World

The Soft Side of Regime Change

Trita Parsi’s A Single Roll of the Dice

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.

Green-Colored Glasses

Parsi’s account of Obama administration policymaking is inextricably linked to his hopes for Iranian politics. In his telling, Obama’s initial interest in engagement “helped open up the political landscape in Iran,” encouraging those seeking change to unite behind Mir-Hossein Mousavi’s campaign against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. But, Parsi holds, Obama’s quest to engage—and thereby fuel regime transformation—was undercut by the Islamic Republic’s fraudulent June 12, 2009 presidential election and the brutal suppression of the Green opposition movement that Mousavi championed. Now, Parsi argues, it is time to try engagement again—but on his and NIAC’s terms.

To sell this message, Parsi argues that the Green movement represents the majority of Iranians, systematically omitting data to the contrary. He never mentions that every methodologically sound poll done in connection with the election showed that Ahmadinejad’s re-election with just over 60 percent of the vote (officially he received 62 percent) was plausible. From the campaign’s official launch a month before the election until three months after it, thirteen scientific polls—including polls run by Western groups experienced at surveying Middle Eastern and Muslim societies—showed as much. Their findings were affirmed a year later by another methodologically sound poll done by U.S.-based Charney Research, run by a former pollster for Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela. While some observers—including the admirable Hooman Majd—claimed respondents were surely lying, no large population lies consistently across fourteen different polls with scientifically designed samples.

If anyone was trying to pull a fast one with early claims of electoral victory, it was Mousavi.

Parsi makes claims about Iranian public opinion—e.g., that televised debates mobilized popular sentiment against Ahmadinejad and in favor of Mousavi—that are unsupported by any data at all, even unscientific polling, and are contradicted by all of the available high-quality data. His account of the election’s conduct is equally misleading. It opens with a producer at Press TV—the Islamic Republic’s English-language channel—receiving a call from the network’s director, an hour after polls closed, telling him to “announce that Ahmadinejad is ahead in the elections with a significant margin.” Parsi stresses that the Interior Ministry could not have counted all the handwritten ballots so quickly. The accusation reflects insufficient knowledge of basic facts. Vote counting is not done at the Ministry, but at polling stations, with results transmitted to Tehran. On election night in June 2009, Iranian media announced vote totals reported by the Ministry as they came in electronically from the 45,692 polling stations across the country. These were not comprehensive results—but then, neither are the returns reported by electoral authorities and television networks on election nights in the United States.

If anyone was trying to pull a fast one with early claims of victory, it was Mousavi. Parsi never mentions that, well before the alleged Press TV call, Mousavi had declared victory while polls were still open, citing official “information” he claimed to have received. Mousavi asserted that he’d won before, in all likelihood, any votes had been counted.

Evoking the Watergate break-in, Parsi describes how “ten security officers stormed” Mousavi’s campaign headquarters on election day to shut down its “media center”, which “completely disrupted the campaign’s operations.” The implication is that this suppressed the campaign’s ability to get its message out on election day, but Parsi omits the fact that it is illegal in Iran to conduct campaign activities on election day, as it is in France, Italy, Spain and at least twenty other countries.

More significantly, Parsi never explains how the supposed election fraud was perpetrated, a point on which Mousavi’s advisers could not agree. Surely it is incumbent on someone charging fraud—as candidate or scholar—to show how it occurred. Did someone stuff the ballot boxes? Was it done at the Interior Ministry, where vote counts were aggregated into national results? Parsi cites Mousavi’s letters of complaint to the Guardian Council—the body that, among other duties, oversees Iranian elections—as proof of wrongdoing. But, while Mousavi’s letters are full of allegations, he never documented the claims in them.

It should have been easy for Mousavi to back up his accusations. He had more than 40,000 election observers registered with the Interior Ministry, more than any other candidate. These observers were entitled to monitor polling stations, vote counts, and the final aggregation.

• In his letters to the Guardian Council, Mousavi never identified a single registered observer denied access to a polling station or barred from monitoring vote counting or aggregation at the Interior Ministry. His campaign named 73 individuals who were turned away from stations, but none was a registered observer.

• Furthermore, at every station, Mousavi’s observers signed off on, and were given hard copies of, forms showing the vote totals recorded on site and sent on to Tehran. The Interior Ministry published results from every polling station, and Mousavi never produced a single form showing results different from those released publicly. How was it that, in the months when Mousavi was encouraging people to protest on the streets, no observer—someone by definition committed to his cause—could provide a form to substantiate his stories of fraud?

