Left Aside
By Eli Lake
New York Sun, Opinion
January 19, 2006

Now would be a good time for the peace community to sober up and find a conscience. After failing numerous moral tests after September 11, 2001, the academic left, the anti-war agitators have an opportunity with Iran. Here is a regime that has in the past two years stolen two elections, installed a fundamentalist president intent on making war abroad and destroying dissent at home, pursuing an atomic bomb.

Vote tampering, fundamentalism, bellicosity, and proliferation: Isn't that the Michael Moore-Noam Chomsky rap sheet on President Bush. Except in the case of Iran, all of these charges happen to be true. And if that's not enough, the country's military and intelligence services act hand and glove with regional terror masters. If the left diverted a tenth of its impeachment energies here to unseating the ayatollahs there, they would be doing both the war effort and the Iranian people a great service.

So why is there no campaign in Western universities to treat the Islamic Republic like Apartheid South Africa or post-Intifadah Israel. Instead of proposing divestment from the European energy concerns that continue to profit from Iran's rich oil and gas fields, the majority of the left is convinced President Bush secretly intends to invade a country his diplomats have made a silent partner in rebuilding Iraq and Afghanistan.

Take for example a group calling itself "U.S. Academics For Peace." In September, a delegation of 13 such academics visited Tehran and Damascus in an effort "to initiate dialogue that might further mutual understanding between the United States and Iran and Syria," according to a November statement summarizing the delegation's findings. While its members said they deplore statements from Iranian leaders to "wipe Israel off the map," they also condemned talk of changing regimes in Iran or kicking the mullah out of the United Nations because it "can only inhibit dialogue and prove counter-productive."

As for Syria, these intellectuals believe that whatever the result of the U.N. investigation into the murder of the former Lebanese prime minister, Rafiq Hariri, the murder should not be a pretext for changing the regime in Syria.

Not surprising, the organization's line on Iran's nuclear program is not all that different from the regime it is so set against changing. "We adamantly oppose attempts based on unproven suspicions, allegations, or prejudices to subject Iran to special evaluative criteria not included in the NPT," they said in their final report, sounding more like a prop for despotic ventriloquists than a collection of independent thinkers.

Why would any organization comprising scholars oppose ending the reign of people who not only arrest bloggers, but film them being stripped in an attempt to blackmail them. Why would the academics for peace not realize that the regime they seek to preserve has already declared war on their Iranian counterparts, people like Akbar Ganji, the author who is still in Evin Prison despite a fleeting campaign this summer among some leading figures on the left to plead with Iran's supreme leader to release him.

Do these peace-seeking professors support a legal system that authorizes the public hanging of teenage homosexuals. If they don't, do they suppose this practice would end with the correct mixture of deference and dialogue.

Would that these concerns were only academic, so to speak. But they are not. Unless there is a massive purge of America's national security bureaucracy, there is little the world's remaining superpower can do to nourish the democratic revolution people of conscience so desperately wish for Iran.

This is not because, as many Iran experts contend, support from the patrons of the former Shah would taint Iran's democratic opposition. Iran's revolutionaries are already imprisoned for proposing that their parliament not be overruled by unelected clerics.

No. American support for Iranian liberals would be compromised by the very institutions tasked to provide it. Western advocates for a free Iran must ask themselves whether they can trust the CIA, State Department or the Agency for International Development to find and support real Iranian democrats. And supposing these bureaucracies managed that, does anyone think someone inside would not sabotage the cause by leaking details of the program to allies in Congress and the press.

Perhaps funding from the National Endowment for Democracy and its sister organizations would have a better chance of reaching the right kind of organizers in Iran. But what guarantees will the brave recipients of this funding have that in any future open- or backchannel talks with the mullahs, their financial lifeblood would not be choked off in exchange for more promises on nuclear non-proliferation or terrorism.

For now it looks like the funding and support network for Iran's fragile dissidents must come from elsewhere. What an opportunity for the academic left to abandon its neutrality in the war between Iranians and the mullahs who hold them captive. It could help lift the patina of legitimacy these proto-fascists seek from a political left forever advertising its conscience. But judging from the U.S. Academics for Peace, the academic left doesn't seem interested.