There are growing indications that the Trump administration plans to use the Mojahedin-e Khalq (People’s Mojahedin of Iran, or MEK) as a key element in its strategy to destabilize Iran preparatory to regime change.
On June 30 Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph Giuliani told the group in Paris: “We are now realistically being able to see an end to the regime in Iran. Trump doesn’t turn his back on freedom fighters.”
On July 1, 2017 John Bolton, former State Department official and Trump supporter, addressed a large gathering of MEK supporters in Paris.
There is a viable opposition to the rule of the ayatollahs,” he told the enraptured crowd, “and that opposition is centered in this room today…I have said for over 10 years since coming to these events that the declared policy of the United States should be the overthrow of the regime in Tehran. The behavior and the objectives of the regime are not going to change. And therefore the only solution is to change the regime itself. And that’s why before 2019 we here will celebrate in Tehran!
Yes, the man who has been U.S. National Security Advisor since April 9 predicted to MEK that he would celebrate with them the downfall of the Iranian regime by next year. On May 8 of this year Bolton’s boss withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
So it’s virtually official. MEK freedom fighters will be chief U.S. proxy in the coming confrontation, or rather the ongoing confrontation renewed when Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Iran deal, threatening all countries with sanctions if they so much as buy Iranian oil. They are comparable to the peshmerga of Syria, or the Northern Alliance warlords in Afghanistan, or the motley array of militia that overthrew Gaddafi in Libya with U.S.-NATO support—willing accomplices in a regime-change effort directed from Washington.
Who are these people? MEK was founded in Iran in 1965 as a revolutionary anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist organization dedicated to the violent overthrow of the U.S.-backed regime of the Shah. It sought to produce a synthesis of Shiite Islam and Marxism, an inherently problematic project that has been more or less abandoned, especially as MEK has in recent years courted U.S. officials like Bolton. (A huge number of prominent U.S. officials and former officials have spoken in recent years, often for large fees, at MEK events. They include Howard Dean. Gen. Wesley Clark, Rudolph Giuliani, Porter Goss, Gen. Michael Hayden, Gen. Richard Myers, Bill Richardson, and Gen. Anthony Zinni.)
Embracing urban guerrilla warfare tactics in the 1970s, MEK targeted the regime and the U.S. military presence, conducting many attacks on U.S. personnel and gunning down Lt. Col. Louis Lee Hawkins, a U.S. Army comptroller, in 1973. Its members trained with the PLO and al-Fateh and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Oman.
During the revolution of 1979 that toppled the Shah, MEK was the largest of the radical left parties (if we exclude the Tudeh or Communist Party founded in 1941, dismissed by MEK as “revisionist”). It worked with smaller communist groups, notably Sardedaran (Union of Iranian Communists) founded in the U.S. by Iranian students in 1976 under the strong influence of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA.
Initially, MEK aligned itself with Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, whose triumphant return from French exile had met with a rapturous response. They perceived him as a popular nationalist leader. But when he denied its leaders input into the writing of a constitution, and forbade them from running for political office, they revolted. Results of their uprising were disastrous; about 10,000 perished and thousands of its members including the leadership fled to Iraq or France. Hosted by Saddam Hussein, they fought alongside the Iraqi Army against their countrymen throughout the 1980s. This is one reason they are generally, according to plausible reports, despised in Iran even by those who chafe under the mullah’s rule.
Camp Ashraf in Iraq was created by the MEK to accommodate its 3500 soldiers in the country. This camp was taken over by the U.S. following the 2003 invasion. Indeed the U.S. protected MEK from the Iraqis’ intention to deport them and indeed housed them at Camp Fallujah and arranged for some to be relocated to Albania.
In 1975 MEK split into its component parts; that is, a faction arguing rather simply that Marxism, not Islam, is the revolutionary path, and the dominant faction arguing the opposite. This is the MEK that hosts the most reactionary U.S. officials and—after inveighing against Zionism for decades—now cultivates ties with Israeli intelligence. In 1997 it was listed as a “terrorist” organization by the U.S. State Department. The UK and EU soon followed suite. But MEK was delisted as terrorist by Britain in 2008, the EU in 2009, and the U.S. in 2012.
Why? Hillary Clinton determined that MEK had changed its ways and given up terrorism. Plus, MEK was so useful, cooperating as it was and is with U.S. and Israeli intelligence, smuggling intelligence out of Iran, abetting U.S.-Israeli disinformation schemes, maintaining an underground presence in Iran that will be useful (some suppose) when the regime-change moment comes.
Analysts agree that MEK is a very unusual organization. Led by a married couple, Massoud Rajavi and his wife Maryam Rajavi, it imposes strict discipline including life-long celibacy on its members. It forbids them to entertain sexual thoughts. It punishes rules infractions with public shaming and sleep deprivation. It is often termed a cult.
That this group should become a key U.S. ally—as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo virtually declares war on Iran—is truly perplexing. Surely U.S. officials know that MEK is hated in Iran, and that its tactics in Iran have not produced mass support. Other underground opposition parties, such as the National Front of Iran, founded by Mohammed Mossadegh (toppled by the CIA in 1953), will not likely cooperate with them in producing a second regime change. The idea is as wild as Bolton’s idea that Cuba’s pharmaceutical plants are producing biological weapons.
