Color Revolution Counterpunch

The arrest by Iranian authorities of U.S.-Iranian scholar Haleh Esfandiari should come as no shock. She is almost certainly guilty of working to foment a color revolution, and governments, especially revolutionary ones, never stand for attempts to reverse their revolutions or to make fundamental changes in the class which wields state power. Whether her arrest was legitimate depends on which rights one believes to be senior: the rights of public advocacy and freedom to organize politically or the rights of self-determination and freedom from foreign domination.

By Stephen Gowans

Few people had heard of Haleh Esfandiari until she was jailed by skittish Iranian authorities who feared she was involved in a U.S. plot to engineer a color revolution in Iran.

The director of the Middle East program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Esfandiari had been visiting her mother when she was detained by Iranian authorities in May. She was accused of co-opting Iranians into a U.S.-sponsored regime change program, offering them research grants and scholarships, paying their way to conferences and linking them up with “decision making centers in America.” (1)

This wasn’t the first regime change-related arrest. Last summer, Iranian authorities arrested Ramin Jahanbegloo, a scholar with dual Canadian-Iranian citizenship (*). The Ministry of Intelligence said the arrest was made in connection with U.S. efforts “to start a soft revolution in Iran.” (2)

Parnaz Azima, a reporter who works for Radio Farda, a Persian language radio station financed by the U.S. government has also been arrested, as has Kian Tajbakhsh, a consultant with billionaire speculator George Soros’ Open Society Institute. OSI has been instrumental in providing funding for color revolutions in Serbia, Georgia and Ukraine.

While there has been “a spate of recent crackdowns against Iranian activists” reflecting a “concern by the government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that the United States is using democracy advocates to promote regime change,” (3) Esfandiari’s case has received the most attention.

Left scholars, like Noam Chomsky and Juan Cole, have condemned Esfandiari’s arrest, and others have suggested that the Ahmadinejad government is cracking down on legitimate dissent.

But how legitimate, and how independent, are the so-called democracy advocates, Tehran has jailed?

Esfandiari is the director of the U.S. government-established Woodrow Wilson Center’s Middle East Program. The Center is hardly a neutral body, independent of either the U.S. government or its foreign policy goals. Partly funded by the OSI, the Middle East Program was launched in February 1998 to assess “American interests in the region” and “strategic threats to and from the regional states.” It’s no secret that the U.S. considers Iran to be a strategic threat and considers its interests are best served by regime change in Iran.

Esfandiari’s program, according to the Center’s website, “devotes considerable attention to the analysis of internal domestic and social developments in Iran” including “the aspiration of the younger generation for reform and expansion of individual liberties” as well as the development of “civil society.” (4)

Is it any wonder Iranian authorities regard Esfandiari as a threat? She’s an Iranian living in the U.S., works for a U.S. government-established body, and directs a program whose mandate relates to American interests in the region. The program receives funding from the OSI, which has been instrumental in regime change operations in countries that had remained stubbornly outside the U.S. imperial orbit.

By itself, this is damning, but in the broader context of U.S. policy, it’s difficult to dismiss Tehran’s accusations as either paranoid or contrived.

Bankrolling a counter-revolution

In May of 2005, R. Nicholas Burns, U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairs said the U.S. was ready to hike funding to groups within Iran seeking regime change. The United States had already spent $1.5 million in 2004 and $3 million in 2005 on exile groups with contacts inside Iran. (5)

Burns equated the ramped up spending to “taking a page from the playbook” on Ukraine and Georgia, where, as the New York Times explained,” in those countries the United States gave money to the opposition and pro-democracy groups, some of which later supported the peaceful overthrow of the governments in power.” (6)

But it would take longer to spark a color revolution in Iran, Burns warned. “We don’t have a platform to do it. The country isn’t free enough to do it. It’s a much more oppressive environment than Ukraine was…during the Orange Revolution” where the U.S. was able to take advantage of the country’s openness to meddle in its internal affairs. (7)

On February 15, 2005 U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice proposed to add $75 million to the $10 million already earmarked for U.S. government programs to “support networks for Iranian reformers, political dissidents and human rights activists.” Two-thirds of the additional funding was to be used to “increase television broadcasting to 24 hours a day all week in Farsi into Iran.” (8)

It’s unlikely that Esfandiari, working for the U.S. government through the Woodrow Wilson Center, and on a program that emphasized U.S. interests in Iran, wasn’t part of the stepped up efforts to oust the Ahmadinejad government.

