Eli Lake, who covered the neocon beat for the New York Sun before it went belly up, is now in the belly of the beast at the Washington Times. And he doesn’t disappoint in delivering the goods for the pro Iran war faction in his latest smear of Iranian-American leader, Trita Parsi. Trita is the founder of the leading Iranian-American political organization, the National Iranian American Council. He will be speaking at a Seattle conference I’m organizing next month dealing the Iranian nuclear crisis and finding a peaceful way to resolve it.
Why do Trita and NIAC get the right’s dander up? Because they’re an active, energetic Iranian-American group with opposes the regime but does not support its violent overthrow as the Ledeen-Hoenlein-Aipac-Israel lobby crowd do. For them Trita is an independent entity and they want to cut such figures down to size in order to render U.S. policy more pliant and malleable in their favor.
NIAC has sued an Iranian, Hassan Daioeslam, for slander. The case just survived a ruling requiring discovery and depositions. The defendant in the case is a member of the executive committee of Mujahadeen al-Khalq, an Iranian group named by the U.S. Treasury as a terrorist entity, because it seeks the violent overthrow of the Iranian regime. Apparently, Daioeslam and his cohort have obtained documents from NIAC which prove…what, I’m not sure. But neocons will tell you breathelessly that they prove that Trita Parsi is a pawn of the Iranian mullahs, doing their bidding in a valiant effort to allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon. The Daioeslam-FrontpageMagazine crowd goes farther and claims that Parsi is a Revolutionary Guard spy and/or paid foreign agent working to subvert U.S. policy on behalf of the murderous mullahs.
Here’s a the gist of Lake’s claims (and do note the degree to which quotations are fragmented and truncated and accusations are unsupported):
Shortly before Barack Obama took office, leaders of a prominent Iranian-American group in Washington began to fret.
If the new president were to tap former Middle East envoy Dennis Ross to oversee the nation’s Iran policy, they feared their long-running effort to persuade American officials to lift sanctions could wind up in tatters. Patrick Disney, acting policy director of National Iranian American Council (NIAC), summed up the strategy: “Create a media controversy” concerning Mr. Ross, whose support for a tough line on Iran was well-known.
“Those groups that feel comfortable being more aggressive in opposing Ross publicly (possibly Voters for Peace, [Friends Committee on National Legislation] , Physicians for Social Responsibility, others) will do so,” Mr. Disney wrote in an e-mail obtained by The Washington Times, “while others who may have less latitude on the matter will declare their preference for a more agreeable envoy.”
Mr. Ross was appointed anyway and wound up on the National Security Council. But the episode highlights NIAC’s emergence as a major player in Washington and leading voice for engaging Iran and ultimately lifting U.S. sanctions.
Note the unsupported claim that NIAC supports “lifting sanctions” against Iran. NIAC opposes any NEW sanctions against Iran. Frankly, I’m pretty sure NIAC (along with almost every other serious Iran analyst) thinks existing sanctions are counter-productive. But it does not support “lifting sanctions” as described in Lake’s report.
As for opposed Ross’ entry into the government, welcome to the party. There were literally scores of organizations, blogs and Middle East experts lobbying furiously against Ross (including me). Are we all agents of the Ayatollahs.
Another unsupported claim:
Now a lawsuit has brought to light numerous documents that raise questions about whether the organization is using that influence to lobby for policies favorable to Iran in violation of federal law.
There seems to be a willful inability for neocons like Lake to distinguish between a policy that “favors Iran” and one that favors the U.S. NIAC’s policies are not designed to favor the current Iranian government. In fact, NIAC is opposed to the current government. But they oppose violent regime change and that is what irks the necons. NIAC’s positions favor the best long-term interests of Iran-U.S. relations–that is, the greatest good for the greatest numbers of everyday Iranians (not the mullahs).
In the following passage, Lake actually does accurately characterize Parsi and NIAC’s views in such a way that this directly contradicts his prior breathless statements about NIAC’s agenda of subverting U.S. policy:
Mr. Parsi, a green card holder, has become more critical of Iran’s government since its disputed June 12 presidential elections, urging President Obama to condemn human rights abuses in Iran and to implement a “tactical pause” in efforts to arrange negotiations. But Mr. Parsi’s history suggests a continuing commitment to changing U.S. policy on Iran…
First, Parsi doesn’t want to “change” U.S. policy on Iran. He wants an effective, productive policy on Iran that resolves conflict, including the current nuclear impasse. This is precisely what Barack Obama’s policy is. So there is very little daylight between the two. The only difference is that NIAC does not support new draconian sanctions against Iran nor does it support a military attack on Iran. Though Obama doesn’t currently support either option, he hasn’t ruled them out. That’s it. Those are the only differences. So to say that Parsi is committed to changing U.S. policy is at best a distortion, at worst an outright lie.
Lake also mischaracterizes how he obtained the NIAC documents. He claims they were “made public” as the result of the defamation suit against Daioeslam. They weren’t “made public.” They were transferred to Daioeslam who then gave them to Lake. Actually, Lake is making the documents public out of ideological animus toward NIAC and a desire to support a hard-core neocon position on Iran.
In the following passage, Lake provides little support for the claim that NIAC has violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act:
Law enforcement experts who reviewed some of the documents, which were made available to The Times by the defendant in the suit, say e-mails between Mr. Parsi and Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations at the time, Javad Zarif – and an internal review of the Lobbying Disclosure Act – offer evidence that the group has operated as an undeclared lobby and may be guilty of violating tax laws, the Foreign Agents Registration Act and lobbying disclosure laws.
