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December 01, 2009

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Cyrus,

Let me begin by saying that I fully understand, and there was even a time that I identified with, your respect for Trita Parsi and the perspective you present on his efforts relating to NIAC and on behalf of the Iranian-American community. It is true that, regardless of previous efforts by many over the years and what seemed to be perpetual internal bickering within the community, it was Mr. Parsi who finally succeeded in creating a viable organization with the objective of representing the interest of the Iranian-American community. When it comes to NIAC, Mr. Parsi’s persistence, perseverance, and perhaps even good initial intentions are all admirable. I also think that NIAC still has the potential to turn itself into an enduring and coherent voice on behalf of the Iranian-American community. But exactly what good is this organization now that it has fully turned into an instrument of promoting anti-Iran propaganda and policies?

I am well aware of the various smear campaigns against Mr. Parsi and NIAC on the right and the accusations that he is an agent of the Iranian government. We all know that the Neocons (both American and Iranian) and the Israel Lobby (Goldberg, Goldfarb, Washington Times, American Enterprise Institute (AEI), their Mojahed brother Daioleslam, and the Royalists) will vilify anyone who does not categorically agree with them on all Iran-related matters. So, simply because Mr. Parsi is subject to baseless accusations from the right, should not prevent other observers from having their own critical perspective on his work and activities.

As for the Grawemeyer Award being “prestigious”, I have no comment, since I am not one that buys into these kinds of commonly accepted postulates in a world that so much is influenced by money and politics. I do know, however, that you don’t get any more prestigious than the Nobel Peace Prize and that one was awarded to Kissinger and Obama! I looked into the previous recipients of the Grawemeyer Award in the categories of Religion and World Order and did not see any winner books on interfaith dialogue for example, or by Naomi Klein, Jeremy Schahil, Shahid Alam, or even Scott Ritter, just to name a few, all of whom have recently written books that could have a major positive impact on the world order. Mr. Parsi’s book also won the Council on Foreign Relations’ 2008 Arthur Ross Silver Medal. I suppose another prestigious award.

I agree that in his book Mr. Parsi argues that the relationship between Iran and Israel is based on power politics and not ideology, but I also think that one of the underlying premises of the book is that Iran and Israel are natural allies (Others have noted this as well). It’s been a long time since I read the book, but one example that comes to mind is when Parsi notes the empathy between Israel and Iran due to their feeling of cultural superiority toward Arabs. In any event, based on my observations, Mr. Parsi is somewhat sympathetic to Israel. He spent a considerable amount of time there talking to high-level Israelis researching his book (a privilege that he would have likely not been granted had he been an Iranian Muslim) and I believe that he has attempted on a few occasions to connect to various hard-core (AIPAC) and a little less hard core (J Street) Israel lobby groups.

While I agree that the Iran's relationship with the Palestinians is largely based on power politics, I don’t believe it is entirely based on power politics. While for the Iranian government national interest and power politics are paramount in its policies vis-à-vis Palestine/Israel, I believe that since the revolution, Iranian policies on this have also been guided by certain overarching moral principles. I also believe that there have been and continue to be elements in the Iranian leadership for whom these moral principles have played a central role in their approach to Iran’s position on this issue.

Now let’s take a quick look at some of Mr. Parsi’s activities and writings and NIAC- related facts.

• Since its inception, NIAC has consistently criticized human rights abuses by the Iranian government citing the work of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. (While some good work has been generated by both of these groups over the years, their pro-western/pro-Israel bias is well-documented.) Recently, however, Parsi has been going after Iran full throttle.

• NIAC has received at least $200,000 in grants from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a quasi-governmental agency with funding from both the US Congress and individuals whose purpose is to support foreign organizations sympathetic to the US. According to its website, NED was “premised on the idea that American assistance on behalf of democracy efforts abroad would be good both for the U.S. and for those struggling around the world for freedom and self-government.” NED has been the overt/human face for CIA operations around the world from providing money to the opposition to Sandinistas in Nicaragua, to financing anti-socialists groups from Eastern Europe to Haiti to Venezuela. NED has also provided financing to various Iranian opposition groups and the Cuban-American National Foundation. (An organization, incidentally, that NIAC is increasingly beginning to look like.)

