On April 14, Senator John McCain visited Albania, lately becoming the permanent residence of the vast majority of the 3,000 Iranian dissidents evacuated from the former US military base of Camp Liberty in Iraq. McCain met with a number of that community’s former residents, many of whom lost loved ones in a series of attacks carried out by Iran-backed proxies in Iraq. There are 3,000 more pro-democratic activists working in stable conditions to bring about the end of the theocratic dictatorship and return self-determination to the Iranian people.
Senator McCain also met with Maryam Rajavi, the leader of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) and the president of its parent organization the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI).
The visit met with a predictably irate response from the Iranian mullahs, who insisted it was part of an incorrect and “obscene” set of policies toward the Islamic Republic. The Iranian Foreign Ministry also claimed, vaguely, that the US would “pay” for its “mistakes.” But for McCain’s hosts at the Iranian Resistance’s new centers in Albania, the regime’s anger is a positive sign, insofar as it betrays Tehran’s weakness and anxiety. In a statement released after McCain’s visit, the NCRI declared that the Foreign Ministry’s comments were indicative of “fear of the adoption of a firm policy vis-a-vis the clerical regime and its export of terrorism and extremism, a policy that the Iranian Resistance has sought for years.”
Of course, Iran was not the only party concerned. Others who for years have repeated allegations against the Iranian opposition MEK and assisted in maintaining the regime in power in Tehran are now heard describing this meeting as “disappointing”. This proves they are seeking to continue the failed policy of concessions and appeasement vis-à-vis Iran.
The response from Iran and its supporters confirms the reality explained vividly in a recent New York Post piece by F.H. Buckley April 12, 2017.
“For the mullahs, it’s the way in which their regime’s legitimacy is threatened by liberal opposition groups, particularly the National Council of Resistance of Iran… that so frighten the mullahs,” the post reads in part.
The Trump administration placed Iran “on notice” for its ballistic missile tests, began weighing blacklisting the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
This month, the White House also launched a strike against Tehran’s ally in Syria, which not only showed that the US would not tolerate further chemical attacks by the Assad regime but also challenged Iran’s position as the main force shaping the conditions on the ground in the Syrian Civil War. US Congress has also put forth bills expanding economic sanctions on Iran’s terrorist activities, human rights violations, and military provocations.
In light of all this, it is clear that Tehran has good reason to be nervous about the new trajectory of US policy. There is a newfound assertiveness in that policy which not only reverses the conciliatory tone of the Obama era but also goes beyond what previous presidents, including Republicans, were willing to do. George W. Bush, for instance, recognized the long record of IRGC terrorist activity and yet he would only move to designate the Quds Force as a foreign terrorist organization, thus leaving the door open for the IRGC as a whole to go on acquiring financial wealth and funneling it into foreign operations and the domestic training of international terrorists.
The NCRI in its most recent revelations reported upon the development of the IRGC’s financial empire, its control over a large minority of Iranian commercial docks, and the expansion of its terrorist and paramilitary training camps. These and other revelations give the Islamic Republic further reasons to be upset about McCain’s visit to Albania and the overall growth in support for the NCRI among American and European lawmakers. That is, the more contact there is between Western governments and the Iranian Resistance, the more those governments will understand the specifics of the Iranian threat and how to appropriately confront it.
The regime’s backlash against McCain’s visit is indeed a sign of that fragility. But more than that, it is a sign that Tehran is worried about that fragility growing more pronounced if the US continues along its current, assertive path and expands relations with Iranian dissident allies.
One cannot understate the importance of the opportunity that McCain’s visit highlights. As other American policymakers follow his lead and further empower the Iranian Resistance on the global stage, they will support the people of the Middle East to uproot a prototype regime for political Islam and state-sponsored terrorism. This will not only strike a major blow against that phenomenon throughout the region, it will transform a country of 80 million people, freeing them from religiously justified oppression and implementing a democratic agenda similar to the blueprint outlined in detail by Maryam Rajavi and the NCRI.
Shahriar Kia is an Iranian dissident and a political analyst writing about Iran and the Middle East. He is the member of the Iranian opposition and he graduated from North Texas University. He tweets at @shahriarkia.