Lake offers a single internal e mail written by a junior NIAC staffer saying that the latter believed that he and a colleague spent more than 20% of their time lobbying and that therefore they should consider registering as lobbyists. This is not a memo written by Parsi, the leader of the group. There is no evidence of what his opinion was on the subject. And the opinion offered by the junior staffer was not a legal opinion since he is not a lawyer.
The Washington Times muckraker finds further proof of Parsi’s divided allegiance in an entirely different group the latter founded 13 years ago when reformist Mohammed Khatami was Iran’s president. The earlier group did have as part of its mission to advance Iranian interests and remove U.S. sanctions according to Lake. Keep in mind, the earlier group’s mission was formulated during an entirely different time in Iran’s political history. Besides, the earlier group no longer exists. So Lake would have you believe that Trita Parsi is violating federal law because he is allegedly adhering to the mission of a group that no longer exists and which was created to respond to the reformist movement in Iranian politics which has not been in power for five years.
Here Lake confuses Parsi’s desire to “open up opportunities for trade” with a desire to undermine U.S. sanctions policy:
As early as December 2002, however, Mr. Parsi envisioned that his nonprofit would join with a full-fledged “grass-roots lobby” to push for an end to sanctions on Iran. He wrote in a memo to Roy Coffee, a former aide to then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush: “Although the mission of the proposed lobby should be to improve relations between the U.S. and Iran and open up opportunities for trade, the initial targets should be less controversial issues such as visas and racial profiling/discrimination.”
In the neocon universe, if you attempt to improve U.S.-Iran relations you are a traitor to U.S. interests and a stooge of Iran. If you foresee a time when U.S. and Iranian companies would pursue commercial interests, then you’re as good as a smuggler crossing the Straits of Hormuz in a cigarette boat.
This is how Lake describes the lawsuit defendant, who is a confirmed Iranian anti-regime revolutionary:
An Iranian-American journalist from Arizona named Hassan Daioleslam…
How does Daioeslam qualify as a “journalist?” Why, he writes for Frontpagemagazine don’t ya know. Why no mention of his affiliation with Mujahadeen al-Khalq? That would complicate things a bit for Lake, wouldn’t it? He’d have to explain why he’s relying on an informant who is a leader of an Iranian terrorist group.
Not until the end of his article does Lake say of the evidence for one of his claims, that Parsi arranged meetings between Iran’s UN ambassador and members of Congress:
…The case is not definitive. Two lawyers who read some of the same documents said they did not provide enough evidence to conclude that Mr. Parsi was acting as a foreign agent. Neither of the lawyers agreed to be quoted by name.
A fair journalist would have acknowledged this from the very beginning of the piece and not made such an unequivocal claim in the beginning. But neither Lake’s nor the Washington Time’s job is to use standard practices of professional journalism like fairness and balance.
Once again at the end of his article he provides this comment from a Congressmember who totally disputes the notion that Parsi was engaging in lobbying when the member met with the Iranian ambassador:
Mr. Gilchrest, a Maryland Republican who left office in 2009, said he remembered meeting with Mr. Parsi but did not consider him a major player in his efforts to meet Iranian officials.
“Trita was one person that we would use as a source of information. But I would not say we viewed Trita as a lobbyist,” Mr. Gilchrest said. “He was a small part of our circle who wanted to meet with Iranians.”
Here, Lake offers further evidence of NIAC’s alleged lobbying activities:
NIAC boasted about the media campaign in a grant application to private foundations for a proposed “U.S.-Iran Media Resource Program.”
The application said NIAC “succeeded in putting Iran’s 2003 Grand Bargain offer onto national headlines,” noting that Mr. Parsi’s efforts had generated 37 “pieces of analysis,” a feature on CNN and 80 newspaper mentions.
The application credits NIAC for thwarting what Mr. Parsi said was “the Bush administration’s push for a military confrontation with Iran.”
So NIAC’s publicizing the Iranian “Grand Bargain” in the U.S. media constitutes lobbying? I’ve written about the Grand Bargain. Should I register as a lobbyist? And you’ll note that the closest Lake gets to proving NIAC actually had any impact on U.S. policy toward Iran is Lake’s characterization of NIAC as “taking credit” for influencing policy. The reporter doesn’t even provide any documentary evidence or a quotation from the application that supports the claim.
Besides, the Bush administration refused to attack Iran for reasons having little or nothing to do with NIAC. George Bush decided that such an attack was not in U.S. interests. Believe me, he didn’t listen to NIAC’s views in making that decision. There were far more important voices he was listening to like his own father and members of his father’s inner circle like Brent Scowcroft. Who knows, maybe Condi Rice actually had something sobering to say on the subject to counter the pro-war rumblings of Dick Cheney.
Unfortunately, Lake also neglects to mention that Daioeslam conspired with neocon regime-change hawk, Kenneth Timmerman in a campaign to smear Parsi: The former wrote an e mail to the latter during the presidential campaign with that in mind:
“I strongly believe that Trita Parsi is the weakest part of the Iranian web…I believe that destroying him will be the start of attacking the whole web. This is an integral part of any attack on Clinton or Obama.”
It was their hope thereby to damage the realist approach to U.S.-Iran relations and thereby aid and abet the drumbeat to military force, if not war. Instead of worrying about whether Trita Parsi is a mullah mole Eli Lake should be asking himself why his neocon friends supporting regime change are conspiring with Iranian dissidents who support terror.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.