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March 30, 2006

'Democratizing' Iran:
A Case of Déjà Vu

The guys who brought you the liberation of Iraq are at it again

by Leon Hadar

In the 1993 movie comedy Groundhog Day, Bill Murray plays a weatherman who is reluctantly sent to cover a story about the rodent whose internal clock is believed to be affected by annual changes in the amount of daylight and who is supposed to start ending its hibernation on the second of February (marking the midpoint of winter).

This is the weatherman's fourth year on the story, and he makes no effort to hide his frustration. On awaking the following day, he discovers that it's Groundhog Day again, and again, and again. First he uses this to his advantage, but then comes the realization that he is doomed to spend the rest of eternity in the same place, seeing the same people do the same thing EVERY day. In short, he is having the worst day of his life… over and over…

I was reminded of that movie during a lunch with an old friend who works on Capitol Hill and who insisted on using Yogi Berra's famous line: "It's like déjà vu all over again" when discussing the Bush administration's evolving strategy to do a "regime change" in Iran, ranging from the recent announced plans to spend $75 million to "support the cause of freedom in Iran this year" to the proposals to impose economic sanctions against Iran and perhaps even to bomb its nuclear facilities.

My friend told me that he was starting to feel indeed like the weatherman in Groundhog Day, as though he had been transported back in time to the period in 2003 that preceded the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the ousting of Saddam Hussein.

"Once again, we are having the same kind of secret briefings, based on mysterious documents and CIA sources that should convince us that Iran is a potential nuclear military threat," he noted. "Then there are all these shady figures representing Iranian 'exile groups' who show up on Capitol Hill and who are ready to go and 'liberate' their country, that is, with just a little help from us, and all the many lobbyists for pro-democracy-in-Iran front organizations who are asking us for our U.S. dollars to pay for their propaganda campaign against the ayatollahs in Tehran.'

Repeat Performance

And of course, there is Vice President Dick Cheney, who in a repeat performance of his role in the pre-Iraq war Be-Afraid-Very-Very-Afraid blitz has already appeared before an audience in Washington threatening Iran with American action. "The Iranian regime needs to know that if it stays on its present course, the international community is prepared to impose meaningful consequences," Mr. Cheney said in a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. "We join other nations in sending that regime a clear message: we will not allow Iran to have nuclear weapons."

Then there is the U.S.-led effort to get the United Nations Security Council to adopt a resolution calling on Iran to suspend it nuclear enrichment efforts, or else. And I suppose that based on the script of the old regime-change movie, we should get ready for an appearance by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice before the UN Security Council in which she reveals the "intelligence" collected by the U.S., British, and Italian agencies about Iran's weapons of mass destruction.

Iranian exiles, not unlike Iraqi exiles before the invasion of Iraq, are positioning themselves to get support from the Bush administration in the hopes of being able to fill any ensuing power vacuum in the wake of a possible regime change in Tehran, according to an article by Connie Bruck [.pdf] in a recent issue of The New Yorker.

Ms. Bruck also reports that the man being groomed by the neocons to lead the March to Freedom in Iran is Reza Pahlavi, the son of the late Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, and that one of the Iranian exile organizations that enjoys the support of Capitol Hill is the Mujahedin-e-Khalq (People's Mujahedin), or MEK. It is the best-funded and best-organized of the groups – and has been on the State Department's Foreign Terrorist Organization list since 1997.

Then they said "Chalabi," and now they say "Pahlavi." Indeed, those neoconservative operators who persuaded President George W. Bush to buy a used rug from Mr. Ahmed Chalabi and the rest of the crew of Iraqi con-men are now certain that Mr. Pahlavi and his potential allies will soon establish democracy in Iran.

In a way, as we listen to what the former fans of Mr. Chalabi are saying about their new man, Mr. Pahlavi, one can paraphrase Karl Marx, add that Yogi Berra touch, and conclude: Déjà vu repeats itself all over again: first as tragedy, second as farce.

Copyright © 2005 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. All rights reserved.

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  • Leon Hadar is the author of Sandstorm: Policy Failure in the Middle East (Palgrave Macmillan). He is the former United Nations bureau chief for the Jerusalem Post and is currently the Washington correspondent for the Singapore Business Times. Visit his blog.

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