Mr. Parsi’s basic thesis is that the United States was lured into dealing with Iran because the Israelis wanted that, because they wanted a working relationship with the Iranian regime and believed they needed American help to obtain it.
But Mr. Parsi commits a basic logical error called post hoc ergo propter hoc, literally “after it, therefore because of it.” He thinks that, since the United States ended up pursuing a better relationship with Iran, the whole thing must have begun with that objective. Except that it didn’t. It began with an effort by the United States to better understand what was going on inside Iran. Accordingly, I was sent to Israel by National Security Advisor Bud McFarlane to ask Prime Minister Shimon Peres if Israel had good information on Iran, and if so whether it could be shared with us. There was no talk of hostages, a new relationship, or contacts with Iran. It began as a research project.
Indeed, it began with a research project because the head of an allied intelligence service had recently visited Iran, and found it much more turbulent than he had previously believed. He thought it was a good time for the U.S. to take a fresh look at Iran, and he told me we would be well advised to discuss Iran with the Israelis.
So Mr. Parsi has the whole context wrong, and he makes a mess of the chronology as well. He insists that my trip followed extensive discussions about Iran between American and Israeli officials, and that I was only sent after President Reagan and Prime Minister Peres had agreed to find a way to start dealing with Iran. That is false. I never talked about such matters with Peres, nor did he raise the question. He put me in touch with a university professor who followed Iran closely, and the two of us agreed to set up a study group.
Mr. Parsi says that I was in favor of talking to Iran at that time, and that I have subsequently reversed my position. I have certainly changed my mind on many matters, but not on this one. My view was and is that Iran is an enemy of the United States, and that its enmity is a fundamental component of the regime itself. I don’t think we are likely to talk the Iranians into abandoning their war against us. That said, I have no objection to talking to them, as we have for more than thirty years, and I think that we should also be engaged with lots of Iranian organizations, not just the regime. We should talk to businessmen and to workers’ organizations, student and women’s groups, and to all the major ethnic groups, from Persians to Azeris, Kurds, Baloch, Lur, and so on. After all, at least half the population is non-Persian, according to the CIA. Iran is an important country and it behooves us to have a serious policy to deal with it. So even though “talking to the regime” is not going to change their behavior, it may help us in other ways.
The main theme in my thinking and writing about Iran escapes Mr. Parsi: that we should support dissident groups. If he took the time to read my book about Iran-Contra, he would learn that I met with a high Iranian official who said he and his associates wanted to change the nature of the regime, and wanted American support. I tried, without success, to convince American policy makers to pursue that possibility, and I have advocated working for regime change all along.
Trita Parsi is an unreliable source, and should be shunned by all those, in government and out, who want to understand Iran, and American policy towards Iran. Enough said.