• Likewise, Mousavi never identified a single observer barred from watching the aggregation of vote totals at the Interior Ministry. Reporting on its investigation into his complaints, the Guardian Council concluded that Mousavi was, on this point, making it up:

Representatives of the candidates were present and have observed all aspects of adding up and announcing the outcome of the election. Many of them left their desks at 6AM on Saturday, June 13…[C]reating doubt and uncertainty about the presence of the candidates’ representatives at the time of adding up the votes, based on the existing evidence, is unbelievable. It is therefore an unreal claim.

No Mousavi observer was ever brought forward to contradict this.

Parsi cites, literally, one source for his assertion that “[t]he election was rife with irregularities”: a “preliminary analysis” by Ali Ansari, a British academic, and colleagues, published nine days after the election. But Ansari and his coauthors did not even cover alleged irregularities in the election’s conduct. Rather, they sought to show that the results were out of line with historical patterns of Iranian voting behavior and statistically implausible. Even on this level, the paper has been thoroughly debunked, by us and others. In his “finished” analysis a year later, Ansari demurred on the fraud question, noting that the main issue was not whether the election was stolen, but Iran’s deeper political “crisis.”

Iranian-Americans changed their Twitter locations to Tehran in order to stoke Western perceptions of a social-media-facilitated revolution.

Parsi goes on to criticize Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei for failing, in his Friday sermon a week after the election, “to declare his intent to accommodate the reformists and to compromise.” The observation is politically nonsensical; in electoral systems, losers are not “accommodated.” (How should George W. Bush—who lost the popular vote in 2000 and took the presidency through a 5-4 Supreme Court decision—have “accommodated” the losing side?)

More importantly, Parsi asserts, without citing the sermon’s text, that Ayatollah Khamenei “endorsed Ahmadinejad’s victory, rejected any notion of fraud, and warned against continued demonstrations”—grossly misconstruing what Khamenei actually said. While offering his judgment that it was impossible to manipulate the number of votes in Ahmadinejad’s landslide, Khamenei declared, “If there are some people who have doubts and documents, those doubts should be investigated . . . The legal channels are open. The channels of love and friendship are open. You should use legal and friendly methods.” At the same time, Khamenei made clear that, without evidence of fraud, he would not let the result be overturned by mob intimidation, stressing “It is a wrong perception . . . that through their street presence they will be creating a lever of pressure against the system . . . Giving in to demands under pressure is itself tantamount to the start of dictatorship.”

Khamenei’s words are an endorsement not of Ahmadinejad but of Iran’s electoral system. One can argue that Khamenei is lying or too confident in the system’s capacities, but it’s not true that he simply “endorsed Ahmadinejad [and] rejected any notion of fraud.” After Khamenei’s sermon, Mousavi’s failure to document his case severely eroded the Greens’ popular support.

Based on his assertions-packaged-as-argument, Parsi holds that Obama could not engage with an illegitimate and divided Iranian government, and was in any event constrained by backlash in the United States over the Iranian election. This is problematic, not least because it ignores Parsi’s own role in the events he analyzes—specifically, his role as a major organizer of anti-engagement backlash in 2009. In multiple television appearances and op eds following the election, Parsi demanded that Washington take a “tactical pause” from diplomacy—which had not even commenced—because the Islamic Republic was potentially on the verge of collapse. As he wrote in July 2009,

The Obama administration should avoid repeating the key mistake of the Bush administration, for which Iran was solely viewed through the prism of its nuclear program. Delaying nuclear talks a few months won’t make a dramatic difference to Iran’s nuclear program. It could, however, determine which Iran America and the region will be dealing with for the next few decades—one in which democratic elements strengthen over time, or one where the will of the people grows increasingly irrelevant to Iran’s decision-makers.

This reflects a gentler version of the ideological dynamic that, as the late Tony Judt pointed out, enabled liberal support for invading Iraq: “A commitment to the abstract universalism of ‘rights’—and uncompromising ethical stands taken against malign regimes in their name”—leading “all too readily to the habit of casting every political choice in binary moral terms.” While noting how Obama’s efforts at engagement were constrained by pressure from allies (Britain, France, Saudi Arabia, and Israel) and domestic constituencies (e.g., Republicans and the pro-Israel lobby), Parsi overlooks arguably the most self-interested constituency of all: Iranian-Americans, many of whom are aggrieved against the Islamic Republic from which they or their families fled. After the election, thousands of Iranian-Americans changed their Twitter locations to Tehran in order to stoke Western perceptions that a social-media-facilitated revolution had broken out in Iran.

