Iran-Syria Operations Group
This article is part of the Center for Media & Democracy's focus on the fallout of nuclear "spin."
The OIA, "apparently housed in the same Pentagon offices inhabited by its predecessor and involving some of the same slimy personnel," including Abram Shulsky, head of the OSP under Douglas Feith. OIA staff report to "none other than Elizabeth Cheney, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, and daughter of the Vice President," Gary Leupp wrote May 29, 2006, in Dissident Voice.
The purpose of ISOG, likewise headed by Elizabeth Cheney, is "to encourage regime change in Iran. It's no secret that Cheney has over $80 million at her disposal to promote democracy in Iran. But ISOG isn't simply about promoting democracy. It's about helping to craft official policy, doing so not with one but two countries in its sights, and creating a policymaking apparatus that parallels--and skirts--Foggy Bottom's suspect Iran desk," Lawrence F. Kaplan wrote April 10, 2006, in The New Republic Online.
"The question is whether democratic reform can be achieved before Iran becomes a nuclear power," which is "Cheney's job," Sarah Baxter wrote March 5, 2006, in the UK's Times. "In the State Department she is referred to as the 'freedom agenda co-ordinator' and the 'democracy czar' for the broader Middle East."
Cheney and her father, Vice President Dick Cheney, "agree it would be better for the mullahs’ regime to collapse from within than to be ousted by force," Baxter wrote.
ISOG "was established to plot a more aggressive democracy promotion strategy for those two 'rogue' states. Funding is to come from $75m that Condoleezza Rice, secretary of state, announced in February she was requesting from Congress this year, plus some $10m already in the budget," Guy Dinmore wrote in the April 21, 2006, Financial Times.
The additional funds were allocated "to promote democracy in Iran. Much of it will be spent on broadcasting the views of exiles, dissidents and reformers inside Iran," Baxter wrote. "Cheney is better known to Iranian listeners of Voice of America's Persian service than she is to Americans ... She rarely gives interviews but set out her agenda in a speech to the Foreign Policy Associations annual dinner [in June 2005]. Cheney said there was a 'direct parallel' between reform movements in the Arab world and Poland's Solidarity in the 1980s, which lit the 'spark of freedom' in the Soviet bloc."
Robert Dreyfuss differs with this opinion, stating April 17, 2006, in The American Prospect that Dick Cheney's office, which he calls the "Vice Squad", is "pushing hard for confrontations with both Iran and Syria. Liz Cheney, who exercises enormous power inside the State Department, has secured millions of dollars to support opposition elements in both countries, and she has met with Syria’s version of Ahmad Chalabi, a discredited businessman from Virginia named Farid al-Ghadry."
"During the past 15 months, Elizabeth Cheney has met with and bolstered a gaggle of Syrian exiles, often in tandem with John Hannah and David Wurmser, top officials in the Office of the Vice President (OVP); has pressed hard for money to accelerate the administration's ever more overt campaign for forced regime change in both Damascus and Teheran; and has overseen an increasingly discredited push for American-inspired democratic reform from Morocco to Iran," Dreyfuss added June 15, 2006.
It should be noted that the "efforts" of the OIA have been "denounced by Iran's leaders as meddling in their internal affairs."  It is not unrealistic to expect that the efforts of ISOG have received a similar response.
"Adam Ereli, a State Department spokesman, denied the operations group existed. But two other US officials and a European diplomat insisted that it did. They said the inter-agency group, which is supposed to co-ordinate with the Pentagon and other departments, is headed by David Denehy, a special adviser who served in the coalition government in Iraq, and Alberto Fernandez, a public diplomacy official," Dinmore wrote April 21, 2006. Denehy's name is also affiliated with the OIA.
"In 2005 the balance shifted within the US government in favor of those who pressed for a regime change in Iran. This ultimately led to the formation of the Iran / Syria Operations Group within the State department," an article published in Zeit-fragen, October 2006, summarizing Col. Sam Gardiner, USAF (Ret.)'s "The End of the 'Summer of Diplomacy': Assessing US Military Options on Iran" states.
"The United States passed from gathering secret service information in Iran to establishing contacts to ethnic minorities. Reports suggest the US supports militant groups in the Iranian region of Belutschistan, according to Gardiner. 'There were murders and kidnappings in this area. Convoys of Iranian revolutionary guards were attacked. In his article in the New Yorker, Seymour Hersh confirmed this region was one of the areas where US forces operated. The Iranian press also accused the United States of operating there. In addition, press reports presumed the US may have been support[ing] former members of the MEK (Mudschaheddin-e Khalq) in Belutschistan that have their base in Iraq'," the article states. "The Iranians also charged the US with involvement in shooting down two of their aircraft, an old C-130 and a Falcon jet with the leader of the revolutionary guard on board."
