As an update to my previous post on this topic:
Trita Parsi has replied to the critique published in the Boston Review by the Leveretts of his book, "A Single Roll of the Dice" (which I still have not had time to read myself though I definitely mean to.)
I must say I'm disappointed in Trita's response to the Leverett's critique. Sure, perhaps the Leveretts really were out of line in supposedly implying (as some think) that Trita was a crypto-Neocon who favoured a war with Iran (the Leveretts have since stated to me that they implied no such thing and only characterized him as a "soft" regime change advocate like Ledeen. Point taken.) I certainly don't believe that myself either. But these sorts of things should not be used by Trita as an excuse to basically refuse to acknowledge and respond to the substantive charges raised by the Leveretts in their critique of his book.
Take for example the Leverett's objection to Trita's continued assertion that the 2009 elections in Iran were "fraudulent". Rather than responding to this, Trita simply demurs and instead characterizes the whole issue as "peripheral", even though he also writes that the the book was about Obama's reaction to the "election scandal" Iran:
Their assessment of the book seems to be based on their disagreements with my analysis on two points, one central and one peripheral to my thesis. First, the peripheral point: The Leveretts are stalwart proponents of the idea that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won the 2009 elections fair and square...
The book does not try to resolve this debate. Rather, it focuses on how the Obama administration reacted to the developments in Iran and vice versa, as well as how the election scandal and the subsequent human rights abuses (which are undisputable) affected the Obama administration’s Iran policy, its calculations, and its political space and maneuverability.
Well, wait a minute now. If there was no election fraud, then what "scandal" are we talking about? Wouldn't any analysis of Obama's reaction depend a great deal on the nature of those very same elections? After all, if there was no fraud (and no one has provided any actual evidence for it) then that really puts a different spin on those post-election riotors, doesn't it? Rather than wronged pro-democracy voters as who simply wanted to have their votes counted (as portrayed in the Western media), they become a minority of agent provocateurs who sought to overturn the results of a valid election through force and intimidation such as burning buses and attacking banks, don't they? More broadly and fundamentally, the absence of fraud makes a big difference in the fundamental legitimacy of the Ahmadinejad presidency as well as the regime as a whole -- something which definitely CANNOT be viewed as merely "peripheral" to Obama's Iran policy.
It seems to me that Trita is trying to have it both ways, and unfortunately this is a debating tactic I've also seen employed by many of the other "Greens": they at once refuse to debate the question of whether there was fraud in the elections, while insisting that there was fraud, and yet also insist that the post-election riots are proof of the unpopularity of the regime. Isn't this exactly the same "agenda-driven analysis" that Trita accuses the Leveretts of promoting?
So, I have to agree with the Leverett's rejoinder to Parsi on this point:
Confronting unsubstantiated claims about a “fraudulent” election gets to the foundations of the case for regime change—which, whether represented by hard militarists like John Bolton or soft regime change advocates like Trita Parsi and Scott Lucas, is ultimately what gets the United States into Middle Eastern wars. This is the same dangerous convergence of the neoconservative right with liberal human rights advocates that enabled the Iraq war.
And I have to also say that I'm a bit personally confused about Trita's response to the Leveretts on this point of the election fraud because on our FaceBook discussion, Trita told me that he "pointed to supporting evidence [of election fraud] in the book" -- a definite reason why I was keen to read it in the first place.
[My disappointment is doubled because I was similarly told that Ali Ansari's book on the elections, Crisis of Authority, would provide the proof of election fraud but when I bought and read it, that was obviously not the case. The closest Ansari came to providing any "proof" fraud was in claiming that some pro-Ahmadinejad cleric had encouraged people to vote for Ahmadinejad. And that's just not fraud, sorry, especially when some 40% of the voters apparently didn't feel particularly convinced or compelled to vote for Ahmadinejad.]
So in short, Trita's response that "there will be endless debate about this", is simply not an adequate answer to the Leverett's point.
And as for the second point -- the Leverett's view that Obama was never really interested in engaging Iran but merely engaged in a ploy intended to justify further sanctions and coercion -- the two sides are actually essentially in agreement though Trita is starts out being dismissive of the Leverett's point:
It is not clear whether the Leveretts’ position is a conclusion or an assumption. Either way, they do not present any evidence (no need for a smoking gun here, it seems) to support their contention beyond some of the writings of Dennis Ross prior to his entering the Obama administration, and the fact that the Obama White House did not emulate Richard Nixon’s tactics when he went to China.
Well, I'm not sure that the job of the Leveretts in writing the review is to present detailed "evidence" -- this is after all a review, not a separate book, and anyone who has read their work is quite familiar with their argument. And, in any case, the Leveretts are hardly the only ones who apparently think that Obama was disingenuous in his "outreach" to Iran. I certainly think so, for whatever that's worth, and for example apparently so does veteran Iran observer Gary Sick:
The only conclusion I can draw from this is that Obama was never sincere about his engagement strategy. It has yet to be tried.
Frankly I don't think anyone who is familiar with the history of the jostling surrounding Iran-US relations can conclude otherwise. If you doubt this, take a look at the many instances in which the US has condemned Iran for its "intransigence" to "negotiate meaningfully" of its nuclear program due to the imposition of "preconditions" -- negotiations which the US itself saddled with poison pills and precondition of the indefinite suspension of uranium enrichment in Iran.
But to his credit, Trita himself seems to agree with the Leveretts on this point -- that the engagement was not genuine. His only real difference in opinion seems to be in that he attributes this to...
a much more complex picture in which the president’s vision was consistently compromised by opposition from within his own cabinet; by pressure from Israel, Saudi Arabia, lobbyists, and Congress; and by the actions of the Iranian government. All this combined with the administration’s unwillingness to fight for political space. It is this process that I describe in the book.
I can certainly see that (which is why I'm still buying the book though I don't expect the election fraud issue to be resolved) and I think the Leveretts would agree with this too. After all, I don't think the Leveretts are of the opinion that the disingenuousness of the purported engagement was ONLY attributable to a PERSONAL distaste or dislike of engagement by Obama himself. Naturally, this is policy that has a variety of causes. Nevertheless, that was indeed the policy - to attempt to engage, but not really.(Incidentally, nor can the appointment of Dennis Ross be dismissed as irrelevant in creating this policy.)
The bottom line is that that Obama's outreach to Iran - for whatever reason - was cynical, and expected or even perhaps intended to fail. Thus, the argument now made by the hawks (that diplomacy and engagement was "tried" by was "rebuffed" by Iran) is simply not true. And in that, there is simply no question. After all, there is by now simply no doubt whatsoever that the the US and the Obama administration are not interested in any sort of peaceful resolution to the Iran nuclear standoff or compromise with Iran, but are instead out for regime change.
So in short, it seems to me that the Leveretts and Trita Parsi agree on more than they think. And what they agree on, is rather important.