GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s foreign policy team claimed last month that they’ve been working hard at brining the former Massachusetts governor up to speed on global affairs. But his ignorance about what has become a lightening rod issue among the foreign policy community raises questions about their work.
As of December, as shown in a YouTube video that has eluded widespread attention, Mitt Romney claimed to not know anything about the Mojahedeen-e Khalq (MEK), a controversial, exiled Iranian group listed by the State Department as a “foreign terrorist organization.” Asked during a campaign appearance about the group, Romney said he’d never heard of the group and asked what they were. Told of the MEK’s status, Romney asked indignantly, “Why would you think that I support a — you said it’s a terrorist group?”
As the questioner informed Romney, one of Romney’s foreign policy advisers — former Ambassador Mitchell Reiss — has been active in the very public, well-financed campaign to get the MEK off the terror list. Romney then replied:
I’ll take a look at the issue. I’m not familiar with that particular group, or that effort on the part of any of my team.
It might seem like a small and obscure issue, but the MEK has attracted much attention, including paid speeches by top American politicians and former officials here and in Europe, and multiple full-page newspaper adverts. Another Romney backer, former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, has advocated forcefully on behalf of the MEK. More recently, NBC News did a long report on the group’s ties to terror activity in Iran. And the Treasury Department recently announced that it is investigating payments to prominent former American government officials to speak in support of the MEK.
Beyond the public attention, the Romney campaign has been engaged in the MEK issue well before his professed ignorance in December. Romney may not have been aware of it, but Reiss’s advocacy for the MEK was used by neoconservatives in the Romney camp to marginalize Reiss.
In a November GOP debate, Romney spoke of using Iranian “insurgent” groups. (The MEK is by far the best organized militant group opposed to the Islamic Republic.) The remark prompted the conservative Daily Caller website to make a number of inquiries to the campaign that went unanswered, and wrote that the campaign wouldn’t “clarify whether he was referring to the MEK, and what his position is on the organization.”
Now that three months have passed, Romney should make clear his grasp of MEK issues — which involve not only matters of Iran and Iraq policy, but also issues of terrorism — and stake out a position on the group. (HT: Matt Duss)
By Ali Gharib