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The Perils of Funding Iranian Dissent

Negar Azimi has a highly discussed piece in the New York Times Magazine on the dangers of U.S. financial support for Iranian opposition groups. Azimi's thesis is more or less: "Please don't show us the money." Given the heightened paranoia … Read More

By / June 27, 2007

Negar Azimi has a highly discussed piece in the New York Times Magazine on the dangers of U.S. financial support for Iranian opposition groups. Azimi's thesis is more or less: "Please don't show us the money." Given the heightened paranoia of the Iranian regime about attempts to undermine it, pro-reform groups such as Voice of America and Radio Farda, which receive do their employees small favors by cashing checks from the U.S. State Department. Fair enough, but the alternative is what, exactly?

Letting these groups raise funds from domestic Iranian sources will hardly cause the regime to react in a more kittenish manner, especially as its latest crackdown on dissident elements is a sign of its insecurity and weakness — tied as much to economic woes as to political ones. The Great Satan is quite right to be shoveling dollars into Tehran, just as opposition groups are quite right to abjure any affiliation with their true bankroller. (If it was a matter of their not wanting the cash, they could simply refuse it.)

What seems especially silly in Azimi's implicit critique of what I'll call the Persian high wire transfer is that the Bush administration's supposed advocacy of regime change jeopardizes the situation any more than a modest advocacy of reform would do. How are the two mutually exclusive in a state lorded over by theocratic fanatics? Reform means undermining the regime; it means revolution, be it bloody or velvet.

Azimi writes: "The administration now finds itself in the curious situation of having its allies — potential and existing — feeling that they must publicly distance themselves from the White House, the State Department and America in general." The administration would find itself in that position, regardless of its democracy-or-bust foreign policy.

Or does anyone think that if the advice of the ever-fallible realist Lee Hamilton were followed, and we cozied up the mullahs on the shared objective of stabilizing Iraq, that we would be performing a service to the Iranian opposition? Their grievances would be the first brushed into the pragmatic dustbin.

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