Michael Rubin must really be scared. Actually the whole neocon establishment must be, as they've recently pulled out big guns to attack my organization, the National Iranian American Council, and its allies for defending the wishes of Iranian pro-democracy and human rights activists.
The father of failed regime change funding as a former advisor to Donald Rumsfeld on Iran and Iraq and, Rubin helped pioneer the U.S. effort to bring "democracy" to Iraq and the greater Middle East in 2003. We all know where that got us. Five years and thousands of lives later, the U.S. is trapped, Iraq is in shatters and democracy has become a dirty word in the Middle East.
If Rubin and his cronies had their way, the same fate would fall on the people of Iran. No wonder Iranian pro-democracy activists have rejected Rubin's help.
Last year, Secretary Condoleezza Rice disclosed the existence of a $75 million State Department "democracy promotion" program in Iran. In response to the disastrous impact this decision has had on Iran's civil society, NIAC teamed up with human rights and foreign policy groups to educate Congress about its implications for Iranian NGOs.
Today, both lawmakers and the U.S. government have started to see the realities of this unfortunate program. Anxious not to perpetuate US blunders of the past -- beginning with the 1953 CIA-led coup of Iran's first democratically elected leader Mohammad Mossadegh -- Congress is taking a second look at the funding, while Secretary Rice has taken the program out of the hands of political appointees in the Administration and given it to professionals within the State Department instead.
Rice's decision shows that even the Bush administration has come to realize that this money is hurting the very people it aims to assist.
Rubin must have sensed that Congress is no longer willing to act precipitously based on faulty intelligence and the recommendations of a few hardliners like himself. Frankly, it's about time.
Rubin says he is an expert on Iran. Rubin says he has the best interests of the Iranian people in mind. Rubin says the Iranian people want the $75 million, though he admits the program isn't effective anyways.
Before taking him at his word, however, think back to Rubin and the neocon's record: They said they could bring democracy to Iraq through a U.S. preventive attack. They said they had the best interest of the Iraqi people in mind. And they promised the American people that war would be a cakewalk and that America would be greeted as a liberator.
But in his efforts to defend a failed program, Rubin has had to resort to character assassination against NIAC and our efforts to prevent war with Iran and put the interest of Iran's civil society ahead of Rubin's personal agenda.
Rubin attempts to create a false link between NIAC's work with Iranian civil society (funded by the National Endowment for Democracy - NED) and his own "regime-change" fund, while accusing NIAC of seeking to end funding for U.S.-Iran broadcasting such as Voice of America (VOA) and Radio Farda.
The reality is that there are smart ways to help Iranian civil society and there are incredibly stupid ways. NIAC, through funding from NED, had chosen the former.
For several years, NIAC had worked to build bridges between American and Iranian NGOs (an endeavor for which NIAC, one of the largest Iranian American organizations in the U.S., is uniquely qualified). The key, however, has always been to let our non-political capacity-building programs be driven by the demands of the Iranian NGOs -- not by U.S. ideologues like Rubin who neither know Iran nor care about Iran's civil society.
The difference between the $75 million and NIAC's work is made clear by the Iranian NGOs themselves. Our cooperation with Iranian NGOs progressed satisfactorily for several years. All of that changed once the $75 million -- and the explicit political agenda that went with it - was announced. The $75 million completely changed the atmosphere in Iran and prompted the Iranian government to clamp down on all Iranian NGOs. Our counterparts in Iran -- who had benefited greatly from our collaboration in the areas of NGO management, for instance -- began shying away from having any contact with U.S.-based organizations, even with those like NIAC who oppose the State Department program.
Though we were disappointed, we fully understood and respected their decision. After all, the Iranian NGOs had no choice. Michael Rubin's regime change money had put their safety at risk and they were now forced to limit their contacts with the outside world.
Desperate to defend his failed policy, Rubin came after NIAC. He falsely claimed that NIAC opposes funding for Radio Farda and VOA. But eradicating or reprogramming the $75 million does not spell the demise of these entities. The base funding for Farda and VOA comes out of a separate pot, under the Broadcasting Board of Governors. In fact, many opponents of the State Department's $75 million program advocate reprogramming the money to U.S.-Iran broadcasting and cultural exchanges. But they also point out that there is a significant need to raise the quality of these outlets since their journalistic standards have suffered greatly over the past two years and caused the credibility of Farda and VOA Persian to plummet among Iranians.
In consideration of these facts, Rubin's allegations have the distinct smell of desperation.
His insecurity is well founded. Rubin, in his dogged support for the Iran democracy funding ,hardly stands up to the likes of Noble Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi, investigative journalist Akbar Ganji, Woodrow Wilson scholar Haleh Esfandiari, and Human Rights Watch, who have spearheaded the campaign to end this misguided program.
We wonder how much contact Rubin has actually had with NGOs in Iran, which have found themselves increasingly isolated as a result of the U.S. policy he advocates. If he truly is in touch with the people of Iran, he must simply not care about their welfare or respect them enough to heed their calls.
Dr. Trita Parsi is the author of "Treacherous Alliance - The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran and the U.S." (Yale University Press). He is also the President of the National Iranian American Council. Emily Blout is the Acting legislative Director at the Council.