(In an ironic twist in Parsi and NIAC’s story, Michael Rubin of the AEI was on Trita Parsi’s case for the “apparent contradiction” in his taking money from NED yet criticizing the infusion of money into programs that help instigate a “velvet revolution” and instead advocating for more “cultural exchange” (a position that Parsi took prior to the June election, but appears to have now moved away from). While I truly want to give Mr. Parsi the benefit of the doubt here, I am forced to conclude that perhaps he is smarter than Rubin in championing Rubin’s cause in that he realizes that programs that are overtly funded for the purpose of effecting regime change do backfire, but NIAC can less overtly achieve the same end.)

• Also worth noting is the fact that Mr. Parsi studied for his doctoral thesis under Francis Fukuyama. In 2007, Fukuyama wrote that “Ahmadinejad may be the new Hitler”, but concluded that the use of military force against Iran is “unappealing.” He also wrote that regime change was the only long-term means of stopping Iran’s nuclear weapons program. While NIAC does not support the use of military force against Iran, it has been moving further and further away from its support for dialogue and closer to endorsing regime change.

• Immediately following the June elections, Mr. Parsi was widely quoted as saying that Mousavi could not have conceivably lost in his home province of East Azerbaijan. (A claim that has since been widely rebutted.) This unfounded assertion was instantly parroted by the Obama Administration. NIAC then went on to issue a statement that “the only plausible way to end the violence is for new elections to be held with independent monitors ensuring its fairness.”

• On July 30, 2009, Mr. Parsi proposed a “tactical pause” in the already non-existent diplomacy toward Iran, writing, “Obama should not be married to artificial deadlines” and should hold off on talks and diplomacy with Iran on nuclear issues for a few months because the Iranian government is unstable and cannot negotiate. Today, NIAC is persistent in its stance that the US-Iran-IAEA negotiations should be linked to human rights concerns.

• On September 22, 2009, on the occasion of Ahmadinegad attendance at the UN General Assembly meeting, Mr. Parsi wrote that he hopes the focus at the UN would be on Ahmadinejad’s human rights abuses.

• On November 09, 2009, he wrote about the “Unforgivable Crimes in Iran: the underreporting of deaths” and how the world is looking the other way as the crimes of the Iranian government continues unabated. As a kaseyeh daghtar az aash he claimed that even the opposition figure of 100 dead is gross underestimations of the true number.

• On December 7, 2009, he wrote again that Obama should end silence on human rights abuses in Iran and be more outspoken about these abuses.

• On February 11, 2010, Mr. Parsi wrote, “the [green] coalition is held together not just by a rejection of the dubious election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but by the realization that Iran would take a giant leap toward becoming a military dictatorship if the hardliners win.” On February 15, Hillary Clinton commented in Qatar that Iran is moving toward a military dictatorship.

• Most recently, McCain and Lieberman have introduced legislation (originally introduced in the House by misguided Keith Ellison) to “impose sanctions on individuals in Iran guilty of human rights abuses following the June elections.” The legislation would create a list of Iranian governmental officials “who were complicit in post-election abuses” and subject them to greater financial and diplomatic scrutiny. NIAC is fully supportive of this bill. I cannot imagine a scenario where the interest of McCain and Lieberman coincide with the interests of Iranians, in Iran or the United States. Yet, NIAC is actively promoting this bill and asking its members to call Congress in its support.

• On February 25, Mr. Parsi testified at a hearing by the House Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, named after, most ironically, none other than the staunch and unrelenting Israeli loyalist. His lengthy testimony condemning human rights in Iran began as follows, “…I want to emphasize that no group of Americans has suffered more from the policies of the Iranian government than our community. Whether they were victims of political or religious persecution, or other forms of human rights abuses …”. The testimony continued to favor “targeted sanctions” against Iran asking the US to “speak forcefully and frequently about the deteriorating human rights situation in Iran.”

