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Give Ed Rendell a break

BY GUEST OPINION | MARCH 22, 2012 6:30 AM

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Yes, the Treasury Department is investigating the speaking fees received by the former Pennsylvania governor on behalf of an Iranian exile group that's on the State Department's list of foreign terrorist organizations. Rendell told the New York Times he had received around $150,000 for seven or eight speeches that called for taking the Mujahedin-e Khalq off the list (even though he clearly knew little about the organization).

But why is Treasury targeting only Rendell? There's an astonishing list of high-level former officials — from both parties — who've embraced the group's cause, for which they've collected big bucks, along with trips to pro-Mujahedin conferences in Brussels, London, Berlin, and Paris.

The group is lobbying hard for the State Department to take it off the terrorist list. (A decision is supposed to be made by the end of March.) It has won support, on the Democratic side, from former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, former U.S. Sen. Robert Torricelli, and retired Gen. James Jones, President Obama's first national-security adviser. And of course, Rendell.

As for Republicans, boosters include former CIA Directors James Woolsey (a big backer of the Iraq war) and Porter J. Goss; former FBI Director Louis Freeh; former Attorney General Michael Mukasey; former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani; and President George W. Bush's first homeland security chief, former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge. Never mind that Bush renewed the group's terrorist designation four times.

Add to the list a number of retired generals, along with John Bolton, foreign-policy adviser to Newt Gingrich, and Mitchell Reiss, who advises Mitt Romney.

What were they all thinking?

Maybe it was the money. Or perhaps they were conned by an incredible lobbying effort carried out through a series of front groups. That effort lavished money on prime-time TV, and full-page newspaper ads, which portray the Mujahedin as a democratic group leading the fight for Iran regime change.

Apparently none of these pooh-bahs ever asked about the source of their honoraria. "Nobody has ever been able to figure out where the money comes from," said Iran expert Barbara Slavin, the Washington correspondent for al-Monitor.com, a new website on the Mideast. Rumors abound that funds come from Gulf countries opposed to Iran, or from Israel, which reportedly has close contacts with the Mujahedin, or from Iranian exiles.

Nor do the group's boosters appear to have researched the group's violent history, which should have been well-known to many of them.

The group began as a Marxist-Islamist group supporting Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomenei; it killed six Americans in the 1970s. In the 1980s, having broken with the Tehran regime, it sought refuge in Saddam Hussein's Iraq. The Iraqi leader used its forces to attack Iran in a brutal war that lasted a decade and to kill rebellious Kurds and Shiites.

More critically, the group is also despised inside Iran. "In the eyes of the Iranians, they embedded with the enemy. They were traitors," said Iran expert Vali Nasr. They are regarded likewise across the Iranian political spectrum, including by leaders of the Green Movement. The idea that the group has vast support inside Iran is simply untrue.

All that may not matter to some Mujahedin boosters, such as Giuliani. He recently declared on Fox News that the group should be named Time's "person of the year." His reason: According to an NBC News report, the group was trained by Israel's Mossad to assassinate Iranian nuclear scientists. The group also reportedly was used by Israel to leak intelligence about a secret Iranian nuclear facility.

Ed Rendell should have known better than to support this group of exiles. But so should a lot of former U.S. officials with far less excuse for being so blind.

Trudy Rubin
Philadelphia Inquirer


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