The Obama administration’s economic policy has suffered some recent highly publicized disasters. But the setbacks of “Obamanomics” should not obscure the administration’s equally critical foreign policy missteps toward Iran and Iraq that threaten to downgrade American credibility in yet another arena.
In particular, the White House seems to be turning its back on the Iranian exile group whose network supplies key operational intelligence on the Mullahs’ Islamic nuclear bomb project. This group – called the MEK – has pointed out the concealed sites of Iran’s nuclear enrichment that were otherwise unknown to the United States.
Despite this, in a panicked haste to exit from Iraq, the Obama White House is abandoning the 3,400 members of the MEK – including young men, women and children – who are living in exile in a camp near Baghdad and intends to leave them to the indelicate mercy of Iraq’s new Shia prime minister, the Mullahs’ good friend Nouri al-Maliki. This is more than a local issue: the people of "Camp Ashraf," as it is called, have relatives in the United States and Europe who care about their fate.
Until now, the MEK dissidents have lived in the Iraqi camp, 40 miles from Baghdad, with a guarantee of Geneva Convention status as “protected persons” – a promise made in writing by a United States general in 2004 after the MEK disarmed. But now, abandoning America’s solemn promise and undercutting the West’s fight against the Iranian nuclear breakout, the White House is acquiescing in the plans of Maliki to tilt towards Iran by sending the MEK dissidents to face death in the Iraqi desert.
The State Department recently sent a functionary to the camp whose diplomatic skills would have qualified him to sell beer for Al Capone in Prohibition-era Chicago. Accompanied by a New York Times reporter (who was given exclusive news access to the one-sided meeting by agreeing to pose as a member of the diplomatic staff), Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Lawrence Butler told the beleaguered Iranian exiles that “you only have me” and callously proposed that they should agree to be scattered in small groups around Iraq where they can be killed quietly and out of sight. This, U.S. ambassador James Jeffrey has helpfully added, would be a “a bit safer” than remaining in the Ashraf camp.
Only in the most macabre sense is that true. Rather than use American economic and diplomatic muscle with Baghdad, the Obama White House has meekly surrendered to Maliki’s ambitions. Maliki’s troops, trained by the United States and using American weapons and vehicles, recently made two deadly assaults against the unarmed residents of Camp Ashraf – the first in July 2009, and the most recent attack in April 2011, killing 36 and wounding hundreds of others, shooting them and running them down with armored vehicles.
The intended humiliation of U.S. power was evident; both attacks occurred during official visits to Iraq by then Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who murmured only mild words of concern. Attempts by members of Congress and the European Parliament to visit the camp after the attacks were defiantly rebuffed by Maliki.
The Obama administration is, of course, eager to complete a formal agreement with Prime Minister Maliki concerning the status of American troops remaining in Iraq after 2011. But the rush to please Maliki undermines the credibility of our promises around the world and is an affront to the sacrifices of countless U.S. service men and women who died for a free Iraq.
At the same time, as if to frame the stage for an imminent Srebrenica-styled slaughter, the Obama administration has failed for over a year to answer the challenge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The federal judges said that there was no evidence to sustain the State Department claim that the MEK should be listed as a “terrorist” group when the group has foresworn the use of violence. Rather than ending this inappropriate listing – as our European allies have – the State Department has slow-rolled the Court and infuriated the Congress.
The administration’s weak-kneed accommodation to the wishes of Prime Minister Maliki has little to show for it. Unique among all his neighbors, and in defiance of U.S. policy, Prime Minister Maliki has also openly supported Syrian president Bashar al-Assad in the slaughter of pro-democracy dissidents in Syrian towns such as Hama and Latakia. Malaki’s axis with Iran will help to destabilize the whole region.
The MEK, on the other hand, enjoys bipartisan support in both the House and Senate as a group that shares a key objective of American foreign policy – namely, changing Iranian nuclear policy and dislodging the radical rule of the Mullahs. As a matter of supporting their own American constituents who are heart-sick at the impending slaughter of family members at the camp, the Congress has also pressed an unresponsive administration to make sure that the Ashraf residents are not led like lambs to the butchery.
In evaluating the bona fides of the MEK movement and its public commitment to a democratic and liberal Iran, the American people and the Congress have never had the benefit of hearing from its charismatic Paris-based leader Mrs. Maryam Rajavi. She has not been permitted a visa to visit the United States. But perhaps the time has come for a first-ever Congressional “Skype” hearing – allowing Senators and Representatives to put directly the questions that administration skeptics have floated for an answer by this intelligent woman who has endorsed a liberal democratic future for Iran.
The recent decision by Standard and Poor’s to downgrade America’s credit rating and subsequent stock market plunge are symptoms of a new loss of confidence in America’s ability to live up to its commitments – an assessment in no small measure caused by congressional rancor and stalemate. American credibility is equally at stake on the foreign policy front as the U.S. military mission in Iraq draws to a close.
But this time, Congress is united about what needs to be done. Unfortunately, the Obama administration seems not to be listening – and the result may be the further downgrading of American political credibility, with deadly and tragic consequences for the Ashraf residents and their U.S. families who relied on our word.
Michael B. Mukasey, a former federal judge, served as Attorney General of the United States from 2007-2009. Tom Ridge, a former governor of the state of Pennsylvania, served as the first Secretary of Homeland Security from 2003-2005, and is now president of Ridge Global. Louis Freeh, a former federal judge, served as the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation from 1993-2001, and is now senior managing partner of Freeh Sporkin & Sullivan.