Andrew Exum notices that Gen. Peter Pace, one of Rick Perry’s informal advisers, is one of the many former government officials being paid to speak in support of the terrorist group Mujahedin-e Khalq. He cited today’s New York Times op-ed by Elizabeth Rubin, and he reminds us about all the phony outrage when Robert Malley, an informal advisor to the Obama campaign, had met with Hamas members on his own:
What is the appropriate response here? Should Gov. Perry distance himself from those who have associated with and advocated on behalf of Mujahedeen Khalq?
I doubt we’ll see anything of the kind. Perry is no more going to distance himself from Gen. Pace than he is going to denounce Rudy Giuliani, whom he endorsed for president in the previous cycle. Both Pace and Giuliani have been involved in pro-MEK advocacy. Based on what we know so far about his foreign policy, Perry may even hold pro-MEK views as a result of his hostility towards Tehran, but among a disturbingly large number of Republicans and Democrats that is a cause for congratulation. Even though Pace’s pro-MEK advocacy may be more directly relevant to what Perry believes regarding Iran policy, it will be treated as far less relevant than Malley’s tangential role in 2008.
What I found most interesting in the op-ed was Rubin’s account of Gen. Jim Jones’ response when she told him about the nature of the group he was endorsing:
And General Jones said to Ms. Rajavi: “It is time for those of us from the United States who have come to know and admire you and your colleagues and your goals to do what is required to recognize the legitimacy of your movement and your ideals.” When I asked General Jones last week if he knew that some considered the group a totalitarian cult, he replied, “This is the first time I’ve heard anything about this.” [bold mine-DL]
He said he’d checked with military and F.B.I. officials. “I wanted to make sure we weren’t supporting a group that was doing nefarious things that I don’t know about,” he said. “Nobody brought it up, so I didn’t know what questions to ask.”
It’s probably a good rule that if you know very little about a controversial foreign militant group, you shouldn’t be engaged in public advocacy on its behalf. No one would put much stock in this excuse if it were almost any other militant organization. It seems hard to believe that former high-ranking national security officials and retired military officers had no prior knowledge of how the MEK treats its members and runs its organization, but I keep seeing this offered as an explanation (or excuse) for why so many well-known former officials and politicians are endorsing such a group.
Gen. Pace has taken a a different approach to his advocacy for the MEK. He acknowledges the group’s alliance with Saddam Hussein and admits that this has completely poisoned Iranian opinion against the group, but he sees this more as a P.R. problem to be managed than a major reason to have nothing to do with them:
But you can’t get where you want to go if you don’t understand what the obstacles are. And there’s another obstacle out there. And it is, folks believe that a lot of people in Iran do not trust the MEK, because of the alliance between Saddam Hussein and the MEK during the Iran-Iraq war. And that fear is also holding back many individuals, and it has to be overcome if you want to get to where you want to go, in regard to the MEK.
“Holding back many individuals” is a bit of an understatement. The vast majority of Iranians hates this group and wants nothing to do with them. It continues to be something of a mystery why so many prominent Americans think they can treat this awful group as if it were the vanguard of the Iranian opposition.
Update: Here is Maziar Bahari’s documentary on the Rajavi cult.