Daniel Larison, The American Conservative, January 13 20201:… the U.S. government doesn’t understand the countries in question, it relies on bad information that is frequently offered to them by self-serving exiles and activists, and it doesn’t know how to do state-and-institution-building on such a large scale in any case. The U.S. has expended vast resources for decades on some of these policies with remarkably little to show for it, so it is laughable to think that the problem is insufficient resources. There are things that are simply beyond our government’s power. The answer is not to do regime change on the cheap, as the U.S. tried in Libya, but to reject regime change. Rejecting Regime Change For Good
Rejecting Regime Change For Good
A new book by a former Obama official condemns the war in Libya and takes the fight to the interventionists.
Regime change leads to long-term costly failure even when it initially “works” at bringing down another government. Toppling a foreign government always causes more instability and costs more than its advocates expect. Both the U.S. and the affected country end up being worse off than if the old government had been left in place, and any ephemeral benefits that might come from overthrowing the government are soon far outweighed by the losses that follow. That is the main argument of Philip Gordon’s engaging Losing the Long Game: The False Promise of Regime Change in the Middle East. Gordon’s thesis echoes many familiar non-interventionist and realist criticisms of regime change policies. TAC readers will find themselves nodding in agreement with many of his observations and conclusions.
The book is a useful survey of the U.S. record of regime change policies in the Middle East spanning from the 1953 U.S./U.K.-backed coup in Iran to the most recent unsuccessful effort to remove Bashar al-Assad from power in Syria. Because Gordon’s focus is on the impracticality of regime change, it leaves a few blind spots in his treatment of these policies. The illegality of these operations is never seriously discussed, nor is there an explicit acknowledgement that the U.S. has no right to decide the political futures of other countries. The audience Gordon wants to persuade are would-be regime changers by showing them that they cannot get what they want from toppling foreign leaders. Sometimes that leads him to concede too much.
Gordon devotes one chapter to each major U.S. regime change policy in the “greater” Middle East, including two chapters on efforts in Afghanistan in the 1980s and then the war that began after 9/11. The book proceeds in chronological order, and Gordon recounts how each policy was formulated, debated, and then carried out. There is also a chapter on Egypt in 2011 on Mubarak’s removal from power, which fits oddly with the rest because the Obama administration never really sought the end of the Egyptian military regime as a whole. However, the Egyptian example does illustrate the limitations of shaping political developments in other countries, even when their government is aligned with ours. In the chapters on Iraq and Libya in particular, Gordon quotes extensively from the arguments that regime changers made at the time to show how incredibly arrogant and wrong they were in their predictions, before detailing all the problems they failed to anticipate.
Re-reading the smug and overconfident interventionist claims from previous debates was frustrating because it reminded me that policymakers and pundits typically learn nothing from previous regime change failures and go on to make almost all of the same errors the next time. In that sense, Gordon’s attempt to educate would-be regime changers seems somewhat hopeless. Ideologues that seek regime change in this or that country will continue to seek it no matter what the evidence says. They will always insist that “this time is different” because they want it to be, and because they don’t really care what happens to the people in the countries where they want to meddle. The complete lack of accountability in our system ensures that those who have been wrong in every previous debate will never go away.
Gordon is a former Obama administration official, and he served as White House coordinator for the Middle East from 2013 to 2015. This gives his criticisms of Obama administration mistakes in Egypt, Libya, and Syria added weight. His purpose in criticizing the administration’s policies is not to pin blame on particular officials, but to illustrate that no administration has pursued these policies without doing far more harm than good. Having followed and written about most of these policies as they were unfolding, I found Gordon’s accounts to be accurate. He doesn’t shy away from acknowledging the Obama administration’s errors, and his dissection of the failure of the Libyan intervention is particularly damning. He is one of a very few former officials to admit to the destabilizing effects of the Libyan war on the surrounding region. Gordon’s book stands in sharp contrast to some of the memoirs of other former administration officials that pass over these failures in silence or seek to duck responsibility.
One flaw in the discussion of many of these cases is Gordon’s repeated descriptions of some of the countries as “artificial.” He seeks to explain why the U.S. can’t replicate the relatively successful cases of replacing the Japanese and German governments after World War II by stressing these countries’ advanced economies and homogeneity and noting that they were not “artificial entities fractured along the sectarian, religious and national lines that make it so hard to develop and maintain democratic institutions and internal peace.” While Gordon’s points about national institutions and previous experience with representative government are well-taken, it is a mistake to think of these states as being “artificial” after they have been in existence for generations.
