Shortly before Iran’s June 2009 presidential election, neoconservative pundit Daniel Pipes told an audience that, were he a registered voter in Iran, he would “vote for [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad" rather than reformist candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi. Pipes contended that a Mousavi presidency would be little different from Ahmadinejad’s, and therefore Pipes "would prefer to have an enemy who is forthright and blatant and obvious.” Mousavi’s supporters, millions of whom soon turned out in Iran’s streets to protest what they saw as an election stolen by Ahmadinejad and his cronies, obviously disagreed.

In February 2010, Pipes again put himself on the wrong side of Iranian reformers by suggesting that President Obama could "save his presidency" by bombing Iran. There is near unanimity among Iran analysts that a U.S. strike on Iran would be a death blow for Iran’s democracy movement.

Today, Pipes has piece in National Review entitled "Empower Iranians vs. Tehran," with the subhed "Iran’s most prominent opposition group should not be labeled a terrorist organization." In it, he calls for the Obama administration to remove the Mujahideen-e Khalq from the State Department’s list of designated terrorist groups, and support them against the Iranian regime. "With one simple signature," Pipes writes, "the Obama administration can help empower Iranians to seize control over their destiny — and perhaps end the mullahs’ mad nuclear dash."

To anyone who has followed this issue at all, the idea that the MEK represents some kind of legitimate Iranian opposition group is preposterous. They are despised within Iran for, among other things, having fought alongside Saddam Hussein during the hugely destructive 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war (as well as by many Iraqis for having aided Saddam in his crackdowns on Iraqi Shiites and Kurds.) Actual Iranian democracy activists — a category that does not include the MEK, which is run as an authoritarian cult — working both inside and outside Iran have made abundantly clear that they want nothing to do with the MEK, and that any perceived U.S. support for the MEK would seriously undercut efforts to press Iran on human rights.

Attempting to establish the MEK as a genuine force in Iran, Pipes claims that "the number of street protesters arrested for association with the MeK points to its role in demonstrations." No, it doesn’t. What it points to is the extent to which the Iranian regime wants to associate all reformers with the MEK in order to discredit them in the eyes of Iranians who might otherwise be sympathetic to their ideas (The picture at upper right shows a pro-regime demonstration with a picture of MEK leader Massoud Rajavi morphing into Mir Hossein Mousavi. This is not intended as a compliment.)

Much like Ahmad Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress, the MEK has no legitimacy within the country whose "democratic opposition" they claim to represent. Unfortunately, also like the INC, they have managed to cultivate the perception of such legitimacy in a number of Western capitals, including here in Washington, DC. While it’s appropriate to debate whether or not the MEK should continue to be designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department, we should understand that supporting the MEK and supporting human rights and democracy in Iran are, in fact, mutually exclusive.

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