Can it be that Pompeo does not understand the enduring outrage felt among Iranians about that 1953 coup? The U.S. didn’t just “interfere” in somebody else’s election, it toppled a democratically elected prime minister because he had the temerity to try to nationalize the nation’s petroleum industry. The world knows the U.S. interferes in other nations’ politics and electoral processes habitually, and that the “bi-partisan” National Endowment for Democracy “NGO” funnels billions into pro-U.S. forces in countries targeted for “color revolutions.” Only the cable anchors on CNN, MSNBC and Fox seem clueless, wide-eyed, indignant and outraged at the thought that “Russia interfered in OUR election!” As though we, as a people, ever had a real election in 2016.)
Bolton resembles his boss in that he cares nothing for the truth; lies boldly with angry, smug confidence, daring his audience to differ; is a loud bully with an ego and an agenda to which he hopes to commit the president. His main project is the Iranian regime change, much as Iraqi regime was Paul Wolfowitz’s preoccupation from 9/11/2001 to March 2003 when the plot to conduct a war-based-on-lies was finally consummated. (Bolton continues to say: “I still think the decision to overthrow Saddam was correct,” and that the U.S. has the right to overthrow sovereign states at will.)
Bolton has told reporters (who note his changing stance on war with North Korea) that anything he may have said in print or on television in the past is irrelevant now since he is in the service of the president and committed to his policies. But he happily realizes his boss is an air-head, ignorant and impressionable, generally Islamophobic, committed to a hawkish anti-Iran policy because (1) he wants to reverse any Obama policy; (2) he made a campaign promise; (3) he’s slavishly deferential to Binyamin Netanyahu, who wants the U.S. to bomb Iran; and (4) hostility towards Iran invites little opposition in Netanyahu’s fan club, Congress. Bolton has lots to work with there.
Congressional attitudes could change if U.S. secondary sanctions applied on European allied nations further strain the Atlantic Alliance already stressed by the trade wars Trump has unleashed. The EU, Russia and China all need to unite in demanding that the U.S. not only end its threats to attack Iran but respect other nations’ rights to trade with that great, large, relatively wealthy nation. (The IMF ranks Iran as 27th of 191 nations in terms of GDP; that is, it’s among the world’s top 15%. China, UAE, Germany and India are main trade partners.)
As U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo provokes Iran with his arrogant demands—“preconditions” for a U.S. return to the deal, which essentially demand that it grovel at America’s feet—the U.S. provokes the rest of the world too, for multiple reasons. Its demand for allies’ cooperation in its efforts to undermine Tehran conflict with their efforts to improve both diplomatic and trade relations, to say nothing of their hopes for more stability in the region flooding Europe with refugees.
Thus Trump chooses the re-designated terrorist group MEK over Paris; Israel over Europe; Saudi Arabia and its anti-Iran Arab coalition against Russia and China. It demands that Japan (once Iran’s largest oil purchaser, now the sixth largest) and South Korea (currently the third largest, after China and India) end imports to abet regime-change efforts. These demands are outrageous, especially spouted by mouths that the whole world knows routinely spew lies without shame.
So it’s Trump, Bolton, Pompeo, Netanyahu, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and the Rajavis—-versus Iran and the world which, while it may not be terribly fond of Iran, are becoming even less fond of Trump’s U.S.A.
Oh, and now Pompeo comes back from Pyongyang boasting of “progress” while the Koreans call the visit “regrettable.” The whole world is hoping that the U.S. work methodically with the DPRK to achieve the denuclearization goal. That will take time and require a schedule of coordinated steps, like the Iran deal that Pompeo has been trying to sabotage since 2015, as Kansas congressman, CIA director, and in his present post, required.
One should not suppose Pompeo more predisposed to promote peace with North Korea than peace with Iran. Imagine the DPRK rapprochement collapsing just as the joint U.S.-Saudi-U.S. missile barrage strikes Iran. There are sober people in Washington thinking carefully about multiple scenarios, amorally planning for all contingencies.
One of these might be a general Manichaean apocalypse in which the issue is not Good versus Evil (which would have been the case under George W. Bush) but Trump and His Base versus the World.
The latter he attacks by trade policy, a diplomacy of irrational insults, an almost impish desire to undermine existing international agreements and institutions (not so much to the objective advantage of U.S. imperialism so much as the advantage of his own frozen prepubescent ego), missile strikes at his generals’ discretion, and shameless voicing of racist, bigoted, uneducated views. The former he pleases by such policies and bombast. The U.S. mainstream media and the bulk of the political class deplore Trump in favor of the world, or at least criticize Trump’s “America First” populist nationalism as threatening to the postwar international order which has hitherto been very good to the imperialist U.S.A. They look askance at MEK and, to the extent they engage the issue, they question the wisdom an alliance with it.
Still, Trump proceeds on a confrontational course with Iran, and with any having deals with Iran, joining in the process with the most unsavory henchmen from the Saudis to the Likudists to these Iranian cultists. One hopes this strategy will only further isolate the U.S. from its allies and unintentionally help produce a more multi-polar world.