Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace Prize recipient and the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), has recently emerged as a leading figure in the Egyptian pro-democracy movement and a credible alternative to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
ElBaradei’s emergence has angered pro-Mubarak neoconservatives, such as Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice president of the Council of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, which is closely aligned with Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu. “There is a myth being created that ElBaradei is a human rights activist," Hoenlein told an Orthodox Jewish website on Sunday. “He is a stooge of Iran, and I don't use the term lightly. When he was the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, for which he got a Nobel Peace Prize, he fronted for them, he distorted the reports."
Hysterical rhetoric about ElBaradei is nothing new. The same people who were wrong about Iraq’s nonexistent WMD program are once again trying to distort his work, this time as a prominent dissident in Egypt.
Over at Firedoglake, Marcy Wheeler has an excellent recap of the past neoconservative smear campaign against ElBaradei. Before the invasion of Iraq, the Bush Administration pooh-poohed his warning that there was “no evidence of ongoing prohibited nuclear or nuclear-related activities in Iraq” and paid no attention to the fact that the administration’s claim that Saddam Hussein was pursuing enriched uranium from Niger was based on forged documents, according to IAEA reporting. Despite the fact that almost everything ElBaradei said about Iraq turned out to be correct, the Bush Administration tapped his phone and led a major campaign to prevent him from leading for a third term at IAEA. Lawrence Wilkerson, a top aide to Secretary of State Colin Powell, said that then–UN Ambassador John Bolton was “going out of his way to bad-mouth” ElBaradei. Nonetheless, ElBaradei was unanimously re-elected as IAEA chief in 2005 and, shortly thereafter, awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for his arms control work. “I don’t think we were effective in our campaign to oppose him,” Bolton later admitted.
Nonetheless, the neocons who wildly hyped and distorted military intelligence in Iraq were determined to once again undermine ElBaradei when it came to Iran’s WMD program. “Mohamed ElBaradei is an apologist for Iran,” Bolton said in 2007. Why did Bolton say this? Because ElBaradei has refused to endorse a US- or Israeli-led attack on Iran, much to the chagrin of neocon war cheerleaders. The former IAEA chief has publicly criticized the Iranian government for not cooperating sufficiently with his agency, but he’s also been careful to note that robust diplomacy is the ultimate solution to the Iranian nuclear standoff.
In a 2009 interview with the Washington Post, ElBaradei called a military strike against Iran “absolutely the worst thing that could happen.” He continued:
“There is no military solution.... If a country is bombed, you give them every reason—with the support of everybody in the country and outside the country—to go for nuclear weapons, and nobody can even blame them.
“We've seen in our last report that Iran is not accelerating its production of enriched uranium. Whatever the reason—technical or political—it is something we need to take into account. We don't see an imminent threat tomorrow. “
In a 2007 profile, the New York Times called ElBaradei “an indispensable irritant to Iran and its foes.”
ElBaradei’s clashes with both Tehran and Washington will likely serve him well in Cairo, as he navigates the murky landscape of the current Egyptian regime. He’s been highly critical of Arab autocrats and the Western governments that prop them up. “Western policy towards this part of the world has been a total failure, in my view,” he told the Guardian in March 2010. “It has not been based on dialogue, understanding, supporting civil society and empowering people, but rather it's been based on supporting authoritarian systems as long as the oil keeps pumping.” He’s recently called on the Obama administration to stop supporting the Mubarak regime. If ElBaradei continues to annoy neocons in Washington, it means he’s probably doing something right.
UPDATE: Former Bush speechwriter Ari Fleischer added his voice to the anti-Elbaradei neocon caucus, posting on Twitter: "I don't trust Mohamed ElBaradei. For America, he would be bad news of a different kind." It appears that the Bush Administration's so-called freedom agenda does not apply to democratic leaders it does not like.