At the end of 2017 and through the first week of 2018, Iran was rocked by protests through its major cities, and the Trump administration quickly pounced to exploit the dissent. The U.S. even tried calling an urgent U.N. Security Council meeting that ultimately backfired because the rest of the major U.N. players weren’t interested in exploiting Iran’s protests for personal gain.
However, the Trump administration’s desire to exploit unrest in Iran may go much further than mere diplomatic support for anti-regime protesters. Ahmed explains:
“A range of recent official documents, from Congressional research to US foreign aid funding reports, throw new light on the Trump administration’s approach. The documents reveal the US government’s continued interest in triggering major political change in Iran to pull the country into the orbit of American interests. This includes the possibility of exploiting political unrest and other crises – including a worsening water crisis – to turn popular opinion against the regime.”
This introduction may be no surprise to some, as Anti-Media has previously explained that regime change in Iran has become more or less an official Trump administration policy and that a CIA office has even been established to complete this nefarious goal.
Ahmed explains further:
“Iran’s unrest has mostly been driven by a convergence of domestic ecological, energy and economic crises. The State Department has sought to exploit these crises to undermine the legitimacy of the regime, by funding opposition groups as well as anti-regime broadcasting to the tune of tens of millions of dollars a year…One State Department funding document, for instance, refers to a project to use Iran’s growing water crisis to drum up public anger against regime “mismanagement”. To date, US government records show that the Trump administration has spent over $1m, at least, since 2016, on financing anti-regime activism within Iran.”
However, as Ahmed explains, the recent findings are nothing new in terms of American foreign policy, as “successive US administrations have invested tens of millions of dollars a year on ‘democracy promotion efforts’ in Iran.” This was also detailed in the book Which Path to Persia? – a neoconservative roadmap for targeting Iran for regime change.
“Democracy production” is a nice way for the U.S. to openly discuss regime change operations, which ultimately have nothing to do with democracy by their very nature given the U.S. is the extrinsic driving force behind proposed changes.
As Ahmed notes, much of the media programming funded by the State Department has “focused on glorifying the reign of the Shah of Iran, the brutal US-UK backed dictator who was deposed by the 1979 revolution.” As The Diplomat’s recently published article entitled “Why Iran’s Monarchy Could Unite a Divided Country” concludes:
“[T]he legacy of the Pahlavis, who themselves come from a humble background, is ‘modernism, secularism, and nationalism’, so perhaps today, a combination of support from liberals, nationalists, exiles, and the rural poor tired of being fleeced by clerics can lay the groundwork for the reestablishment of a constitutional Iranian monarchy” suddenly makes a lot more sense in this context.
Despite this noticeable propaganda effort, the Trump administration’s Iran strategy ultimately went further than attempting to win the war of ideas. One document entitled “Iran’s Foreign and Defense Policies,” dated February 6, 2017, allegedly describes how the decision to place Iran “officially on notice” was to signal that “the new Administration might change US rules of engagement to include the use of deadly force in future incidents.” The document also notes that these aggressive policies could indirectly lead to the collapse of the 2015 nuclear accord, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). In order to achieve these aims, the document seemed to indicate, a continued military relationship with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states is pivotal.
Further, a Congressional document entitled “Iran: Politics, Human Rights and US Policy” dated February 17, 2017, stated the following:
“The Trump Administration has not stated a position on whether it would seek to change Iran’s regime, but its characterization of Iran as a US adversary could suggest that the Administration might support efforts to oust the Iranian regime should opportunities to do so present themselves.” [emphasis added]
However, the tell-all moment in the document is the paragraph that explains why the U.S. has not yet directly pursued regime change. The document states:
“In the absence of all-out US pursuit of regime change, successive Administrations and Congress have promoted political evolution in Iran through ‘democracy promotion’ and sanctions on Iranian human rights abuses.” [emphasis added]
As Ahmed explains, “Iran democracy promotion” funds have been “obligated through DRL [Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Affairs] and the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs in partnership with USAID. Some of the funds have also been used for cultural exchanges, public diplomacy, and broadcasting to Iran.”
The U.S. government is also reportedly spending at least $33 million a year on what Ahmed terms “soft propaganda” through its funding of Radio Farda and the Voice of America (VOA)’s Persian Service to spread anti-regime sentiment. In early 2017, the son of the late Shah was actually broadcast into Iran via these two stations. He advocated “peaceful regime change” through protest and civil disobedience. Remember this the next time the intelligence agencies release a report stating Russian-owned media outlets RT and Sputnik are to blame for landing Donald Trump in the White House.
While full data for the year 2017 is not yet available, Ahmed argues that USAID and State Department records reveal the U.S. spent over $1,146,196 on various opposition groups in Iran from 2016 through the Trump administration’s first year in office. These funds were provided by the State Department through the National Endowment for Democracy (NED).
When contacted for comment, Ahmed told Anti-Media that while “much of this figure is undoubtedly attributed to Obama, the vast majority of the 2017 spend has not been published yet,” also noting that the 2017 figure already “looks to be in the order of a million plus.”
According to Ahmed, from 2014 to 2017, the Obama and Trump administration’s spent a total of $2,948,733 through the State Department to fund opposition activists in Iran. NED records describing where the funds were going outline that the mission was to “engage members of the Iranian intelligentsia in public deliberation on the social, economic and political prospects of a democratic Iran.” Another document reportedly states that the funds were for the purpose of building “the capacity of Iranian citizens to conduct community-level political process monitoring through a focused training program.”
Ahmed also highlights that one of the core ways the U.S. has sought to exploit unrest in Iran is to target Iran’s looming water crisis (something we have seen before in Syria). While many of the protesters’ concerns about Iran’s current situation are certainly justifiable, America’s decision to try to involve itself and exploit unrest for its own gains arguably are not. As Ahmed explains:
“While the US government routinely uses Iran’s abysmal human rights record as a core justification for its anti-regime efforts, its alliance with similarly abusive Gulf regimes like Saudi Arabia – in the name of isolating and weakening the Iranian regime – discredits the idea that US policy is genuinely motivated by humanitarian or democratic considerations.”