TIME’s Tony Karon explains:
At a recent event, former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson, who was President Clinton’s U.N. Ambassador at the time the MEK was added to the “terrorist” list, said Iranians’ “thirst for freedom and democracy” required that it be taken off the list. Former Joint Chiefs chairman General Hugh Shelton said that the MEK was “the largest organized resistance to Iran’s current regime” and urged that it be immediately removed from the list. “MEK is obviously the way that Iran needs to go,” he added.
Speaking at an event in Paris last December along with former Bush cabinet member Tom Ridge and GOP presidential hopeful Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, former Homeland Security czar Michael Mukasey called the MEK “a moderate, secular and democratic political organization as well as the largest and most organized opposition group in Iran.” And last month, former New Jersey Democratic Senator Robert Torricelli chaired a panel urging the Obama Administration to embrace the MEK, that included former CENTCOM chief Anthony Zinni, former Obama National Security Adviser Gen. Jim Jones, and President Bush’s former U.N. ambassador, the arch-hawk John Bolton. Even more bizarre was Torricelli’s “by any means necessary” logic when he asked, last month, “Is it even possible to oppose a terrorist state, and be a terrorist yourself?”
The answer, for grownups, is yes, it is quite possible.
Terrorism is not simply an epithet applied to those we don’t like; if the term is to have any meaning at all it has to have an objective definition — and typically, in international forums, that definition involves the systematic directing of violence against non-combatants in pursuit of political goals. And by that measure, the MEK has engaged in acts of terrorism — although there’s certainly a case to be made that throughout history, groups that have engaged in terrorism have later become part of the political process in their countries.
But the problem with Washington’s new MEK fantasy is that — like its fascination with the Iraqi exile Ahmed Chalabi who nine years ago convinced American leaders that their troops would be greeted by Iraqis with “sweets and flowers” — it is failing to notice the obvious: Just as the CIA used to joke that Chalabi was far more influential along the Potomac than he was along the Tigris, so are the new crowd of MEK converts ignoring the fact that the MEK is detested not only by Iran’s regime, but also by the very opposition movement that has challenged the regime in the streets.