**UPDATED, see below**
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 argues in his new book, A Single Roll of the Dice: Obama’s Diplomacy With Iran, blending distorted treatments of both Iranian politics and Obama’s Iran policy into a deeply misleading and agenda-driven account. In the aftermath of the Islamic Republic’s 2009 presidential election (which Parsi assured us, and continues to assure his readers, was “fraudulent”), Parsi was one of the most publicly prominent voices calling on the Obama Administration to take a “tactical pause” from diplomacy (which had not yet commenced). He advocated for such a pause because, he told large numbers of television viewers and Op Ed readers, the Islamic Republic was on the verge of collapse.
Well, here we are, almost three years later. The Islamic Republic is still here. Parsi, for his part, has returned to advocating U.S. engagement with Iran—but only if the Islamic Republic’s internal politics and “human rights situation” are a central part of the agenda. And the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), the advocacy group headed by Parsi, tells us on its website that the goal of U.S. engagement should be “a world in which the United States and a democratic Iran”—no mention of the Islamic Republic—“enjoy peaceful, cooperative relations.”
Make no mistake: this is neoconservatism without guns, effectively indistinguishable from the position of Michael Ledeen, who parts from other neoconservatives to side with Parsi and NIAC in opposing military action against Iran, but is ideologically committed to regime change there.
In a war-fevered environment, a book like Parsi’s can make a difference. Recall, in this regard, the impact just a decade ago of Ken Pollack’s The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq, which helped to legitimate Democratic support for George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq—and which was dead wrong, analytically and empirically, in all of its major arguments. To be sure, Parsi’s book is not written as a case for war against Iran, something that Parsi says 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 disastrous war in the Middle East.
Because Pollack, like Parsi, is not considered a neoconservative hawk, his book did not get the critical scrutiny it should have before the U.S. went to war. Although we like Trita Parsi personally, we are compelled to say what we think is so fundamentally wrong and dangerous about his book. Therefore, we have just published an extended review of A Single Roll of the Dice in Boston Review. Our essay, entitled “The Soft Side of Regime Change: Trita Parsi’s A Single Roll of the Dice”, is available online, by clicking here. We would encourage those interested in posting comments to also do so directly on the Boston Review site; there is a place to do so at the bottom of our article.
UPDATE: We have put up with an increasing amount of abuse of this site by Scott Lucas, which a number of people have already complained about in their comments to recent posts. First of all, we ask Scott Lucas to stop posting “comments” that are devoid of commentary but merely repeat his streaming of select “news” items from Iran. It is disrupting the ability of others to engage in genuine exchange, debate, and discussion. If Lucas would like to comment on our site, he knows that he has always been welcome. Curiously, Lucas has chosen, instead, to comment on our Boston Review article on Trita Parsi’s book, not on Race For Iran, but elsewhere. We will respond here to his criticisms of our article, which he has posted on the Boston Review site and in other venues.
Lucas says we have “no support for [our] polemical claims here…apart from the now thread-bare reliance on aging polls conducted with suspect methodology and in the political and ‘security’ environment after the election.” Three points on this.
–First, that the 14 polls we cite are “aging” is irrelevant to what they have to say about the dynamics of Iranian public opinion surrounding an election that itself took place almost three years ago.
–Second, if Lucas wants to claim that these polls’ methodology was “suspect”, he should be obliged to explain what he means by that. When we describe the polls as “methodologically sound”, we mean the following: they had sufficiently large and scientifically selected samples to represent accurately the population as a whole and used neutral, clearly worded questions. Is there anything concrete about these polls that Lucas can identify which would contradict our characterization of them in these terms? We doubt it. As to the polls being done in a repressive environment, if Lucas would read the polls in detail he would understand that the pollsters went to considerable lengths to verify that respondents were expressing their true views. Respondents were hardly averse to voicing criticisms of various aspects of Iranian political life. The polls done after the election showed no bandwagoning effect, with people trying to present themselves as having been with the re-elected President all along. And there is a remarkable degree of consistency across the polls, which is a powerful indicator that people were not lying to the pollsters. If Lucas has something to say on these points that actually deals with polling methodology, he should say it. Otherwise, he is the one being polemical, not us.
–Third, it is simply not accurate that, since June 2009, we have “largely relied on a single source, who is supportive of the regime,” for our information, which has made us “near blind” to current conditions in Iran. This is a cheaply ad hominem statement about us; it also slanders one of our colleagues at the University of Tehran. We have spent the last 12 years listening to and taking seriously the views of a wide range of Iranian officials, who worked for the Rafsanjani, Khatami, and Ahmadinejad administrations, as well as the views of Iranians in a range of professions who, while they may not support every decision or policy of the Iranian government, nonetheless believe in the Islamic Republic. This is what differentiates our work from that of any other Western analyst we know. It is also what has enabled us to be consistently right in our assessments of Iranian foreign policy and domestic politics, including in episodes such as the 2009 election and its aftermath, when most other analysts were categorically wrong—from their baseless assertions of massive fraud to their obviously incorrect predictions of the Islamic Republic’s implosion.
Finally, we want to underscore that challenging the “social fact” of the fraudulent 2009 election, created so cavalierly by Parsi, Lucas, and others, is at least as vital, if not more so, than challenging the “social fact” of an Iranian nuclear weapons program. 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. If the argument had only been over Saddam’s WMD, it is not at all clear the United States would have gone to war. The United States does not really care all that categorically about nuclear proliferation; it has certainly been prepared to tolerate that where Israel is concerned. What matters is the kind of regime the United States believes it is dealing with. That is why pushing back about the social fact of a fraudulent election—brought up again now by Trita Parsi as the basis for his whole argument about the Obama Administration’s diplomatic failures—still matters.
–Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett