The foiled plot by agents of the Iranian regime to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States has officials in the Obama Administration furiously scratching their heads for an “ appropriate” response.
All too often with Iranian provocations, U.S. policy options swing ineffectually between the uncreative (economic sanctions) to the unrealistic (military strikes). One option sure to get the attention of the ruling mullahs in Tehran — and that could help set the stage for a future democratic transition there — is to unleash Iran’s main opposition group, the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MeK), which remains constrained by an ill-advised U.S. policy.
The MeK was put on the U.S. list of “Foreign Terrorist Organizations” during the Clinton administration as a well-intentioned but naive attempt to gain the confidence of Iran’s new and, it was hoped, reform-minded President Khatami. However, Iran continued to be the world’s No. 1 state sponsor of terrorism and continued to develop its nuclear program.
The Bush administration followed suit, fearful that the delisting of the MEK would prompt Tehran to send IEDs to murder U.S. soldiers. That decision was also ill-advised, as the Iranian regime not only sent the deadly explosives to Iraq, but has continued to train, arm and finance an assortment of terrorist groups, which have been responsible for hundreds of U.S. service members being killed or wounded.
Today, 3,400 members of the MeK sit in Camp Ashraf, attacked and massacred as recently as this April by Iran’s proxies in the Iraqi military, useless to America’s larger strategic objective to contain and neutralize Iran’s radicalism.
A large number of prominent former national security officials agree that not only is the MeK not a security threat to the U.S. (the group has dedicated itself to secular, democratic governance in Iran), it has already proven an able and willing partner to the U.S. by providing critical intelligence on Iran’s nuclear program, and the regime’s role in attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq.
So what’s the hold up?
While the Federal Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. ruled in July 2010 that the U.S. government had erred in not delisting the MeK and remanded the case to the State Department for a thorough review, the department has yet to announce its decision.
A well-organized lobbying effort, again by proxies of Iran operating freely in the U.S., has mischaracterized the MeK as a cult with terrorist intentions. But this runs counter to all of the experience by the top brass of the U.S. military as well as intelligence officials who have worked closely with and studied the MeK over the years. It also flies in the face of eight different court rulings in the United Kingdom, the European Union and France, which have resulted in the group’s delisting in those countries.
The still-unraveling plot against the Saudi ambassador demonstrates the skill and reach of the Iranian regime in attempting to threaten and destabilize the U.S and our allies. It is somewhat ironic that while Tehran’s agents are running loose in this country, hatching terrorist bombings and assassinations of foreign diplomats, our government has shackled the main opposition, which the mullahs fear the most.
It is time to revisit this policy. While the administration, obviously caught off guard, is scrambling to find the proper response, delisting the MeK is the strongest signal the U.S. can send to the mullahs of Tehran. The timing could not be better.
Gen. Hugh Shelton is the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. This article was originally published in The Charlotte Observer.