(Persia Digest) - Rick Gladstone writes in the New York Times that in a detailed and strongly worded speech against Iran’s leaders and their legitimacy, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has signaled an extraordinarily tough policy by the Trump administration in dealing with them and what he called “40 years of kleptocracy.”
Supporters called his speech, delivered to an Iranian-American audience this past Sunday, a dose of realism that laid bare what they regard as the brazen corruption and hypocrisy of Tehran’s religious hierarchy. Critics called the speech a prelude to attempted regime change by the United States — and perhaps armed conflict with Iran.
Obscured in the debate was how much of Mr. Pompeo’s speech was accurate, and whether in some instances — intentionally or not — he may have exaggerated, omitted facts or mixed facts with conjecture. In at least one instance, Mr. Pompeo spoke inaccurately. A look at some of his key assertions:
On Iran’s Weakened Economy
WHAT WAS SAID:
“Economically, we see how the regime’s decision to prioritize an ideological agenda over the welfare of the Iranian people has put Iran into a long-term economic tailspin. During the time of the nuclear deal, Iran’s increased oil revenues could have gone to improving the lives of the Iranian people. Instead they went to terrorists, dictators, and proxy militias. Today, thanks to regime subsidies, the average Hezbollah combatant makes two to three times what an Iranian firefighter makes on the streets of Iran. Regime mismanagement has led to the rial plummeting in value. A third of Iranian youth are unemployed, and a third of Iranians now live below the poverty line.”
Fact and conjecture.
Iran used at least some earnings from oil, including money impounded by sanctions but released when the nuclear deal took effect in 2016, to fill deficiencies in its budget. Iran also spent enormous sums to attract investment, buy and refurbish airplanes and ships, and provide financing to stimulate the economy. The decline in the rial, the national currency, has been attributed by economists not only to mismanagement but to the negative impact of President Trump’s decision to renounce the nuclear agreement in May and restore the sanctions.
Mr. Pompeo’s basis for the wage comparison of Hezbollah fighters and Iranian firefighters is unclear.
While youth unemployment in Iran is widely believed to be at least 30 percent, that figure is comparable to or below that of other countries in the Middle East as well as Spain and Italy. On Iran’s poverty rate, Mr. Pompeo’s assertion is disputed. A 2016 World Bank working paper suggested it was less than 10 percent, according to Djavad Salehi-Isfahani, a Brookings Institution scholar who participated in the research.
WHAT WAS SAID:
“The bitter irony of the economic situation in Iran is that the regime uses this same time to line its own pockets while its people cry out for jobs and reform and for opportunity. The Iranian economy is going great – but only if you’re a politically-connected member of the elite. Two years ago, Iranians rightfully erupted in anger when leaked paystubs showed massive amounts of money inexplicably flowing into the bank accounts of senior government officials.”
Fact and omission.
Mr. Pompeo was correct that corruption in Iran’s government is pervasive, a fact that President Hassan Rouhani of Iran has acknowledged. Mr. Pompeo was also correct in describing the popular anger that erupted over the leaked paystubs — but did not mention that some officials had leaked the information and that Mr. Rouhani ordered an investigation into the pay, which entangled associates that included his own brother.
On Iran’s Top Leaders
WHAT WAS SAID:
“Take Sadeq Larijani, the head of Iran’s judiciary. He is worth at least $300 million dollars. He got this money from embezzling public funds into his own bank account. The Trump administration sanctioned Larijani in January for human rights abuses, because we aren’t afraid to tackle the regime at its highest level. Call me crazy — you won’t be the first — but I’m a little skeptical that a thieving thug under international sanctions is the right man to be Iran’s highest-ranking judicial official.”
Fact and conjecture
The basis for Mr. Pompeo’s assertions about Mr. Larijani’s supposed wealth and how he obtained it is unclear. But human rights activists corroborate Mr. Pompeo’s assertion that Mr. Larijani is complicit in rights violations. “As head of the judiciary he is certainly a leading human rights abuser,” said Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the Center for Human Rights in Iran, a New York-based advocacy group.
WHAT WAS SAID:
“Former I.R.G.C. officer and Minister of Interior Sadeq Mahsouli is nicknamed ‘the Billionaire General.’ He went from being a poor I.R.G.C. officer at the end of the Iran-Iraq war to being worth billions of dollars. How’d that happen? He somehow had a knack for winning lucrative construction and oil trading contracts from businesses associated with the I.R.G.C. Being an old college buddy of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad just might have had something to do with it as well.”
True, rights advocates say.
Mr. Pompeo’s description of Mr. Mahsouli and his relationship with Mr. Rouhani’s predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have been corroborated by rights advocates, including the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, a rights group based in New Haven, Conn.
WHAT WAS SAID:
“And not many people know this, but the Ayatollah Khamenei has his own personal, off-the-books hedge fund called the Setad, worth $95 billion, with a B. That wealth is untaxed, it is ill-gotten, and it is used as a slush fund for the I.R.G.C. The ayatollah fills his coffers by devouring whatever he wants. In 2013 the Setad’s agents banished an 82-year-old Baha’i woman from her apartment and confiscated the property after a long campaign of harassment. Seizing land from religious minorities and political rivals is just another day at the office for this juggernaut that has interests in everything from real estate to telecoms to ostrich farming. All of it is done with the blessing of Ayatollah Khamenei.”
True, according to a Reuters investigation.
A 2013 investigative series by Reuters provided details about Setad and its evolution into one of the most powerful organizations in Iran. Mr. Pompeo appeared to be partly quoting from the Reuters account, which called Setad “a business juggernaut that now holds stakes in nearly every sector of Iranian industry, including finance, oil, telecommunications, the production of birth-control pills and even ostrich farming.”
WHAT WAS SAID:
“Just earlier this month, an Iranian ‘diplomat’ based in Vienna was arrested and charged with supplying explosives for a terrorist bomb scheduled to bomb a political rally in France. This tells you everything you need to know about the regime: At the same time they’re trying to convince Europe to stay in the nuclear deal, they’re covertly plotting terrorist attacks in the heart of Europe.”
Fact, conjecture and omission.
A number of people of Iranian origin were arrested and charged in Europe in early July in connection with what investigators called a foiled plot to bomb a rally in France. The suspects included an Iranian diplomat in Vienna who was described as a contact person. Mr. Pompeo did not mention that the rally had been for an exiled Iranian opposition group, the Mujahedeen Khalq, which is unpopular in Iran. It advocates the overthrow of Iran’s government and for years was on the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations but was removed in 2012 after intense lobbying efforts.
On Political Protests in Iran
WHAT WAS SAID:
In response to myriad government failures, corruption, and disrespect of rights, since December Iranians have been taking to the streets in the most enduring and forceful protests since 1979. Some shout the slogan, “The people are paupers while the mullahs live like gods.” Others choose to shut down the Grand Bazaar in Tehran. The specific grievances do differ, but all those voicing dissatisfaction share one thing: They have been ill-treated by a revolutionary regime. Iranians want to be governed with dignity, accountability, and respect.”
Mostly true but one inaccuracy.
The protests pale in comparison to the enormous demonstrations and rallies that followed Mr. Ahmadinejad’s suspiciously lopsided victory in the 2009 election. Millions of Iranians demanded a recount for their candidate, Mir Hossein Mousavi, who was considered far more moderate than Mr. Ahmadinejad.
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