Mercenaries of non-violent struggle

Equally unlikely is that the Iranian Center for Applied Non-Violence was passed over for Uncle Sam’s regime change largesse. The Center invites Iranians to workshops to teach them how peaceful revolts in Georgia, the Philippines and elsewhere were set off. Training sessions are held “every month or so, hoping to foment a non-violent conflict in Iran.” The Washington-based International Center on Non-Violent Conflict helps organize the sessions. (10)

The U.S. Center is interesting. It appears to be a grassroots organization – the kind of group that appeals to Z Magazine-reading activists in the West — but has strong connections to Wall Street and the U.S. foreign policy establishment.

The Center’s founding chair is New York investment banker Peter Ackerman, who is also a member of the board of the Council on Foreign Relations, an organization dominated by directors of major U.S. corporations, corporate lawyers and CEOs. The CFR formulates foreign policy for the U.S. State Department. Its key members circulate between the council, corporate board appointments and State Department positions.

Ackerman is also chairman of the board of Freedom House, an organization that champions the rights of journalists, union leaders and democracy activists to organize openly to bring down governments whose economic policies are insufficiently friendly to U.S. trade and investment. Funded by the OSI, USAID, the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Congress’s National Endowment for Democracy, Freedom House features a rogues’ gallery of U.S. ruling class activists that have sat, or currently sit, on its board of directors: Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Otto Reich, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Zbigniew Brzezinski and Steve Forbes, among others. The only freedom these people are interested in is the freedom of U.S. corporations and investors to accumulate capital wherever and whenever they please.

Ackerman’s Center has been heavily involved in successful and ongoing regime change operations, including in Yugoslavia, which Ackerman celebrated in a PBS-TV documentary, Bringing Down a Dictator, about the ouster of Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic. If Ackerman, who studied under U.S. non-violence guru Gene Sharp, is truly committed to the peaceful way, he’s done a terrible job of transmitting a commitment to non-violent change to his children. Ackerman has two sons, one of whom is a U.S. Marine Corps officer, who earned a silver star for service in Iraq, using bombs and bullets to change Iraq’s regime.

The Center’s vice-chair is Berel Rodal, formerly a senior Canadian government official in foreign affairs, international trade, defense, security and intelligence (hardly the background of a budding Ghandi.)

Another Center associate is Robert Helvey, whose book “On Strategic Non-Violent Conflict: Thinking about the Fundamental”, is promoted on the Center’s website. Anyone who does a little digging into Helvey’s background will soon discover that strategic non-violent conflict means enlisting grassroots activists to bring down socialist or economically nationalist governments in order to privatize their socially-owned assets for the benefit of U.S. corporations and investors.

Helvey is a retired U.S. Army colonel and former U.S. military attaché to Burma (like Rodal’s, an improbable background for a budding Ghandi) who was brought to Caracas in 2003 “by a group of businessmen and professionals to give courses to young activists on how to ‘resist, oppose, and change a government without the use of bombs and bullets.’” (10) Helvey’s dalliances with the anti-Chavez opposition came fast on the heels of “his work in Serbia before Milosevic’s fall” where he “briefed students on ways to organize a strike and how to undermine the authority of a dictatorial regime.” (11)

What comes after a color revolution?

