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The Greed, Cluelessness, and Poor Judgment of the MEK’s American Advocates

U.S. News recently published a long article on the pro-MEK lobbying effort and the terrorist group’s American advocates. Here Karim Sadjadpour offers an explanation for why so many Americans have embraced the group:

Sadjadpour, the Carnegie analyst, finds it remarkable that so many politicians have supported a group with so much baggage. “In some cases it’s greed, in some cases it’s cluelessness, in some cases it’s remarkably poor judgment, and often it’s all of the above,” he said of the political support.

What I still don’t quite understand is how so many high-ranking and prominent people could be genuinely clueless about a group that they are supporting on a regular basis. It would be more understandable if they were simply motivated by anti-Iranian animus and chose to align themselves with the most distasteful allies possible. That wouldn’t make their cavorting with terrorists any less disgraceful, but it would make sense in a very cynical way. What doesn’t make any sense is how so many prominent figures could be so thoroughly ignorant about the background of an organization whose cause they are promoting. At some point, the ignorance defense isn’t credible. Since the MEK’s American advocates obviously know so little about the group’s history, why should anyone else trust their judgment when they say that the group shouldn’t remain on the FTO list?

The Chicago Tribune columnist Clarence Page would have to be included in the poor judgment category, and unlike the others his involvement has been a one-time event. Here was an interesting part of his recent column that addressed his attendance at the MEK gathering last month:

“Why are they picking on you?” asked one of many outraged emails from supportive readers in a similar vein. “Why aren’t reporters going after the other big names who are raking in big money for speeches like this?” The quick answer: They don’t work for newspapers.

In fact, some reporters, including Justin Elliott, have been publicizing the pro-MEK activism of former officials, politicians, and retired military officers for many months. These reporters have been “going after” pro-MEK advocates for quite a while, so it’s absurd to think that Page received more scrutiny than anyone else. The reason that these other individuals haven’t been censured by anyone is that they are generally no longer answerable to any employer or organization. In that sense, they are free to lend their support to a terrorist group in a way that someone in Page’s position isn’t. Even though they would all seem to be offering “material support” to a terrorist group, there is no real danger that any of them would face charges.

The new report also digs a bit more into the lobbying effort’s finances:

Much of M.E.K.’s support, Gobadi says, comes from the Iranian diaspora. While he doesn’t name the group’s U.S. supporters, the Senate disclosure database reveals the Iranian American Community of North Texas and Iranian American Community of Northern California have been most active. Dozens of similar community groups came into existence after the U.S. government shut down a partner office of the M.E.K. in D.C. in 2003, but many have since disappeared. Requests for comments from both community groups were not returned, but it’s clear that they have had enormous fundraising and sway.

IACNT and IANCC paid the lobbying firms in Washington thousands of dollars to get signatures for the congressional resolution. They paid the speakers lobby thousands of dollars to get Rendell, Giuliani and Crowley, participants said.

P.S. The Post reported late last week that MEK advocates may be in violation of lobbying regulations (via Andrew):

In recent weeks, new questions have been raised about whether private meetings, conference calls and other contact with officials at the State Department and elsewhere in the administration over the past year require the advocates’ registration as lobbyists or agents of a foreign entity.

Under federal law, advocates for foreign organizations are required to register as lobbyists and provide details about their clients and income. But the MEK supporters have not registered, which would require disclosing the amounts they are paid and the identities of officials with whom they meet.

Update: The Post article includes another good quote from Sadjadpour:

“I see them as a cross between Hezbollah and the Branch Davidians,” [bold mine-DL] said Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran expert with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “It is legitimate to debate whether the MEK meets the Justice Department’s legal definition of a terrorist organization. But it is outright false to claim that they are a legitimate, democracy-minded opposition group with a wide base inside Iran.”

This false claim that they represent Iran’s democratic opposition is exactly what pro-MEK advocates say about the group all the time.

By Daniel Larison

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