Should Congress fund democracy activists in Iran?

Michael Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute and Peter Beinart of the Council on Foreign Relations are debating Ledeen’s new book, The Iranian Time Bomb, and particularly Ledeen’s call for the United States to continue funding Iranian democracy activists. In May, the U.S. Congress approved $75 million in supplemental funding for nongovernmental organizations in Iran, ...

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Michael Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute and Peter Beinart of the Council on Foreign Relations are debating Ledeen's new book, The Iranian Time Bomb, and particularly Ledeen's call for the United States to continue funding Iranian democracy activists. In May, the U.S. Congress approved $75 million in supplemental funding for nongovernmental organizations in Iran, a measure Ledeen strongly supports. Congress is considering renewing at least some of the funding in its upcoming appropriations bills, though the House and Senate versions differ.

Why is this even a debate? Of course the United States should help democrats struggling against authoritarian Iran, right? Well actually, Trita Parsi and Emily Blout of the National Iranian American Council, a nonprofit organization representing Iranian Americans, say it's not so simple:

Of the millions obligated for democracy promotion in Iran, only a negligible amount has found its way into the country. This isn't for lack of publicity. Condoleezza Rice has dedicated many a sound bite to touting the existence of the program. Still the State Department has been hard pressed to find takers, as would-be recipients refuse to accept funding widely considered tainted by the U.S. name. In its broad mandate and secretive nature, the program has rendered every member of civil society a potential recipient of U.S. funds, and thus subject to harassment by the Iranian government. This program, said Human Rights Watch at a conference last month, is "painting a target on their backs."

Michael Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute and Peter Beinart of the Council on Foreign Relations are debating Ledeen’s new book, The Iranian Time Bomb, and particularly Ledeen’s call for the United States to continue funding Iranian democracy activists. In May, the U.S. Congress approved $75 million in supplemental funding for nongovernmental organizations in Iran, a measure Ledeen strongly supports. Congress is considering renewing at least some of the funding in its upcoming appropriations bills, though the House and Senate versions differ.

Why is this even a debate? Of course the United States should help democrats struggling against authoritarian Iran, right? Well actually, Trita Parsi and Emily Blout of the National Iranian American Council, a nonprofit organization representing Iranian Americans, say it’s not so simple:

Of the millions obligated for democracy promotion in Iran, only a negligible amount has found its way into the country. This isn’t for lack of publicity. Condoleezza Rice has dedicated many a sound bite to touting the existence of the program. Still the State Department has been hard pressed to find takers, as would-be recipients refuse to accept funding widely considered tainted by the U.S. name. In its broad mandate and secretive nature, the program has rendered every member of civil society a potential recipient of U.S. funds, and thus subject to harassment by the Iranian government. This program, said Human Rights Watch at a conference last month, is “painting a target on their backs.”

Shaul Bakhash, the Iranian-American husband of Haleh Esfandiari, told FP the same thing recently. Maybe Congress should listen.

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