So, what has happened to Serbia, now that the non-violence loving, dictator-hating Ackerman and Helvey have completed their missions and moved on to plotting the overthrow of other foreign leaders, like Hugo Chavez, Robert Mugabe and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?

“In Serbia dollars have accomplished what bombs could not. After U.S.-led international sanctions were lifted with Milosevic’s ouster in 2000, the United States emerged as the largest single source of foreign direct investment. According to the U.S. embassy in Belgrade, U.S. companies have made $1 billion worth of ‘committed investments’ represented in no small part by the $580 million privatization of Nis Tobacco Factory (Phillip Morris) and a $250 million buyout of the national steel producer by U.S. Steel. Coca-Cola bought a Serbian bottled water producer in 2005 for $21 million. The list goes on.” (12)

Meanwhile, in the Serb province of Kosovo, the “coal mines and electrical facilities, the postal service, the Pristina airport, the railways, landfills, and waste management systems have all been privatized. As is the case across the Balkans, ‘publicly-owned enterprises’ are auctioned for a fraction of their value on the private market with little or no compensation for taxpayers.” (13)

It should be recalled that prior to the U.S. corporate takeover, the Yugoslav economy consisted largely of state- and socially-owned enterprises, leaving little room for U.S. profit-making opportunities, not the kind of place investment bankers like Ackerman, or speculators like Soros, are keen on. That the toppling of Milosevic had everything to do with opening space for U.S. investors and corporations should have been apparent to anyone who read chapter four of the U.S.-authored Rambouillet ultimatum, an ultimatum Milosevic rejected, triggering weeks of NATO bombing. The first article called for a free-market economy and the second for privatization of all government-owned assets. NATO bombs seemed to have had an unerring ability to hit Yugoslavia’s socially-owned factories and to miss foreign-owned ones. This was an economic take-over project.

Helvey hasn’t limited himself to training activists to overthrow governments in Venezuela and Serbia. Wherever Washington seeks to oust governments that pursue economically nationalist or socialist policies, you’ll find Helvey holding seminars on non-violent direct action: in Belarus, in Zimbabwe, in Iraq (before the U.S. invasion) and in Iran. “Helvey conducted a week-long course on nonviolent struggle for a group of Iranians in March 2003. The participants were young professionals in exile in the United States and Canada who would be used as spokespeople for various Iranian democracy groups.” (14)

A mercenary of non-violent direct action, Helvey would be a much more sympathetic figure were he also organizing seminars on how to use non-violent direct action to overthrow the U.S., British and other war-mongering Western governments, but somehow his list of targets always seems to line up with the governments Washington wants to overthrow. Helvey and Ackerman aren’t really committed to non-violence as a way of life, but only to non-violent struggle as one of a number of tools to be used (along with air strikes, ground invasion, saber-rattling and economic warfare) to achieve U.S. foreign policy objectives – objectives which have nothing to with the stated goals of promoting human rights and democracy and everything to do with putting U.S. capital in the driver’s seat.

Advancing U.S. corporate interests

Iran, as is true of other countries Washington has targeted for regime change, is economically nationalist, and it is this, and less so concerns about Iran’s nuclear program, that lies the heart of U.S. efforts to bring down the Ahmadinejad government. “’Regime change’ did not begin with the administration of George W. Bush,” New York Times journalist Stephen Kinzer points out in his book Overthrow, “but has been an integral part of American foreign policy for more than one hundred years…starting with the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy in 1883” (15) and yes, including the overthrow of Iran’s economically nationalist president Mohammad Mossadegh in 1953. Mossadegh had nationalized British-owned oil companies. The U.S. engineered his overthrow and then handed the once British-owned and now nationalized oil industry over to U.S. companies.

