last updated: February 16, 2012
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- Global Initiative for Democracy: Founder and President
- Institute for Democratic Strategies: President
- Iran Policy Committee: Empowerment Committee Chairman
- Coalition for Democracy in Iran: Former Member
- International Republican Institute: Former President
- Freedom House: Executive Director
- Inter-American Commission of Human Rights: Former Member
- International Decision Strategies
- Williams College
- Harvard University
- University of Chicago
An erstwhile member of Social Democrats-USA, a splinter group of the U.S. Socialist Party, Bruce McColm has been a leading advocate of neoconservative-driven democracy initiatives and is a long-standing promoter of hawkish U.S. Middle East policies, particularly targeting Iran. He is president of the controversial Institute for Democratic Strategies, a non-profit organization that claims to be committed to strengthening democratic processes abroad, as well as its for-profit arm, International Decisions Strategies. McColm is also a high-profile supporter of the Iranian dissident group Mujahedin-e Khalq (The People’s Muhajedin of Iran, or MEK), which is listed by the U.S. State Department as a terrorist organization.
McColm’s resume includes serving as head of two key ideologically driven democracy-promotion programs, the neoconservative-influenced Freedom House and the International Republican Institute. Additionally, McColm has served on the boards of numerous hawkish pressure groups, including several aimed at pushing the United States into conflict with Iran. He previously served as president of the Iran Policy Committee (IPC), a DC-based organization dedicated to regime change in Iran where McColm remains an adviser. At IPC, he coauthored—with Raymond Tanter, Thomas McInerney, and Paul Vallely—Baghdad Ablaze: How to Extinguish the Fires in Iraq, a 2007 tome that advocated integrating MEK into the U.S. surge strategy in Iraq. McColm was also a member of the now-defunct Coalition for Democracy in Iran.
McColm is also the founder of the Global Initiative for Democracy (GID), a group created in 2012 which, according to its website, “advocates practical solutions to human rights problems and educate[s] the public about how the international community can avoid humanitarian catastrophes.” It adds, “Of particular concern is the fate of refugees such as the Iranian dissidents residing in Iraq,” a clear reference to the People’s Muhajedin of Iran. One of GID’s first major events was a panel discussion featuring high-profile advocates for the MEK calling for the delisting of the group from the State Department “terrorist” list, and calling for UN action to protect MEK exiles in Iraq. Panelists at the event included Carl Bernstein, retired Gen. George W. Casey, Howard Dean, retired Lt. Gen. David Deptula, former FBI Director Louis Freeh, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former House Speaker Dennis Hastert, former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, and retired Gen. Hugh Shelton.
In an op-ed co-authored with Peter Archer, former solicitor general of the United Kingdom, McColm wrote, “the United States cannot engage in a military conflict with Iran, the risks of which would far outweigh its benefits. Instead, America and Europe should reach out to millions of Iranians who seek democratic change, a nuclear-free Iran, and a peaceful nation. This is where our interests converge with the Iranian people's democratic aspirations. As a practical step on this track, the United States should lift the terrorist designation of Iran's principle opposition group. … If President Obama were to decide to issue an executive order to remove the unwarranted terrorist label from the [Mujahedin-e Khalq], he would certainly grab Tehran's attention while demonstrating to the Iranian people that America would no longer block Iranian opposition groups from working to bring democracy to Iran.”
Connections and Controversies
MEK’s critics have likened the organization to the Iraqi National Congress (INC), the controversial Iraqi exile group led by Ahmed Chalabi that worked to drum up U.S. support for an invasion of Iraq in the 1990s and early 2000s. By presenting itself to western supporters as an Iraqi government-in-waiting, INC enabled Iraq hawks in the United States to claim that there was Iraqi support for the U.S. action. For Iran hawks, write Ali Fatemi and Karim Pakravan of the National Iranian American Council, “Maryam Rajavi, the MEK leader and self-proclaimed president of Iran, is their new Chalabi.”
McColm in particular has been associated with a number of groups that embody this link. A 2010 LobeLog investigation, for example, found that “through 2006, IPC shared an address, accountants, and some staff with multiple organizations that either fronted for or had direct ties to the INC, even sharing staff members with those groups. Some of those ties have continued through today.” The report also found that McColm’s Institute for Democratic Studies and International Decisions Strategies worked out of the same small building that housed IPC and the INC. “It appears that many of the same people who misled the U.S. into a disastrous war with Iraq are now attempting to do the same in Iran,” concluded journalists Ali Gharib and Eli Clifton, who spearheaded the investigation. “And they’re doing it with very much the same game plan, and even doing it from the same little town house at 911 Duke St. in Arlington, Virginia.”
McColm’s work with International Decisions Strategies (IDS) has also proved controversial. Between 2000 and 2002, Clifton reports, the government of Teodoro Obiang in Equatorial Guinea paid IDS $525,000 for election monitoring services. But the country’s 2002 election was marked by fraud and misconduct, with all opposition candidates dropping out of the race at the last minute and Obiang winning reelection with 100 percent of the vote. “While McColm’s Institute for Democratic Strategies lists its mission as, ‘to promote good governance and democracy in emerging economies,’” Clifton writes, “Obiang’s strategies were anything but democratic.”
In a further twist, McColm apparently briefed executives at the disgraced Riggs Bank—a Washington, D.C. bank that was investigated for serving as a slush fund for Obiang—and painted a favorable picture of the Obiang regime, assuring executives that the regime was safe to do business with. In an evident conflict of interest, it was later revealed that IDS had partnered with Obiang in setting up Nusiteles, an Equatorial Guinean communications company.
McColm’s GID bio states that he “has been active in human rights and democracy programs for the past 36 years,” including his stints at Freedom House and the International Republican Institute and as a U.S. representative at the Organization for American States’ Inter-American Human Rights Commission. It also claims that he “provided assistance to the Vaclav Havel’s Velvet Revolution in the then-Czechoslovakia, Solidarity in Poland and the democratic revolution in Hungary.”