In the run up to the Iraq invasion, Iraqi expatriates—including Ahmad Chalabi, Kanan Makiya (another “scholar-activist”) and members of the Iraqi National Congress—helped bring America to war on false, even manufactured grounds. Unlike Chalabi and company, Parsi and NIAC do not advocate military action. But by depicting an Islamic Republic that does not follow his preferred path as illegitimate, with no evidence that most Iranians living in Iran want what he wants, Parsi is facilitating a potential U.S. war he professes to oppose.

Designed to Fail

From his unsubstantiated premise that the Iranian government is fraudulent, Parsi condemns the Obama administration’s decision to start talks with Tehran in October 2009, accusing it of privileging “the nuclear file at the expense of the human rights situation.” Otherwise, though, he is remarkably uncritical of the administration’s diplomatic approach. His analysis is compromised, in part, by personal links to the approach; Parsi was one of the non-governmental specialists the administration consulted while formulating policy—something he neglects to reveal.

In Parsi’s account, the president meant well, but his “vision and political space” for diplomacy were steadily undermined by “the actions of the Iranian government itself.” To sustain this, Parsi whitewashes the administration’s fundamentally duplicitous intentions. Obama did not engage to seek better relations but to set the stage for more coercive measures, perhaps even military force. That, not domestic politics in Iran, is why diplomacy failed.

The administration’s initial deliberations were anything but the well-intentioned exercise in strategy formulation that Parsi makes them out to be. Even the decision to have a broad-based interagency process was a sign Obama was not serious about rapprochement. Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger have recounted that, as they came to office in 1969 intent on refashioning policy toward the People’s Republic of China (which candidate Obama sometimes cited as a model for dealing with Iran), they knew that holding a normal interagency process would kill any chance of success. Working closely with probably not more than ten people, they remade the country’s China policy, largely in secret. Allies and domestic constituencies found out very late in the process. The result—the 1972 opening to the People’s Republic—was arguably the greatest achievement in U.S. diplomacy since World War II.

President Obama signaled that he would not spend appreciable political capital making diplomacy with Iran work.

By contrast, while Obama made a stab at rhetorical outreach to the Islamic Republic—most notably in a three-minute video in March 2009 commemorating Nowruz, the Persian new year—there was no serious interest in accommodating core Iranian interests. Instead of crafting strategy, Obama had a “policy review,” the results of which were certain once Dennis Ross was put in charge of it. By giving Ross—a longtime foreign policy hand with close ties to the Israel lobby, which opposes engagement—the lead, Obama signaled he would not spend appreciable political capital making diplomacy work, a pattern he has displayed on other security issues on which he took forward-leaning positions in his presidential campaign, such as terrorism detainees and the state secrets doctrine.

Ross favored what he called “engagement with pressure,” now enshrined as the “dual-track” strategy. Parsi is skeptical about this strategy, but he misses the real point—the strategy, as crafted by Ross, was never intended to facilitate productive diplomacy. It was intended to fail. As we wrote in The New York Times in May 2009, three weeks before Iran’s June 2009 presidential election:

In conversations with Mr. Ross before Mr. Obama’s election, we asked him if he really believed that engage-with-pressure would bring concessions from Iran. He forthrightly acknowledged that this was unlikely. Why, then, was he advocating a diplomatic course that, in his judgment, would probably fail? Because, he told us, if Iran continued to expand its nuclear fuel program, at some point in the next couple of years President Bush’s successor would need to order military strikes against Iranian nuclear targets. Citing past ‘diplomacy’ would be necessary for that president to claim any military action was legitimate.

This jibed well with Obama’s preference for diplomacy as insubstantial rhetoric. After Ayatollah Khamenei responded to Obama’s Nowruz message by stating “You change, and we will change as well”—putting the onus on Obama to show seriousness about realigning relations—the new president no longer had any real commitment to engagement (if he ever had much). A month later, Obama approved the policy review’s engagement-with-pressure plan. All of this happened months before Iran’s 2009 presidential election.

Consider some of the facts that Parsi misconstrues, misrepresents, or ignores in arguing that Iranian intransigence, rather than a lack of real commitment in the White House, is to blame for the failure of diplomacy. He writes that the administration knew Iran would not agree to stop uranium enrichment at the 3–4 percent level required to fuel normal power reactors, and decided not to demand it as a negotiating outcome. The claim—for which Parsi has no direct sources—is untrue. While some U.S. officials recognized Iran’s unwillingness to abandon enrichment, there was never a consensus or presidential decision to accept safeguarded enrichment in Iran; three administration officials have confirmed this to us.

