Commentary Magazine


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.”

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