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Whatever Happened to the Iran Democracy Fund?


In a new essay published by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Scott Carpenter, a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State during George W. Bush’s second term, looks at what happened to the Iran Democracy Fund under President Obama and Secretary Clinton. It is depressing:

For the 2009 fiscal year, the Bush administration requested $65 million for the Iran Democracy Fund. When the omnibus bill was passed this past March, however, the newly formed Obama administration made no specific allocation for democracy in Iran. Instead, a new line item for $25 million appeared: the Near East Regional Democracy Fund (NERD). According to a recent study by the Project on Middle East Democracy, the fund intends to continue support for “Iranian democracy through a variety of ’soft power’ programs.” This mission, however, is not specified in law, and the administration can in fact use the funding in any way it pleases. For the 2010 fiscal year, the Obama administration has requested $40 million for the new program, but reportedly only $10 million will be made available for democracy and human rights.

No public explanation has been given for the program’s name change, nor is a list of current or ongoing programs publicly available (purportedly to protect the recipients). Presumably, the new name is less offensive to Tehran and gives the administration more flexibility in how the funds are used. An official familiar with the program suggested that money could be shifted to other “democracy priorities if it proved too difficult to do Iran-related programs.” This lack of transparency, however, makes it impossible to assess the impact of the programs. The Obama administration killed off a number of Bush administration projects that aimed at creating independent media outlets. Whether alternative approaches were substituted is not known.

In addition to renaming the fund, the Obama administration shifted responsibility for grants management from the State Department to USAID…

It is tragic that an administration that identifies itself with progressive values has become so unwilling to hold abusive regimes accountable for human-rights violations, oblivious to trade-union movements struggling to take hold in countries like Iran, and hostile to democratization not only in Iran, but throughout the greater Middle East.


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