Saturday, October 29, 2011

Post #30 - U.S. in Iran's Backyard

At a conference in Washington a few years ago, I was astounded to hear a member of the U.S. House of Representatives appear almost to be applauding terrorism. Rep. Jane Harman, a Democrat who left Congress this year, and who was then the ranking member of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, referred to news from that day's newspapers. She said:

"...let me point out that the bus bombing in Tehran this morning was not carried out by an external force. It was carried out – so we have learned – by Iran's own ethnic Baluch minority who see themselves as heirs of an ancient tradition distinct from ethnic Persians. They identify with a larger community in Afghanistan and Pakistan and with Sunni Islam. So there's plenty of evidence that ethnic groups inside the country and economic pressures inside the country are putting pressure on the government and if we augment that externally with economic and diplomatic pressure, we have a good chance to succeed."

This was an instance of terrorism, directed against civilians. If I were one of those who set a bomb in that crowded capital, I would certainly feel that Rep. Harman's remarks were approving and encouraging of my action. Never mind that the head of the group reputed to be responsible is (according to author Reese Elrich) a former Taliban leader, or that our ally, Turkey, is facing the very same kind of "minority who see themselves as heirs of an ancient tradition distinct from ethnic [Turks, who] “identify with a larger community” -- in that case being the Kurds. Often the pawns of larger entities – dispersed across parts of Turkey, Iraq and Iran, and splintered by sub-groupings of sect and clan, the Kurds have fought fiercely, on multiple fronts, enduring assaults and betrayals, to maintain their cultural and linguistic heritage.

Never mind, also, that the same kind of claims could be made by ethnic Chechens, who bombed a school full of children in 2004, killing 380; they too are fighting for their autonomy from a dominant nation state. Terrorism cannot be condoned when employed by one group, but condemned when it is committed by another

Former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff and secretary of state Colin Powell, quoted in a letter to me from my US senator during that same period, said "the world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism." I doubt that new initiatives by the current administration have changed this perception very much.

As early as June 2005, Scott Ritter (former IAEA arms inspector) wrote:

"The reality is that the US war with Iran has already begun. As we speak, American overflights of Iranian soil are taking place, using pilotless drones and other, more sophisticated, capabilities.
"The violation of a sovereign nation's airspace is an act of war in and of itself. But the war with Iran has gone far beyond the intelligence-gathering phase. President Bush has taken advantage of the sweeping powers granted to him in the aftermath of 11 September 2001, to wage a global war against terror and to initiate several covert offensive operations inside Iran."

U.S. positioning of forces around Iran

William Lowther and Colin Freeman reported, similarly (in “US funds terror groups to sow chaos in Iran,” Sunday Telegraph, February 25, 2007) : "In the past year there has been a wave of unrest in ethnic minority border areas of Iran, with bombing and assassination campaigns against soldiers and government officials. Such incidents have been carried out by the Kurds in the west, the Azeris in the north-west, the Ahwazi Arabs in the south-west, and the Baluchis in the south-east.
"Funding for their separatist causes comes directly from the CIA's classified budget but is now 'no great secret', according to one former high-ranking CIA official in Washington who spoke anonymously to The Sunday Telegraph.
"His claims were backed by Fred Burton, a former US state department counter-terrorism agent, who said: 'The latest attacks inside Iran fall in line with US efforts to supply and train Iran's ethnic minorities to destabilize the Iranian regime.'
"The Baluchistan-based Brigade of God group, which last year kidnapped and killed eight Iranian soldiers, is a volatile Sunni organisation that many fear could easily turn against Washington after taking its money.
"A row has also broken out in Washington over whether to 'unleash' the military wing of the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK), an Iraq-based Iranian opposition group with a long and bloody history of armed opposition to the Iranian regime.
"The group is currently listed by the US state department as terrorist organisation, but Mr Pike said: 'A faction in the Defense Department wants to unleash them. They could never overthrow the current Iranian regime but they might cause a lot of damage.'"

Qashqai tribal sheepherders encamped near Persepolis

(The debate about the MEK continues; just this month, I saw last week the latest of a series of full-page ads in a major newspaper, asking that the State Department "de-list" them from its terrorism roster.)

An article on the ABC News blog April 3, 2007 ("The Secret War Against Iran") by Brian Ross and Christopher Isham, described destabilizing activities carried on against Iran from the Pakistani side with U.S. support:

"A Pakistani tribal militant group responsible for a series of deadly guerrilla raids inside Iran has been secretly encouraged and advised by American officials since 2005, U.S. and Pakistani intelligence sources tell ABC News. The group, called Jundullah, is made up of members of the Baluchi tribe and operates out of the Baluchistan province in Pakistan, just across the border from Iran.
"It has taken responsibility for the deaths and kidnappings of more than a dozen Iranian soldiers and officials. Tribal sources tell ABC News that money for Jundullah is funneled to its youthful leader, Abd el Malik Regi, through Iranian exiles who have connections with European and Gulf states. The leader, Regi, claims to have personally executed some of the Iranians.
"'He used to fight with the Taliban. He's part drug smuggler, part Taliban, part Sunni activist,' said Alexis Debat, a senior fellow on counterterrorism at the Nixon Center and an ABC News consultant who recently met with Pakistani officials and tribal members. 'Regi is essentially commanding a force of several hundred guerrilla fighters that stage attacks across the border into Iran on Iranian military officers, Iranian intelligence officers, kidnapping them, executing them on camera,' Debat said. Most recently, Jundullah took credit for an attack in February that killed at least 11 members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard riding on a bus in the Iranian city of Zahedan. 
"Pakistani government sources say the secret campaign against Iran by Jundullah was on the agenda when Vice President Dick Cheney met with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf in February. A senior U.S. government official said groups such as Jundullah have been helpful in tracking al Qaeda figures and that it was appropriate for the U.S. to deal with such groups in that context. Some former CIA officers say the arrangement is reminiscent of how the U.S. government used proxy armies, funded by other countries including Saudi Arabia, to destabilize the government of Nicaragua in the 1980s."

A May 2007 article, “Pakistan Is Going Down the Road of the Shah's Iran,” by Ivan Eland also touched on this. (Eland was director of the Center on Peace and Liberty at the Independent Institute; he has been a principal defense analyst at the Congressional Budget Office, an evaluator for national security for the General Accounting Office and an investigator for the House Foreign Affairs Committee):

"Like the U.S. policy toward the Shah’s Iran in the 1960s and 1970s, the Bush administration, despite a rhetorical commitment to spread democracy around the world, has put all of its eggs in the basket of an autocrat unlikely to survive... Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. Although Musharraf has used the U.S. war on terror to play the United States like a fiddle, the Bush administration believes there is no better alternative...
"Unfortunately, Pakistan probably has already been “lost,” and U.S. policy has played an important role in its demise. U.S. policymakers have repeatedly underestimated the consequences of the deep unpopularity engendered by profligate U.S. government meddling in the affairs of other countries. In Iran, although the Shah’s government was brutal, the regime also became so identified with its unpopular U.S. benefactor that the United States became a major contributing factor in its collapse and replacement with a militant and enduring Islamist substitute.
"[Musharraf's] wink and nod policy has allowed both al Qaeda and the militant Taliban to recover and step up attacks from these safe havens [near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border]...keeping the Islamists around, but contained, has been good for the autocratic Musharraf regime. The problem is that the instability caused by this policy can no longer be contained. Like the Shah of Iran, Musharraf must use increased violence to put down popular protests, thus further fueling the spreading uprisings. The Shah’s Iran and Pakistan have one important difference, however: Pakistan has nuclear weapons. Tragically, the Bush administration may eventually give the world an Islamist bomb."

That year, for the first time, President Bush publicly acknowledged signing a finding that allows the CIA to conduct clandestine activities in relation to Iran. Does anyone know what is being done under the Obama administration in this regard? The mainstream media certainly have lost interest in the topic, though the stepped-up drone attacks in various countries would indicate that the Agency is quite active generally in the "war on terror."  All that has made the news has been an effort to subvert the Iranian nuclear program, using computer viruses, in which US and or Israeli involvement has been the subject of speculation.

We Americans need occasionally to be reminded of what people in many other countries find hard to forget: just since World War II, the United States has bombed, assaulted or invaded the following countries: Afghanistan, Bosnia, Cambodia, Congo, Cuba, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Grenada, Guatemala, Indonesia, Iraq, Kuwait, Laos, Lebanon, Libya, Nicaragua, North Korea, Panama, Somalia, the Sudan, and Vietnam. It is far too easy and self-serving a rationale to maintain that our country is the major power in the world and called upon to be the world's policeman. The rest of the world may not accept our “jurisdiction” or trust our motives; there are they might not accept our public explanations and vaunted intentions as the whole story. Our “footprint” in the world is huge; if we get a notion to influence, to pressure, to intervene or to invade, we cause a great deal of nervousness, and sometimes become the target of rage.

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