All of the countries covered in the book have existed for at least a century, so they aren’t really more “artificial” than any other. Indeed, one of the recurring mistakes that regime changers tend to make is to assume that the U.S. will face little resistance because the countries they want to meddle in aren’t “real” nations. An emphasis on the “artificial” nature of a country can cut both ways, since it suggests to interventionists that it can be remade and altered to their preferences. If we make the mistake of thinking of these countries as “artificial,” we may be laying the groundwork for reckless proposals for partition as the “solution” to the country’s internal divisions. We can also end up encouraging policymakers to endorse U.S. support for an authoritarian ruler on the assumption that only a strongman can keep the “artificial” country together. The “artificial country” description is a pernicious idea that interventionists can exploit quite easily for their own purposes.
Gordon anticipates and answers defenses of these policies by attacking the “if only” logic that many interventionists use to explain away the failures of regime change. He recounts the errors that each administration made, but he doesn’t accept that these policies produced bad long-term outcomes because of flawed execution or insufficient resources. He turns the argument around on the interventionists and asks why greater U.S. involvement in Libya and Syria would have produced better outcomes rather than costlier versions of the same debacles. So far, interventionists have never provided a credible answer.
The core problems with all regime change policies are the same in virtually every case: the U.S. government doesn’t understand the countries in question, it relies on bad information that is frequently offered to them by self-serving exiles and activists, and it doesn’t know how to do state-and-institution-building on such a large scale in any case. The U.S. has expended vast resources for decades on some of these policies with remarkably little to show for it, so it is laughable to think that the problem is insufficient resources. There are things that are simply beyond our government’s power. The answer is not to do regime change on the cheap, as the U.S. tried in Libya, but to reject regime change.
While Gordon makes an overwhelming case that regime change is not worth doing because of its long-term deleterious consequences, he does not rule out the option entirely. He allows that there might be occasions when a government is sufficiently dangerous or atrocious in its treatment of its own people that regime change is worth considering, but he qualifies this immediately by saying “such cases will be rare to non-existent.” That being the case, it isn’t clear why Gordon feels the need to leave the door to regime change open even a little bit. Just as there are certain tactics that the U.S. refuses to employ because they are inherently illegitimate and wrong, we should be able to rule out regime change for good.
Rejecting Regime Change For Good
Lucrative MEK Fake Accounts Interfering In American Politics
Paul Brian and Arthur Bloom, The American Conservative, (First Published September 03 2020) :… “Amir Basiri and Heshmat Alavi are two fake accounts,” Hassan Heyrani, an MEK defector told TAC. “At Camp Liberty, near the BIAP airport in Iraq, I was in the political unit of the organization with some of the persons who grew up in America and Canada. We worked as a team to write the articles analyzing the Iranian regime. The MEK put them in The Washington Post and all the newspapers in Western countries.” Lucrative MEK Fake Accounts Interfering In American Politics
Lucrative MEK Fake Accounts Interfering In American Politics
Another Opinion Columnist Pushing War With Iran Who Doesn’t Actually Exist
The MEK’s disinformation primarily targeted right-of-center outlets receptive to a hawkish line against Iran
There is at least one more foreign policy opinion writer from the Mujahideen-eKhalq (MEK) whose existence is dubious, based on a study by a social media analyst and statements from a defector from the group. Amir Basiri, who contributed to Forbes 9 times, the Washington Examiner 52 times, OpenDemocracy, Algemeiner, and The Hill once also appears to be a fabrication.
The MEK is an Iranian exile group for which John Bolton, Rudy Giuliani, and other foreign policy luminaries have given paid speeches. Dems like Joe Lieberman and Howard Dean have also spoken on their behalf. But the group has American blood on its hands, has been accused of practicing forced sterilization, and their belief system has been described as a mixture of Marxism and Islamism. Its supporters claim they, and their front group the National Council of Resistance of Iran, are a sort of government-in-exile, despite nearly nonexistent support for the group within Iran. They also have waged a substantial disinformation campaign in the Western press, in particular targeting conservative media.
“Amir Basiri and Heshmat Alavi are two fake accounts,” Hassan Heyrani, an MEK defector told TAC. “At Camp Liberty, near the BIAP airport in Iraq, I was in the political unit of the organization with some of the persons who grew up in America and Canada. We worked as a team to write the articles analyzing the Iranian regime. The MEK put them in The Washington Post and all the newspapers in Western countries.”
