Former DNC chair is critical of the Iran negotiations! This is… not at all a new position for him. Here’s why
Even the liberal Howard Dean, we learned yesterday, is critical of the Obama administration’s negotiations with Iran. Dean, appearing on Morning Joe, urged the administration to back out of the negotiations still underway in Lausanne, Switzerland. This is supposed to imply that there is some sort of bipartisan consensus forming around the idea that administration is too willing to cede ground in order to secure a deal.
“In a move that stunned the hosts of MSNBC’s Morning Joe,” National Review wrote in one of several breathless reports yesterday, “liberal former Vermont governor Howard Dean agreed that the U.S. should now walk away from the nuclear negotiation table with Iran.”
“I think John Kerry and Barack Obama are far, far too eager for a deal with Iran, and could actually get a better deal if they walked away from the table and possibly came back later,” Morning Joe host Joe Scarborough began with Dean on Wednesday morning. “Why am I wrong, Howard?”
“I actually think you’re right about this,” the famously dovish Dean replied, shocking Scarborough and the other panelists.
“Obama is right to try to get a deal,” he continued. “[But] I’m worried about how these negotiations have gone. And I think that Joe is right, probably, to step away from the table.”
Well, if Obama has lost the “famously dovish” Howard Dean, then he’s lost Blue America.
Anyone who wrote about this as if it were a surprising comment from Howard Dean, as National Review did, is simply lazy. Joe Scarborough and his producers, though, are guilty of something closer to malpractice. Dean is a paid shill for the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK), the Iranian exile group that calls for an overthrow of the Iranian regime. This organization has worked closely with hawks in recent years to build support for their shared goal. And a new policy of rapprochement with Iran, however modest, is not good for MEK.
Dean, along with the likes of John Bolton, Rudy Giuliani, Ed Rendell and other notables, has given paid speeches at MEK rallies. In the first term of the Obama administration, MEK’s allies launched a expensive P.R. effort to get the State Department to de-list MEK as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. (Anyone who lived in the D.C. metropolitan area between 2010 and 2012 will be familiar with a seemingly endless cycle of television ads calling for this.) The effort was successful: in September 2012, just before the election, the State Department de-listed MEK. It was a heavy, cynical lobbying effort that offered a real education in the how subjectively the government applies the term “terrorism” to suit its interests.
Dean has never been a strong supporter of negotiations with Iran. The day after President Obama called for continuing negotiations with Iran in his 2014 State of the Union address, Dean said, “We need to stand up to the mullahs. These are not people we ought to be negotiating with.” He made these comments at a “policy briefing… hosted by the Iranian-American Community of Arkansas, a member of the Organization of Iranian-American Communities, an MEK advocacy group.” Dean added that any deal made with Iran on its nuclear program needs to include all sorts of stipulations regarding human rights, including the protection of 3,000 MEK exiles stationed at an American camp in Iraq. He repeatedly dodged a Buzzfeed reporter’s question about whether he was paid for that particular speech.
Last May, Dean co-wrote an op-ed with another MEK shill, Rudy Giuliani, warning against negotiations on the grounds of Iran’s human rights record — specifically its record towards the MEK, which, again, has given Dean and Giuliani lots of money. Calling on the administration to bail on Iranian nuclear negotiations because they don’t address Iran’s human rights abuses or regional aggressions is a common tactic for people who don’t want the United States to reach a diplomatic agreement over Iran’s nuclear program. Dean takes the same approach as Benjamin Netanyahu: suggesting that there is a “better deal” out there in which Iran eliminates every last trace of its nuclear infrastructure, reforms itself into the world’s number one protector of human rights, and abandons all of its regional interests. Perhaps, if John Kerry had the courage to twist a few more arms, he could even get Ayatollah Khameini and his regime to self-abdicate and put in place an American puppet government. How about… the MEK?
It’s been a long time since Howard Dean was “famously dovish.” Howard Dean’s no longer the little-known governor looking for a viable lane in a presidential primary. He’s in the big time now. He’s made it, and now he’s getting paid. Good for him. But it’s completely dishonest to suggest that he’s carefully watched these negotiations and suddenly come to the conclusion that the Obama administration, alas, has given up too much.
Jim Newell covers politics and media for Salon.