Rubin and Chalabi, and Gerecht

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

*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.

Jim Lobe

Jim Lobe served for some 30 years as the Washington DC bureau chief for Inter Press Service and is best known for his coverage of U.S. foreign policy and the influence of the neoconservative movement.



  1. We’d all love to see a democratic Iran, Jim. But don’t hold your breath on that, please. And in the meantime our Iran policy is causing priceless advantages to slip through our hands. Furthermore, we may be stumbling toward war eventually. Certainly an Israeli attack seems all but inevitable at some point (though perhaps farther down the road than one thought before the recent revelations of difficulties in the Iranian enrichment program).

    Would a democratic Iran give up nukes? Personally, I doubt it. In any case, I’d like to see what basis there is for that particular argument, beyond the hopes of people like Gerecht.

  2. For regime changers.

    Before you jump on that bandwagon see the poll done in Iran by the World Opinon Poll of the Univ of Maryland..they are btw one of few polling orgs that can be trusted.

  3. We’d all like to see democracy in Iran. But I’d rather those progressives who’d like to see that would just shut up about it, really. Iranians can figure it out on their own – they’re a pretty proud and intelligent people(imo). Any Western organizations involved in Iranian ‘democracy’ has a completely different agenda to the one you dream about. I don’t condone many of the regime’s harsher tactics against it’s own people, but there are more important issues, unfortunately, that require progressive focus. And that’s preventing elements within our own Western democracies from forcing through legislation that pushes(illegally, actually) the U.S(and or Israel) towards war with Iran – in the name of ‘deomcracy’.

  4. all the benefits Gerect seeks from democracy are ironically, in no way popularly supported. Democracy has come to mean not consent of the governed but Western allied dictators.

    No democratic Arab would support Israel, the US agenda. The Arabs democratic wishes give Israel nothing but scorn and speaking loudly and forcefully against American adventurism in the region.

    Remember all the denunciations of the Turks when they refused to allow US access into Iraq though their territory. This was what the Turkish people wanted, yet it only brought scorn Stateside.

    We are so through and beyond the looking glass. We’ve entered Orwellian times and only doom can await us. Never has this country been so looped out on it’s own reality defying myths. With broken metrics, barometers and compasses what hope is there than the US will chart a clear course. Only utter destruction and bankruptcy will discredit the deciders who chart our national course.

    I don’t care if you’re democrat or republican, neither party stands for a single principle. The juvenile machinations of Congress have become infantile. Considering it’s old people who vote, there’s little chance of any reform. Where’s the thrust to cut defense (sic) spending, entitlements, and to raise taxes? Taxes need to increased dramatically (over 50% as they were from Ike to Reagan) on those who earn $2million and up annually to eliminate this pay scale. (after all this really only applies to one group of people, corporate managers and politicos who are the only ones in the economy who’s pay is set by their buddies rather than a boss)

    But again, everyone on TV fits in this tax bracket, no wonder they won’t discuss this. But low income taxes mean big incomes for those who get to pay themselves. High taxes mean investment, hiring and raises for lower level workers–after all there’s no motivation for those fat cats to work so hard for such a pittance. Further, to avoid taxes corporations will increase expenditures, like capital investment, R&D, and hiring. All these things have been on the wane, as taxes cuts have spiked upper incomes (for those who pay themselves with other people’s money) and financialization. Financialization has turned a manufacturing economy to an economy of froth.

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