Basiri’s op-eds focus on the need for regime change in Iran which he claimed is “within reach.” The thrust of Basiri’s writing – last placed at the Examiner in October of 2018 – is to encourage American readers to take an interest and sympathize with the plight of Iranian protesters and dissidents. Basiri consistently argued against the Iran nuclear deal, downplayed terrorism against Iran, called for tougher sanctions as a method of regime change and highlighted the necessity of Trump working with the Iranian opposition.
“We are currently looking into the matter, so I won’t comment on this specific byline,” Philip Klein, Executive Editor and Commentary Editor of the Washington Examiner told TAC. “But I will say that we have recently instituted more rigorous vetting of outside contributors, including but not limited to asking for photo identification if necessary. We are especially on guard when it comes to unsolicited foreign policy commentary.”
A request for comment from OpenDemocracy, a site greatly concerned about disinformation campaigns, has not been returned as of press time. Basiri’s articles on Forbes are no longer online.
The list of MEK disinformation tactics also includes fake online since-deleted sites such as PersiaNow and ArabEye and questionable sites such as Iran Focus whose domain was formerly registered under the name of an NCRI spokesperson and is now anonymously held.
MEK’s recent influence campaign on Facebook spearheaded by the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) was recently reported on last year by Lachlan Markey at the Daily Beast. Markey explained how NCRI lobbyist Soheila Aligholi Mayelzadeh has helped place paid ads on Facebook reaching between 500,000 to 1.4 million users as part of the campaign to sway US public opinion in favor of MEK and intervention in Iran.
The list of outright fakes recently in the realm of foreign policy analysis is significant: there is the apparent Emirati fabrication Raphael Badani to MEK sock puppet Alavi, first revealed by The Intercept, to deepfake non-existent anti-Palestinian activist Oliver Taylor, whose work was placed at highly-respected publications in the United States and Israel.
As Adam Rawnsley wrote for the Daily Beast, “Badani is part of a network of at least 19 fake personas that has spent the past year placing more than 90 opinion pieces in 46 different publications. The articles heaped praise on the United Arab Emirates and advocated for a tougher approach to Qatar, Turkey, Iran and its proxy groups in Iraq and Lebanon.”
Geoff Golberg is the founder of Social Forensics, which tracks and monitors online social media networks and disinformation campaigns. Golberg’s run-in and exposure of various pro-MEK personas, sock puppets and boosters came just prior to his Twitter suspension in July of 2019, the official reason for which was calling an account he believed to be fake and interfering in Canada’s elections a “moron.”
“Rather than suspending accounts that blatantly violate Twitter Rules, Dorsey instead opted to silence my voice. Specific to Iranian-focused platform manipulation, along with The Intercept, I helped out ‘Heshmat Alavi’ as a sockpuppet propaganda operation run by the MEK. Remarkably, despite initially suspending the fake account, ‘Heshmat Alavi’ has been reinstated by Twitter and continues to disseminate propaganda,” Golberg said, adding that Basiri – whose account is currently suspended by Twitter – is another fake persona which has been on his radar for some time. He produced the following graphic demonstrating the interconnectedness of the two accounts:
Golberg said he knows little of geopolitics or political aspects and was led to investigate sock puppet accounts fomenting war with Iran because he noticed many oddities about their networks, followers and tweeting patterns. His further research and analysis led him down a rabbit hole of connections and resulted in death threats, mass reporting of his account and accusations that he sympathized with the Ayatollah’s regime.
Rather than the hype over Russian bots, the real danger on platforms like Twitter is fake accounts and troll farm accounts which amplify hashtags, spread lies and bolster the desired propaganda of their paymaster, Golberg says.
“Despite media coverage that tends to focus on ‘bots,’ which simply means fully-automated accounts, Twitter’s much larger problem is actually fake accounts. There are more than 100K fake accounts that exist solely to create the illusion of widespread sentiment that the US should go to war with Iran,” Golberg told TAC, adding, “Take ‘Sheldon,’ @patrick_jane77, for example, an account that reflects having nearly 120K Followers. Very few of the account’s Followers are authentic accounts, yet given Twitter refuses to enforce their own rules, it is easy to mistake “Sheldon” for being a popular account. Twitter’s entire platform is propped up by misleading or inflated Followers/Following counts. Twitter’s CEO, Jack Dorsey, has built a house of cards and continues to commit ad fraud at a massive scale.”
