Rightwing hopes dashed
After the scuttle from Afghanistan, reality is finally sinking in for the royalist, cultist and paid-for ‘regime change’ advocates, writes Yassamine Mather
When it comes to the long-term consequences of the humiliating defeat of the United States in Afghanistan, in the famous words of former defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld: “There are known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns.”
Amongst the ‘unknown unknowns’ are various conspiracy theories about the US deliberately ceding power to the Taliban in Afghanistan in order to create problems for China, or to weaken Iran’s Islamic Republic. This latter theory claims that, as the Taliban will be unwilling and may be incapable of holding back Sunni Islamic State-type jihadists, Iran will face a major enemy close to its borders and will either disintegrate, divide into small nation-states following attacks from Afghanistan, or, according to another version of the same theory, will be forced to make a deal regarding its nuclear programme with the US and the west. So as far as I can see, these are possibilities, but they are most definitely ‘unknown unknowns’ - there are no indications of a well prepared US plan.
Amongst the ‘known unknowns’, we have speculation on what exactly Taliban rule entails - not just for the people of Afghanistan, but also for the region. We also have ‘known knowns’ and one of the better of these is the utter desperation of Iranian supporters of ‘regime change from above’ - groups and individuals who demand more sanctions and US military intervention to overthrow the Islamic Republic, primarily amongst the supporters of the loony sect, Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MEK), the royalist supporters of the ancien régime, and those sections of the ‘left’ who, lured by financial aid from various imperialist sources, hope these western allies will help them come to power.
That now looks like a lost dream. First of all, if after spending a trillion dollars and encountering more than 2,700 deaths among its military personnel, the United States is happy to see the return to power of the Taliban in Afghanistan, it seems foolish to hope the world hegemon is willing to embark upon another military adventure in the Middle East. Joe Biden has made it very clear that the US is no longer interested in ‘nation building’ (not that it ever was after the 1940s-50s). The official announcement to that effect was like ice cold water poured over the enthusiastic members of the Iranian opposition who spent the last four years collaborating with the Trump presidency under the illusion that their day had come at last. The US was going to restore the ex-shah’s son to power and/or throw its weight behind the MEK in order to ‘restore human rights’. (We all know about the record of the shah, when it comes to ‘human rights’, while those who follow MEK know how they treat their loyal members, never mind internal dissidents, who often end up dead or in their ‘prisons’.)
Indeed during the period 2016-21 it was not just US-based institutes and neo-conservative Republican charities that filled the coffers of the rightwing Iranian opposition: their counterparts in Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Arab Emirates competed with each other in financing this dysfunctional, useless opposition.
So we had the religious ‘moonie’-type Mujahedin-e-Khalq getting unlimited funding from the Saudis, while the London-based Saudi International TV broadcasted 24/7 in Persian in support of the cult. At the same time, well known neo-conservative Republicans, including Trump’s discredited lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, showed up at MEK annual jamborees in Paris, with rent-a-mob attendees given a free trip from, for example, eastern Europe as part of the bargain.
The Mujahedin has not really managed to recruit anyone since the 1980s, so the pictures you see of their ‘cyber’ army hard at work emailing and interacting on social media in order to spread fake news, always feature middle-aged and elderly individuals sitting in what looks like a call centre - a large office in Tirana (where the MEK is currently stationed, following a deal between the US, Albania and Iraq, its main base during the Saddam dictatorship).
The royalists, however, have made a small number of new recruits, mainly from former supporters of the Islamic Republic - in some cases close allies of Iran’s Shia rulers, who are now either in the royalist camp or close to it. That, of course, tells us a lot about the politics of the sycophants of the Islamic Republic. When they turn against the regime, they often become even more rightwing than Iran’s current leaders. So we now have a former leader of the Pasdaran, the dreaded Revolutionary Guards, amongst the rightwing, pro-Trump, pro-regime change group. We also have a woman who made a career of being photographed next to whoever was in power in Tehran, from Khatami to Rafsanjani, who is now working for US broadcaster Voice of America and is portrayed by deluded sections of the US media as a champion of women’s rights in Iran.
Back in the day
Throughout the period when Trump was in power this ragtag group of rightwing Iranians had direct access to the state department: they were invited to official events, took selfies or were photographed standing next to the then secretary of state, Mike Pompeo (ironically they were almost as close to him as the senior Taliban negotiator photographed alongside Pompeo in Doha last year).
All these groups were actively campaigning for a Trump second term. They flooded Persian-speaking social media with news of how their man was courageously challenging all those ‘stolen votes’ in the 2020 presidential election and some of them were interviewed by US media, as they took part in the January 6 attack on the US Congress. For them it was a bitter blow when Trump finally left the White House. However, far from being deterred, they drafted petitions begging the new administration to follow the Trump-era policies regarding Iran. When that drew a blank they addressed their shameless, pro-military intervention, pro-sanctions ‘requests’ to the new Israeli government and Saudi Arabia - that wonderful champion of ‘human rights’, women’s equality and their beloved ‘civil society’.
They had nothing to worry about when they lost another ally, Binyamin Netanyahu: the new Israeli government has so far proved itself to be as zealous as the previous one, especially when it comes to Iran. According to Ha’aretz, the administration under prime minister Naftali Bennett has been instrumental in encouraging the Biden administration to stop criticising Saudi Arabia and Egypt’s human rights record, as part of a policy aimed at intensifying attacks on Iran as the main enemy.
Of course, throughout the first few months of the Biden presidency, this Iranian rightwing lobby was still hopeful that there would be a return to the golden era of Donald Trump: the nuclear talks were dragging on and the election of a conservative president in Iran gave them cause for optimism: their time will eventually come surely. But all these hopes were shattered this summer with the humiliating US withdrawal from Kabul. If that was not bad enough, the US president spelt out his country’s policies so clearly that even the illiterate Iranian MEK and royalists - groups and individuals who have no sense of history, no understanding of how US political and economic interests dictate its foreign policy (as opposed to the simplistic notion of having obedient lackeys) - eventually got the message loud and clear. The world hegemon is ‘no longer’ interested in ‘nation-building’!
If these people had even the most superficial awareness of history, they would have known that the last time the US was engaged in ‘nation-building’ was in the aftermath of World War II, when it could afford the military and financial costs of such interventions, with hundreds of thousands of troops stationed in post-war Germany and Japan and the financial capability to spend billions of dollars as part of the Marshall plan on reconstruction and development. There was a very good reason why the US undertook such plans: it was involved in a bitter competition and cold war with the Soviet Union. That is why it made sense to invest money and personnel.
None of these circumstances apply today and all recent US interventions, from Afghanistan to Iraq, Syria and Libya, have had one aim and one result: destruction and the creation of failed states. Of course, even by those standards, returning the Taliban to power, after they were blamed for 9/11, and the subsequent humiliation of the hegemon power, takes all this to a new level. Even our deluded Iranian rightwingers have woken up to the new reality.
Their deathly silence - occasionally interrupted by cries of despair - is music to our ears. Long may it last, as this one ‘known known’ of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan sinks in.