Iran: A Response to “What If the Green Movement Isn’t Ours?” (The Sequel)

Prof. Scott Lucas


Again, with apologies in advance, I am reacting to an article in a US newspaper about the Green movement in Iran.


I do not want to do this. It is only 24 hours since I wroteabout themisinformation and (in my opinion, misplaced) priorities of Jackson Diehl’s opinion piece in The Washington Post. And the focus, not only for 13 Aban but on every day, should be on what is happening in Iran rather than the diversions of the “Western” media.


However, this morning there is an analysis by Borzou Daragahi in the Los Angeles Times which is so partial, so distorting, so wrong that it verges on sabotage of the demands, aspirations, and ideas of the Green movement.

Daragahi, who has been one of the best journalists writing for a US newspaper on Iran, initially offers a straightforward “Iran Students Carry on Protests”, depicting university demonstrations over the last week. In the sub-headline, however, there is an ominous sign of the real point of the article: “In the West, some analysts have begun to discount the opposition movement’s power.”


And so the piece dissolves into unsupported soundbites. Mark Fowler, “a former CIA analyst who now heads Persia House, a service run by the Booz Allen Hamilton consulting firm in Washington”, declares:


Our view is that the regime has largely neutralized the opposition. It seems to us that they have pretty much decapitated the opposition in terms of leadership. I don’t think the government is particularly worried about it.


And then, just to put the boot in if anyone was holding on to faith in the Green movement, Fowler pronouces, “Mousavi is not a liberal per se. When he was prime minister, he would have made the conservatives and the hard-liners proud.” Like Jackson Diehl yesterday, Daragahi then invokes last month’s visit to the Washington Institute of Near East Policy by Ataollah Mohajerani, “a confidant of opposition figure Mehdi Karroubi [who] refused to distance himself from Ahmadinejad’s nuclear policies”, as a high-profile representative of the internal opposition.


Daragahi twists the knife further by citing the articles of former US officials Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett, calling on the Obama administration “to abide by the results of Iran’s election and to engage with Tehran’s current leadership”. What Daragahi does not mention is that the Leveretts’ initial proclamation of the legitimacy of the Ahmadinejad victory, offered within days of 12 June in an article with the University of Tehran’s Seyed Mohammad Marandi, has been challenged by a wide range of analysts, let alone by the Green movement.


It should be noted that Daragahi also quotes the opinion of Gary Sick, another former US official, that some U.S. foreign policy hawks “regard any ‘reform’ movement in Iran as a distraction from further sanctions and the outright U.S.-Iran hostility that they favor as a way of clarifying and simplifying U.S. policy choices in the region”. But, given that Daragahi has already portrayed Fowler and the Leveretts as neutral, objective experts rather than “hawks” — and along the way questioned the credentials and strength of the internal call for reform and justice — Sick’s comment is no more than a whistle in the anti-Green wind.


Of course, Mark Fowler and the Leveretts should be free to express their opinions. But it would be useful if those opinions were supported, in a one-sided article, by some semblance of evidence. And it might have occurred to Daragahi to consult an expert source inside Iran — despite the regime’s determined efforts to shut down any notion of a live opposition, those analyses come out day after day — or an analyst whose primary contacts are not with officials within the Iranian Government or economic elite.


At the end of the day, however, this considered approach is not Daragahi’s because — like Jackson Diehl — his primary attention is not on the desires, concerns, hopes within the Islamic Republic: “Iran’s nuclear program remains a top Washington priority. And few U.S. officials expect the opposition to cause any shift by the Iranian government on nuclear policy in the next year, a critical period in which many fear Tehran could move dramatically closer to gaining the capacity to build an atomic bomb.”


Which is fine. It’s not my concern, however, and I dare say that it is not the primary thought for those who are on the frontline, rather than filing from a bureau in Beirut (or writing in a living room in Birmingham, England). So it would be appreciated if Daragahi simply said, “Nukes First, Nukes First”, rather than trashing the opposition movement to fulfil that agenda.


However, let me close with the positive rather than the negative. Having provoked disbelief and then anger, Daragahi ultimately — and unwittingly — gives hope and raises a smile. For there, four paragraphs from the end of his piece, is the line:


“The Iranian government itself has yet to write off the protest movement.”


Quite right, because the Iranian government might have better information than a Mark Fowler and his consultancy or the Leveretts and their quest for engagement. And here, from another group with pretty good information, is the sentence that could be added:


“The protest movement has yet to write itself off.”


It is less than 24 hours to 13 Aban.

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