For those who have not yet read it, Bob Dreyfuss’ skewering of the American Enterprise Institute’s (AEI) Michael Rubin and his long-running love affair with Ahmad Chalabi earlier this week is well worth the time, particularly in light of Chalabi’s reported responsibility for the ongoing political crisis in Iraq over the fate of the 500-some mostly Sunni candidates in next month’s elections. I’ve often wondered why AEI, whose foreign-policy wing, led by Richard Perle and Danielle Pletka, has always been in the forefront of those demanding “regime change” in Tehran, continues to defend Chalabi who, if not an Iranian agent, is clearly considered a key asset by the intelligence apparatus of the Islamic Republic. At least, AEI (perhaps not Rubin) changed its mind about its current hero, Gen. David Petraeus, whom Rubin pilloried as late as 2007 for trying to make nice to the Sunnis. You would think it might reassess its long association with Chalabi, too, unless it derives some other benefit — which can only be imagined — from that association.
Speaking of AEI and its love affair with Chalabi, alumnus Reuel Marc Gerecht — now with the Likudist Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) — published a nearly 1,600-word (!) op-ed in the New York Times Thursday in which he looks forward to Iran’s “democratization” (a goal with which I am in agreement) as “the most momentous Mideastern event since the fall of the Ottoman Empire.” In his words: “Iran could easily become …the model that transforms the Middle East…” (Sound familiar?)
And just as he* and his fellow-neo-cons argued eight years ago for the potentially transformative impact on Iran of “regime change” in Iraq, now Gerecht, who described Chalabi in 2002 as “among the truest …of [Washington’s] Iraqi friends,” argues that regime change in Iran would flow the other way: “[A]n Iranian democracy would powerfully affect Iraq, whose elected government has struggled with its own Tehran-backed demons [Chalabi?]. A democratic Iran would have little sympathy for Iraqis who prefer autocracy and religious militancy.”
According to Gerecht, who cites no specific evidence in support of his assertions, Iran’s democratic transformation would, among other things,
“also remind Turkey’s ruling Islamist Justice and Development Party, whose commitment to democratic values has been increasingly shaky, that an authoritarian path creates revolt. …A democratic Tehran would also likely reduce its aid to Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Baathist dictatorship in Syria. Palestinian fundamentalists who now receive substantial Iranian financing would also likely be a subject of heavy debate in a free Parliament, as would aid to other radical Sunni groups throughout the Middle East and Tehran’s disconcerting contacts with Al Qaeda.”
Moreover, while the Khamenei regime will never give up its nukes, according to Gerecht, “a democratic Iran probably would.” Indeed, the only thing missing from his tally of benefits that would flow from Iran’s transformation is its creation of an alliance with Israel to which a liberated Tehran would also resume oil shipments that were cut off after the Revolution (much as Chalabi reportedly promised that Iraqi oil would resume its long-interrupted flow to Israelthe after the “liberation” of Baghdad).
In order to facilitate this “transformation,” however, Gerecht prescribes the standard neo-con/Israel Lobby recipe — specifically, “sanctions aimed at cutting off Iran’s gasoline imports and intelligent covert aid to dissidents…” — that are likely to prove counter-productive. Gasoline sanctions will of course penalize — and antagonize — the general population (as opposed to specific hard-liners and their interests) while covert aid, however “intelligent,” will make it much easier for the regime to depict the opposition as Western-backed stooges. Predictably Gerecht calls as well for Obama to cease efforts to engage the regime diplomatically, presumably even on the nuclear issue, and escalate the rhetoric against it, thus moving Washington closer toward the long-sought goal of confrontation with Tehran.
For an implicit but very intelligent critique of Gerecht, particularly in light of the regime’s apparent success in suppressing opposition demonstrations in Iran today, check out Marc Lynch’s blog on foreignpolicy.com.
*For a trip down memory lane to Gerecht’s pre-invasion musings about the effect of Iraq’s regime change on Iran, read the following. It’s from a lengthy article entitled “Why We Need a Democratic Iraq” published in the March 24, 2003 Weekly Standard. You’ll be amazed that the New York Times still gives this guy so much space. Or, given its recent record of Iran-related op-eds, maybe not.
In sum, the Shia Arab identity is in flux. It could become democratic or dictatorial. The United States and its Iraqi friends–and among the truest of these is the Shia exile Ahmad Chalabi of the Iraqi National Congress, the leading Iraqi pro-democracy umbrella group–have an enormous opportunity to encourage the Iraqi Shia Arabs to make the right choice. If they do so, no other force in Iraq, or outside the country, will likely have the strength to fell Iraqi democracy.
And on a grander scale, “the social contract of the Arab world” will no longer imply the domination of one people, one political party, one tribe, or one family over others. This is certainly the best, and may be the only effective, defense against the disease that struck us on 9/11. And if the administration is worried about the imminent prospect of clerical Iran’s going nuclear, it ought to do all it can to ensure that the Shia Arabs lead the way to Iraqi democracy. A democratic Iraq could conceivably accelerate a similar spirit inside Shia Iran, where the ruling clergy has so far successfully corralled the desire for freedom. If the Iranians, who consider themselves vastly superior to the Iraqis, look westward toward a successful democratic experiment, they may react with widespread shame and hope–for Iranians, essential revolutionary ingredients. Washington has very few non-military options for preempting a nuclear-armed Islamic Republic in Iran. It shouldn’t waste this one.