By | Rachel Brooks
January 25, 2021
Image credit: “Stop A War With Iran Rally 4” by Stephen D. Melkisethian is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. Shared here for fair use illustration. For more information on fair use redistribution of images, see Section 107 of the Copyright Act.
The United States has been taken under the influence of Iran’s spies, giving airtime to their disinformation tactics on mainstream news broadcasting services.
An activist’s archive points to trouble
Iran activist Heshmat Alavi pointed to the progression of this fact on November 30,2020, when he shared the airtime granted to Iran lobbyist Trita Parsi on major outlets CNN and MSNBC. Trita Parsi is the on-books founder of Washington, DC based Iran lobby National Iranian American Council, abbreviated NIAC. Alavi showcased in his review how the NIAC frequently echoes the rhetoric of Tehran. Primary agendas include a reduction of sanctions, a removal of U.S. military influence in the Iran region, and an end of strategic U.S. ties between other Iran-enemy states, the Arab States and Israel.
Alavi shared a review by Michael D. Johns Jr. which appeared in the National Review on October 20, 2020. Johns showcased in his review how the political division in America created a ripe environment for NIAC to slip in the rhetoric of Iran concerning the Persian chauvinist apartheid regime that has developed within the country.
Johns, in his report, detailed the antagonistic relationship between the U.S. and Iran that has continued since the Iran revolution in 1979. He cited a Gallup poll which revealed how the majority of Americans still hold an unfavourable opinion of the Iranian regime.
Despite the rhetoric of recent American history, and its attempt to soften these relations with media, the relationship with Iran and the United States has been one of hostility since the new regime established its Supreme Leader, and the country became a Persian-Islamists ethnoreligious dominated society. The rhetoric of Supreme Leaders and the chauvinistic “ruling class” of the nation dictates that the U.S. is “the Great Satan,” a natural enemy of Iran, and even itself Satanic. The existence of a “companionable spokesmanship” in the United States seemed highly unlikely, and yet, John cited the NIAC as providing this very thing.
Formation of the NIAC
This spokesmanship for Iran emerged in the founding of NIAC in 2002, spearheaded by Trita Parsi. Parsi was born in Iran, and had dual citizenship in Iran and Sweden. He was a former employee of the Swedish mission to the United Nations. Parsi was a champion of the JCPOA agreement.
Johns’ article in the National Review states that NIAC was born from a whitepaper released in 1999 by Siamak Namazi and Trita Parsi. The whitepaper was entitled Iran-Americans: The bridge between two nations. It is worthy of note that, despite the rhetoric detailed in the document, the NIAC policies and sympathies with Iran do not reflect the majority of Iranian-Americans, who came to the United States to seek asylum from the regime. Regardless, the whitepaper sets out a policy for pushing forward the NIAC’s vision for a western-Iranian collaboration on policy. It was presented to the DAPIA conference in Cyprus in November 1999.
Betraying itself, the white paper presented to DAPIA in 1999 showcases a sort of disdain and vaguely cloaked aggression toward Americans in its opening-address language.
“Twenty years ago a group of radical Iranian students stormed the American Embassy and took over the compound. That event, which was the start of the 444 day hostage crisis, was arguably what made many Americans realize that there is an Iran – or at least an “Eye-Ran” – on the world map. Prior to the hostage crisis, it may have been harder to explain to the average Joe American where Iran was. It would often take a game of name associations to provoke any sort of recognition of the Iranian nation. Ask any Iranian who lived or visited the US back then, and they will readily reveal the list of magic terms that may have had an impact: oil, the Shah, carpets, caviar, Persia, fluffy cats, etc. While the hostage taking may have finally made “Iran” a household name in Anywhere, America, the image that was conjured was far from an desirable or constructive. The new magic vocabulary now included: terrorists, Ayatollah, hostage takers, and the like. The aim here is not to poke fun at the American ignorance of Iran. The record is not much better on the Iranian side. Perhaps Hollywood has been able to give some more information about the American people and the way the American systems works to a nation such as Iran, but often an Iranian’s knowledge of the US is as sophisticated as a Hollywood thriller.
