The Left and Iranian Exiles

A few days ago I received an email entitled “CounterPunch openly publishes blatant Israeli-CIA agitprop against Iran.” The email was in reference to a recent article in CounterPunch by an Iranian-American who had attended a dinner in New York hosted by President Ahmadinejad for American anti-war, social justice and peace activists, while Ahmadinejad was visiting the US to attend the United Nations General Assembly Annual Meeting. The author of the article, presumably a supporter of the “green movement” in Iran, was upset about the fact that the American activists attending the dinner did not challenge Ahmadinejad over Iran’s human rights violations, and, instead, mostly expressed outrage over the US foreign policy. The writer of the email, who forwarded the essay to me, found the article to be similar to Iran bashing by American-Israeli propagandists. He appeared to be troubled about the fact that such an essay was posted on a progressive website.

I had also received similar notes about previous essays written by some supporters of the Iranian green movement and posted on the CounterPunch website. Such notes were apparently intended to warn me that as a longtime contributor to CounterPunch and a critique of the “USrael”—a term that some wrongly believe I have coined—I have been mostly silent about progressive outlets, such as CounterPunch, posting essays by some supporters of the green movement in Iran.

Similarly, a few weeks ago I received an email from a journalist in Iran who asked if I am still politically active as a writer. I answered that I am, but that I have not been writing many journalistic essays, since I am devoting more time to writing a sequel to my 2008 book, a follow-up that deals comprehensively with the Obama Administration policy of “tough diplomacy” toward Iran. Also, I do not wish my continued criticism of USrael to be construed in any way or manner as defense of tyranny in Iran. Moreover, subsequent to the controversial 2009 Iranian presidential election, I expressed my opinion forthrightly about the complex nature of the Iranian government and the problem that the US progressives face when dealing with this complexity.  Such expressions made me persona non grata as far as the media in Iran was concerned, and the regular invitations for interview on various matters—ranging from unilateral and multilateral sanctions against Iran to IAEA reports and the US economy—came to a halt.

In another essay in CounterPunch I also warned some exile supporters of the Iranian Greens about their dangerous liaison with the USraeli opponents of the Iranian government. The warning brought numerous expressions of gratitude from like minded readers of CounterPunch, including many progressive Iranians. But it also brought rumbles from some super green Iranian exiles who often try to portray every criticism of their political views as “support for the Iranian regime.” Among other things, I was accused of being indifferent to the violations of human rights in Iran. I was also told that I am not sufficiently informed and, indeed, ignorant of the fact that this or that individual has become brain dead or has lost his eyesight under torture in the notorious Evin prison. I did not respond to such drivels. Had I responded, I would have definitely reminded these critics of Marin Luther King’s forgotten statement that the US is “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” The statement was true in King’s days and continues to be true in our days.  So why ignore the big purveyor of violence and violator of human rights and concentrate on the puny one? Worse yet, why appeal to the first about the second? I would have also reminded my greenish detractors that they had been wrong on a number of issues in the past and, therefore, much of their outburst, setting aside their self promoting theatrics, is based on their propensity to exaggerate. Indeed, as I suspected, it turned out that none of the individuals who had supposedly become blind or brain dead was so after being released from prison.

The reaction of the super green Iranian exiles was emblematic of their politics and tactics. These exiles are as self righteous as the Iranian “principalists” that they abhor (“principalist” is a term used to represent various Iranian factions who are opposed to the so-called reformists or members of the green movement).  These exiles are also as intolerant of other views as their tyrannical counterparts in Iran are dismissive of voices of dissent. Every American progressive who chooses to focus on criticizing US-Israeli policy toward Iran, as opposed to the issue of human rights is Iran, is labeled by these exiles as either a lunatic left or ignorant of intricacies of Iran’s internal affairs. This is usually despite the fact that such Americans often show, through their detailed analytical writings, superior knowledge of Iran than the exiles who write long-winded rhetorical essays. Thus, while the super green Iranian exiles are obsessed with the 2009 “stolen election,” one has to rely mostly on non-Iranian observers of Iran to analyze the latest IAEA reports, the last US and UN sanctions resolutions, the role of Israeli lobby groups in formulating these sanction resolutions, the effect of these sanctions on the Iranian economy, etc. Indeed, the super green Iranian exiles have become the proverbial one-trick ponies; for them there is only one problem in the world and that is the principalist regime ruling Iran.

Visit any Iranian Green website and all that you see is criticism of the current regime. This is as if all the troubles in Iran are caused by the ruling regime and all the problems would go away if there is a regime change in favor of the Greens.  The absurd accusations have become so intense that the most popular Green website, and the major mouth piece of the green movement in Iran, declared on October 2, 2010, that the recent financial crisis in Iran and currency fluctuations were the work of the government itself! Under the title the “Continuation of Crisis in Foreign Exchange and Gold: The Profit of the Government in Increasing Foreign Exchange,” the website argued that the Iranian government has created the crisis and is benefiting from the devaluation of the Iranian rial because the government calculates its cost in rial and its revenue in dollars.  Had this website not been so fixated on the issue of regime change, and had it had one person on its editorial board with some elementary knowledge of economics, such absurdities would not have been published.

