Craig Biddle: I’m speaking with Clare Lopez, senior fellow at the Center for Security Policy and at The Clarion Fund, vice president of The Intelligence Summit, and a 2011 Lincoln Fellow at the Claremont Institute. She formerly was a professor at the Centre for Counterintelligence and Security Studies (CI Centre), where she taught courses on the Iranian Intelligence Services and the expanding influence of jihad and sharia in Europe and the United States. Ms. Lopez began her professional career as an operations officer with the CIA for twenty years, and has written extensively on subjects related to Iran, Islam, counterterrorism, and the Middle East. She is the coauthor of two books on Iran and a member of the Center for Security Policy’s Team B II, which published Shariah: The Threat to America in 2010 to provide an alternative policy position on Islam, Islamic law, and the Muslim Brotherhood’s threat to U.S. national security.
Thank you for joining me, Clare.
Clare Lopez: Thank you, Craig. It’s my pleasure to be with you.
CB: Let me begin with a broad question to lay some groundwork. What in your view is the purpose of the U.S. government with respect to foreign policy and the use of our military?
CL: The purpose of the U.S. government is to support and defend the Constitution and the natural and inalienable rights of American citizens, which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Our military, our president, and all federal officials take an oath in which they explicitly pledge allegiance to the Constitution.
The preamble to the U.S. Constitution expands further that “We, the People” have established that Constitution “to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.”
If both our domestic and foreign policy were more truly aligned with these foundational principles, American citizens and our friends and allies in the world would be the better for it; and our enemies would know with certainty that a strong power stood steadfast in defense of American national interests, be they diplomatic, economic, intelligence, military, or security.
Foreign policy (just as domestic policy) must be based on the principles of our Founding Fathers, that all men are created equal and therefore free; that no government is truly legitimate unless it governs by consent of the governed; that our rights derive from our human nature (or the Creator) and cannot be given or taken away by any government because they are inherent; that the individual is the most important element in society, not the government; and that individual acquisition and ownership of property—and government’s defense thereof—is integral to a free society.
The world is a chaotic place, but certainly less Hobbesian than it used to be because the proponents of American and Western civilization have sought to implement, however imperfectly, a foreign policy based on these ideals. American leadership needs to restore our domestic and foreign policy to align with these principles. We, the people, must demand they lead a revival of our commitment as a people to the ageless vision of our Founding Fathers—and we, the people, must likewise dedicate ourselves to work for a restoration of those principles.
CB: In recent decades, we’ve drifted so far from that ideal that the U.S. government is not even capable of naming our enemies or their motivations, let alone sufficiently protecting Americans from them. Who are our main enemies today? Who attacked us on 9/11? And what motivates them?
CL: An Islamic jihadist alliance of al-Qaeda, Iran, and Hezbollah attacked us on 9/11. See the recent decision of Judge George Daniels in the Southern District Court in New York City for details in the legal case against Iran filed by widows and other family members of 9/11 victims. And see the affidavit about it that I wrote with my colleague and friend Bruce Tefft. In his ruling, Judge Daniels found that the Iranian regime provided direct and material support to al-Qaeda without which the attacks of 9/11 could not have taken place.
These attackers were and remain motivated by Islam. So are those who fund them, including wealthy sheikhs, members of royal families, and those who faithfully pay their annual zakat tax across the Muslim world. The doctrine, laws, and scriptures of Islam command all Muslims, everywhere, and in all times, to fight jihad to spread Islam. Those Muslim clerics who educated and indoctrinated 9/11 hijackers are the true believers, the most devout practitioners of Islam, and they ensured that those hijackers would be, too. They will not stop—nor will their allies in such pre-violent Islamic jihadist movements as the Muslim Brotherhood—until all the world is for Allah, or they are convincingly defeated.
CB: In addition to the New York court’s finding that the Iranian regime provided material support to al-Qaeda for the attack on 9/11, a federal court recently found that “the government of Iran aided, abetted and conspired with Hezbollah, Osama Bin Laden, and al-Qaeda to launch large-scale bombing attacks against the United States,” and that the Iranian regime was responsible specifically for the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The regime has also repeatedly been found smuggling weapons to other terrorist groups, such as Hezbollah and Hamas, that seek to kill Americans and Israelis; training the Taliban and other enemies of America; and sending operatives and weapons to kill American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. America has known about Iran’s involvement in similar assaults for decades. Every year since 1984, the State Department has acknowledged that Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism. For the past few years, it has even acknowledged that Iran is “the most active state sponsor of terrorism.” Yet, we have not eliminated the regime, nor declared war on it, nor even named it as our enemy. Why?
