Should the US antiwar movement be attending rallies sponsored by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) claiming to support the opposition movement in Iran? According to the group Stop War on Iran, this is exactly what United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ) and other antiwar groups are doing. If so, are they really supporting the leftist and progressive elements of that opposition or are they naively providing cover for those in the United States power elites who would love to see a regime friendly to Washington ruling in Tehran? Recently, UFPJ urged its members to attend rallies called by a group that goes by the name of United for Iran on July 25, 2009. While I believe the intentions of the antiwar organizations calling on folks to join these protests come from a genuine desire to see an end to the Tehran government’s repression, the fact that some of the Iranian dissident groups in Iran and in exile take their money and guidance from the NED and other US-propaganda operations compromises the antiwar groups’ position.
An even closer connection between the NED funds and the group United for Iran is that of the apparent US organizer of the United for Iran rallies, Hadi Ghaemi. Mr. Ghaemi is is the director of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. This group is a project of the Dutch Foundation for Human Security in the Middle East. More important as regards his NED connection is Ghaemi’s role as a former board member of the National Iranian American Council, which has received over a quarter million dollars in NED grants. While this is not an indictment of the desire for greater freedoms in Iran expressed by Ghaemi and his organization, one would think these connections would give pause to a US antiwar group whose leadership knows only too well the role groups funded by the NED and other US special funds played in the period leading up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
The last time I wrote a piece regarding the NED, some readers wrote me asking what was wrong with this organization. To answer them, I quoted former CIA agent Philip Agee, who certainly knew a good deal about the true nature of Washington’s concern for democracy in nations it considers enemies. “In November 1983,” said Agee. “Congress created the National Endowment for Democracy and gave it an initial $18.8 million for building civil society abroad during the fiscal year ending September 30, 1984…Whereas the CIA had previously funneled money through a complex network of `conduits,’ the NED would now become a `mega-conduit’ for getting U.S. government money to the same array of non-governmental organizations that the CIA had been funding secretly…. There is really nothing private about it, and all its money comes from the Congress. ” NED and similar organizations are not interested in democracy as much as they are interested in maintaining and expanding US imperialism.
In addition to the NED funds are $20 million in USAID funds provided under George Bush to fund Iranian dissidents that meet Washington’s criteria. Despite the belief by many US citizens that USAID is a government organization designed to help locals in other countries, it has served as a front for CIA activities from Laos to Venezuela and is part of the effort to rebuild Fallujah into a tightly-controlled hamlet after the US military destroyed the Iraqi city in 2004. Now, United for Iran may be free of any NED or CIA taint. There may be no connection between any of its members and the Congressionally-approved funds that Mr. Obama talked about a few weeks ago. However, given the long term desire of the US government to destroy the Iranian revolution and insure the installment of a regime friendly to Washington back in Tehran should be more than enough to give US antiwar groups pause.
The recent protests in Iran were a hopeful sign. Indeed, many groups across the political spectrum considered them to be monumental in their impact. While their actual impact is yet to be determined, the fact that the original protests seemed to have been mostly spontaneous and without the taint of foreign meddling proved that the Iranian people continue to believe in their political power. As most readers know, later protests were blocked and attacked by the police and other groups. However, if one reads some commentators, they might come away assuming that this repression was unusual and specific to the theocrats in Iran. Such an assumption is naturally untrue. In fact, while I watched the coverage on CNN and the internet, I was reminded of the police response to the protests in Seattle in 1999 against the WTO. Pictures from those protests certainly rivaled those coming out of Iran in terms of police violence. For a more recent example, one need only look at the total repression of the antiwar protests in Minneapolis during the Republican Party convention in 2008. Participants in those protests came back telling stories of police beatings of protesters, preventive detention, and a police presence so intimidating that many protesters decided to stay home. The only thing missing were the shootings.
It is appropriate that the US antiwar movement should be concerned about the repression of protests in Iran. However, the bottom line is that the antiwar movement in the United States should be focusing on demanding that the government in Washington end the wars it is currently waging. Equally important is opposing threats of war against Iran from Washington and Tel Aviv. By helping to organize protests against the repressive actions of the Iranian government instead of focusing on ending the wars of Washington, UFPJ and other antiwar supporters of the United for Iran rallies are not only minimizing the aggression of Washington, they are tacitly providing cover for that aggression.
RON JACOBS is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is just republished by Verso. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. His first novel, Short Order Frame Up, is published by Mainstay Press. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org