Golberg sued Twitter earlier this year, alleging that the platform engaged in “deceptive practices” and hasn’t stood by its own terms of service.
Accusations from MEK supporter Hanif Jazayeri that The American Conservative itself and senior editor Daniel Larison act as a mouthpiece for the mullahs are part of a broader campaign aimed at maligning the reputation and integrity of anyone who opposes regime change in Iran. Tweets calling for investigations of TAC also came from noted MEK sock puppet Alavi, MEK spokesman Shahin Gobadi and NCRI’s Ali Safavi.
A barrage of accounts retweeted Jazayeri’s accusations, many with only a few followers and which solely tweet boosting the MEK and supporting regime change in Iran.
It’s worth noting that Heshmat Alavi was following Amir Basiri prior to his suspension, as were others closely connected to the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies such as Jerusalem Post Iran hawk Seth Frantzman, @sfrantzman, Jazayeri and a number of other pro-MEK shills. It is a hall of mirrors amplifying the case for war with Iran, and the ad money from NCRI and pro-MEK accounts seems to have dampened Twitter’s desire to crack down. A request for comment from Twitter was not returned as of press time.
As a matter of journalistic ethics any organization engaging in systematic dishonesty like this has provided a very good reason to blacklist them. Failing to do so will encourage other foreign interests to do the same in the future, so conservative publishers should decline all content and interviews from the MEK in the future. This is not a matter of foreign policy differences: if you wish to see the U.S. pursue regime change in Iran, the MEK does not help make that case. Any publishers or think tanks who are aware of this dishonesty and still treat them like a legitimate opposition group should be considered part of a campaign not wholly different from the last time we were lied into a Mideast war.
Arthur Bloom is the managing editor of TAC.
Paul Brian is a freelance journalist. He has reported for the BBC, Reuters, and Foreign Policy, and contributed to The Week, The Federalist, and others. You can follow him on Twitter @paulrbrian or visit his website www.paulrbrian.com.v
Lucrative MEK Fake Accounts Interfering In American Politics
MEK Impunity Undermining Democracy
Massoud Khodabandeh, Lobe Log, June 18 2019:… This is the tip of the iceberg. MEK interference in the internal affairs of America goes well beyond online attacks on Iran. In 2016, the Organization of Iranian American Communities in the US—a front for the MEK—announced a “General Elections Mobilization Effort,” publicly urging its members to “fulfill their civic duty through active engagement in the 2016 general elections to help inform candidates of our communities’ policy priorities.” MEK Impunity Undermining America’s Democracy .
MEK Impunity Undermining Democracy in America
Even before its inception, the Trump administration was accused of foreign interference and repeated counter allegations that such charges are fake news. Now, even as House Democrats are squeezing whatever advantage they can from the Mueller investigation into Russian influence, a fresh allegation of foreign interference has emerged.
An investigation by The Intercept revealed that the White House used an article written by “Heshmat Alavi” to justify President Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018. After probing the propaganda element in Alavi’s other articles, former members of the Iranian Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK) have confirmed that the group is linked to the article. According to one such former member, Hassan Heyrani, “Heshmat Alavi is a persona run by a team of people from the political wing of the MEK. This is not and has never been a real person.”
Heyrani said the fake persona has been managed by a team of MEK operatives in Albania, where the group has one of its bases, and is used to spread its message online. Heyrani’s account is echoed by Sara Zahiri, a Farsi-language researcher who focuses on the MEK. Zahiri, who has sources among Iranian government cybersecurity officials, said that Alavi is known inside Iran to be a “group account” run by a team of MEK members and that Alavi himself does not exist.
This new scandal—Heshmatgate—involves a wide political and media class that has become so besotted with an unrealistic anti-Iran agenda that it has left the door open to an unchecked, unverified flow of MEK propaganda throughout American politics and the media. Thanks to these regime-change advocates, a foreign group funded by a foreign government has easily manufactured a false narrative aimed at sending American soldiers to die in a war with Iran that is against U.S. national interests.
The MEK’s target audience is not Iran or Iranians. It barely services its Farsi language outlets. The MEK is almost universally hated by Iranians everywhere and has no credibility among them.