Parsi doesn’t mention that the administration refused to support revising the multilateral “incentives” package for nuclear talks on the table when Obama came to office, though it was clear that Tehran viewed the package as woefully inadequate in its treatment of Iranian security concerns. This is not the posture of an administration serious about realigning relations.

Parsi also writes, “The Obama Administration sought to reduce Iran’s sense of threat in order to kick-start negotiations”—another false claim. Parsi argues that by designating the Kurdish separatist movement PJAK as a terrorist organization in February 2009, the administration sent a positive “signal” to Iran; he chastises Tehran for not appreciating it. In fact, PJAK was so designated as a gesture to Turkey, not Iran; at the same time, the administration declined to list Jundallah, a more lethal Balochi separatist group. U.S. intelligence officials have told us Jundallah was not named because U.S. intelligence and the military wanted to maintain contact with it. (Washington eventually designated Jundallah in November 2010, nearly two years into Obama’s presidency and months after Iran had captured and executed the group’s leader.)

More broadly, Obama did nothing to rein in anti-Iranian covert programs. Indeed, leaked documents show that such programs—including ties to groups whose actions in Iran, if taken in Israel or many other countries, would be condemned in Washington as terrorism—intensified after Obama came in. This is also not the posture of a president serious about rapprochement. Parsi ignores it, too.

Parsi’s unwillingness to confront the duplicity driving the Ross-crafted, presidentially-approved strategy persists in his treatment of diplomacy surrounding the refueling of the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR, originally supplied by the United States to Iran under the Shah in the 1960s). This issue led to the “single roll of the dice” in Parsi’s title, the one episode in which U.S. and Iranian diplomats engaged (briefly) on a substantive matter. In June 2009—before the presidential election—Iran asked the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for help in securing new fuel for the TRR under the Agency’s supervision, for the purpose of making medical isotopes. Tehran meant this as a confidence-building measure. As Ahmadinejad and other officials said, if Iran could buy the fuel, it would not need to begin enriching uranium to nearly 20 percent, the level required by the TRR (and well short of, albeit closer to, the 90 percent or higher level needed for nuclear weapons).

By any reasonable standard, it should not have been a problem to refuel a safeguarded reactor never implicated in proliferation activities. But, rather than treat Tehran’s request as a technical matter—as the Reagan Administration did in 1987 when Iran last went on the open market to purchase fuel for the TRR, from Argentina—the Obama administration came back with a convoluted plan to take most of Iran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium (LEU, enriched to the 3-4 percent level) with a promise of new fuel perhaps two years later, saying that such a “swap” would put off any possibility of an Iranian “breakout” for at least eighteen months. Iran accepted in principle but wanted to negotiate details to ensure it received new fuel, a stance portrayed by the administration—and Parsi—as showing how divided and paralyzed Iran’s leaders were after the June election.

U.S. diplomacy with Iran will only work if it is based on acceptance of the other nation as an enduring entity with legitimate interests.

This is Western projection, not reality. Tehran was consistent about its terms for a deal, including either a simultaneous exchange of LEU for new fuel or the deposit of Iranian LEU in a third country that would return it if new fuel were not provided by an agreed-upon time. Washington spun this as rejection. The problem, though, was not in Tehran, but in U.S. insistence that the offer was a take-it-or-leave-it proposition, which the IAEA’s then-director general, Nobel laureate Mohammed ElBaradei, said scuttled a deal. The administration was more interested in laying a predicate for new sanctions than concluding an agreement.

Parsi’s uncritical reprise of White House talking points continues in his treatment of Iran’s decision, in February 2010, to begin enriching to the near-20-percent level needed to make isotopes for cancer patients. The decision, according to Parsi, “fueled suspicions that Tehran indeed sought to build nuclear weapons.” He fails to note that there was then, as there has been intermittently for several years, a worldwide shortage of medical isotopes, including in the United States. This situation supports Iran’s decision to produce them indigenously, under IAEA scrutiny, rather than rely on a market that could not even adequately supply Western countries.

The administration’s duplicity became more glaring when Brazil and Turkey sought to help the parties conclude a swap. In official letters to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and then-Brazilian President Lula Inácio da Silva in April 2010, Obama accepted Turkey’s offer to hold Iranian LEU in escrow, but stipulated that Tehran would have to send the LEU out in one batch, at the start of the process. U.S. officials conveyed skepticism that Iran would accept, telling Turkish and Brazilian counterparts that, if they failed to reach a deal with these terms, Washington would insist that Turkey and Brazil—non-permanent UN Security Council members at the time—support new UN sanctions. A month later, Erdoğan and Lula went to Iran and brokered the Tehran Declaration, which remains a model for diplomacy on the nuclear issue: in return for recognizing its right to enrich, Iran agreed to the terms detailed in Obama’s letters. But, while the Declaration met Obama’s conditions, the administration rejected it and, the next month, pushed the Security Council to adopt new sanctions, which Turkey and Brazil voted against.

