Enemies

09.17.12

Trying (And Failing) To Stick It To Tehran

The enemy of Dana Rohrabacher's enemy is Dana Rohrabacher's friend. That much is clear from the California House Republican's recent record across the Middle East and South Asia where, in a poetic twist, Rohrabacher has done little more than make more enemies for himself.

The latest salvo from Rohrabacher seeks to stoke ethnic tensions in Iran—his second such attempt to do so—by introducing a House resolution on Friday

that the Azeri people, currently divided between Azerbaijan and Iran, have the right to self-determination and to their own sovereign country if they so choose.

Whereas the Azeri people have maintained a proud and distinctive national, cultural, and religious identity dating back to ancient times;

Whereas in Iran, the provinces inhabited mainly by ethnic Azeris are called East and West Azerbaijan by the government in Tehran, thus giving credibility to the claim that the homeland of the Azeri is divided...

The problem? There's "no indication that any significant amount of Iranian Azeris" want what Rohrabacher is asking for them, Alireza Nader, an actual Iran expert with the Rand Corporation, told me by phone. "A few individuals might believe in that," he added skeptically.

Most Azeris in Iran, Nader told me, are part of the fabric of national society: Persian and Azeri "cultures are so interwoven." Many of the Islamic Republic's elites are of Azeri ethnic descent, including the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and the main opposition leader Mir Hossein Moussavi.

"I think what Azeris in Iran want—like all other Iranians—is to have individual, political and cultural freedom," he said. "And this is what the Islamic Republic has restricted."

What drives Rohrabacher's misguided Azeri liberation struggle? In a July letter (PDF) to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Rohrabacher cited a then-recent report about growing military ties between Israel and Azerbaijan, the former Soviet Republic on Iran's northwest border, possibly as a precursor to an attack on Iran. Rohrabacher wrote:

The Azerbaijan question has come forward against due to recent news stories about budding military cooperation between Israel and Azerbaijan. It would be wise for the United States to encourage such cooperation, as the aggressive dictatorship in Tehran is our enemy as well as theirs.

Nader, ever the sober analyst, wouldn't speculate about what Rohrabacher was up to: "I don't really know what the motivations are, but the basic premise is incorrect."

In February, Rohrabacher introduced a resolution supporting Baloch separatists in their bid to create a sovereign state carved out Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan. At a hearing on the subject in the House committee that Rohrabacher chairs, one witness was reportedly told by a staffer, "We want to stick it to the Pakistanis." The bill sparked a diplomatic row between the U.S. and Pakistan, and thousands of Pakistanis protested against the resolution.

In June, Rohrabacher was part of an official Congressional delegation that was kicked out of the Iraq for attempting to meet with with an Iranian dissident group considered terrorists by the U.S. and the Iraqi governments.