Few people have done more to direct global attention to the Green protests in Iran than Andrew Sullivan. Through the revolutionary tumult of the summer, Andrew’s blog was the first read for everyone following the heart-stopping news from inside Iran. By linking technology to moral purpose, a one-man blog competed toe-to-toe with international cable news networks and often won.
The uprisings have been suppressed, at least for now. The regime is organizing show trials. It has rebuffed US diplomatic overtures. And Americans are now faced with the challenge of deciding what to do next.
One of the most influential dispensers of advice in Washington is Trita Parsi, an Iranian national resident in the United States.
Parsi urges an end to all sanctions against Iran; an end to U.S. financial aid to Iranian democrats; and the acceptance of Iran’s uranium enrichment schemes.
Parsi claims that this agenda, which happens to coincide with the wishes of the Iranian state, expresses the preferences of the million-person Iranian-American community. When an actual Iranian-American dissented from being represented in this way, Parsi filed a lawsuit.
That lawsuit produced a large cache of discovered documents about Parsi and his group, the National Iranian-American Council. They found their way, as documents will, into the hands of a reporter, Eli Lake of the Washington Times. (Where they prompted more cease-and-desist letters from lawyers for NIAC and Parsi.) Earlier this week, Lake produced a big newser of a story based on their information.
Here’s what Eli learned:
The supposedly representative NIAC can claim no more than 3,000 members; only 500 respond to the groups own membership surveys.
Andrew describes Trita Parsi’s credentials in support of the Green Revolution as impeccable. Eli quotes that movement’s unofficial spokesperson, the film maker Mohsen Makhmalbaf, to contrary effect: “I think Trita Parsi does not belong to the Green Movement. I feel his lobbying has secretly been more for the Islamic Republic.”
Eli quotes a former FBI counterintelligence special agent:
It appears that this may be lobbying on behalf of Iranian government interests. Were I running the counterintelligence program at the bureau now, I would have cause to look into this further. NIAC however has not registered as a lobbyist of any kind, much less as a foreign agent. If its activities did constitute lobbying, it has broken important laws.
In a related exchange, Michael Goldfarb of the Weekly Standard reproduced an email from Trita Parsi in which he boasted of his success in discouraging Iranian democrats from speaking out publicly against the regime.
I am fond of convincing Iranians of the hostile intentions many players in DC based on my own observations from within Congress.
This is real information that raises real questions. Here we have a national of a hostile foreign power. That national has gained important access to U.S. government and media. He has used that access to advocate an agenda remarkably coincident with the wishes of his home government.
On the other hand, since the rigging of the presidential elections in June, Parsi has taken a more critical stance against the present Iranian government. He has not changed his mind about his agenda. Only now he argues that the same agenda that once promised to warm relations with the government will now serve the cause of the reformers.
Its basic curiosity to wonder: Who is this guy? By seeking to answer that question, Eli has committed real journalism.
Andrew urges his readers to disregard the information unearthed by Eli Lake and instead to question Eli’s motives for bringing that information forward:
[Parsi] opposes war. And so if you want to understand the motives behind the leaked documents behind Eli Lake’s recent fair story, you need look no further. Smearing the non-neocon Green opposition as essentially pro-Khamenei solidifies the neoconservative war project.
Its never a smear to report the truth. Instead of accepting elaborate explanations as to why the facts don’t matter shouldn’t friends of the Green opposition want to know what those facts are?
There is zero possibility of President Obama going to war with Iran. He has enough difficulty making up his mind to honor his campaign commitment to fight the war in Afghanistan.
The practical issue before us is, should the US organize sanctions to stop the Iranian nuclear program?
Its a serious question. And when someone from a country as divided as today’s Iran tells you, No, dont do it, its important to know for which side of the divide does he speak? Taking his own word for it is not a good way to answer that question.
Maybe Trita Parsi has been unjustly suspected. Maybe he actually is the passionate well-wisher to Iranian democracy that Andrew says. Lets see the record that proves it – not the lawyers’ letters breathing fire against anyone who dares report on the information that suggests otherwise.