I was a guest Monday at the National Iranian American Council’s gala dinner, the organization headed by the author Trita Parsi–who, among many other accomplishments, has written for TAC. I’ve never been around Iranian-Americans in, so to speak, concentrated doses–it was always a friend’s wife here, a tennis partner there. As one of my tablemates told me, “We tend to assimilate pretty thoroughly.” America’s roughly half-million Iranian-Americans are professionally successful (a 2004 MIT study showed that they have the highest rate of holding a master’s degree or higher of any ethnic group in America, and the second highest rate of college graduates). Clearly the Shah’s regime, and even more, the Islamic revolution which overthrew it, generated a massive brain drain. If last night was indicative, there is a fairly astonishing glamour quotient among Iranian women.
But in official Washington these days discussion about Iran revolves exclusively around whether to bomb it, or whether the sanctions are sufficiently “biting”, or what we should do if Israel bombs it. At NIAC, there is a pretty clear political consensus: the Iranian regime is repugnant, fascist, and embarrassing–all words I heard applied to it repeatedly. And … a military answer isn’t the right one. NIAC reflects the broad political consensus among Iranian-Americans: only three percent of Iranian-Americans support an American military attack on the regime. By a 2-1 margin, Iranian-Americans opposed taking the MEK, a cult-like linked to terrorism, off the State Department’s terror group list. Beyond lie large uncertainties: more sanctions?, more diplomacy? regime change?–and a sense that there are no easy answers. These Iranians were a highly secular group; it is apparent that nothing reinforces anti-clericalism so much as a doctrinaire theocracy. When I said I thought change would most likely come from within, when an Iranian Gorbachev recognized that an Islamic regime despised by most of his country’s young and educated had no future, no one disagreed or offered a more rapid scenario.
It was striking to see a community full of national pride, happy to let you know that Iran is the oldest nation in Mideast, has a rich literary tradition, and is a nation which has overcome and endured foreign invasion and occupation before. More than once was I reminded that Iran, after all, did not introduce nuclear weapons into the Middle East. I have never met an Iranian of any political stripe ready to concede Israel’s demand for a regional nuclear monopoly.
Trita Parsi has already achieved much wearing two hats, both as a political scholar and a force helping Iranian-Americans find a political voice. This voice is certainly heard in upper reaches of the foreign policy establishment, and probably within the White House. It remains muffled in Congress–drowned out as ignorant and bellicose resolutions continue to roll right on through. That will have to change, hopefully before our air force is sent on a fool’s errand of destruction.