Much of the attention in the Middle East over the past few months has been focused on the suffering of the people of Syria. But the Assad regime in Syria, which is slaughtering its own people by the thousands, does so with help from its only ally, Iran. And it is not only in Syria that Iran wreaks havoc; Iran is the chief state sponsor of terrorism throughout the world.
Since the fundamentalists took over in Iran, the regime has been directly responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Americans. The most lethal incident was the bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983, in which 241 Americans died. And the Iranian attempt to kill Americans continues. Last fall, the U.S. uncovered a plot by the Iranian regime to launch a terrorist attack in the U.S., which could have led to a huge death toll.
The prospect that the regime in Iran is about to acquire the capability to build nuclear weapons means that this threat is more than a threat to Americans. It is the major threat to peace in the world.
So what is the Obama administration doing about this threat? Not nearly enough.
During his 2008 presidential run, Barack Obama said he would be happy to sit down for a friendly discussion with the regime in Iran, as well as those in Cuba and Venezuela. When he was criticized heavily for the comments, he dismissed criticism by claiming, "These countries are tiny. ... They don't pose a serious threat to us."
In 2009, when the people of Iran flooded the streets of Tehran demanding more freedom, the Obama administration remained largely silent. The administration's explanation was that if the U.S. had been seen as too supportive, it would have undermined the efforts to bring about democratic change.
So instead of helping groups that want to bring about regime change in Iran, the administration has either sat on its hands or — in the case of one of the largest opposition groups, the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, or the People's Mujahedeen of Iran — fought efforts to remove the group from the terrorist list in the U.S. The PMOI was put on the list during the Clinton administration, in what many critics have charged was an effort to win favor with the newly elected president of Iran, Mohammad Khatami, a purported moderate. The PMOI is now in court in the United States fighting to be delisted, and the District of Columbia Court of Appeals has given the State Department until March 26 to show why the group should remain on the list.
The outcome of this decision has particular relevance to a group of PMOI members for whom the U.S. bears some direct responsibility. Some 4,000 Iranian PMOI members have been living in Iraq at Camp Ashraf since 1986. After the U.S. invaded Iraq, the group surrendered its weapons, which had been used to launch attacks against the Iranian regime. In return, the U.S. signed pledges with each of the residents to protect their safety. But those pledges have not been honored since the U.S. turned control of the camp over to the Iraqis. The Iraqis have moved 1,000 of the residents to a facility that lacks basic infrastructure and have attacked the camp on at least two occasions, killing dozens of Iranian men and women.
The best solution for those PMOI members would be to have the freedom to settle in third-party countries. But the PMOI's presence on the terrorist list makes it difficult for them to do so. If the U.S. has good reasons to keep the PMOI on the terrorist list, it should produce actual evidence in court that the group is a direct and current threat to America or our allies. But one thing is clear; the administration should not keep the group on the list in hopes that it will somehow bring about better relations with an Iranian regime that is on the verge of acquiring nuclear weapons and is our proven enemy.
Linda Chavez is the author of "An Unlikely Conservative: The Transformation of an Ex-Liberal." To find out more about Linda Chavez, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.