This is The Monday Line (on Tuesday)
by Denis G. Campbell
For nearly a decade resistance exiles of the People’s Mujahedin of Iran or Mujahedin el-Khalq (MEK) housed in Camps Ashraf and then Liberty near and in Baghdad, Iraq, have endured political attack, medical neglect, theft of personal belongings, displacement, broken promises, rocket attacks and multiple killings at the hands of a puppet Iraqi government under the thumb of the Iranian regime.
This past weekend nearly 100,000 supporters of freedom for the 2,500 remaining in Baghdad’s Camp Liberty gathered for a rally sponsored by the National Council of Resistance of Iran. It was held in the massive Villepinte convention centre north of Paris. Dozens of dignitaries from the USA, UK, EU and the Middle East gathered to pay their respects to the cause and the Iranian leader in exile, Mrs. Maryam Rajavi.
At times political gathering, prayer rally and high theatre… the event was an eight hour long marathon show of support bordering, at times, on a saintly beatification. Flags and shirts bearing Mrs. Rajavi’s likeness were waved, people clapped and many swooned at the sight of her. It was often an angry, celebratory and, rock concert-like crowd as those in attendance took the opportunity to loudly cheer and support nearly every speaker.
As a long-time chronicler of the effort to free those held first in Camp Ashraf, it seemed almost too choreographed. I walked away from the day still supporting freedom for the refugees in Camp Liberty and with several troubling observations.
- It was an elaborately staged high tech show of support…
While this event has been staged annually for several years, why does it require 8-hours of speeches, musicians, dancers, drummers and culture to accomplish awareness of the issue? The cause has not changed. Yet the rally seemed a complicated day of messaging from too many parties with far too many agendas.
After all of this time, you would think there would be more anger at the West for everything from faux terrorist designations to an Iraq Status of Forces agreement in 2010 that left the MEK completely exposed. You would think there would be more anger at the UN for failing to protect the residents and declare them refugees, affording required protections under global law.
The MEK remain the ultimate global political football. One could argue, that this is why the issue has never been resolved.
It seemed everything from Iranian regime change to US neocon-backed direct military action was on the table in Paris. While I understand the call for regime change and democratic and free elections including dissident groups like the NCRI/MEK, the main question of why Liberty still exists should be the issue.
Why do so many dissidents still live in horrible conditions in this ‘temporary transit camp’ four years later? Everyone said it must end, there were few details on how?
By design, there was a decided lack of nuance in this hall.
- Too many ‘former’ leaders mixing this stew recipe?
As dozens of former leaders filed onstage, it took a current Dutch Parliamentarian, SP Tweede Kamer member Harry van Bommel to ask, “why are there so many former UN and national leaders on the stage? The current leaders are the ones needed to solve this crisis.”
And indeed therein lies the rub. While it was definitely a ‘show of force’ in terms of very vocal support, most of the names were better known today as outside commentators and television pundits than current policy makers.
In my interviews with ‘former’ Governor Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania, ‘former’ Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge, ‘former’ New York City Mayor Rudy Guliani, ‘former’ Governor of New Mexico Bill Richardson and ‘former’ Member of the European Parliament Struan Stevenson, Harry was the only active member of a government and he did not speak onstage. Yes, several current leaders did speak yet the overwhelming majority carried the title ‘former.’
And of the 40 signatories to the US document of support released during the conference, only 10% were currently in office. Yes, California Republican representative Dana Rorbacher gave a fiery speech of support. Yes, FOX News ran five segments throughout the day in the USA and a 10-minute interview with Mrs. Rajavi is available on their website to view. Yes, there was a video from John McCain and statement from US House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (neither in attendance) and a number of sitting Representatives signed a resolution letter.
But where is the political will to take and support REAL action? The USA government cannot even issue a resolution backing their current fight against IS in the region.
- Too many speakers seemed more interested in spreading their world view than worrying about NCRI
The proceedings resembled a neocon band reunion bent on stating the obvious, “the Mullahs of Iran cannot be trusted.”
We get it. Axis of evil, 1979, the Shah, American hostages, ‘death to America,’ a Muslim caliphate… the labels though do little to give us more than ‘known-knowns.’ There are many bad actors in Iran searching for the key to a nuclear bomb. They threaten the existence of Israel. They threaten the entire region. They hold innocents hostage. They kill anyone who gets in their way.
And… the world has negotiated with despots in the past to prevent further harm from war. So why is it such a knee-jerk reaction to oppose President Obama at every turn? The USA played the ‘war card’ for almost 14-years. They tried to bring democracy to the region and failed, expensively and repeatedly. What, other than hubris, justifies banging this war drum yet again?
Every speaker from Giuliani to Ridge to Stevenson spoke of regime change. They all said the President is wrong to negotiate. They compared him to Neville Chamberlain. They used the word ‘appeasement’ to describe the negotiations.
Do they honestly think the President, Secretary of State, Congress and the six nations in the talks would accept a deal that harms the region? Especially since Mr. Obama has spent almost seven years trying to find a negotiated settlement to end the bloodshed in and get out of that region?
Why is deliberation and thoughtfulness considered weak? After nearly a decade and a half of war, most want reason and dialogue vs. more cowboy military interventionism.
- If not negotiation then what? Violent overthrow? War?
Yes. the Iranian regime is out of step with the people of Iran and needs to go. That was clear. The ‘how’ was missing.
It was as if after years of neglecting the Camp Ashraf/Liberty question because of terrorism designation obstacles, ‘the dog caught the car.’ Now what?
The main obstacle disappeared and suddenly Camp Ashraf/Liberty was the political hot potato no one wanted to address beyond supportive speeches. Well talk is cheap. Ducking from rocket attacks is real.
It’s easy to come to rallies and create FOX News friendly headlines that allow the network to bash the Administration of Barack Obama. What takes courage and effort is actually bringing everyone to the table. Getting the 2,500 refugees out of harm’s way and into the USA, Guam, EU or other accepting nation.
Even if the Iranian people succeed in overthrowing the current regime, the great unknown is what will replace it? As my Cuban friends in Miami said, “for years we prayed for the overthrow of Batista, then we got Castro.”
Everyone though has an 8-second sound bite solution to the problem. What is missing is a lasting plan for safely removing the long suffering residents of Ashraf/Liberty into safety and then planning for the future.
With lots of pageantry and deep nationalistic pride, the event was beamed live into Camp Liberty. But how many times have we reached this point of anger only to see nothing happen because of the lack of both the political and legal will to press Tehran or Baghdad?
So it was a confusing day and rally. Madame Rajavi seems a very sober and sound leader who quietly but forcefully gets people to commit to supporting the NCRI and MEK. Yet here we are in 2015 watching the same fight unfold yet again.
I left this rally as I have done dozens of UK House of Lords and European Parliamentary debates/hearings where at the end of the day people look at each other and ask…
OK, now what?