Four days later, New York-based writer Hooman Majd published a rebuttal accusing Lindsay and Takeyh of aping Iraqi politician Ahmed Chalabi, who contributed to building the case for the American war in Iraq. Majd wrote that the use of force against Tehran would only “convince Iran that a nuclear weapon or two might be useful.”
I argued in the Huffington Post that “consistent” Iran has been making and maintaining allies in the region since the early 1980s, while an “inconsistent” America – especially under Barack Obama – has so far lost whatever friends it has made over the past decade, especially in Iraq and Lebanon.
An Iranian blogger, who goes by the online name of Bibi Jan, protested my argument and provided, as an alternative, a link to a pro-regime website.
Majd and Bibi Jan’s approach are part of a trend of coordinated PR to convince Washington to not only not attack or impose sanctions on Iran, but to befriend it in spite of its human rights record.
Many are buying into the idea. Steve Coll, writing in The New Yorker,described Majd as someone who stands “against the assumptions of the regime-change crowd in the West.” Coll endorsed Majd’s line: “[O]ne hopes that American policymakers will take the time to absorb [Majd’s] book.”
However, the most sinister of the Iranian regime’s lobby in the United States is Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC). Despite his best efforts, Parsi has failed to cover his pro-regime sympathies, as he expresses opposition to military strikes or sanctions.
When the Green Revolution broke out in June 2009, Parsi was the first to try to dismiss it in an article in Foreign Policy in which he prematurely predicted that the regime had already turned “a mass movement into dispersed pockets of unrest.”
Parsi has dismissed those who accuse him of being Iran’s lobbyist as “Zionists” and “neo cons” in the same manner the regime tries to undermine its opponents. When Parsi sued his accusers, court proceedings produced emails from Parsi promising Iran’s permanent representative to the UN meetings with members of Congress.
Before Parsi, America had to contend with similar Iranian lobbyists. There was Hooshang Amirahmadi, president of the American-Iranian Council (AIC), and supporter of unconditional ties between Washington and Tehran, and, on the AIC’s board, Hamid Shirvani, president of California State University- Stanislaus, home to tenured Lebanese professor As’ad AbuKhalil, a.k.a. the blogger Angry Arab.
Any reader of AbuKhalil’s blog cannot but notice that while he regularly trashes most Middle Eastern groups and governments, he remains silent on Iranian issues. AbuKhalil writes a weekly column for the Lebanese Arabic daily Al-Akhbar, known for its sympathies with Iran and the regime’s Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah.
Amirahmadi has received funds from the Alevi Foundation, an organization that defines itself as a promoter of Islam and the Persian culture, but which the FBI suspected of being a front for Iranian state-owned Bank Melli. (The foundation’s president, Farshid Jahedi, pleaded guilty to charges of destroying documents subject to subpoena.)
Several other high-profile Iranian-Americans help Parsi. Among them is scholar Reza Aslan, a member on the board of Ploughshares Fund, and former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel, who is famous for his calls to befriend Iran in the same manner the US opened up to China, where, incidentally, Hagel made a fortune in the 1970s.
Ploughshares Fund’s President Joe Cirincione argued last week on Fox News that Iranian claims of increasing nuclear capabilities were greatly exaggerated, and that despite Iran’s progress in its nuclear program, technical difficulties are slowing it. Cirincione’s line is being peddled by all the Iranian lobbyists who are trying to convince Washington that the clock is far from ticking on Iran’s bomb.
Ploughshares Fund was also one of the sponsors of Parsi’s conference on US policy on Iran in November. Speakers included journalist Genieve Abdo and former Ambassador Thomas Pickering.
Even though Abdo says that she was deported from Iran, she supports the Iranian lobby’s conclusions that Tehran is still far from making a nuclear bomb, and that Washington should not impose sanctions or go to war with Iran.
Last month, Parsi and Abdo participated in a panel at a Methodist Church along with like-minded experts on Iran such as Jim Walsh of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), who co-authored with Pickering an Op-Ed in The New York Times in January 2009, in which theywrote, “The United States should seek to open talks with Iran without preconditions.”
Walsh and Pickering even advocated giving Iran a say in regional affairs: “On Iraq and Afghanistan, direct US engagement with Iran… will be necessary if the United States hopes to draw down its forces and bring stability to these war-torn nations.”
Pickering, the co-author with Walsh and the speaker at NAIC’s conference with Abdo, is co-chair of the International Crisis Group (ICG), one of the advocates of engagement with Hezbollah. Together with the Carter Foundation and a handful of groups, ICG went to the US Supreme Court to reverse a Congressional law that criminalizes US citizens who offer support to groups placed on America’s list of terrorist organizations.
The many Washington think-tanks that support unconditional US relations with Iran include The New America Foundation, where Steve Clemons, who interviewed Hamas’s Khaled Meshaal in October in Damascus, hosted pollster Steven Kull, of the New World Opinion.
In an article in Open Democracy, in November, Kull disclosed the results of a poll “conducted by native Farsi speakers calling into Iran, thus bypassing any possible government controls,” concluding that “it reveals that large majorities continue to support the Iranian system.”
Kull presented the findings of his telephone poll, clearly assuming that Iranians believe their phone lines are free of government surveillance and thus speak their minds when interviewed, at Clemons’ New America Foundation, the president of which is none other than The New Yorker’s Steve Coll, who hopes America will one day give up regime change in Iran.
The Iranian lobby in the United States might not present itself as such. But when you see activists, journalists, former members of Congress, former diplomats, experts and academics serving on boards of organizations, participating in panels, co-authoring Op-Eds, silently rubbing shoulders with each other inside Washington’s corridors of power, propagating a line that favors America befriending the oppressive Iranian regime and allowing it to become the region’s patron, one cannot but think that an invisible network brings all these people together.
This Washington usually calls a lobby. And Iran has apparently managed to create an effective and successful one.