Add to that the effects of various political tirades, such as the regular Friday prayer sermon, combined with Madonna clips from MTV, and the level of distortion becomes clearer. Having said that, the Iranian revolution did have a tremendous impact on raising the understanding between the Iranian and American nations, albeit unintentionally. The emigration of Iranians has generated a substantial, if often unnoticed wealth for both nations: a large group of people who have a good understanding of the two countries.
The rhetoric of this whitepaper showcases a disdain for the unfamiliarity Americans circa 1979 would have had for Iran, with language that almost undermines the events of the hostage crisis. The rhetoric of this whitepaper then goes on to play upon the ignorance of the 1979-1999 era of Americans. The paper insists on the adoption of policy from the emigration of Iranians as the final source of rhetoric between the U.S. and Iran. This paved the way for actors of the Iranian state to enter American political minds under the white flag of legitimate emigration. The white paper details a program that would bring Iranian interns, diplomats, thinkers into the fold and welcome a hospitable relationship between Iran and America. This would have been a novel idea, but for the strong ties to the oppressive apartheid regime within Iran that keeps the Iranian people under lock and key, leaking only those that are neccessary to the agenda through small cracks. In that same vein of thought, Parsi founded the NIAC.
Zarif the architect behind NIAC
While Parsi was the founder and the driving member of NIAC, Alavi cites an Iranian regime insider, who on recorded interview explains how the NIAC was founded backstage by Iran Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.
“Yes, the NIAC was founded by Zarif. This is honest and sincere, and he supported them politically and non-politically! It doesn’t matter now, and I don’t want to get into the details. They brought in a guy called Bob Ney (former Senator of Ohio) who was a congressman, whom Mr. Parsi used to work for, they brought him in, then a couple of years later he was involved in a financial scandal (Jack Abramoff scandal of 2006) a huge corruption which was related to this group (NIAC), then he was jailed and lost his job and he retired, and no one knows where he is now. There were others too who were involved,” says the insider, in the 0:45 clip obtained by Alavi. Alavi also cites photographs that corroborate this account of Parsi’s direct involvement with the Iran foreign ministry. Alavi’s obtained photographs picture Parsi with Seyed Abbas Araghchi, a deputy foreign minister of Iran, as well as Iran President Hassan Rouhani, and Majid Takht Ravanchi, an Ambassador and permanent representative of Iran. The photos were taken during discussions for the nuclear deal in 2015.
Alavi also obtained footage that makes a direct comparison between Parsi’s official statements for NIAC and Zarif’s Iran rhetoric, showing how the talking points are directly associated. In addition to shared rhetoric, a court order likewise obtained by Alavi shows a direct email correspondence between Parsi and Zarif occurred in 2006, the same year as the Jack Abramoff scandal. In this correspondence, the two discuss publicizing details of an Iranian bargain offer sent to the U.S. in 2003.
The email written by Parsi and sent on March 16, 2006, is as follows:
I hope this message finds you well. I wanted to let you know that I have finished my PhD. on Israel and Iran and am currently writing a book on this topic for Yale University Press.
I wanted to see if I could visit you in NY later in March or April to discuss some of the latest developments on this issue.
Very much looking forward to hearing from you,
Parsi’s Blackberry schedule gives background on regime ties
Parsi was referring to a book called “Treacherous Alliance: The secret dealings of Israel, Iran, and the U.S.” which was published on October 28, 2008, and is the earliest book published under his name in the Yale University Press catalog. It would be published two years after the meeting discussed in this email. The follow up email to this meeting was sent on March 29, 2006, and reads as follows:
“Thank you so much for the meeting yesterday (March 28, 2006). I need to clarify a few points before I discuss the Spring 2003 issue. Would you prefer to do this per email, or should I call you?-tp.”
Over their email correspondence on March 29, Parsi asks Zarif specific questions for proceeding with his policy. Zarif likewise lauded Parsi’s interview on the BBC at or near that date. This highlights the direct strategic rhetoric between leaders of Iran’s regime and the NIAC.
Alavi was likewise able to obtain and publicize the Blackberry calendar records for Parsi spanning March 2006 to September 2007. They detail a list of VIP personnel access from the Iranian regime, including Ahamedinijad, Zarif, Zarif’s top assistant Gholamhossein Mahammadnia, Nahavandian, a special advisor to Iran’s National Security Advisor, and Iran’s ambassador to the U.N. 2007 era, Mohammad Khazaei. See the entire list at the Iranian American Forum.
Roadmapping the U.S.-Iran rhetoric relationship in recent history
In his National Review article further detailing the bitter relationship between U.S. and Iran rhetoric, Johns cited Ben Rhodes, the Deputy national-security adviser of the Obama policy era, who had stated his team had manipulated the coverage of mainstream press outlets to validate what Rhodes’ team had given them to say. Rhodes had, through this, created an echo chamber, encouraging the mainstream media to validate and publish what had been spoonfed to them about the JCPOA agreement.
Johns was quoting the New York Times when referring to Ben Rhodes’ moment of bragging over creating political echo chambers in the U.S. media. This comment appeared in “The Aspiring Novelist Who Became Obama’s Foreign Policy Guru,” by David Samuels, May 5, 2016, in the New York Times. Samuels laid out the digital age policies of Ben Rhodes and how he “had rewritten the rules of diplomacy for the digital age.” The article is an in-depth review and interview with Rhodes that follows his life from direct witness of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in New York City, to his life as Obama’s foreign policy expert. Rhodes had familial ties to the Carnegie Endowment of International Peace, and as such, had begun his life as a writer on international affairs, breaking from his fiction writing bent.
Samuels’ piece in the New York Times follows Ben Rhodes’ final days in Obama’s White House as his deputy national security advisor for strategic communications, as he enters the scene of an off-record lunch with President Obama on January 12, 2016, which was the day of Obama’s final year’s-beginning press conference as the head of state. Rhodes’ team was also present at desks in the room on this day, with his assistant Rumana Ahmed, and his deputy Ned Price. The relationship between Obama and Rhodes is cordial at this point in history, with the report recalling how Obama adjusts Rhodes’ tie at one interval of the exchange.
The review then goes on to explain how Rhodes’ “channeled” the consciousness of President Obama for five weeks, to produce a sense of security in a final State of the Union. Rhodes’ narrative was frustrated by the fact that, on the same day, Iran had seized two small boats containing 10 American sailors. The New York Times had reported this event as well, stating that Iran cited espionage as the reason for seizing political prisoners of America.
In that moment, Rhodes was confronted with the reality of his own narrative’s fragility in that final Obama-era State of the Union. Fighting for that narrative, Rhodes conveyed to Obama how he had learned of the event earlier that morning, but had been trying to keep it out of the press for a few hours, until post the grand exit strategy of the State of the Union.
“They (the press) can’t keep a secret for two hours,” he was quoted as saying.
Circles of influence recirculate
The New York Times reports contemporary with that final State of the Union under Obama showed that many of Rhodes’ policies on strategic communications were personalized. The New York Times described Rhodes’ craft as a novelist in selecting carefully placed adjectives and linguistic style choices that precede the flow of information. This wordsmith craftsmanship makes him a voice more influential toward Iran policy than diplomats and spies. This influence was directly referred to as a “mind-meld” with the president. Rhodes even confided in Samuels’ during an interview, “I don’t know anymore where I begin and where Obama ends.”
The strength of influence that Ben Rhodes had with Obama, and the sphere of mutualism that Rhodes has with the NIAC, shows a circulation of influence. That the Iranian regime influenced U.S.-Iran policy during the Obama years is enunciated by this fact.
Rhodes was the voice behind all of the policy at that time regarding strategic communications with Iran. The New York Times stated that Rhodes and Obama spoke on a constant basis, at least several times per day. Rhodes’ wrote the president’s speeches and planned his trips. This was citing Obama’s chief of staff Denis McDonough. McDonough stated that Obama and Rhodes spent at least two to three hours with each other in person per day, and spoke remotely over telecoms several additional times throughout the day.
The New York Times describes Rhodes as the architect behind the Iran deal messaging campaign.
The New York Times describes Rhodes as the architect behind the Iran deal messaging campaign. It came, therefore, as no surprise that Rhodes was invited to keynote the NIAC Gala of 2016, which occurred in October of the same year. Citing the transcript of the NIAC Action Gala, Rhodes was active in policy formation and preparing the way for a post-Obama era, warning of “complacency” in the future. Rhodes echoed the same talking points as his peers, stating that there would be an “opening” if “the U.S. was willing to engage.” Rhodes’ words would have seemed quite reasonable, citing how U.S. policy focuses on the “worst elements” of the country, and how the U.S. finds no opportunities this way. Rhodes failed to note in this address that the regime in Iran is the worst element of the nation and that the policy the U.S. has taken previously a direct stance against this regime apartheid corruption has been in the best interest of the Iranian people.
Rhodes’ team shows shift in thought from Obama to Trump
As for Rhodes’ team, they would go on to perpetuate their relationship with the media that spun the narrative in the direction convenient to undermining Trump-era stiff crackdown policy. Ahmed would later go on to describe her own career in the White House National Security Council, and how she lasted a mere eight days in the Trump administration, see the Atlantic, February 23, 2017.
Ahmed described herself as “the only hijabi in the West Wing” and that she, a child of immigrants from Bangladesh, was welcomed and well-received during the Obama administration. She stated that she was hired directly from college for her role in the NSC as a Rhodes’ assistant. Ahmed stated that she left the NSC and the Trump administration directly due to travel restrictions on seven Muslim countries issued early in his presidency.
The rhetoric from Ahmed’s appearance in The Atlantic continued to highlight the manipulative relationship that the NSC had during the Obama-era with the press. The press was carefully baited and spoonfed information during the Obama years. In the sudden shift to Trump, Trump’s historically antagonistic relationship with the press, even before his presidency, a new rhetoric of hostility, and carefully diverted attention that focused on the most negative relations between the predominately Muslim nations and the U.S. dominated.
Catalytic policy shift between Obama and Biden
Obama’s era sought to control the narrative of Iran abuses, but the Trump administration took a “gloves off” approach toward the regime. Trump’s administration withdrew unilaterally from the JCPOA agreement, to the dismay of the global leaders, and began a crackdown campaign. This policy shift was seen as catalysing a “pretext of war” with the Iranian regime, for its numerous departures from the Obama-era of Iran policy.
In 2019, a pro-Iranian regime podcast called Between the Lines interviewed the former president of the NIAC, Jamal Abdi. In this interview, NIAC purported the theory that the Trump administration had orchestrated attacks of Iranian oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman in 2019, and that these attacks were “false-flag attempts to provide pretext for war with Iran.
The NIAC has ties linking it to the Iranian regime. With the new administration of President Biden, NIAC has celebrated a promise of relieved sanctions from the iron stiff policies of the Trump administration. On January 22, NIAC lauded the fact that Biden’s administration vowed to review U.S. sanctions on Iran. NIAC cited the COVID-19 pandemic as the reason for the Biden administration’s review into alleviating the economic policies that slow the access the regime had to outside resources and U.S. based grants.
“Today the Biden admin said it will review existing US sanctions to ensure they aren’t harming the global response to COVID-19. This is a welcome change from the last admin, which escalated sanctions on #Iran even as it battled the region’s worst outbreak,” said the NIAC, publishing a post regarding this policy on its council organization site.
Questions of the future
Biden was historically more reluctant to engage in foreign wars than Obama was, citing the Cato Institute.
Despite this fact, Biden is repeating many of the Obama-era’s mistakes by surrounding the administration with advisors that do not have a prime track record in maintaining a strictly unbiased relationship with the Islamist nations.
To illustrate, Biden historically opposed the regime-shift war in Libya in 2011 at the time of the Arab Spring, citing former Obama staff, advisors, and aides. Biden was likewise reluctant to engage in Syria. Yet, Biden’s tendency to work with people familiar to him from the Obama era, such as John Kerry, shows that the spellbinding influence of Obama-era influence is still heavily present in Biden’s administration. Yet, with the much stiffer, bitter aftertaste the legacy of the Trump administration’s consistent battle with both the Iranian regime and the press leaves, the negative aftermath of this sphere of influence is yet to have manifested. Cato Institute cited concern over the Biden choice for Secretary of State Tony Blinken. Blinken was a deputy National Security Advisor from 2013-2015 era of the Obama administration. Blinken was “largely in accord” with Obama in terms of foreign policy. If one may trace the sphere of rhetoric and influence that shaped Obama’s foreign policy, then one will realize Tony Blinken has been influence by the same. Keeping the same company as was kept under Obama will provide unique challenges for Biden, as he attempts to reinstate the familiar policy of those days in a post-Trump relationship with Iran.
The challenge the U.S. faces with Iran-U.S. policy moving forward
In regards to the issues presented by the NIAC in U.S. global policy and security abroad, Republic Underground’s Rachel Brooks interviewed Iran-expert Dr. Reza Parchizadeh on January 21. This was one day prior to the Biden administration’s promise to review the sanctions. The interview focused on the outcome of the arrest of Iran scholar and political influencer Kaveh Lotfolah Afrasiabi. In January, Afrasiabi was charged with secretly colluding with Iran.
Interviewers questions are in bold text, Dr. Parchizadeh’s comments are in plain text.
First, I would like to ask you what the present threat is of other influencers such as Afrasiabi. How influential are these people in U.S. society? Do they likewise cooperate with other foreign interventionists, such as influencers of the ideologies of Chinese Communist Party?
These agents of influence are usually well-placed, which amplifies their voice and broadens their reach. They are typically professors at famous universities or researchers at influential think tanks, and they are regularly interviewed by the mainstream media in the West on the issues of the day. In their general posture, these influencers tend to be entrenched on the left side of the political spectrum, which tactically aligns them with domestic socialists as well as the global left. However, their strategic goal is to further the interests of the Islamist regime in Iran.
Secondly, how likely is the new president to be poorly influenced by these people as he reapproaches the western idea of the JCPOA agreement? Will the influence of these people place the Biden administration in a narrow corner when it comes to attempting their rapprochement venture, which may be like trying to restart a dead battery, post the strict stance of America first policy? Especially when one considers that the deal was defunct when it was in its original form, as Iran would not uphold its side of the agreement?
Historically speaking, the Iranian regime’s influencers have had more success with the Democrats than the Republicans. As one famous instance, President Obama’s administration is known to have closely collaborated with some of these influencers over the JCPOA. So President Biden is very likely to be approached by them as well. How much influence they can wield over his administration is only a matter of speculation. But if they gain influence, it can spell disaster for the Biden administration.
If we remember, the Iran lobby put the Obama administration at a disadvantage by providing it with lies or half truths about the malevolent nature of the regime in Iran, such as the scope of its nuclear and missile programs, its gross record of human rights, its attempts at regional imperialism, and its intention to destroy Israel. That is exactly why the original JCPOA did not work: because it was built on a foundation of lies. The same can happen to the next proposed deal if President Biden is not careful enough.
Is the JCPOA and Iranian rapprochement a high priority for this president’s policy, and how quickly is he to act on it?
As Joe Biden clearly stated during his presidential campaign, reviving the JCPOA is one of his presidency’s priorities. And he looks like he is determined to act quickly on that pledge, which is likely to produce less than desirable results for US national security as well as the security of the Middle East.
Biden began to move forward with reviewing to lift Trump-era sanctions on January 22.
In follow up to the above question, how likely is the move of American opposition politics, as have been promised by outgoing president Donald Trump and select members of his administration, to clash with the influence of Iranian agents/foreign agents in a Democratic Party led America? Will this social division further increase the security risks presented to the U.S. by Iran’s elite?
In the light of extensive evidence, the Democrats and the Republicans both have shortcomings when it comes to analyzing Iran and its broader reach in the Middle East. The causes of their shortcomings are different, though. The general pattern – of course there are always exceptions – is, the Democrats only consult Iranian experts who are lobbyists or regime-sympathizers; and the Republicans dismiss all Iranian experts as untrustworthy or substandard. That means independent Iranian experts never get a chance to help the US government, which leads to the US ever having difficulty charting a balanced Iran policy. I’m waiting to see if the Biden administration is finally going to break that vicious circle or not.
Do you think that clashes between Iranian-Islamist supported groups in the United States and far right-wing radicalized groups may increase because of the contradicting policies the outgoing and incoming presidents had? Could this lead to some of the same social clash scenarios we have seen in French society? If so, how must the United States respond to preserve its domestic security from radicalism of Islamists-influenced groups?
It all depends on how the political leaders of the nation are going to act. If they widen the divisions by radicalizing their constituencies, it’s going to lead to terrible clashes that will jeopardize American national solidarity as well as international security. If they choose to de escalate and heal the wounds, clashes will be less likely. As the founding spirit of the nation has shown us, there’s nothing that human will cannot do.