Cheney Name Carries Negative Connotations in Middle East
President George W. Bush said in November 2005 that "The US has adopted a new policy, a forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East," Simon Tisdall wrote November 15, 2005, in The Guardian (UK). "Backed by Liz Cheney, the vice-president's daughter and state department expert, and Karen Hughes, Mr Bush's image polisher-in-chief, Condoleezza Rice is trying to turn presidential vision into reality."
However, Tisdall wrote, the Cheney name is "associated with the Iraq invasion" and "has negative connotations on the Arab street." Hughes's "goodwill tour was widely ridiculed" and Rice's "call for international monitoring of Egypt's presidential election [in June 2005] was rejected."
In March 2005, Elizabeth Cheney "met with Syrian-American Farid Ghadry, President of the Reform Party of Syria, which reminiscent of Bush's own position on Iraq, openly advocates regime change in Syria as the only means to usher democracy, uphold the rule of law and stimulate economic reforms," Farrah Hassen wrote May 7, 2005, in ZMag:
- "As the following ultimatum on the Party's official website (http://reformsyria.org/) sums it up, 'Either Syria changes course or course will be changed for Syria.'"
This was not Cheney's first acquaintance with Syrian officials, as disclosed by Ghadry in a July 20, 2006, op-ed published by the Washington Times:
- "Syrian President Bashir Assad has blundered amid amplified U.S. pressure on his tyrannical regime aimed at changing his behavior, ... Among the many policies that the United States used to pressure Mr. Assad was a meeting with the Syrian opposition on March 24, 2004. The meeting was the first of its kind, held with Liz Cheney, then the deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs. Since then, the United States has escalated both its rhetoric and the implementation of some of the components of the Syria Accountability Act."
Middle East Partnership Initiative Programs: Forum for the Future and Fund for the Future
Democracy and Censorship
"While the U.S. government touts democracy promotion abroad, American companies are undermining that paradigm by providing technology that censors and prohibits the foundation of liberal democracy—freedom of expression," Michael Shtender-Auerbach wrote April 27, 2006, for The Century Foundation.
Shtender-Auerbach cites ISOG as an example:
- "Ironically, a program within the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, the Iran-Syria Operations Group (ISOG), led by Vice President Cheney’s daughter, Elizabeth Cheney, operates with an $80 million dollar budget for the promotion of democracy in Iran and Syria. This program and others have invested in anonymous Internet communication systems like TOR that allow users to bypass government censors. So, while the State Department is actively helping Iranian dissidents, Congress is turning a blind eye to U.S. corporations that are providing the tools of control to other, more repressive regimes. How can we demand freedom of expression in one country—and accept the denial of it in another—just because of corporate interests and financial gain?"
Related SourceWatch Resources
- Arab Spring
- Bush doctrine
- International Republican Institute
- Iran Enterprise Institute
- Iranian Directorate
- Middle East Partnership Initiative
- Office of Iranian Affairs
- Office of Special Plans
- preemptive war
- Project for a New American Century
- regime change in Syria
- violence in the Middle East
- war in Iran (regime change in Iran)
- White House Iraq Group
- Remarks by Elizabeth Cheney, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs and Coordinator for Broader Middle East and North Africa Initiatives (BMENA), Foreign Policy Association Annual Dinner, June 14, 2005.
- Sam Gardiner, "The End of the 'Summer of Diplomacy': Assessing U.S. Military Options on Iran," The Century Foundation, 2006. (26-page pdf).
Articles & Commentary
- "Liz Cheney: Morocco could be a model for countries of the region," Arabic News, April 14, 2005.
- Farrah Hassen, "The Obsession with Syria," ZMag.org, May 7, 2005.
- "Amr Moussa is a hack," Rantings of a Sand Monkey Blog, May 29, 2005.
- Simon Tisdall, "Bush's Vision Fails to Win Over Middle East," The Guardian (UK) (Common Dreams), November 15, 2005.
- Maha Akeel, "Correcting Perceptions About America Is My Job: Liz Cheney," Arab News, November 16, 2005: Liz Cheney "said that Syria and Iran are a concern for the United States, that capturing Osama Ben Laden is not a key issue in winning the war on terrorism and that new methods need to be used in this war."
