Mohsen Sazegara: former deputy prime minister of Iran and founder of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, now a western media pundit

From right to right

Yassamine Mather investigates some of the well-paid ‘independent’ experts and journalists who constantly appear in the western media

Iranian leftists often express surprise at the way former die-hard supporters of the Islamic Republic (both former reformists and conservatives) become so right-wing and turn into rabid supporters of US ‘regime change from above’ as soon as they go into exile. The reality is that these people were always right wing: yes, they repeated the anti-west slogans of the Islamic Republic but even then there was always an element of envy of the west. Contrary to the illusions of sections of the international left, they were not anti-imperialist (and neither is the Islamic Republic). They were always in favour of private property and capitalist exploitation. We should not be surprised then that as soon as they decide to stay in the US the more ‘intelligent’ are recruited by right-wing institutions and ‘think tanks’.

In the 1980s Mohsen Sazegara, for example, was a deputy in the prime minister's office, deputy minister of heavy industries, chairman of the Industrial Development and Renovation Organisation of Iran, and vice-minister of planning and the budget. Nowadays he is described as “a journalist and pro-democracy political activist”. Sazegara left Iran in the early 2000s and, soon after arriving in the US, joined the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) as a visiting scholar. In fact WINEP plays a vital role when it comes to ‘regime change from above’ in Iran. In case you are not familiar with its aims and ambitions, the institute is based in Washington DC and is described as an American think tank focused on US foreign policy in the Near East, seeking “to advance a balanced and realistic understanding of American interests in the Middle East and to promote the policies that secure them”. It was established in 1985 with the support of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and the funding of many of its donors. The institute’s 2016 accounts (the most recent set I can find) show a revenue of $14,112,627 and expenses of $13,033,921.1

In their 2008 book The Israel lobby and US foreign policy, John J Mearsheimer and Stephen M Walt write:

Although WINEP plays down its links to Israel and claims that it provides a ‘balanced and realistic’ perspective on Middle East issues, this is not the case. In fact, WINEP is funded and run by individuals who are deeply committed to advancing Israel’s agenda … Many of its personnel are genuine scholars or experienced former officials, but they are hardly neutral observers on most Middle East issues and there is little diversity of views within WINEP’s ranks ... This situation highlights that the lobby is not a centralised, hierarchical organisation with a defined membership ... It has a core consisting of organisations whose declared purpose is to encourage the US government and the American public to provide material aid to Israel and to support its government’s policies, as well as influential individuals for whom these goals are also a top priority ... a lobbyist for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a research fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), or the leadership of organisations like the Anti-Defamation League and Christians United for Israel are part of the core (pp175-176).

However the institute denies it is “part of the core” of the Israel lobby in the United States,

The institute’s executive director, Robert Satloff, has been in the position for almost 30 years - since 1993 - and holds the institute's Howard P Berkowitz chair in US Middle East policy.

One of the main ‘Iran’ specialists appearing almost daily on Persian-speaking TV channels is Mehdi Khaliji. The WINEP website tells us he is the Libitzky Family Fellow at the institute, yet he is constantly introduced by Persian speaking media, such as BBC Persian, Voice of America and Saudi International TV, as a ‘scholar’ or ‘analyst’ - with no mention of the Washington Institute and, god forbid, no mention of the Libitzky family fund.

According to Taube Philanthropies, the Libitzky Family Foundation and associated partners are involved in a number of programmes aimed at

Strengthening Jewish engagement for Bay Area young adults, which addresses the declining rates of Jewish identity, engagement, and support for Israel among young adults (2020).

And in case you had any doubts the Libitskys’ ‘Jewish community federation and endowment fund’ website proudly informs us that:

The Libitzkys’ philanthropic work supports programs promoting Jewish learning for children ... Moses [Libitzky] … provides leadership and financial support to AIPAC, UN Watch, and Washington Institute for Near East Policy, where he is on the board.2

Back to the recipient of the Libitzky fellowship, Mehdi Khalaji. This is a man who spent over a decade studying Islam, supervised by various ayatollahs in Ghom seminaries.

