Reports released last week stated that the US State Department decided to remove the Mujahidee e-Khalq (MEK) from its Foreign Terrorist Organization list. Originally based in Iran, the MEK is a pseud0-Marxist-nationalist Islamic cult that, among other things, forbids its younger members from marrying or using the Internet. A partner in the Iranian Revolution and the 1979 hostage crisis, the MEK fell out of favor with the regime in the 1980s and eventually found asylum in Iraq where the group fought on the side of Saddam Hussein in the Iran-Iraq War.
The decision to remove the MEK was the result of an intensive lobbying campaign. Notable politicians from both sides of the aisle have accepted speaking fees on behalf of the MEK. Former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell has received at least $150,000 and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen has received at least $20,000. Former Homeland Security secretary Tom Ridge has lobbied on the MEK’s behalf as well as former presidential candidates Newt Gingrich, Howard Dean, and Bill Richardson. Despite formally renouncing violence, an NBC report from February stated that the MEK aligned with the Israeli secret service to assassinate at least five Iranian nuclear scientists since 2007. Anonymous US officials confirmed the MEK’s involvement.
The decision to de-list the MEK is not likely to help either American interests or the Iranian people. Among pro-MEK partisans, the group is defended on the grounds that it is pro-democratic. However, according to unnamed sources in the Financial Times, supporters of Iran’s oppositional Green Movement do not wish to be associated with the MEK saying, “The regime, thanks to the US, has a better excuse now to suppress the legitimate opposition inside Iran;” “The MEK does not have a political future in Iran, but they will turn into a dangerous arm to serve US interests;” and “now even ordinary Iranians realize that the US does not support any democratic change in Iran.” According to the UK Guardian, now that the MEK has been removed from the terrorist list it is now lobbying to get recognized as the main opposition to the Iranian regime which would open it up to funding from Washington.
The de-listing of the MEK, though not likely to blossom into a significant campaign issue, signifies a few things about the way Washington works in 2012 and what independents may want to consider when it comes to the governing status quo.
First, it allows the mullahs to clamp down on the Green Movement. Although the Green Movement is not aligned with the group, the MEK has a stated goal of overthrowing the government, so the mullahs will have the justification to conflate both opposition groups as an excuse to suppress all dissenters. As the sources in the Financial Times suggest, the de-listing is not going unnoticed in Iran.
Second, the MEK, which is credited with killing no less than 17,000 people, including civilians, over the course of decades and fighting alongside Saddam Hussein, is reviled in Iran and does not have popular support. There is little reason to expect that this de-listing will produce favorable results for the US because it virtually guarantees a hardening of the regime and is likely to diminish popular support within Iran for America if the US is seen as the MEK’s enablers.
Third, this is a transparent example of lobbyists buying current and former government officials. Votes at the ballot box count less than the checks that come in, even checks from groups with a history of not only terrorism, but terrorism against Americans. Saddam Hussein’s sheltering of the MEK was included in the case President George W. Bush made for war against Iraq in 2003. After a vigorous lobbying effort, the MEK is no longer considered a terrorist group even among Iraq war supporters.
Lastly, it is a move by the United States and the West to eventually intervene in Iran. Though the US has so far only issued sanctions on Tehran, de-listing the MEK, whose modus operandi has been and continues to be terrorism, can only be seen as a first step toward deposing the Iranian regime, although it appears it will first be through covert action.
Aside from the murder of the US ambassador to Libya, foreign policy has not been a heavily-discussed topic in this presidential election. The US is formally out of Iraq and is in the process of leaving Afghanistan and until the incident in Libya on September 11, President Obama held a strong lead over Mitt Romney regarding international affairs. However, the decision to remove the MEK from the Foreign Terrorist Organization list reveals many things that cause resentment toward the governing status quo.