- Robert Dreyfuss, "Political Islam vs. Democracy. The Bush Administration's Deadly Waltz with Shiite Theocrats in Iraq and Muslim Brotherhood Fanatics in Syria, Egypt, and Elsewhere," TomDispatch.com (Introduction "Dreyfuss on Bush's Deadly Dance with Islamic Theocrats" by Tom Engelhardt), November 30, 2006; Common Dreams, November 30, 2006; and Asia Times, December 1, 2005: "Liz Cheney and other top US officials are already meeting with Chalabi-like Syrian exile leaders to plot 'regime change'."
- Ewen MacAskill and Julian Borger, "Bush Plans Huge Propaganda Campaign in Iran," The Guardian (UK) (truthout), February 16, 2006.
- Glenn Kessler, "Rice Asks for $75 Million to Increase Pressure on Iran", Washington Post, February 16, 2006.
- Sarah Baxter, "Cheney daughter leads 'cold war' on mullahs," Times Online (UK), March 5, 2006. Also see related Glenn Kessler, "U.S., Russia Cooperate on Iran Amid Rifts," Washington Post, March 8, 2006.
- Steven R. Weisman, "U.S. Program Is Directed at Altering Iran's Politics," New York Times (Information Clearing House), April 8, 2006.
- Lawrence F. Kaplan, "Iran Syria Operations Group," The New Republic Online, April 10, 2006.
- Kevin Drum, "Regime Change in Iran," The Washington Monthly, April 10, 2006: "In any case, connect the dots. 'Promoting regime change from within' = the Iranian exile community. The Iranian exile community = source of dubious intelligence about Iran's nuclear program. Iran's nuclear program = excuse to go to war. Why change a winning game plan?"
- Allen L. Roland, "Cheney's Secret Iran Operating Group," OpEdNews, April 11, 2006.
- Steven R. Weisman, "U.S. Program Is Directed at Altering Iran's Politics," The New York Times, April 15, 2006.
- Robert Dreyfuss, "Vice Squad," The American Prospect, April 17, 2006: "Aaron Friedberg, who served as Cheney’s director of policy planning for three years, ... says that he worked on issues of 'terrorism, Asia, Europe, Russia, North Korea, Iran, just about everything outside of Iraq,' suggested that the biggest issue on which Cheney had to confront the bureaucracy was over the administration’s push for democracy, especially in the Middle East. That program’s overseer is his daughter Liz Cheney, a top State Department official."
- Juliette Kayyem, "All in the Family: Cheney and Iran," TPM Cafe, April 17, 2006.
- Guy Dinmore, "US and UK develop democracy strategy for Iran," Financial Times, April 21, 2006.
- Michael Shtender-Auerbach, "Freedom: File Cannot Be Found," The Century Foundation, April 27, 2006.
- Steven C. Clemons, "Level-Headedness on Iran," The Washington Note, June 2, 2006. See comment posted by segfault, June 2, 2006.
- Robert Dreyfuss, "The Commissar’s in Town. Very little happens at State regarding the Middle East without the knowledge and approval of Cheney -- not Dick, but Liz, his powerful, secretive daughter," The American Prospect, June 6, 2006.
- Robert Dreyfuss, "Liz Cheney Runs Iran-Syria Group at State Department," The American Prospect, June 15, 2006.
- Guy Dinmore, "Spy agencies analyse role in global drive for democracy," Financial Times (U.S. Labor Against the War.org), June 16, 2006: "The State Department's Iran-Syria Operations Group was 'trying to push money out the door' to back organisations working for democratic change in those countries, said one adviser."
- Farid N. Ghadry, Op-Ed: "Shift policy on Syria," Washington Times, July 20, 2006.
- Michael Flynn and Jim Lobe, "State of Schizophrenia," Right Web, July 31, 2006.
- Daniel Schulman, "Meet the 'Whack Iran' Lobby. Exiles peddling shaky intelligence, advocacy groups pressing for regime change, neocons bent on remaking the Middle East. Sound familiar?" MotherJones, October 6, 2006.
- Laura Rozen, "Has Washington found its Iranian Chalabi? Introducing the talented Mr. Fakhravar," MotherJones, October 6, 2006 (also in November/December 2006 Issue/posted October 26, 2006).
- Michael Carmichael, "World War W," Baltimore Chronicle, October 11, 2006.
- "Bush's War Course against Iran Leads to Ruin," Milwaukee IndyMedia, October 31, 2006.