In his survey of Washington’s addiction to regime change, Kinzer couldn’t help but trip over the centrality of the profit-making interests of U.S. capital in decisions to overthrow foreign governments. American corporations, Kinzer explains, are so powerful that they find “it relatively easy to call upon the military or the Central intelligence Agency to defend their privileges” in other countries. Of course, no one ever says regime change is about profits. Who’s going to rally around fattening ExxonMobil’s, Lockheed-Martin’s, GM’s, General Electric’s and Bechtel’s bottom lines? Regime change is always said to be about something larger: democracy, human rights, freedom, checking the spread of nuclear weapons and combating terrorism.

From the perspective of U.S. corporations and investment banks the problem with Iran is the same as the problem with Yugoslavia under Milosevic and Belarus today. There are too many publicly-owned enterprises, which means not enough room for U.S. investors and corporations to sell their goods and services and to profitably invest their capital. “Today,” observes the New York Times, “Iran’s economy … is almost entirely in the hands of the government.” (16) The country has its own automobile industry, and has secured deals with Venezuela and Syria to produce cars in those countries. Virtually all of the country’s drugs are produced domestically. (17) And, of course, there’s oil. “Iran’s petroleum reserves are the second largest of any OPEC country.” Only “Russia has more natural gas.” (18)

Ahmadinejad represents the economically nationalist wing of the Iranian ruling class, which “advocates state control of the economy, subsidies, continuation of uranium enrichment and the standoff with the U.S.” (19) “His call for justice – primarily economic justice…resonate(s) with a population angered by a perception that it had been denied the benefit of oil wealth.” (20) Iran will spend $25 billion this year to hold down the price of flour, rice, even gasoline. Ali Hashemi Rafsanjani, who lost the last presidential election to Ahmadinejad, represents the neo-liberal faction and favors “privatization, negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program and overtures to the U.S.” (21)

While Tehran’s support for the Palestinian nationalist struggle and the country’s nuclear program may irritate Washington’s policy makers, it’s unclear that these irritants figure prominently in Washington’s regime change policy. Soon after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Iran approached Washington with a proposal for a broad dialogue, to include “full cooperation on nuclear programs, acceptance of Israel and the termination of Iranian support for Palestinian groups.” (22) In other words, Iran would act to resolve all the irritants Washington said were at the heart of its dispute with Iran.

Richard Hass, then head of policy planning at the U.S. State Department and now president of the Council on Foreign Relations, said Washington rejected the proposal because the administration wanted the regime changed. And the administration believed “the Iranian government was on the verge of collapse.” (23) If Ahmadinejad’s government fell, or was toppled from within thanks to U.S.-funded regime change efforts, the neo-liberal, pro-West Rafsanjani would likely be the successor.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, pro-capitalist ideologue Francis Fukuyama asked, “What is it that leaders like Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah and Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez have in common that vastly increase their local appeal?” His answer: “Their ability to promise, and to a certain extent deliver on social policy – things like education, health and other social services, particularly for the poor.” Fukuyama lamented that “The U.S. and the political groups that it tends to support around the world…have relatively little to offer in this regard.” (24)

The Brzezinski warning

Earlier this year, former Carter National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski speculated on how Washington might engineer a “plausible scenario for military collision with Iran.” He warned that U.S. military action against Iran could follow “Iraqi failure to meet the benchmark followed by accusations of Iranian responsibility for the failure, then by some provocation in Iraq or a terrorist act in the U.S. blamed on Iran.” (25)

In late May, Brzezinski’s prediction seemed to be coming true. U.S. officials began to accuse Iran of forging an alliance with al Qaeda, Sunni insurgents, and Syria, with the goal of undermining achievement of the benchmarks in Iraq. In addition, the U.S. claimed to have “proof that Iran had reversed its previous policy in Afghanistan and is now supporting and supplying the Taliban’s campaign against U.S., British and other NATO forces.” (26)

Bush has repeatedly warned that while the United States is prepared to explore non-military means of forcing Iran to relinquish its right under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to enrich uranium, “all options are on the table.”

