In an interview yesterday in the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof revived the myth of Iran’s alleged 2003 Grand Bargain offer. In short, Kristof – and other partisan journalists – suspended common sense and fact-checking and instead accepted the notion peddled by an Iranian-Swedish lobbyist that Iranian authorities offered a grand bargain to the Bush administration to cease terrorism and Iran’s illicit nuclear program and perhaps even bury the hatchet with Israel, if only the United States would give real security guarantees and normalize relations with Iran. Bush was too arrogant against the backdrop of the Iraq War, the story goes, and dismissed the Iranian offer outright.
Alas, the story is a conspiracy for which it seems Kristof is the last adherent. I addressed most of the falsehoods about the story in The Weekly Standard and in a subsequent exchange with Barbara Slavin, a former writer for USA Today who was sharply partisan in her work on Iran. What I didn’t know at the time—and what didn’t become apparent until the discovery phase of a libel lawsuit—was that Trita Parsi, the peddler of the myth, apparently knew it to be false when he contacted folks like Slavin and Kristof. In an email exchange with Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, Parsi asked whether the offer was Iranian in origin and was told, in no uncertain terms, that it was not. (In actuality, it appears the Swiss ambassador told the Americans the offer was Iranian in origin, while he told the Iranians the proposal originated with the Americans). Even Richard Armitage, a proponent of engaging Iran, acknowledged the offer didn’t pass the smell test.
Egos in Washington are too inflated to acknowledge mistakes. Slavin, who no longer has a paper to call home, recently penned a piece for the hard-left Inter Press Service in which she lamented the failure to improve U.S.-Iran ties. Importantly, she did not even mention the alleged 2003 offer. Nor does John Limbert: During the Bush years, Limbert cited the 2003 Grand Bargain offer as fact. Since he left the Obama administration, he has not cited it. Presumably, he recognizes it didn’t exist. Likewise, the United States Institute of Peace recently published a “Primer” on Iran, but does not mention the 2003 offer in its coverage of Bush-era diplomacy. The offer doesn’t appear in the Wikileaks cache. Most embarrassingly to Kristof, Ahmadinejad also fails to take the bait.
It is incredibly dangerous to base foreign policy on a myth. But Kristof, whose animosity toward Bush made him susceptible to a snake oil salesman’s entreaties, apparently would rather dig in Dan Rather style rather than simply acknowledge his error.