When he was in Iran, he made contributions to a couple of journals before going to Paris in 2000, where he continued to study Shia Islam. He then started work for two years as a political analyst ‎for BBC Persian. However, he was ‘talent spotted’ by Radio Free Europe, Radio ‎Liberty’s Persian-language programming and later worked for Radio Farda. ‎The latter is financed by the US state department, and blatantly calls for regime change from above in Iran. The move was a steppingstone to joining the Washington Institute in 2005.

Like Sazegara, he is against any nuclear deal between the US and Iran and actively campaigns for more sanctions against Iran, clearly reflecting the views of the neoconservative US Republicans and its ‘academic’ institutes. Yet broadcasters keep introducing him as an ‘independent’ expert. Of course we all know who else is against the Iran nuclear deal: the State of Israel and, one presumes, the Libitzky foundation. What a coincidence!

Having said that, neither of the above - nor the dozens, maybe hundreds, of others in similar positions: former supporters of the Islamic Republic of Iran, now supporters of Trump-style regime change - have made dramatic changes in their fundamental political views. When they were in Iran, they were loyal to those in authority, they had no qualms about repression of the left, lack of justice, inequality, systematic non-payment of workers wages … When they went to the US their loyalties shifted to those in power in Washington: Bush, Obama, Trump - but they haven’t changed their class position. They were and remain in favour of capitalist ‘law and order’. Like the rest of the Islamic Republic, they never took the anti-west, anti-US slogans seriously. They probably had some nationalist sentiments and that has changed after seeing the much larger personal financial benefits of supporting the hegemon power.

Of course this is not limited to the current or former supporters of the Islamic Republic. We have Islamophobia in the form of various factions of what was known as the Worker-communist Party of Iran. I have lost count of their all too numerous splits. However, what distinguished them from the rest of the left was their eagerness to become apologists for the Zionist state. At one meeting of Hands Off the People of Iran where Moshé Machover spoke about Israel’s nuclear bomb and the need to call for a nuclear-free Middle East, a member of one of the WPI factions told me, “Who cares if Israel has a nuclear bomb? They are a democracy” - a country constantly denying its nuclear weapons capability and one that has had no International Atomic Energy Association inspections as it is not a signatory of the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty.

On the international ‘left’ we have a number of organisations and individuals who have moved from being apologists of the Zionist state to open advocates of its discriminatory policies, using various excuses: they are defending progress against obscurantism, western democracy against Islam. In the UK the most prominent amongst them is the Alliance for Workers Liberty. However, the AWL is not alone in that position.

These groups have been apologists of imperialist intervention for the last few decades, often using weasel words to appear ambiguous. In essence, however, nothing much has changed.

What is more regrettable is the right wing direction of some so-called supporters of the anti-war movement. In this case we heard explicit or implicit support for US ‘humanitarian’ intervention in Libya, Syria and elsewhere in the Arab world. No one in their right mind should have any doubt that it is decades of colonial and imperialist interventions that have created the current disastrous situation in the Middle East.

Assad, Ghadaffi, Saddam as well as rulers of the Islamic Republic have all played their role in helping the west suppress their own working class, decimate left-wing forces and pave the way for Islamic fundamentalism of one type or another. After that they become redundant and the US and its allies then try to get rid of them. In that respect all western interventions in the region have been the cause of the problem in the first instance. The idea that another round of missile strikes and bombings could have helped the peoples of the region is madness, yet numerous groups and individuals claiming to be on the left proposed such solutions only a few years ago. Yet another sign that we are in a period of defeat and retreat of the left.

  1. 990s.foundationcenter.org/990_pdf_archive/

  2. jewishfed.org/news/blog/finding-inspiration-our-philanthropic-community.↩︎