Commentary Magazine


Topic: Mohsen Makhmalbaf

Defenders of NIAC

Since Eli Lake’s blockbuster story and the follow-up by Ben Smith — which revealed, among other things, that the NIAC has been seeking to dislodge Dennis Ross, working to defund Iranian democratic activists, misrepresenting itself as the broad-based representative of the American Iranian community, and actively lobbying the U.S. government without registering as a foreign agent — a curious phenomenon has occurred. The Left and those self-proclaimed non-Leftists who nevertheless uphold each and every one of the Left’s positions have come rushing to the defense of the NIAC and of the now embattled Trita Parsi (who turns out not to be an Iranian-American at all, although that’s been part of his spiel).

Weren’t these the folks painting their websites green and crying crocodile tears over the mullahs’ brutality? Why are they now in the business of flaking for the mullahs’ flak? Take one point: the accusation that the man being sued by the NIAC is a terrorist, Hassan Daioleslam. (The litigation has, it seems, provided the documents that now are the source of the NIAC scandal.) Daniel Luban breathlessly asserts: “Daioleslam is an unsavory character, said by multiple sources to be affiliated with the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK, or MKO) — a terrorist group (classified as such by the State Department) with close ties to the Saddam Hussein regime.” Now that’s a serious charge. Where is the proof that this man is a terrorist, and who are these multiple sources? Did Luban check with Daioleslam, as Eli Lake meticulously checked with each source in his account? Or is this another element in the Leftist smear-fest? And the “our critics are MEK terrorists” line is, surprise, surprise, right out of the NIAC playbook.

But because the story involved no gynecological intrigue, Andrew Sullivan — who surely seemed to be on the side of the democracy protesters whom Parsi conspired to defund — decided that there was no story there at all. And he seems to be very, very confused regarding who’s on the side of the Greens here (“Smearing the non-neocon Green opposition as essentially pro-Khamenei solidifies the neoconservative war project.”) Uh, actually it is Parsi and his J Street friends who were in the business of fending off opposition to the Iranian regime and depriving the Greens and democracy organizations of funds and support. He really thinks the Green movement and its American supporters look upon Parsi as their ally? (As Lake details, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, the Iranian filmmaker and defender of the Green Movement abroad, explained: “I think Trita Parsi does not belong to the Green Movement. I feel his lobbying has secretly been more for the Islamic Republic.”) Well, if Sullivan can get to the bottom of Sarah Palin’s faked pregnancy, then anything is possible, I suppose.

This hue and cry, the mimicking of the NIAC line, and the utter absence of facts to rebut Lake’s account suggest that the name of the game here is distraction. For after all, what can they say — that Parsi really represents the American-Iranian community? Well, 2,500-3,000 members isn’t much. That he’s not been pushing the mullahs’ line to further their uranium-enrichment ambitions? But he has, as he assures us:

The current nuclear impasse is partly rooted in the questionable assumption that zero enrichment is the only route to avoid an Iranian bomb. While the optimal situation is one in which Iran does not enrich, this goal is no longer possible. . . But that does not mean that a small-scale Iranian enrichment program is tantamount to a nuclear bomb. According to nuclear experts like Bruno Pellaud, former deputy director general and head of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Department of Safeguards, intrusive inspections is the best tool to ensure that Iran doesn’t divert its civilian program into a military one. Yet these inspections can only take place as part of a package deal with Iran that includes some level of enrichment. This makes reassessment of the zero-enrichment objective all the more important.

At some point the NIAC, Parsi, and those who consorted with them to influence U.S. policy, to oust Dennis Ross, to cut off funds to the democracy dissidents, and to push the mullahs’ propaganda line will have to face tough questions. And so will those who went out on a limb to defend them with nothing more than smears against those who exposed them.

UPDATE: Beyond whether the NIAC registered as a foreign agent is the more glaring issue as to why the group and its officials were not not registered as lobbyists. As Ben Smith wrote, the documents that have come to light “bolster the notion that the group works to change U.S. policy, part of the definition of lobbying.”

