For Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council and professor at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, the Iran nuclear deal was designed from a series of internal developments and a variety of secret negotiations going on behind the scenes. More formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the agreement’s international role is best revealed through informal discussions amongst the seventy-five individuals on both sides that Mr. Parsi had interviewed along the way for both his advisement to the Obama administration and his latest book, “Losing an Enemy: Obama, Iran and the Triumph of Diplomacy” (2017, Yale University Press).
An award-winning author and a leading expert on U.S.-Iranian relations, Trita Parsi will speak on the various forms of diplomacy that led to the nuclear deal, the risk of a potential U.S.-Iranian armed conflict, and his thoughts on recent domestic events within Iran at “The Risk of War with Iran: a talk by Trita Parsi,” an event hosted by the Columbia World Affairs Council, Tuesday, March 13, from 12pm to 2pm, at The Palmetto Club (1231 Sumter Street).
“Losing an Enemy” certainly serves as a treatment of the many backstories that the Obama administration conducted with Iran leading up to the deal, but also emphasizes that the same issues reach beyond any restriction or maintenance of Iran’s nuclear program. Parsi is also recognized in high regard for his 2007 book, “Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran and the United States,” which won the Council on Foreign Relations’ Arthur Ross Book Award and the Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order.
Decades of U.S.-led sanctions related to Iran’s nuclear program and proliferation date back to 1979, the year of the Iranian Revolution. The Iranian government has repeatedly stated its nuclear program is utilized nationally for electricity, medical purposes, and other forms of resources for Iranian civilians. These claims have done little to stop the U.S. and the UN Security Council from imposing sanctions each decade that target Iranian investments in or exports of oil and any form of financial cooperation with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), a branch of Iran’s Armed Forces with operations beyond Iran’s borders related to foreign interference or threats to its Islamic Republic system. Such targeting of the IRGC has ranged from domain name and web-hosting services to banking transactions.
With such context having served as precedent for international policymakers prior to the JCPOA’s formulation, it is essential to view this particular diplomatic relationship from a holistic regional vantage point. In other words, U.S.-Iranian relations and what the JCPOA represents goes well beyond the headliners that many are accustomed to: transcontinental weapons shipments by Hezbollah, the Iranian government’s unfrozen tens of billions in Asian central banks, networks of disguised foreign exchange transfers, arms deals with Russia, etc.
Much of how the U.S. government views Iran relates to the larger interpretation of what the Middle East represents for American interests. More generally, the regional balance of power has shifted significantly due to the invasion of Iraq, which, in turn, has weakened Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and other U.S. allies. If one were to assume that the Middle East is essential to U.S. national security, the U.S. must act and act with strong consideration. If one were to view the Middle East as not nearly as valuable as it had been decades ago, the costs of American hegemony in the region are to be much less significant. Yet, at the moment, there are three failed states and possibly two more in the region. By such indications, one could confidently suggest that costs of U.S. regional leadership have increased dramatically.
With weaker allies, competitors from East Asia now have the capacity to influence major international decisions. From China’s perspective, increased U.S. involvement in the Middle East is received positively, as the Chinese focus has transitioned to Africa and South America, where the U.S. has been less attentive over the past decade. During the Obama administration, key gaps in staffing and presence across Asia spurred a shift in strategy.
The Trump administration’s strategy, if any, has been to reverse various Obama era foreign policy hallmarks, most notably by quadrupling U.S. troop presence in Syria and by deploying 3,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, thereby intensifying proxy efforts to counter Russian and Iranian presence in the region. Since it is currently much more difficult to identify what the U.S. is actually trying to achieve, its allies have an easier time carrying out their own separate offenses with less divided focus. According to Parsi, “there is no national dialogue because everything is transactional and not strategic.”
The rise of official and unofficial Iranian presence across the Middle East has also yielded domestic turmoil within Iran’s borders. The uprisings beginning at the end of 2017 left many surprised that a chain of protests across the country could occur quickly without growing expectations of national and international public perception. As evidenced by the protests, President Hassan Rouhani is no longer afforded the luxury of shifting the leverage of national politics into a regional context. This is especially true when there is considerably less American and Israeli malfeasance and the relative success of Shia militias in Iraq and Syria.
Even with the leaderless uprising emerging within various Iranian cities at once, the reaction of the government wasn’t nearly as brutal as it had been in 2009 during the Green Movement, which consisted of its own political leadership that translated the Iranian people’s public anger and national anxiety more effectively. This time, the leaders from 2009 were on the sidelines. After all, with many of the protesters in their twenties and unemployed, the connection and transparency with the Iranian middle class wasn’t as pronounced, or clear for that matter. “If they had been more involved, it would have been more potent. There were beliefs that it could lead to something more serious that no one wants,” explains Parsi.
During “The Risk of War with Iran: a talk by Trita Parsi” held by the Columbia World Affairs Council, Parsi will present in greater detail the many talks and operations that preceded the international agreement of the JCPOA, how close the U.S. was in fact to actually engaging in war with Iran, and further insight into internal political movements within Iran. REGISTER HERE!