Has the U.S. Played a Role in Fomenting Unrest During Iran's Election?

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Following the announcement of victory for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad over his main opponent Mir Hossein Mousavi in Iran’s presidential election on June 12, the country erupted in turmoil as supporters of Mousavi flocked to the streets to protest what they claimed was a fraudulent election, while state security and militia forces cracked down on dissenters, sometimes violently. Iran claimed that the unrest was being fueled by foreign interference, a charge reported but generally dismissed in Western media accounts. But there is ample reason to believe that the U.S. likely had a hand in fomenting the chaos that has since plagued the country many commentators have compared to the 1979 revolution that overthrew the Shah.

The role of the U.S. in overthrowing the democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran Mohammed Mossadegh in 1953 and installing the brutal regime of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi is by now well known. In his speech in Cairo last month, President Barack Obama even referenced the CIA-backed coup, acknowledging that “In the middle of the Cold War, the United States played a role in the overthrow of a democratically elected Iranian government.”

The U.S. lost their principle ally in the Middle East, however, when the Shah was in turn overthrown as a result of the Islamic revolution that swept the country in 1979, resulting in the clerical regime that continues to this day under Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who took over the title from the leader of the revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

During the Reagan administration, the U.S. illegally sold arms to the Iranian regime even while supporting Saddam Hussein in Iraq’s devastating war against the Islamic Republic. And while neoconservatives in Washington had their eye on Iran as a target for regime change throughout the Clinton years, it wasn’t until George W. Bush came to be president that a strategy for bringing this about began in earnest. Whether the policy of regime change implemented under Bush has been quashed or continued by the administration of President Barack Obama remains to be seen, but what is incontrovertible is that the U.S. has a long and sordid history of interference in Iranian affairs.

The National Endowment for Democracy

One mechanism by which the U.S. interferes in the internal political affairs of other nations is the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a quasi-governmental agency with funding from both Congress and private individuals whose purpose is to support foreign organizations sympathetic to U.S. foreign policy goals.

NED’s website states that its creation in the early 1980s was “premised on the idea that American assistance on behalf of democracy efforts abroad would be good both for the U.S. and for those struggling around the world for freedom and self-government.”

The idea behind NED was to create an organization to do overtly what the CIA had long been doing clandestinely, and the organization has developed its own history of foreign interference. “A lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA,” acknowledged Allen Weinstein, one of NED’s founders.

In Nicaragua, for instance, the CIA provoked opposition activities in the hopes that it would prompt an “overreaction” from the Sandinista government. The NED was there, also, providing money to opposition groups while the CIA armed contra terrorists (using money from the sale of arms to Iran, incidentally).

In the Bulgarian elections of 1990, NED spent over $1.5 million in an effort to defeat the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP). When the effort failed and the BSP won, NED backed opposition groups that sowed chaos in the streets for months until the president and prime minister finally resigned.

The NED was in Albania supporting the opposition to the communist government that was elected in 1991. Once again, turmoil in the streets led to the collapse of the government, forcing a new election in which the U.S.-backed Democratic Party won.

Between 1990 and 1992, NED financed the Cuban-American National Foundation, an anti-Castro group out of Miami that in turn funded Luis Posada Carriles, a terrorist harbored by the U.S. who was responsible for the bombing of a Cuban airliner in 1976 that killed 73 people.

NED was present in Mongolia helping to unite opposition parties under the National Democratic Union to defeat the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party that had won elections in 1992. With backing from NED, the NDU won in 1996 and U.S. media lauded the economic “shock-therapy” that the new pro-West government would implement. Under the new government, the National Security Agency (NSA) also set up shop with listening posts to spy on China.

During the Clinton administration, NED was in Haiti working with the opposition to ousted president Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

And NED was in Venezuela financing the opposition to President Hugo Chavez, including groups involved in the attempted coup in 2002 that nearly succeeded in his overthrow.

NED is also active in Iran, granting hundreds of thousands of dollars to Iranian groups. From 2005 to 2007, NED gave $345,000 to the Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation (ABF). The group claims “no political affiliation” on its website, but is named for the founder of the National Movement of the Iranian Resistance (NAMIR), an opposition group to the clerical regime founded in 1980. According to the group’s website, Boroumand was murdered by agents of the Iranian government in Paris, France, in 1991. The website is registered to the Boroumand Foundation, listed at Suite 357, 3220 N ST., NW, Washington, D.C.

Another recipient of NED grants is the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), which received $25,000 in 2002, $64,000 in 2005, and $107,000 in 2006. The 2002 grant was to carry out a “media training workshop” to train participants representing various civic groups in public relations. The 2005 money was given in part to “strengthen the capacity of civic organizations in Iran,” including by advising Iranian groups on “foreign donor relations.” The 2006 grant was similarly designed to “foster cooperation between Iranian NGOs and the international civil society community and to strengthen the institutional capacity of NGOs in Iran.”

The group’s president is Dr. Trita Parsi, whose parents fled political repression in Iran when he was four. He studied for his Doctoral thesis at the Johns Hopkins’ School for Advanced International Studies under Professor Francis Fukuyama.

Fukuyama wrote in 2007 that “Ahmadinejad may be the new Hitler,” but that the use of military force against Iran “looks very unappealing,” and that airstrikes “would not result in regime change,” which was “the only long-term means of stopping” Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program. The NIAC similarly opposes the use of military force against Iran, and instead “supports the idea of resolving the problems between the US and Iran through dialogue in order to avoid war.”

Following the Iranian election and subsequent violence, NIAC issued a statement saying that “The only plausible way to end the violence is for new elections to be held with independent monitors ensuring its fairness.”

Last November, the Iranian ambassador to the United Nations Mohammad-Javad Zarif charged the U.S. with attempting to orchestrate a “velvet revolution” in Iran. One of the means by which this was being carried out, he said, was by means of workshops. “American officials have been inviting Iranian figures to so-called scientific seminars over the past few years,” he said. “However, when the Iranians attend these sessions, they realize they have gathered to discuss measures to topple the Iranian government.”

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Jeremy R. Hammond [send him mail] is the Editor of Foreign Policy Journal, an online source for news, critical analysis, and opinion commentary on U.S. foreign policy from outside the standard framework as defined by political officials and the mainstream corporate media.

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