Since Eli Lake’s blockbuster story and the follow-up by Ben Smith — which revealed, among other things, that the NIAC has been seeking to dislodge Dennis Ross, working to defund Iranian democratic activists, misrepresenting itself as the broad-based representative of the American Iranian community, and actively lobbying the U.S. government without registering as a foreign agent — a curious phenomenon has occurred. The Left and those self-proclaimed non-Leftists who nevertheless uphold each and every one of the Left’s positions have come rushing to the defense of the NIAC and of the now embattled Trita Parsi (who turns out not to be an Iranian-American at all, although that’s been part of his spiel).

Weren’t these the folks painting their websites green and crying crocodile tears over the mullahs’ brutality? Why are they now in the business of flaking for the mullahs’ flak? Take one point: the accusation that the man being sued by the NIAC is a terrorist, Hassan Daioleslam. (The litigation has, it seems, provided the documents that now are the source of the NIAC scandal.) Daniel Luban breathlessly asserts: “Daioleslam is an unsavory character, said by multiple sources to be affiliated with the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK, or MKO) — a terrorist group (classified as such by the State Department) with close ties to the Saddam Hussein regime.” Now that’s a serious charge. Where is the proof that this man is a terrorist, and who are these multiple sources? Did Luban check with Daioleslam, as Eli Lake meticulously checked with each source in his account? Or is this another element in the Leftist smear-fest? And the “our critics are MEK terrorists” line is, surprise, surprise, right out of the NIAC playbook.

But because the story involved no gynecological intrigue, Andrew Sullivan — who surely seemed to be on the side of the democracy protesters whom Parsi conspired to defund — decided that there was no story there at all. And he seems to be very, very confused regarding who’s on the side of the Greens here (“Smearing the non-neocon Green opposition as essentially pro-Khamenei solidifies the neoconservative war project.”) Uh, actually it is Parsi and his J Street friends who were in the business of fending off opposition to the Iranian regime and depriving the Greens and democracy organizations of funds and support. He really thinks the Green movement and its American supporters look upon Parsi as their ally? (As Lake details, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, the Iranian filmmaker and defender of the Green Movement abroad, explained: “I think Trita Parsi does not belong to the Green Movement. I feel his lobbying has secretly been more for the Islamic Republic.”) Well, if Sullivan can get to the bottom of Sarah Palin’s faked pregnancy, then anything is possible, I suppose.

This hue and cry, the mimicking of the NIAC line, and the utter absence of facts to rebut Lake’s account suggest that the name of the game here is distraction. For after all, what can they say — that Parsi really represents the American-Iranian community? Well, 2,500-3,000 members isn’t much. That he’s not been pushing the mullahs’ line to further their uranium-enrichment ambitions? But he has, as he assures us:

The current nuclear impasse is partly rooted in the questionable assumption that zero enrichment is the only route to avoid an Iranian bomb. While the optimal situation is one in which Iran does not enrich, this goal is no longer possible. . . But that does not mean that a small-scale Iranian enrichment program is tantamount to a nuclear bomb. According to nuclear experts like Bruno Pellaud, former deputy director general and head of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Department of Safeguards, intrusive inspections is the best tool to ensure that Iran doesn’t divert its civilian program into a military one. Yet these inspections can only take place as part of a package deal with Iran that includes some level of enrichment. This makes reassessment of the zero-enrichment objective all the more important.

At some point the NIAC, Parsi, and those who consorted with them to influence U.S. policy, to oust Dennis Ross, to cut off funds to the democracy dissidents, and to push the mullahs’ propaganda line will have to face tough questions. And so will those who went out on a limb to defend them with nothing more than smears against those who exposed them.

UPDATE: Beyond whether the NIAC registered as a foreign agent is the more glaring issue as to why the group and its officials were not not registered as lobbyists. As Ben Smith wrote, the documents that have come to light “bolster the notion that the group works to change U.S. policy, part of the definition of lobbying.”

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Eli Lake on NIAC

Eli Lake has a blockbuster story in the Washington Times concerning the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), which made its name as a reliable apologist for the mullahs and has consistently advocated lifting sanctions against the Iranian regime. (Some background is here and here.) NIAC, according to Lake’s report, worked hard to create a media storm over Obama Middle East adviser Dennis Ross, fearing he would advocate a tougher line against the mullahs. Moreover, it turns out NIAC hasn’t played by the rules:

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.