CL: It is difficult to know why six successive U.S. presidential administrations have treated the mullahs’ regime in Iran with kid gloves, as though afraid of it. Despite the Iranian regime’s repeated seizure of American hostages, its empowerment of terror allies and proxies, its twenty-five-year drive for deliverable nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, its genocidal threats against friends and partners such as Israel, and its alliances with some of the worst regimes in the world, in the final analysis this is a fragile regime that knows its days are numbered and that it will eventually meet its end at the hands of its own people.
It is long since past time that the American people know the truth about what this regime and its terror proxies have done to us, in the homeland on 9/11 and elsewhere, including Khobar Towers, our East Africa embassies, in Yemen when the USS Cole was attacked, and more recently in Afghanistan and Iraq where Iranian-backed terror militias equipped with Iranian-manufactured explosives and other weaponry have killed and injured hundreds of American troops. If our national security leaders will not hold these jihadis accountable, then the courts, the American people, and our elected representatives will have to do it for them.
CB: What in your view is the most pressing danger posed by the Iranian regime today?
CL: Clearly, the most critical threat from this Iranian regime is the imminent likelihood that it will acquire deliverable nuclear weapons. Given the millennialist Twelver Shi’ite ideology publicly professed by the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, as well as by the fanatically-dedicated Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps commander, Mohammad Ali Jafari, and Qods Force commander Qassem Suleimani, the world has no choice but to take them at their word when they threaten Armageddon in the name of their deity. This Khomeinist leadership fulfills Iran’s own constitution, which commits the regime to the spread of the revolution to the entire world and the IRGC as a “religious army” to “strike terror into the hearts of the enemy.” When a set of national leaders who profess such jihadist beliefs is openly closing in on acquisition of the bomb, it is suicidal not to take them seriously.
CB: What can and should the United States do about this?
CL: The U.S. government, led by our president, should openly declare our support for the democratic aspirations of the Iranian people. We should state clearly that we consider the current regime in Tehran illegitimate, not because we say so, but because the Iranian people say so.
Next, we should formulate and implement a concrete program of tangible support for the democratic Iranian opposition, whomever they may be. Specifically, we should establish covert, discreet ties with the Greens Movement, the Mujahedeen-e Khalq, the various ethnic opposition groups (among them Azeri and Kurdish), and devise means of aiding labor groups, students, and women. Secure communications and broadcast assistance, in addition to democracy training (like we gave the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt) are among the categories of possible support the U.S. government could provide.
It is important that the U.S. government not decide for the Iranian people who should lead them after this regime is swept into the dustbin of history. This means not playing favorites: The Department of State must immediately remove the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MeK) from the official U.S. Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO) list and take emergency measures to ensure the safety of the 3,400 or so unarmed MeK civilians trapped at Ashraf City in northern Iraq, whom the U.S. government pledged under the Fourth Geneva Convention to protect. Currently, with the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, those people face imminent slaughter unless something is done very quickly. A recent UN-brokered agreement may offer a solution: Ashraf residents are to be moved to Camp Liberty near Baghdad, which was recently vacated by departing U.S. troops. They are to be monitored under UN protection until resettlement elsewhere can be arranged—a resettlement that would be vastly simplified were the U.S. government to adhere to the U.S. law that governs the Foreign Terrorist Organizations list. To date, the MeK remain on that list, in contravention of U.S. law, apparently for political purposes that serve to maintain the mullahs’ regime in power in Tehran.
CB: You say that we should state that the current Iranian regime is illegitimate not because we say so, but because the Iranian people say so. But don’t we have a right to declare the regime illegitimate and to end it solely on the grounds that it has attacked and threatens to attack Americans and our interests?
CL: If we consider the legitimacy of governments to rest first and foremost on consent of the governed, as our own system does, then it follows that a government loses its legitimacy when it rules by force and terror, not by law, and in opposition to the wishes of its people. Then there are international standards of a state’s legitimacy, which include things such as an agreed and defined territory under government control, a defined population that lives within defined borders, a functioning central authority, international recognition, and some level of conformity to international standards of behavior.
A state such as Iran that attacks American citizens and sovereign territory and threatens our national security interests becomes a self-declared enemy, which, under historical and international legal norms, may be counterattacked in self-defense. Belligerent behavior alone does not make Iran’s government illegitimate, but domestic illegitimacy compounded by the flouting of international norms—for example, developing weapons of mass destruction, threatening a fellow nation-state with genocide, providing direct and material support to terrorist organizations, waging jihad—certainly add up to an illegitimate status that is incompatible with recognition as a responsible member of the international community.