After 2003, the MEK’s military strategy in Iraq under benefactor Saddam Hussein gave way to an intelligence-based strategy under the patronage of Prince Turki Al Faisal, the former intelligence chief of Saudi Arabia. The MEK is now based in Albania where, under more favourable conditions facilitated by the Trump administration, it has been allowed to build and equip a troll farm using the infamous slave labour of its hapless members. Its aim is to influence people in the English-speaking world through online activity.
The Intercept revealed just one case of MEK’s deceptive anti-Iran work. But this is the tip of the iceberg. MEK interference in the internal affairs of America goes well beyond online attacks on Iran. In 2016, the Organization of Iranian American Communities in the US—a front for the MEK—announced a “General Elections Mobilization Effort,” publicly urging its members to “fulfill their civic duty through active engagement in the 2016 general elections to help inform candidates of our communities’ policy priorities.”
In America, warmongers and regime change pundits, John Bolton and Rudi Giuliani in particular, openly support the MEK. The MEK exploits this impunity to the full. Critics of the MEK are subjected to character assassination and defamation campaigns. Journalist Jason Rezaian writes, “These efforts actively sought to undermine our credibility about the best approach to deal with Iran and resorted to personal attacks in order to do so.”
This revelation comes at the tail end of another scandal, the Iran Disinformation Project.This project, funded by the State Department, was ostensibly launched to expose and counter Iranian government propaganda. It paid for social media accounts to smear and discredit Iranian-American human rights activists, academics and journalists who criticize the Trump administration’s hard-line policies on Iran.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo must answer for the actions of the State Department, but who is behind the MEK and the mysterious Heshmat Alavi? How much influence does the MEK wield in Washington? And on whose behalf?
The formula for MEK activity is “the MEK and somebody’s money.” This explains how, back in 2014 just before the European Parliament elections, “somebody’s” money was used to fund the campaign of an Islamophobic far-right party called Vox. Investigations into electoral misconduct revealed that “at least 971,890 euros” was gifted through thousands of contributions ranging from 200 to 5,000 euros from individual MEK members and supporters. The money did not originate with the MEK, but the money laundering was facilitated through the organization by Vox co-founder Alejo Vidal-Quadras, a long-term MEK advocate while he was vice-president of the European Parliament.
In Albania, enjoying the freedom granted by such money and impunity, the MEK is playing out in microcosm what it does in North America and Western Europe. After the MEK arrived in Albania, local journalists were disturbed by its bizarre behavior and filed reports on this activity. In response, the MEK used bribery and corruption to buy publishers and a broadcaster there. They use intimidation tactics to silence journalists. One journalist confessed to me he felt afraid in his own country when the MEK, accompanied by hired armed Albanian security personnel, followed him. In a public space, they photographed him and made verbal threats, demanding that he hand over his phone on which he had earlier filmed activity outside the MEK camp gate.
MEK corruption and deception is insidious and highly dangerous. In America, neoconservatives use the MEK as tool to destroy the Democratic Party. MEK members inside the Albanian troll farms have admitted to me that, in addition to the usual “regime change” and “nuclear” tags they use, more recent additions include the names of various U.S. political candidates and “Virginia” with a view to swaying electoral opinion in the primaries. Since the MEK is not a benign group, it is under heavy surveillance. It would be naïve to believe that the intelligence services do not know the identity of the three individuals behind the Heshmat Alavi persona as well as the others who work in the troll farm.
Saudi money and U.S. political advocacy help the MEK exploit America’s democratic systems to expand its influence. According to The Independent, “MEK articles were picked up by US government funded Voice of America’s Persian-language service.” In 2003, I gave testimony to the UK parliament that the MEK’s cult nature was an even greater threat than its terrorist or violent behavior. The MEK regards its needs superior to any considerations of law, morality, or mortality.
Back in 2001, commentator Elizabeth Rubin warned that the MEK “is not only irrelevant to the cause of Iran’s democratic activists, but a totalitarian cult that will come back to haunt us.”
Massoud Khodabandeh is the director of Middle East Strategy Consultants and has worked long-term with the authorities in Iraq to bring about a peaceful solution to the impasse at Camp Liberty and help rescue other victims of the Mojahedin-e Khalq cult. Among other publications, he co-authored the book “The Life of Camp Ashraf: Victims of Many Masters” with his wife Anne Singleton. They also published an academic paper on the MEK’s use of the Internet.
MEK Impunity Undermining Democracy in America