Neither Mr. Parsi nor anyone else at NIAC has registered as a lobbyist or filed papers with the Justice Department as a local agent of the Iranian government or Iranian companies. … Mr. Parsi defended his decision to organize NIAC as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and declare on tax forms that his group does not engage in lobbying — a status that enables donors to deduct contributions on their taxes.

Lake also exposes the NIAC claim to represent “the Iranian community” in America — or least many in it — to be, well, laughable. He explains: “The organization has between 2,500 and 3,000 members, according to Mr. Parsi, but had fewer than 500 responses to a membership survey conducted last summer, internal documents show. Yet NIAC asserts that it is the largest such group and represents the majority of the nearly 1 million Iranian Americans.” Five hundred, 1 million, whatever.

Parsi and NIAC have done their best to insulate the Iranian regime from criticism and to oppose any military or economic action against it. Parsi, you may recall, did his anti-anti-Iran routine recently at J Street’s conference. (J Street and NIAC share a common goal: prevention of sanctions against the regime. In addition, Genevieve Lynch, a NIAC board member, is on J Street’s finance committee and gave a cool $10,000 to the J Street gang.) As Jeffrey Goldberg observed, he does “a lot of leg-work” for the mullahs in the U.S. Lake quotes famed Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf as saying, “I think Trita Parsi does not belong to the Green Movement. I feel his lobbying has secretly been more for the Islamic Republic.”

One other note, John Limbert was a board member of NIAC before recently being named deputy assistant secretary of state for Iran. Lake notes, “Mr. Limbert declined to comment, citing his new position, but has appeared at NIAC conferences in the past and expressed admiration for the organization and for its charismatic leader, Trita Parsi.”

Lake’s bombshell piece will no doubt cause a huge stir among those both within and outside the Obama administration who’ve chosen to cozy up to NIAC, and in turn give the mullahs a helping hand.

Eli Lake has a blockbuster story in the Washington Times concerning the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), which made its name as a reliable apologist for the mullahs and has consistently advocated lifting sanctions against the Iranian regime. (Some background is here and here.) NIAC, according to Lake’s report, worked hard to create a media storm over Obama Middle East adviser Dennis Ross, fearing he would advocate a tougher line against the mullahs. Moreover, it turns out NIAC hasn’t played by the rules:

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.

Neither Mr. Parsi nor anyone else at NIAC has registered as a lobbyist or filed papers with the Justice Department as a local agent of the Iranian government or Iranian companies. … Mr. Parsi defended his decision to organize NIAC as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and declare on tax forms that his group does not engage in lobbying — a status that enables donors to deduct contributions on their taxes.

Lake also exposes the NIAC claim to represent “the Iranian community” in America — or least many in it — to be, well, laughable. He explains: “The organization has between 2,500 and 3,000 members, according to Mr. Parsi, but had fewer than 500 responses to a membership survey conducted last summer, internal documents show. Yet NIAC asserts that it is the largest such group and represents the majority of the nearly 1 million Iranian Americans.” Five hundred, 1 million, whatever.

Parsi and NIAC have done their best to insulate the Iranian regime from criticism and to oppose any military or economic action against it. Parsi, you may recall, did his anti-anti-Iran routine recently at J Street’s conference. (J Street and NIAC share a common goal: prevention of sanctions against the regime. In addition, Genevieve Lynch, a NIAC board member, is on J Street’s finance committee and gave a cool $10,000 to the J Street gang.) As Jeffrey Goldberg observed, he does “a lot of leg-work” for the mullahs in the U.S. Lake quotes famed Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf as saying, “I think Trita Parsi does not belong to the Green Movement. I feel his lobbying has secretly been more for the Islamic Republic.”

One other note, John Limbert was a board member of NIAC before recently being named deputy assistant secretary of state for Iran. Lake notes, “Mr. Limbert declined to comment, citing his new position, but has appeared at NIAC conferences in the past and expressed admiration for the organization and for its charismatic leader, Trita Parsi.”

Lake’s bombshell piece will no doubt cause a huge stir among those both within and outside the Obama administration who’ve chosen to cozy up to NIAC, and in turn give the mullahs a helping hand.

Read Less




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