In the Monty Python skit, aman brings a parrot back to the store where he purchased him half anhour earlier, complaining that the parrot is dead.
The shop owner insists it must be resting, but the man says hediscovered that the only reason that parrot was sitting up at all wasbecause it had been nailed to the perch in its cage.
Like the shop owner, the State Department is promoting a long-deadpolicy of supporting "moderates" in Tehran, under the guise ofpromoting "reform" and "change."
Not only is State making a monumental mistake: it has fallen for oneof the oldest tricks of Iran's clerical elite.
Over the past three years, President Bush has accumulated atremendous capital of goodwill with the Iranian people because of hisoutspoken support for their struggle for freedom.
The president has made clear in private meetings with Iranian exilesthat his public statements were not mere rhetoric. He really meant itwhen he called Iran part of an "axis of e"vil in his 2002 State ofthe Union speech.
He meant every word he uttered after the regime disqualified some2,400 candidates for parliamentary elections in February 2004 and hesaid, "The United States supports the Iranian people's aspiration tolive in freedom, enjoy their God-given rights, and determine theirown destiny."
He meant it when he spoke to the Voice of America's Persian serviceon August 17, 2004. "There is a significant diaspora here in theUnited States of Iranian-Americans who long for their homeland to beliberated and free. We're working with them to send messages to theirloved ones and their relatives, say[ing], 'Listen, we hearyour voice, we know you want to be free, and we stand with you inyour desire to be free.'"
And he meant it again when he addressed the Iranian people during hisState of the Union speech this year." Our nation hopes one day to bethe closest of friends with a free and democratic Iran."
Somehow, that message hasn't made it over to Foggy Bottom.
At the State Department, where Condoleeza Rice has admirably pledgedto spend $85 million this year to support the pro-freedom movement inIran, careerists have taken over the show and are steering her in thewrong direction.
Of that $85 million, nearly $50 million has been tentativelyear-marked to expand the Voice of America and the Persian service ofRadio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
Both radios need to improve the quality of their broadcasts and,especially, their political content, before they deserve another dimein taxpayer funding. But that is a story I will treat in depth in afuture column.
The rest of the money is being spent on a variety of programs led byformer Tehran regime officials, student leaders, and U.S. academicswho believe the Tehran regime can be reformed, but does not need tobe changed.
This is sweet music to the ears of Iran's ruling mullahs and toIran's boy president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
They all want "reform." After all, Ahmadinejad campaigned forpresident on a platform of "reform." He was going to drive outcorrupt mullahs, such as the "reformist" Rafsanjani, and reformIran's nuclear weapons program.
Mohsen Sazegara was one of the founders of Iran's RevolutionaryGuards Corps. He fell out with the regime in the late 1980s,published a series of reformist newspapers, and was jailed for nearlytwo years.
He came to the United States last year at the invitation of theWashington Institute for Near East Policy and with the blessing ofthe Department of State.
Sazegara's break with the regime was sincere. But since coming to theUnited States, he has teamed up with "reformers" such as Akbar Atri,Ali Afshari, and Ramin Ahmadi of Yale University, who have gotten thelion's share of the "pro-freedom" moneys from the StateDepartment.
Instead of providing seed money to a home-grown pro-democracymovement, State Department has sponsored Atri to go on a tour of U.S.college campuses, and is now talking of providing him with a radiostation to broadcast his message of "reform" into Iran. They havealso thrown money at Ramin Ahmadi by the million - initially, tosponsor a data base of Iranian human rights abuses (something that anumber of other groups had already pulled together privately over thepast decades, on shoestring funding).
It was Ahmadi who sponsored the ill-fated "non-violent trainingworkshops" in Dubai that backfired last year, sources familiar withthe program told me.
The idea of training Iranian activists in the weapons of non-violentconflict is an excellent one. But as reported by the Washington Post,the problem with the Dubai workshops was the choice of people whowere selected to attend.
They were reformers, not activists seeking to grow a pro-democracymovement.
They didn't want to change the regime in Tehran; they wanted to makeit stronger, just as Iran's reformist clerics have sought to do. Whenthey found out that the State Department - and not Yale University -was financing the workshops, they fled back to Tehran, where theydenounced the United States publicly.
Roozbeh Farahanipour was one of the leaders of the student rebellionat Tehran University in July 1999. He remembers Ali Afshari well.
"When we tried to get students to take the demonstrations from theuniversity to the streets of Tehran, Afshari came along behind us ina truck with a sound system, shouting at the crowd to not follow usbecause we were against the revolution," Farahanipour recalls.
That is one of the tricks the regime likes to play. It periodicallygives leash to "reformers" and allows them to publish newspapers andspeak out against regime excesses, for as long as they don't crossthe red line and demand true freedom and a change of regime.
Several authentic, grass roots movements for change in Iran do exist.One is led by Farahanipour and is called Marzeporgohar, or Iraniansfor a Secular Republic (http://www.marzeporgohar.org<http://www.marzeporgohar.org/> )
Another is the Iran Nation's Party (sometimes referred to as the IranPeople's Party in the West). It was led by Darioush Forouhar until heand his wife were brutally hacked to death by regime thugs in Tehranin November 1998. The current leader is Khosrow Seif.
Yet another authentic pro-democracy group worthy of U.S. funding isthe Iran Referendum Movement. Prompted initially by Sazegara'scampaign that collected 35,000 signatures on the Internet in favor ofan internationally-monitored referendum on the regime, the movementnow has chapters in 35 cities worldwide who sent 250 delegates to afounding convention in Brussels, Belgium, this past December.
They elected a 15-member Central Committee, who in turn selected a7-member Executive Board. Although they have extensive networksinside Iran, they can't seem to get the eyes and ears of the StateDepartment.
But because the Referendum Movement is calling for an end of theIslamic Republic, the groups being funded by the State Departmenthave all refused to have anything to do with it. The StateDepartment's choices are reformers, not revolutionaries.
Sazegara himself told me last year that the reform movement was"dead." And yet, the State Department, through lack of imagination orits atavistic tendency toward blind man's bluff, refuses to recognizeit.
Like Monty Python's dead parrot, the State Department Iran "experts"have nailed the reform movement to the perch, and keep selling itagain and again, pretending that it's alive.
But no matter how they dress it up, it's still a dead parrot.
Or, as the Monty Python character put it, "This parrot is nomore!& 'E's kicked the bucket, 'e's shuffled off 'is mortal coil,run down the curtain and joined the bleedin' choir invisibile!! THISIS AN EX-PARROT!!"
Alas, not in Washington.
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