The Democrats are equally bellicose. “Top Democrats in the House and Senate issued a report” in July 2005 calling for the United States to use “military pressure, including ‘the possibility of repeated and unwarned strikes’” against Iran. (27)

Earlier this year, the U.S. and Britain started to beef up their joint armada of warships and strike aircraft in the Persian Gulf region “in a show of military resolve toward Iran.” (28)

The American Enterprise Institute, a principal fixture of the U.S. ruling class policy formulation network, has been “urging Mr. Bush to open a new front against Iran.” (29) The think tank, whose mandate is to promote free enterprise, counts Coors, Microsoft and ExxonMobil among its major funders. Bush’s decision to send more troops to Iraq originated in a recommendation from the AEI. (30)

Economic warfare

“More than 40 major international banks and financial institutions have either cut off or cut back business with the Iranian public or private sector as a result of a quiet campaign launched by the Treasury and State Departments.” (31)

The campaign began last September, when the U.S. treasury secretary Henry Paulson announced plans to isolate Iran financially, by prohibiting U.S. banks from dealing with Iran. (32) Paulson also strongly suggested that foreign banks follow suit, listing more than 30 Iranian companies and government enterprises banks should steer clear of. Afraid of jeopardizing their access to the U.S. banking system, several European banks, including Credit Suisse and UBS in Switzerland, HSBC in Britain and ABN Amro in the Netherlands announced that they had scaled back their dealings with Iranian banks and enterprises. (33)

Pressure was also brought to bear “on major U.S. pension funds to stop investment in about 70 companies that trade directly with Iran and international banks that trade with the oil sector, cutting off the country’s access to hard currency. The aim is to isolate Tehran from world markets.” (34)

This is part of a “full-court press on foreign companies…to impress them that it would be a mistake to do anything with” Iran. (35)

The Iranian view

Former Iranian Interior Minister and deputy foreign minister Ali Muhammad Besharati told the New York Times last August that, “If we backed down on the nuclear issue, the U.S. would have found fault with our medical doctors researching stem cells. What they would like to see us do is plant corn, make tomato paste and bottle mineral water. They do not want to see us high-tech.” (36)

Support for this thinking comes from the Bush administration itself. Asked whether Iran “might at some point in the future be allowed to enrich uranium on its own soil” “after it has satisfied regulatory bodies that its nuclear ambitions are peaceful” a senior Bush administration official replied “when hell freezes over.” (37)

The Iranian leadership sees the conflict with the U.S. as “a fight for survival against a far more powerful enemy that has lumped them into an ‘axis of evil’ and allocated millions of dollars to oust the government.” The fight is “Tehran’s frontline effort to…never again allow Washington to have the upper hand in Iran.” (38)

Conflicting rights

It’s no secret that Washington is maneuvering to regain the upper hand in Iran it lost when the U.S.-backed Shah was overthrown in 1979. Washington has a tripartite game plan: threaten air strikes; pressure the world’s banking and investor community to ruin Iran’s economy through financial isolation; build up grassroots activists and exile groups to bring down the government. By these means, Washington hopes to put itself back in the driver’s seat, to reclaim Iran’s resources, labor and markets, and to plunder its publicly-owned assets, on behalf of the U.S. corporations and investors.

Short of capitulation, there’s little the Iranian leadership can do – either to stop the massing of U.S. and British warships and strike aircraft in the Persian Gulf or to stay the quiet campaign of financial isolation the U.S. Treasury Department is pursuing against Iranian banks and enterprises. But it can disrupt U.S. efforts to build a fifth column in the country. Arresting Esfandiari, and other members of the U.S. government and corporate funded complex of regime change groups, is part of that.

Were Iranian authorities justified in arresting Esfandiari? Those who place advocacy rights above other rights will say no. We can place Noam Chomsky and Juan Cole in this group. Neither man, for obvious reasons of self-interest, would like to see much legitimacy given to the idea that fierce opponents of established authority can be locked away for advocating non-violent opposition. This applies even if the critics are on the payroll of a hostile foreign government. On the other hand, those who place more value on the right of societies to be free from foreign domination and meddling will say yes, Tehran was justified.

There are no absolute rights, only conflicting rights whose valence depends on perceived interest. Advocacy rights are favored by corporate groups and the governments they dominate, because they have the money to exercise those rights – and reap the benefits of their exercise — more fully than anyone else does. The class that benefits most from freedom of the press is the class that can afford one.

Rights of economic independence are favored by those who have suffered from economic subordination to a metropolitan power. To them, the right to be free from foreign domination is senior to the right of others to advocate, and organize politically to achieve, the restoration of foreign domination.

What about the interests of ordinary people in the U.S., UK, Canada and other Western countries? Where do their interests lie?

Neutrality or alliance?

There are three views that I know of on this. One says interference in the affairs of other countries is illegitimate. It subverts democracy and the self-determination of other people. Those who hold this view are also likely to say that jailing those who are working to remove a government through peaceful means – even if they’re funded by outside governments and corporations – is also illegitimate. But what happens when these rights clash? Which is senior to the other?

Proponents of this view usually have no answer other than to say that the two rights are equally legitimate and neither cancels the other out. Governments, they contend, shouldn’t be meddling in the affairs of other countries, but equally, victimized governments shouldn’t be jailing the people on the ground whose meddling, however deplorable, amounts to nothing more than political organizing. This is the schoolyard monitor mentality. Johnny shouldn’t beat you up, but equally, you shouldn’t fight back to defend yourself. Like the neutral school authority who abhors the violence of self-defense as much as the violence of the aggressor, proponents of this view refuse to take sides.

Related in its neutrality, but not in the way the neutrality is arrived at, is the view of those who say they are partisans of the working class alone, and since the clash has no direct bearing on the working class per se, there is no need for them to take sides. Indeed, why should they side with capitalist governments, either that of the U.S. or Iran?

A third view says that the defense of the economic independence of countries from the predations of foreign capital is indeed a working class issue, even if the government under threat is not a working class government. The reasoning is that corporations and investors in metropolitan countries become stronger – or at least, avoid crises – as they increase their sphere of exploitation. In one view, this furnishes governments and employers with sufficient wealth to keep the working class in their own country docile with social welfare programs and comfortable living standards.

Alternatively, or additionally, outward expansion averts the otherwise inevitable economic crises in the metropolitan areas that would create momentum for revolutionary change. Since the working class and capitalist class are antagonistic, what strengthens one weakens the other. If Iran’s successfully defending itself from integration into the imperial orbit of the U.S. capitalist class checks growth in the strength of that class, or disorganizes it, the revolutionary possibilities for the working class are strengthened. Proponents of this view, then, are quick to side with governments that resist subordination to the profit-seeking interests of the corporations, banks and investors of their own country.


It’s probably true that Haleh Esfandiari was working to build a U.S. government and U.S. corporate-funded fifth column within Iran to bring down the Ahmadinejad government with a view to installing a pro-Western, neo-liberal government that would open Iran to U.S. exports and investments. Iran’s arresting Esfandiari, as well other mercenaries of public persuasion in the pay of the U.S. government and corporate-backed regime change organizations, is aimed at defending the country from subordination to U.S. corporate interests.

Whether the arrest is legitimate (assuming Esfandiari is guilty of what she is accused), cannot be asserted or denied as an absolute. It depends on which rights are senior – those related to public advocacy and freedom to organize politically or those related to self-determination and freedom from foreign domination. And which right is senior depends on where you’re situated within the global capitalist system.

Iranians who would profit by facilitating U.S. political and economic domination of Iran will favor Esfandiari’s civil liberties. The government of Iran will favor its right to defend itself from outside interference and U.S.-directed regime change. Ordinary people in metropolitan countries who are conscious of belonging to a class, and are able to work through the fog of nonsense on Iran, will take sides, or not, on the basis of strategic considerations: are the interests of the working class advanced by siding with governments resisting integration into an imperialist orbit, no matter what their stripe, or are they advanced by limiting alliances to members of the working class of other countries alone?

There are a number of class-conscious leftists who espouse the latter view sincerely, but there are those who use it as an excuse to climb into bed with their country’s own ruling class, to advance its interests. Left groups that worked to oust the Milosevic government in Serbia have nothing to show for their efforts but a country that is precisely where those leading the charge against Milosevic wanted it to be: subordinate to U.S. corporations and investors. Left groups that are working to oust the Mugabe government in Zimbabwe will have achieved, if they’re successful, not the succession of a socialist or working people’s government, but the installation of the Western-backed, neo-liberal opposition, which will reverse land reforms, and sell off the country’s publicly-owned assets. The rural poor won’t be cheering, but investors, corporate lawyers and CEOs in the West will, along with the former colonial-settler land owners.

Likewise, a color revolution in Iran will not be followed by the flowering of a progressive, socialist or working class movement in the country, but by the replacement of an economically nationalist pro-capitalist government with a government prepared to compromise with Western and especially U.S. capital. State enterprises will be sold off at a fraction of their value, subsidies will be cancelled, profits from the sale of the country’s oil and gas will disproportionately accrue to U.S. oil companies, and the lives of ordinary Iranians will become poorer and more uncertain.

It is hard to muster much sympathy for Esfandiari. Anyone who works to reverse the gains of a revolutionary government – and this is undoubtedly what those engaged in regime operations in Iran are up to – should expect to be cracked down upon, especially where their activities constitute a very real threat to the survival of the revolution. With its threats of air strikes, economic warfare, and tens of millions of dollars in overt (and who knows how many more millions of dollars in covert) spending on regime change operations, the U.S., and its agents, of which Esfandiari must surely count herself, are lethal threats to Iran’s revolution. No one should be surprised she was arrested.

Iran’s efforts to resist domination by U.S. capital are no less worthy of solidarity than the efforts of the resistances in Iraq and Afghanistan to throw off the U.S.-led occupations or of Cuba’s and north Korea’s resistances to the unceasing efforts of the U.S. and its allies to return both countries to the capitalist fold and bring them into the U.S. imperialist orbit. Taking sides with the Iranian government in its resistance to U.S. aggression is in no way equivalent to endorsing the Iranian regime, theocratic rule or the theories of Iran’s president on the anti-Jewish holocaust. It is, instead, a recognition of the rights of other people to self-determination and to be free from foreign domination. If the exercise of these rights implies the arrest of those actively working to deny these rights – as it appears Esfandiari was – so be it. The civil liberties of one person – especially when exploited to aid a privileged minority of hereditary capitalist families and wealthy investors – are not senior to the rights of hundreds of millions.

1. New York Times, May 22, 2007
2. New York Times, July 3, 2006
3. Associated Press, May 13, 20074
5. New York Times, May 29, 2005
6. Ibid.
7. Ibid.
8. New York Times, February 16, 2006
9. New York Times, November 20, 2006.
10. Reuters, April 30, 2003; Venezuela’s president Hugo Chavez accused Helvey’s employer, the Albert Einstein Institution, of being behind an imperialist conspiracy to overthrow his government. The Guardian, June 7, 2007.
11. Ibid.
12. Elise Hugus, “Eight Years After NATO’s ‘Humanitarian War’: Serbia’s new ‘third way’”, Z Magazine, April 2007, Volume 20, Number 4
13. Ibid.
14. The Albert Einstein Institution, Report on Activities, 2000 to 2004,
15. Stephen Kinzer, Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq, Times Books Henry Holt & Company, New York, 2006.
16. New York Times, May 28, 2006
17. Workers World, May 5, 2007
18. Washington Post, April 20, 2006
19. Lalkar, September/October, 2005
20. New York Times, December 20, 2005
21. Lalkar, September/October, 2005
22. Washington Post, June 18, 2006
23. Ibid.
24. Wall St. Journal, February 1, 2007
25. Granma International, February 8, 2007
26. Guardian, May 22, 2007
27. Boston Globe, August 14, 2005
28. New York Times, December 21, 2006
29. Guardian, February 10, 2007
30. Washington Post, February 11, 2007
31. Washington Post, March 26, 2007
32. New York Times, September 17, 2006
33. New York Times, October 16, 2006
34. Guardian, January 26, 2007
35. Washington Post, February 1, 2007
36. New York Times, August 28, 2006
37. New York Times, September 12, 2006
38. New York Times, August 28, 2006

* “On April 27, 2006, the Iranian philosopher was detained at Tehran’s Mehrabad airport, and shortly after was accused of actively preparing to take part in a “velvet revolution” in Iran. This polyglot thinker … elected to write his doctoral dissertation on Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolent change, Satyagraha. Jahanbegloo continued to espouse nonviolence after returning from the West to his homeland. …On one of his many trips to India, Jahanbegloo met with the Dalai Lama, who in turn has made frequent visits to Prague to meet with Havel since 1989. All such links reinforce suspicion among Iran’s clerical rulers that “the velvet revolution” is at hand.

“Rasool Nafisi has suggested that the main reason for Jahanbegloo’s arrest was his research project for the German Marshall Fund in which he compared the Iran’s democratic dissidents with their East-Central European predecessors. This line of comparative inquiry analyzed the balance of political power between Iranian civil society and the governing clerical regime. While Jahanbegloo sat in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison, eminent international figures—among them Havel and Habermas—sent an Open Letter to Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad protesting the philosopher’s detention. The Iranian minister of the interior, Hojjatoleslam Qolamhoseyn Mosheni Eyhe’I, said in a July interview that Jahanbegloo was arrested on suspicion that he had been assisting the US to provoke “a velvet revolution in Iran,” an activity that, according to him, seems to be the US’s main business these days.”

Martin Beck Matuštík, “Velvet Revolution in Iran?”, Logos: A Journal of Modern Society and Culture, Fall 2006.

On June 11, 2007 the New York Times reported that Ali Shakeri had been detained by Iranian authorities. Shakeri is a founding board member of the Center for Citizen Peacebuilding at the University of California, Irvine. The Center, according to its web site, studies “the best grassroots peacebuilding methods in both domestic and international conflicts, and utilizes those findings in direct engagement in peacebuilding projects in … selected communities in Northern Ireland, the Middle East, Bosnia/Herzegovina, and the former Soviet Union.” The Center has honored Jimmy Carter, Mikhail Gorbachev, and the Dalai Lama with its Citizen Peacebuilding Award. The only peace the Center is interested in, is the peace that comes from capitulation to US foreign policy goals.

4 thoughts on “Color Revolution Counterpunch

  1. Prompted by Juan Cole saying that Haleh Esfandiari was “not political”, I took a deep breath and started some research which led to me writing this article :
    Is Haleh Esfandiari a CIA asset ?

    Googling “Esfandiari” + “Gene Sharp” brought me eventually to this article. It would have saved me a lot of time if I had started here.

    You have the situation exactly right, and have even explained why my natural affinity for Chomsky and Cole seems to have been misplaced.

    The only thing I can add is that Esfandiari doesn’t really have to do anything she doesn’t totally believe in, so in a sense she can feel she is not a pawn of the US Empire, even as she takes their money and does their bidding.

    Email me, please.

  2. non- violence is the only best way to remove dectators. a big question of the day in Zimbabwe today is mugabe going through peaceful means. a hard question requiring a hard answer.

  3. in zimbabwe at the africa university, mutare, the usa run methodist church institution established the “centre for peace initiative and good governance”. may yours please give an indepth into the affairs and or activities of this “centre”.

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