CB: The State Department says that the MeK is on the list of terrorist organizations because the organization “was responsible for the assassination of several U.S. military personnel and civilians in the 1970s” and because it maintains “the capacity and will to commit terrorist acts in Europe, the Middle East, the United States, Canada, and beyond.” What do you make of these claims?
CL: These claims are completely false but have been skillfully promoted by the Iranian intelligence service whose sophisticated influence operations have penetrated deeply into U.S. policymaking circles. The MeK initially was placed on the newly created Foreign Terrorist Organizations list by the Clinton administration in 1997, at the direct request of the incoming Khatami administration in Iran. This was a time when the United States once again was duped by Iranian influence operations into pursuing a policy of appeasement and negotiations with the Tehran regime—which promptly accelerated its nuclear weapons program, slaughtered intellectual dissidents, and crushed a student uprising. The Khatami administration’s revelation of which opposition group it feared the most should have provided insight and direction to U.S. policy vis-à-vis Iran, but under the influence of Iranian intelligence operatives U.S. leadership was incapable of drawing the appropriate conclusions.
The assassinations of U.S. defense contractors and military personnel in the 1970s were conducted while the entire top leadership and most of the rank and file of the MeK were actually in the shah’s jails, making their participation a physical impossibility. MeK operations have always been directed at Iranian regimes that they saw as nondemocratic: first the shah’s autocratic monarchy; and, later, the Khomeinist dictatorship. In any case, the last offensive operation the MeK conducted against the Tehran regime was in 2001, more than a decade ago. The group relinquished its weapons to invading American forces in 2003 after its several camps in Iraq were bombed, unprovoked and without a single shot fired in self-defense, by coalition planes in fulfillment of a U.S. government pledge to the Iranian regime to do so in return for a promise from Tehran of noninterference in Iraq. A sixteen-month investigation by U.S. diplomatic and intelligence agencies followed, in which every one of the approximately 3,400 MeK members was personally investigated, DNA-tested, and found innocent of any crime or terrorist activity. Each person then signed a statement renouncing the use of violence. In 2004, the U.S. government therefore pledged protection to these now unarmed civilians under the Fourth Geneva Convention.
And, finally, the declared platform of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), the umbrella opposition group to which the MeK belongs, asserts its commitment to establishment of a secular, free-market government in Iran that eschews terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, and stands for defense of minorities, gender equality, pluralism, and tolerance.
CB: Turning to the continually worsening political situation in Egypt: What is the likely outcome of the democratic process underway there? And what kind of threat does it pose to U.S. interests?
CL: Although fellow members of his military regime removed Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak from office in February 2011, the final form of whatever new government is to come next is not yet completely clear. The first two rounds of parliamentary elections, held in December, indicate a strong showing for the Muslim Brotherhood and Salfist parties, both of which seek to enforce Islamic law (sharia), demonstrate an implacable hatred of Jews, intend to abrogate the peace treaty with Israel, and are openly hostile to genuine democracy and to the United States and the West in general. Muslim Brotherhood leadership figures such as its spiritual leader, Yousef al-Qaradawi, and Secretary General Muhammad Badi demand a prominent role in the writing of Egypt’s new constitution, as do the equally jihadist Salafis. Their candid commitment to strict implementation of sharia, including the savage hudud punishments, relegation of women to a rigidly unequal status vis-à-vis men, and insistence on Islamic supremacy throughout society, does not bode well, either for the Egyptian people or their future relationship with the United States. Even worse, an unconcealed intent to return to implementation of the Pact of Umar regarding treatment of Egyptian Coptic Christians as subjugated dhimmis may presage a bloodbath in months to come.
In particular, if the new Egyptian government, under control of jihadist Muslim Brothers and Salafis, pursues alliances with neo-Ottoman Turks, the renegade Hamas regime in Gaza, or the Iranian mullahs, and follows through on threats to revert to hostility against Israel or manipulate operation of the Suez Canal in ways that threaten international shipping, U.S. national interests obviously will be directly affected. In such cases, it will be imperative that the U.S. government take a strong stand in defense of our partner Israel and enforce free peaceful passage on the high seas, through the Suez Canal, and in Mediterranean waters.
More generally, if an openly jihadist government comes to power in Egypt, the cause of genuine democracy across the Middle East will have taken a hard blow. All who struggle throughout the region for governments that are truly representative, tolerant, and protective of all their peoples’ basic human rights will be endangered, and without a champion in Washington, D.C., may not survive.
CB: You mention “democracy” favorably here, but I’ve seen you say in writing elsewhere that a democratic process alone—mere voting for leadership or a form of government—is insufficient, and that what the Middle Eastern countries need to become are rights-respecting republics. Would you elaborate on that point? What is the significance of voting in the Muslim world? And what beyond voting is needed for the establishment of civilized societies?
