Peter Kohanloo and Sohrab Ahmari have penned an attack on the National Iranian American Council (NIAC):
NIAC’s own political vision is decidedly ayatollah-friendly. Since its founding in 2002, NIAC has consistently endeavored to shield the Iranian regime from Western sanctions and other forms of pressure. Prior to the 2009 post-election uprising, for example, NIAC rarely spoke out on the issue of human rights in Iran and, indeed, repeatedly sought to defund U.S. government programs for promoting democratization there.
Asked at a Middle East Policy Council forum in 2008 about the organization’s reluctance to address human rights issues, NIAC President Trita Parsi responded: “NIAC is not a human rights organization. That’s not our expertise.” NIAC also notably opposed listing the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps — the military force that created Hezbollah and is the central lever in the mullahs’ vast repressive apparatus — as a foreign terrorist organization.
Today, the organization continues to advocate against sanctions capable of shifting the mullahs’ nuclear calculus.
This article reads like a Jennifer Rubin attack on J Street. The authors treat stupid, counterproductive hawkish policies as if they were obviously desirable, and they demonize the organization opposed to those policies as harmful and unrepresentative of the community. Kohanloo and Ahmari don’t mention that NIAC’s position on U.S. funding for Iranian democracy groups was consistent with the position taken by those groups. These groups saw U.S. funding as a net liability. Opposition to listing the IRGC as a terrorist group was motivated by an understandable fear that such a listing could be used to justify military action against Iran. This was similar to the position that Obama took during the Democratic primary. The authors also have a selective memory, since they ignore the arguments that members of NIAC have made on behalf of the Iranian opposition since the summer of 2009. It doesn’t take an expert to understand that NIAC would oppose punitive sanctions on Iran because they impose significant and unnecessary costs on the Iranian population.
According to the polling evidence that Kohanloo and Ahmari cite to support their argument, only 30% of Iranian-Americans favor regime change, and 3% favor military action. By their own admission, Kohanloo and Ahmari are speaking for a distinct minority within their community on these issues. According to the poll, 38% of Iranian-Americans prefer negotiations or restored diplomatic relations. Furthermore, Iranian-Americans have gone from approving of Obama’s handling of Iran to disapproving of it by a wide margin:
A majority (56%) of Iranian Americans now disapprove of President Obama’s handling of relations with Iran, while thirty-two percent (32%) approve of how the President addresses this issue. These numbers have flipped since 2009 when a majority of Iranian Americans viewed President Obama’s handling of relations with Iran favorably.
Put another way, the Obama administration has moved away from its initial gestures at engagement and begun pursuing policies that are more in line with the views espoused by Kohanloo and Ahmari. The result is that the Iranian-American community has become more dissatisfied with administration policy towards Iran. The poll the authors cite to refute Marashi largely confirms what Marashi was arguing. It doesn’t show that the “vast majority of Iranian-Americans” believe that peaceful coexistence with the current Iranian government is impossible. On the contrary, it shows that among Iranian-Americans there is limited support for Iranian regime change and virtually none for attacking Iran.