Slander and lobbying allegations on Iran divide U.S. domestic politics

IranDisInfo had recently been tweeting about how Twitter and Facebook had discovered a “disinformation campaign with ties to Iran.” This includes 2,800 inauthentic accounts on social media.

By
June 2, 2019 13:36
4 minute read.
The White House in Washington

The White House in Washington. (photo credit: REUTERS/JOSHUA ROBERTS)

Matthew Continetti at the Washington Free Beacon wrote recently that “the Iran echo chamber is trying to save Obama’s nuclear deal by manipulating President Trump.” Two weeks later, The Daily Beast reported that “team Obama tells Iran: Don’t escalate, don’t take Trump’s bait.”

The articles come in the context of a month of rising tensions between the US and Iran. It is hardly surprising that US policy on Iran is a partisan issue, considering that the Obama administration pushed for the Iran deal while the Trump administration walked away from it.

But the often toxic discussions on various media platforms this month show a growing and increasingly fraught division on how to approach the Iran regime.

At every step of the way on issues relating to Iran, the divide is clear. For instance. Axios reported that the International Atomic Energy Agency had said Friday that Iran “remains within the boundaries of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.”

They later updated the story with an editor’s note that the “UN watchdog is now raising questions about whether Iran is complying with key provisions to limit the nations use of advanced centrifuges.”

The Iran deal, or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, was agreed in 2015 between the US, Iran, China, France, Russia, Germany, the UK and EU. In May 2018, the US left the Iran deal. Iran warned the EU in early May that it had 60 days to comply with some of Tehran’s requests or Iran would also leave parts of the deal.

Some of the former Obama administration members frequently tweet and discuss Iran issues. Ben Rhodes, a former foreign-policy adviser, tweeted on Friday that the current US administration’s “maximum pressure” on Iran is “not so maximum when other countries don’t want to go along with you.”

He argued at The Washington Post last month that the Trump administration’s Iran policy is rooted in “lies.” Not all the former Obama advisers agree. As Mark Dubowitz of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) in Washington, DC, tweeted Friday, one ex-Obama adviser likes that Iran has “no idea what Trump will do.” The adviser in question was former national security adviser Jim Jones.

While there is one discussion about the efficacy of the Trump administration’s current policy, and whether Tehran is complying with the Iran deal, a third divide in the US is over allegations of Iranian lobbying.

On Friday, controversy boiled over between the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), which calls itself a “nonpartisan, non-profit organization advancing interests of Iranian-American community,” and a Twitter account called @IranDisinfo.

On Friday, NIAC released a statement saying that the US State Department had suspended funding from its Global Engagement Center to the Iran Disinformation Project, which allegedly runs the @IranDisinfo account.

“The suspension of IranDisinfo follows a major astroturf campaign against NIAC last weekend involving hawkish pro-war organizations like Foundation for Defense of Democracies,” NIAC claimed. Colin Kahl, a former Obama administration official, also tweeted that, “It sure looks like @IranDisinfo is a front for a project by hardline think tank.”

IranDisinfo had recently been tweeting about how Twitter and Facebook had discovered a “disinformation campaign with ties to Iran.” This includes 2,800 inauthentic accounts on Twitter and dozens on Facebook.

The discussion on social media now becomes even more partisan on the Iran issue. It involves accusations of illegal “funding” of an “Iran war echo chamber” on one side, and claims that US-based groups are influenced and guided by Iran’s regime to the point of former officials undermining current US policy.

It also involves allegations that money set aside to confront Russian and ISIS disinformation campaigns was extended to look at Iran. But writer Farnaz Fassihi wrote that the taxpayer money went to “harass, intimidate, threaten and slander American journalists.”

Bloomberg columnist Eli Lake took issue with the pressure by NIAC to suspend funding for IranDisinfo.

“Their alleged violation was a tweetstorm using the hashtag #NIACLobbies4Mullahs. So many Iranian Americans are furious that NIAC purports to represent them.”

Saeed Ghasseminejad, a senior adviser and financial economics at FDD pushed back against NIAC on Friday. He tweeted that Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif had supported NIAC “politically and non-politically.” Allegations about Zarif and NIAC have been previously published at Tablet in 2017, asserting “how NIAC used the White House to advance Iran’s agenda.”

The complex and divided discussion about Iran and US policy pits different lobbying groups, activists, journalists and think tanks against one another. This has often always been the case in US foreign policy when it comes too contentious issues, such as US-Israel policy, or relations with the Gulf, or even US policy in Ukraine, but the tensions between the Trump administration and Iran this month accelerated these processes and brought different allegations to light.

To read the discussion is to see two sides that accuse each other of either being hardline extremist war-mongering “hawks” or agents and lobbyists for the Iran regime masquerading as concerned US citizens. The fallout from this is important because it has ramifications not only on current US policy but also on advisers to subsequent US administrations. The more the Iran issue becomes divided along partisan lines, the more likely the Iranian regime can exploit those divisions.


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