CL: This is an important concept, Craig. There is a fundamental difference between what I am calling “genuine democracy” and mere demos, which is nothing more than mob rule, perhaps given a veneer of respectability via the mechanism of elections. By “genuine democracy” I mean something actually more akin to the concept of res publica (or a republic), which is the American system and champions the will of the people, but always tempers what can be capricious, domineering, and emotional in the popular expression with “the public thing,” which is the law: man-made law. A genuinely democratic system rests on the building blocks of civil society and includes rule of man-made law, pluralism, tolerance, equality and protection of minorities, gender equality, free press, independent judiciary, and, generally, a government that governs by consent of the governed who enjoy regular legal recourse to change that government in an orderly way if not satisfied with its performance.
American leaders must revise their vocabulary to encompass an understanding that the forces now taking power across the Middle East are not only Islamic by doctrine but are supported by the vast majority of Muslim people who live there. Most of these people have no experience with civil society or genuine democracy. This means that, given an overly hasty move to elections, these communities, which include Muslims and non-Muslims, secular and religious voters alike, are likely to fall under the decidedly undemocratic rule of Islamic law merely because the demos, or the majority in places such as Egypt, Gaza, Libya, and Tunisia have been allowed the domination of mob rule before maturing into a modern, civilized electorate. The natural result will be what happens whenever and wherever populations unused to the institutional checks and balances that a man-made legal system imposes on human impulses are given free rein to indulge ideological zealotry: oppression, pogroms, and massacres of ethnic and religious minorities; the suppression of free speech and expression; return of women to chattel status; and a general trampling of basic human rights, in addition to possibly destabilizing behavior (such as support for jihad) in the region and internationally.
In short, this means that naïve blanket support for quick elections must be moderated with the understanding that pure demos without our American-style res publica will never deliver either peace or prosperity until the building blocks of civil society can be set in firm foundations.
Unfortunately, the United States has failed over a period of many decades to extend meaningful support to the voices of democracy in the Muslim world, and especially in the Muslim Middle East. Perhaps under the influence of misguided policies such as “multiculturalism,” “moral relativism,” or even Edward Said’s pernicious definition of “Orientalism,” we Westerners, and especially Americans, who are the recipients and guardians of the Age of Enlightenment, have utterly failed to share our values of equality, freedom, individualism, pluralism, rationalism, and tolerance with the Muslim world. This cannot happen by force of arms alone; we must invest a great deal of direct, personal involvement, as well as financial and other tangible assistance over a period of many decades, if we expect concepts as alien as these are to doctrinal Islam to take root and flourish in the Muslim Middle East.
In part, this failure reflects a fundamental lack of understanding of Islam, Islamic law, and scriptures. Without a serious study of Islamic doctrine as written by the Islamic scholars and for a Muslim audience, it is all too easy to “mirror image” our Muslim counterparts. Facile assumptions that Muslims are just like us, that all they are waiting for is someone to describe democracy and a free society to them, are suicidally naïve and completely misinformed. Only a careful reading of the Islamic doctrine of aggressive supremacism and mandated jihad will permit the implementation of an appropriate foreign policy toward the member countries of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (the fifty-seven-member head-of-state group of Muslim countries that describes itself as the ummah).
Oppressed ethnic and religious minorities across the Muslim Middle East have cried out for understanding and help. Courageous individuals, both men and women, from within Muslim societies also have spoken up in defense of democratic ideals. But they cannot succeed alone in oppressive, sharia-dominated societies. They need a champion in the White House, Congress, and the American people. They need to know they are not fighting and dying alone, uselessly. As we know from the survivors of the Soviet communist gulag, even a mere word of support from the United States of America that reaches them in the hell of their jail cells gives them the courage to fight on.
If America is to remain the shining city on a hill, an exceptional nation, and a beacon of hope to oppressed Baha’is, Christians, Jews, students, women, workers, and others now brutally victimized across the Muslim world, our national leadership must hear their pleas for help and begin to work seriously to help Muslims establish the building blocks of civil society.
CB: Turning to Iran’s connections in Central and South America: What significant relationships are there between the Iranian regime, Chavez’s regime in Venezuela, and other governments in Latin America? And what dangers do these relationships pose to U.S. interests?
CL: The Iranian regime, especially under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has established a close official relationship with the Hugo Chavez regime in Venezuela. Although this one is the most troubling, Tehran also continues to seek footholds in other Latin American countries, including Bolivia, Ecuador, and Nicaragua.