Parsi papers this over as bad timing; Obama had already promised Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to seek new sanctions before Iran accepted. In fact, the White House never intended to make a deal. Turkish and Brazilian officials have told us they believe the administration deliberately set up Erdoğan and Lula to fail, falsely confident that Tehran could not accept Obama’s terms.

Coming to Terms—With Reality and the Islamic Republic

Today, the administration is working with Europeans and others to sanction the Central Bank of Iran and cut off the flow of Iranian oil to international markets. It has also come ever closer to declaring regime change the ultimate goal of its Iran policy.

The United States cannot afford another failure of analysis and decision-making like that which culminated in the 2003 invasion of Iraq, when many Democrats and more than a few liberal human rights advocates endorsed the Bush administration’s folly. Parsi wants to persuade us that “the current stalemate has more to do with the domestic political limitations Obama and his Iranian counterparts face than it does with a genuine failure of diplomacy.” We agree that “the limited diplomatic encounters between Iran and the U.S. in 2009 and 2010 cannot be characterized as an exhaustion of diplomacy”, but Parsi’s claim that “the Iranian government’s internal and external conduct” after “the fraudulent election of 2009” was the main source of Obama’s difficulties is neither an accurate nor genuinely alternative narrative. Instead of Obama’s diplomacy failing because the Islamic Republic is irrational or implacably hostile to the United States—standard neoconservative explanations—Parsi attributes the failure largely to the Iranian government’s illegitimacy. The notion that the Islamic Republic is illegitimate is already well established in neoconservative rhetoric; Parsi’s view of Iranian politics simply provides mainstream validation for it.

Moreover, Parsi’s kid-gloves treatment of Obama’s policy does nothing to highlight fatal deficiencies in the U.S. approach. Diplomacy will not work until Americans understand that their country needs rapprochement with Iran. The U.S. position in the Middle East is in free fall, Tehran has been the biggest beneficiary of the decline. In this climate, a U.S. war on Iran would be costly for everyone involved, but the consequences would be particularly devastating for the United States—strategically, economically, and morally.

Too many American elites think that the Arab Spring has given Washington, in Parsi’s words, “an opportunity to reinvent its leadership in the region”, putting Tehran “on the defensive and significantly reduc[ing] its ability to position itself as indispensable to U.S. interests in Iraq, Afghanistan, and beyond.” Even more comfort themselves with the delusion that the same forces that deposed a U.S. ally in Egypt can bring down the present Iranian order, too.

This misunderstands the Islamic Republic’s political roots and the Arab Spring, both fundamentally grounded in popular aspirations to independence. Whatever frustrations Iranians may have with the existing system, the overwhelming majority recognize it as their system, made by Iranians rather than outsiders. Policymakers in Tehran calculate, correctly, that any government in the Arab world that becomes more representative of its people’s views and values will become less enthusiastic about strategic cooperation with the United States and Israel and more open to Iran’s message of independence. That is why the Islamic Republic is not merely unthreatened by the Arab Spring, which it calls an Islamic awakening, but optimistic about what it portends for the relative positions of Iran and the United States in coming years.

U.S. diplomacy with Tehran will only work if it is based on the same foundations as America’s opening to China in the early 1970s: acceptance of the other nation as an enduring entity with legitimate interests and pursuit of real rapprochement through the reciprocal accommodation of each side’s core interests. This is something no U.S. president, even Barack Obama, has been prepared to do—which is why the Obama administration still cannot face reality on enrichment. Such an approach is impossible so long as Washington demands surrender or indulges fantasies of remaking the Islamic Republic into something more palatable to U.S. constituencies.

Unfortunately, Parsi wants U.S. policy to go in exactly the opposite direction, urging that “other security issues [besides the nuclear issue] be put on the agenda, but perhaps more importantly Washington should also give the human rights situation in Iran significant prominence.” To avoid the very war Parsi says he opposes, the United States will have to pursue rapprochement with the Islamic Republic as it is, not as some—including, it would seem, Trita Parsi—wish it to be.

 

Editor’s Note: Trita Parsi and Ali Ansari have responded to this review.

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