The Passionate Attachment

America's entanglement with Israel

The Soft Side of Regime Change: Trita Parsi’s A Single Roll of the Dice

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By Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett
Boston Review
January 31, 2012

As America and Israel draw ever closer to open warfare against Iran, it is imperative to look for ways out of the current dangerous impasse. We have long supported a comprehensive approach to U.S.-Iranian realignment as the only way to put U.S.-Iranian relations on a more productive trajectory. But we do not understand how anyone can think that the Islamic Republic of Iran (any more than the People’s Republic of China) would negotiate its internal political transformation with the United States.

Yet this is precisely what Trita Parsi advocates in his A Single Roll of the Dice: Obama’s Diplomacy With Iran. Parsi, an independent scholar and president of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), is no neoconservative hawk. He has, in the past, exhibited intellectual seriousness about Iran-related issues. His doctoral dissertation, turned into his first book, Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Iran, Israel, and the United States was a valuable contribution, elucidating how, after the Cold War, Israeli leaders came to see Iran as the one Middle Eastern state capable of challenging their unconstrained freedom to use force first and disproportionately. This prompted an Israeli-initiated campaign to demonize the Islamic Republic in Washington that persists to today, with powerful effects on U.S. policy.

But A Single Roll of the Dice is another matter, blending distorted treatments of key issues and episodes into a deeply misleading account. Parsi promotes “soft” regime change, through what NIAC calls “Iran’s pro-democracy movement” and what he describes as “a peaceful path for changing Iran’s political system from within.” While Parsi and NIAC now favor U.S.-Iranian diplomacy—they did not in 2009—they hold that diplomacy must include “human rights as a core issue”, with the goal of “a world in which the United States and a democratic Iran”—no mention of the Islamic Republic—“enjoy peaceful, cooperative relations.”

At its core, this is neoconservatism without guns, effectively indistinguishable from the position of Iran-Contra figure and staunch regime-change advocate Michael Ledeen, who parts from other neoconservatives to side with Parsi and NIAC in opposing military action against Iran. Parsi and NIAC don’t want to attack the Islamic Republic or back terrorist campaigns against it by the opposition Mojahedin-e Kalq (MEK). In their view, these tactics are unlikely to turn Iran into a secular, liberal, and pro-Western country. Instead, they support human rights diplomacy buttressed by “targeted” sanctions and support for “pro-democracy” forces. But their ultimate goal is not fundamentally different from that of neoconservatives.

In a war-fevered environment, a book such as Parsi’s can make a difference. Ten years ago, another non-neoconservative expert made a high-profile argument for coercive regime change in a Middle Eastern country. Less than a year before the U.S. military went into Iraq, Kenneth Pollack—former CIA analyst, MIT Ph.D., and Democratic national security hand who served on Bill Clinton’s National Security Council—published the best-selling The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq. It helped to legitimate Democratic support for war, even though every major reason it offered for invading Iraq was wrong—not just logically, but empirically. Pollack relied on a bevy of false “facts” (e.g., about Iraqi WMD) to support his argument.

A Single Roll of the Dice is not written as a case for war against Iran—something that Parsi claims he does not want. But, like Pollack, Parsi advances baseless evidence and agenda-driven analysis. And, in the same way that Pollack’s work helped pave the way for invading Iraq, Parsi’s book—by reinforcing conventional wisdom about Iranian politics and Obama’s Iran policy and counseling bad policy—raises the risk of another U.S.-initiated war in the Middle East.

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Written by Maidhc Ó Cathail

February 2, 2012 at 9:17 am

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. […] NIAC’s links to the National Endowment for Democracy and the Green Movement, perhaps a more appropriate headline might be “Mr. President: Say No to a War of Choice with Iran; Why Not Give a Color […]


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