This past summer, an op-ed appeared in the Washington Post under the byline of Richard Perle, the influential former Pentagon adviser who was a chief booster of Ahmed Chalabi in the run-up to the war in Iraq. As he had prior to the invasion of Iraq, Perle urged the Bush administration to shun appeasement and take an uncompromising stand toward Tehran; as with Iraq, he argued that a hard line was critical to help the population overthrow a brutal regime. And once again, Perle had an exile leader he wanted America to know about: Amir Abbas Fakhravar, "an Iranian dissident student leader who escaped first from Tehran's notorious Evin prison, then, after months in hiding, from Iran."
But Fakhravar may be a false messiah. In interviews with more than a dozen Iranian opposition figures, some of them former political prisoners, a different picture emerged—one of an opportunist being pushed to the fore by Iran hawks, a reputed jailhouse snitch who was locked up for nonpolitical offenses but reinvented himself as a student activist and political prisoner once behind bars. Fakhravar and his supporters vehemently deny such allegations, saying that the attacks are motivated by petty jealousy and a vendetta by Fakhravar's enemies on the Iranian left.
For those like Perle who want the United States to eschew diplomacy in favor of backing regime change, Fakhravar is an essential link in the argument for confrontation with Iran. Rather than reminding Americans of Chalabi, who is now known to have orchestrated much of the Bush administration's bad wmd intelligence, they'd like to summon memories of the 1980s, when Ronald Reagan sought to embolden and unify dissidents in the Soviet Union. But by choosing Fakhravar, they may have inadvertently accomplished the opposite, exposing the ruptures in the pro-democracy movement and throwing into question the notion that America's problems with Tehran will be solved by a saffron revolution.
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