a Marxist organisation which he has little in common with so he could accuse Obama of being weak. And this is what irritates me sometimes. Obama is a liberal. And as a liberal many conservatives seem to think that they automatically must accuse him of being weak on national security without actually examining his record, and the circumstances.

I share your opinions on Iran and think it is vital it not be appeased. However I think that neither the Bush or Obama administrations have done this. Appeasement would be taking Iran at their word that their nuclear ambitions are for energy purposes.


It may be necessary to take military action to denuclearise Iran but this will lead to a Middle East wide war, one side effect of which will be the end to any hope of a global economic recovery. The Iranians will set Hezbollah and Hamas off if they are attacked. They will also send Iraq back to the way it was in 2006. I fully understand the Iranian nuclear threat and accept that military action may have to be taken and that we will just have to deal with these consequences. But obviously, if the President can achieve the objective of disarming Iran any other way then he must exhaust that possibility completely.

I personally think it is always wrong to criticise a President without having regard for the responsibilities that they have.

If the US does go to war with Iran then they may as well fund MKO to do what they can. But in the mean time I think the organisation could used more effectively as leverage in negotiations.

Gary said...

Ted,
I see your point but I think you and I are defining appeasement differently. Both administrations have used sanctions against Iran and that is certainly not appeasement. To me, however, the failure of those administrations (and of many European countries) to hold Iran accountable for the many acts of assassination and terrorism, which Iran has directed or sponsored (they even openly pay pensions to the families of martyred suicide bombers) is a form of appeasement. It says to Iran that the West is unwilling to confront them and has encouraged the steady growth of Iran's involvement in these activities.

As for the consequences of military intervention to prevent them getting nuclear weapons, I agree it is not a good solution. Aside from the complexity of being through enough to do the job, the retaliation could result in widespread fighting and severely damage world oil supplies. There are still a few other options available, although very few. I hope these will be explored and the sanctions increased to be far more effective before the possible results of a military strike have to be weighed against allowing Iran to possess nuclear armed ballistic missiles.
Gary

Ted Leddy said...

Gary

"To me, however, the failure of those administrations (and of many European countries) to hold Iran accountable for the many acts of assassination and terrorism, which Iran has directed or sponsored (they even openly pay pensions to the families of martyred suicide bombers) is a form of appeasement".

This is true. However, holding Iran to account is easier said than done. The Iranians are clever. How do you hold a country to account that acts entirely via its proxies, allowing them deniability.

I spent one month in Iran in 2004. At the time (under moderate President Khameni) I was of the opinion that Iran could be reasoned with. But of late, I believe it is regime change or war. This is one of the reasons I believe MKO should be held in reserve, They would be useful in a war, but counterproductive in the event of an attempt at regime change, such is their unpopularity at home.

Gary said...

Ted,
If you haven't already I suggest you read "The Secret War with Iran" by Ronen Bergman. It quite excellently traces Iran's covert activities from the last days of the Shaw through early 2008.
Gary

Ted Leddy said...

Gary

Thanks for the suggestion. I will look out for it.