The Iranian-Venezuelan connection is especially problematic because of Venezuela’s Western Hemisphere proximity to the United States and because of the venomous hostility of Hugo Chavez to the United States. Over the years since Chavez first came to power in 1999, Iran and Venezuela have signed numerous defense and military agreements permitting Iran to use Venezuela as an advance outpost for its intelligence and military operations against the United States. Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Qods Force, and Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) operatives work out of Iranian diplomatic facilities to expand their network of narcotrafficking, organized crime, and terror connections across the Americas. Hezbollah in particular has developed a complex and far-flung network of cells that stretches from the Tri-Border Area of South America, north to terror camps in Venezuela and along the border with Colombia, and on up through Central America, Mexico, the United States, and Canada. Hezbollah’s working relationships with Mexican narcotrafficking cartels pose a dangerous and growing threat to all of North America.
The late-2011 revelation of an Iranian-instigated plot, allegedly undertaken in coordination with Venezuelan diplomats—and involving a cyber plot negotiated with Mexican hackers to break into White House, Pentagon, and FBI databases as well as U.S. nuclear facilities—underscores the deadly intent of this alliance. Other credible reports about IRGC construction of an Iranian missile base in northern Venezuela can only lend additional urgency to the need for vigilance in our own backyard.
CB: What general strategy would you advise the United States to adopt with respect to the Islamist threat against America and the West?
CL: The United States must meet, engage, and end this threat first, by naming the name of the enemy. We are fighting to stay free of Islamic law. We fight all those who support sharia and seek to overthrow the Constitution of the United States. This means that we recognize and name the enemy not only as those who fight a violent jihad, with kinetic means, such as Iran, al-Qaeda, and Hezbollah, but also those who operate by stealth to achieve the same objectives: reinstatement of the caliphate and imposition of sharia globally.
The Muslim Brotherhood should be named a hostile “foreign power,” along with all of its many thousands of affiliates and front groups currently operating in the United States whose goals are recognized as inimical to the U.S. Constitution. Indeed, any in the United States who preach, support, or promote elements of sharia that are in contravention of the Constitution—as the Muslim Brotherhood does—should not be immune from possible deportation or prosecution for sedition or misprision of sedition and treason (depending on citizenship status). The First Amendment protects practices of devotional religion, such as prayers, worship, diet/fasting, pilgrimage, and proselytizing. Article VI of the Constitution is quite clear, however, that the Constitution shall be the supreme law of the land. Any practice of sharia Islam that contravenes U.S. law does not enjoy First Amendment protection and instead falls under the definition of alien legal, military, political, or social practice.
The U.S. government must be purged of all Muslim Brothers, their affiliates, and supporters. U.S. national strategic policy needs to be rewritten to reflect the recognition that sharia Islam, both violent and pre-violent, is antithetical and hostile to the U.S. Constitution and will not be permitted to make inroads into American society.
CB: What do you think is the best we can aim (or hope) for in terms of an administration following the 2012 elections—not just the president, but also the secretary of state and key directors and advisers?
CL: The best outcome of the 2012 elections would be a new national leadership that understands the realities of this world we live in, with all of its challenges. The new president would appoint cabinet directors and other advisers who are knowledgeable, first of all, about this country’s own foundational principles and committed to their restoration to a position of prominence in U.S. domestic and foreign policy. Those administration members would be knowledgeable about Islam and sharia, the threat that the Muslim Brotherhood poses to U.S. national security, and the Iranian regime’s long history of enmity to America. In terms of foreign policy, the new administration would revive America’s preeminent role as defender of genuine democracy and freedom in the world, restore America’s traditional friendships, and put all those hostile to the United States and our allies on notice that America is back and will stand with our friends and prove an implacable foe to those who declare enmity to us or our allies.
CB: Where can people read your work and keep up with your thoughts on these issues?
CL: As a senior fellow with the Center for Security Policy, I am a coauthor of the Team B II Report, Shariah: The Threat to America, which can be found at ShariahTheThreat.org, as well as at Amazon.com. I also publish often at Andrew Breitbart’s website Big Peace. As a senior fellow with the Clarion Fund, I write regularly for its website, RadicalIslam.org, where it is also possible to sign up to receive the Clarion Fund’s bimonthly newsletter, for which I also write. In addition, most of my published pieces eventually make their way to Pundicity.com, where those interested can sign up to receive an automatic e-mailing of those articles.
CB: Thank you for your time and valuable insights, Clare. Would that the next president had the intelligence and courage to nominate you for secretary of state.
CL: You’re welcome, Craig. I really appreciate the opportunity to respond to such key questions that raise issues so critical to U.S. national security.