As an Iranian-American, I would like to ask Mr. Parsi where does the US get the moral authority to speak forcefully to Iran or any other country on human rights? And advise him that Iranians here or in Iran don’t need him to advocate on behalf of their human rights in Iran with the US Congress controlled by the unscrupulous Israel Lobby and the unrelenting and reprehensible human rights violator, Israel.

While all of these do not equate a direct call for regime change, the line, if any, is so blurry that is practically invisible. Parsi, seeming to enjoy his moment in the spotlight, is sounding more and more like an expatriate Neocon and less and less like an advocate for the Iranian-American community. To continue to give Mr. Parsi the benefit of the doubt as he seems to have fully crossed over from advocating limited engagement to advocating tactical pause and from advocating rapprochement to advocating sanctions, well, is just no longer sensible.

I hope your Noruz is going well. I know this one is a tough one for you.

Cyrus, I agree with your disagreements with Trita Parsi and NIAC and frankly am puzzled about how, in light of these fundamental disagreements, you can praise him for receiving an award for Treacherous Alliance. It is true that this book does look at Iran-Israel relations from a different angle and puts forth some valid ideas such as the one you quote on Israel’s fears of a US-Iran rapprochement. However, the underlying premise of the book appears to be the presumption that Iran’s relationship with Israel is dictated purely by political realism and power politics. Not entirely so.
In his book, Parsi emphasizes that Iran and Israel are natural allies as surrounded by Sunni Arabs and other Sunnis, and ignores the genuine support by the Iranian government and people for the Palestinian struggle for freedom and a homeland. Regardless of how we feel about the Iranian government and some of its actions, we cannot deny the fact that there is an element, present both in its domestic and foreign policy, that is motivated by idealism and an acute sense of justice and equality (otherwise pejoratively referred to as economic and social populism). And as for the people, notwithstanding a small newly emerged segment of mostly young urban Iranians, the majority feel a strong camaraderie with the Palestinian people and sympathy for their plight. To frame Iran-Israel relations in a way that does not include this analysis as paramount, as Trita Parsi has in Treacherous Alliance, is at best ignorant and at worst disingenuous.

[Cyrus responds: I don't think that Parsi argues that Iran and Israel are "natural allies surrounded by Arabs" -- instead he argues that Iran and Israel's relationship are based on power politics not ideology. Like any other power politics relations, there are areas of overlap and areas of conflict which change over time (Note that the Palestinian's relationship with Iran was also based on power-politics: Arafat sided with Saddam during the war). He also argues that Israel's main opposition to Iran is not for ideological or "existentialist threat" reasons as they widely claim, but simply because Iran stands in the way of Israeli regional ambitions and threaten's Israel's strategic value to the US. And I would praise him for wining the award even if I didn't agree with the book's conclusions because it is a prestigous award, and he clearly put in hard work on a substantive work that broke new ground. As a whole I have met Trita many years ago and have seen him create IIC and then NIAC from scratch, using his own "hemmat" at a time when almost all other Iranians abroad accomplish little more than backbiting, negativity and criticism.]

Iran should not arouse concern. Georgia is the most dangerous flashpoint. The Bible says: "At the appointed time [the king of the north = Russia] will return back [will regain the influence, which it lost after the break-up of the Soviet Union] and come into the south [many indicate that this might be Georgia], but it will not be as the former [1921] or as the latter [2008]. For the dwellers of coastlands of Kittim [the West] will come against him, and he will be humbled, and will return." (Daniel 11:29,30a) Then Iran will be humbled also. "But ships will come from the direction of Kittim, troubling Asshur [Russia] and troubling Eber [inhabiting on the other side the Euphrates]." (Numbers 24:24a, BBE)

At that time, peace will be taken from the earth and the "great sword" - nuclear sword - will be used. (Revelation 6:4)

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