Needless to say that the recent financial crisis in Iran, like most such crises elsewhere, were the result of intense fear, uncertainty and speculation in the currency market. And the fear and uncertainty were largely caused by the cumulative effect of sanctions that are choking the Iranian economy and causing massive pain and suffering. A few days after the start of the financial crisis, and as a result of the intervention of the central bank of Iran, the rial rose temporarily in value. However, the crisis has continued, and will continue, as the USraeli “crippling sanctions” expand and further destabilize the Iranian economy.

The obsession of the super green Iranians exiles with the “stolen election,” as I feared, has pushed these exiles much closer to the USraeli policies. Some Iranian nationalist lobby groups that during the Bush Administration were opposed to the passage of additional sanctions against Iran were recently actively pushing the Obama Administration to sanction the Iranian government and Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, as if such sanctions did not already exist and more were not being pursued by the Israeli lobby groups and their representatives in the US government. The exiles, of course, got their wish and more sanctions against the Iranian government were enacted.  On September 29, 2010, President Obama signed an executive order that imposed sanctions on eight Iranian officials “determined to be responsible for or complicit in serious human rights abuses involving Iran.”

Of course, once again, the brain behind the new executive order was none other than the usual suspect, the neoconservative Stuart Levey, the Treasury Department’s Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence. During a ceremony announcing the sanctions, Mr. Levey was complimented by Secretaries Geithner and Clinton for “designing these significant financial actions.”

A few days later the principalist media in Iran had a ball with the news that some greenish exiles were bending over backwards to thank the Obama Administration for imposing a new round of sanctions.  One such media referred to the headline of the US operated Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty that read: “Thank You, President Obama, For Human Rights Sanctions.” The essay referred to the human rights activist and the Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi welcoming the sanctions. She was quoted as saying in an interview with the Farsi Service of Deutche Welle that the sanctions mark a “turning point” not only for Iran, but for “the history of human rights.”

The same Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty published more recently another article on the occasion of Ahmadinejad’s trip to Lebanon entitled: “Iranian Intellectuals To Lebanese People: ‘Ahmadinejad Doesn’t Deserve Your Trust’”. The article stated that a group of about “30 Iranian journalists, intellectuals, and academics based in the United States, Canada, and Europe have said in an open letter addressed to the people of Lebanon that they should not be fooled by Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, whom they accuse of being up to no good.” The letter, clearly greenish in its praise for President Mohammad Khatami’s 2003 visit to Lebanon and condemnation of 2009 “stolen election” in Iran, called Ahmadinejad’s policies “dangerous” and stated that these polices have caused Iran to face widespread sanctions and a potential war. It also spoke of Ahmadinejad’s support for a “certain group” in Lebanon that is causing tension in that country. Clearly, the “certain group” referred to the Lebanese Hezbollah.

The aforementioned letter was quite insincere in claiming that Ahmadinejad’s policies were behind the sanctions. The Iranian intellectuals and academics surely know that Iran has been under numerous sanctions for more than thirty years. They also know that one of the most oppressive sanctions, namely, the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act, was imposed on Iran in 1996, during the presidency of Mohammad Khatami, one of the main leaders of the green movement in Iran. The letter was also quite insincere in assuming that the tension in Lebanon was caused by Ahmadinejad and Hezbollah and not by Israel and its traditional allies in Lebanon.  Indeed, given the popularity of the Hezbollah for its heroic resistance and battles against Israel, it is hard to imagine that a letter in opposition to Hezbollah would make the Iranian green movement much popular in Lebanon.

The above partial account of the politics and tactics employed by some exile supporters of the green movement explains why many American progressives are wary of this movement and its future. They remember how progressive Iraqi exiles, faced with a despotic government, became more and more reactionary. They remember how the issue of human rights became part of the menu option intended to bring about a regime change in Iraq. They remember how in the process of paving the way for the invasion of Iraq, the Iraqi exiles, even some progressive ones, became convenient tools. They also remember the devastation of Iraq, millions of people dead or displaced and an economy in ruin, all for the sake of establishing a US friendly government that would no longer support the resistance movement against Israel. That is why a number of readers of CounterPunch seem to be concerned about some essays posted on this progressive website by the Iranian exiles. But these readers have to remember that CounterPunch has also published many articles that are critical of those Iranians who are cozying up to the USraelis. They also have to remember that the situation in Iran is complex and there is a legitimate concern about the current government’s intolerance for any voice of dissent, however sincere and independent that voice might be.  In this complex situation separating the wheat from the chaff, discerning between legitimate concerns and exaggerated claims, distinguishing between true and sincere analysts and political opportunists, and recognizing the difference between petty nationalists and internationalists that will not align themselves with US and Israeli policies, could become extremely difficult. That is why I don’t envy the job of those sitting on the editorial board of progressive outlets, such as CounterPunch. They face hard choices.

SASAN FAYAZMANESH is Professor Emeritus of Economics at
California State University, Fresno. He is the author of The United States and Iran: Sanctions, Wars and the Policy of Dual Containment (Routledge, 2008).  He can be reached at:

Sasan Fayazmanesh is Professor Emeritus of Economics at California State University, Fresno, and is the author of Containing Iran: Obama’s Policy of “Tough Diplomacy.” He can be reached at: