Perle, PBS, and the Iranian Dissident

| Sat Apr. 21, 2007 3:26 PM EDT

A belated heads up to viewers of the PBS America at the Crossroads documentary featuring former assistant secretary of defense Richard Perle, "The Case for War: In Defense of Freedom." Midway through the documentary, Perle takes the film cameras and viewers with him to a Dubai hotel to meet an Iranian dissident who, Perle says, had just escaped from Iran. (In fact, the Iranian, Amir Abbas Fakhravar, had flown out of Tehran airport on a normal commercial flight -- more on that in a moment).

In the documentary, Perle and Fakhravar sit on a couch and Perle uses the young Iranian as a cipher upon which to project his views of why the U.S. should be promoting regime change in Iran. (In a Wired magazine blog review, writer Sharon Weinberger captures the scene: "'Oh my God, is he gonna kiss him?' my husband asked, as Perle gazed affectionately at Fakhravar"). Whatever the merits of the idea, it's worth reading my feature on Perle's chosen Iranian dissident cipher, "Has Washington Found Its Iranian Chalabi: Introducing the Talented Mr. Fakhravar," to get a better feel for just what a Hollywood version of faux reality Perle is basing his beliefs upon -- and potentially dragging the 82nd Airborne with him.

As I wrote:

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. ... 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.

As later parts of the documentary show, Perle grew up in in the shadow of Hollywood, and as he says, many of his school friends' parents were blacklisted Hollywood writers. Perle's wishes for the people of the Middle East to enjoy the benefits of democracy may be deeply well intentioned, but reality has not lived up to almost any of his pronouncements about Iraq. The fact that Perle and the PBS film's producers seemingly failed to do any basic fact checking on Fakhravar's story is striking and fits the pattern. As Perle's pre-war expounding about Iraq and ardent championship of Ahmad Chalabi have shown, these things don't often work out according to the movies.

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