Trita Parsi (Persian: تریتا پارسی, born 21 July 1974) is the founder and current president of the National Iranian American Council, author of Treacherous Alliance and A Single Roll of the Dice. He regularly authors articles in print, and appears on TV to commentate on foreign policy.
Early life and education
Born in Iran to a Zoroastrian family, Parsi moved with his family to Sweden at the age of four in order to escape the political repression in Iran. His father was an outspoken academic who was jailed under the reign of the Shah and later under Ayatollah Khomeini's Islamic Republic. Parsi earned a Master's Degree in International Relations at Uppsala University and a second Master's Degree in Economics at Stockholm School of Economics. As an adult, Parsi moved to the United States and studied foreign policy at the Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies where he received his Ph.D. in International Relations.
Early in his career Parsi worked for the Swedish Permanent Mission to the United Nations in New York, where he served in the Security Council, handling the affairs of Afghanistan, Iraq, Tajikistan, and Western Sahara, and on the General Assembly's Third Committee, addressing human rights in Iran, Afghanistan, Myanmar and Iraq.
He has served as an adjunct professor of International Relations at Johns Hopkins University SAIS, an adjunct scholar at the Middle East Institute and as a Policy Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington DC.
National Iranian American Council
In 2002, Parsi founded the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), whose stated purpose is "advancing the interests of the Iranian-American community. We accomplish our mission by supplying the resources, knowledge and tools to enable greater civic participation by Iranian Americans and informed decision making by lawmakers." Through the organization, he supports engagement between the US and Iran in belief that it "would enhance our [U.S.] national security by helping to stabilize the Middle East and bolster the moderates in Iran." On the group's formation, he commented, "We realized that our primary thing that separates the Iranian-American community from the Jewish-American community, the Arab-American community, the Armenian-American community is that the Iranian-American community has shunned political participation."
In a 2011 talk sponsored by the Institute for Global Law and Policy at Harvard Law School, Parsi argued that the conflict between Israel and Iran was not ideological but strategic and geopolitical. In a 2012 article for Salon, Parsi accuses Israel of using “the threat of war to push the U.S. and EU into passing economic sanctions on Iran” and denounced those sanctions as "blind" and "indiscriminate."
In 2007, Yale University Press published Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran, and the United States. Parsi's work is an expansion of his 2006 Ph.D. dissertation written at Johns Hopkins University under the supervision of his Ph.D. adviser Francis Fukuyama. The book "takes a closer look at the complicated triangular relations between Israel, Iran, and the United States that continue to shape the future of the Middle East." The book argues that the struggle between Israel and Iran is not ideological but strategic.
The book received many positive reviews. In Foreign Affairs, L. Carl Brown called the book a "well-constructed history" and former U.S. ambassador Peter Galbraith praised the book as "a wonderfully informative account." The book was also praised by political scientist John Mearsheimer and former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski who was on his dissertation committee,. In 2008, Treacherous Alliance was awarded the silver medal (runner-up) in the Council on Foreign Relations' Arthur Ross Book Award.
Reviewing the book in Commentary in March 2008, however, Nathan Thrall found it "troubling" that a "litany of praise" had "been heaped on this book by authorities in American foreign policy and Middle East studies." Parsi, noted Thrall, believes that "the internal dynamics of states (i.e., their ideology, system of governance, ethnic makeup, class structure, and religion), while important, 'have little or no impact on their respective foreign policies.'" Thrall suggested that in propounding such a thesis, Parsi, "the head of a lobby promoting 'greater understanding' of Iran," may just be "doing his job. But the distinction between arriving at a conclusion and beginning with one is what separates the work of a historian from that of a lobbyist. In this case, it is a distinction that seems to be lost not only on him but on the luminaries who have lined up to endorse his defective scholarship and tendentious conclusions."
Treacherous Alliance received the 2010 Grawemeyer Award from the University of Louisville, given for "Ideas Improving World Order." Treacherous Alliance also won the 2008 Arthur Ross Silver Medallion from the Council on Foreign Relations, which described it as a "unique and important book" that "takes a closer look at the complicated triangular relations between Israel, Iran, and the United States that continue to shape the future of the Middle East."
In a 2011 interview with the Institute for Global Law and Policy at Harvard University, Parsi asserted that his thesis had "been vindicated" by recent events. "I believe it is increasingly clear that efforts to divide the region between moderates vs radicals, democracies vs non-democracies etc is of little utility and has no real explanatory value. Israel, for instance, who had sought to frame its rivalry with Iran as a struggle between the region’s sole Western democracy against a fanatical Islamic tyranny, favored the status quo in Egypt and opposed the efforts to oust Mubarak." He added that "With the decline of the US, Israel's strategic paralysis and increased isolation in the region, the rise of Turkey, the 'revolutions' in Tunisia and Egypt, and Iran’s continued difficulties in translating its strength to regional acceptance, the region is experiencing momentous changes both in its political structure and in its balance of power. An ideology based approach towards understanding these shifts won’t get you far."
A Single Roll of the Dice: Obama's Diplomacy with Iran
In the 2012 book, Parsi's thesis is that US-Iran relations are in a stalemate caused by institutionalized enmity: "The thirty-year old US-Iran enmity is no longer a phenomenon; it is an institution." He argues that the way forth is through sustained diplomacy that he considers "the only policy that remains largely unexplored and that has a likelihood of achieving results amounting to more than kicking the can down the road."
Julian Borger wrote in The Guardian that A Single Roll of the Dice is “A carefully balanced and thoroughly researched account of the tortured US-Iranian relationship in recent years.” L. Carl Brown from Foreign Affairs said the book is “the most incisive account available... eminently readable, sometimes gripping.”
Reviewing the book in The Wall Street Journal, Sohrab Ahmari faults Parsi for failing to "re-examine U.S. policy and its underlying assumptions." Instead, he writes, "Quick to ascribe irrationality and bad faith to opponents of engagement, Mr. Parsi is charitable when it comes to examining the motivations of the Iranian side." In opposition to Parsi's position, Ahmari concludes, "Mr. Obama's engagement policy failed not because of Israeli connivance or because the administration did not try hard enough. The policy failed because the Iranian regime, when confronted by its own people or by outsiders, has only one way of responding: with a truncheon."