Rise of the ‘Iran Lobby’

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The Unfolding Drama

The Iranian government and its friends are making no secret of its ambitions for the Iran Lobby.  AIC’s president Hooshang Amirahmadi was in Tehran in November 2008 and spoke with the Eternad newspaper about the importance of the presidential transition period then taking place in the United States. He warned that a contest among Arab, Iranian, and Jewish lobbies was unfolding in the U.S. capital, each trying to capture the “hearts and minds” of the new administration. He likened the scene to a “bazaar” and urged the friends of Iran to act quickly and decisively.58

Indeed, Israel is central to Iranian concerns and, given that Obama is on record describing Israel as “This constant wound…this constant sore [that] does infect all of our foreign policy,”59  the Tehran regime might expect an easy time with the new American president. In fact, the day after he made this statement, the Iranians scored a major coup when Sen. Obama stopped at Macomb Community College in Warren, MI. There, on May 14, 2008, he met one-on-one behind closed doors with Imam Hassan Qazwini, the smooth-talking head of the Dearborn, Michigan Islamic Center of America. Qazwini, an Iraqi Shi’ite who grew up in exile in Iran during the Saddam Hussein years, requested the meeting, which reportedly was arranged by  a former U.S. congressman from Michigan with a long record of sympathy for Arab, Iranian and Muslim causes: David Bonior.60  Qazwini is close to Lebanese Shi’ite Ayatollah Fadlallah, known for his relationship with the Hizballah terrorist group.

At present, a major objective of the Iran lobby is to weaken U.S. support for Israel. The lobby advocates permitting the Iranian nuclear weapons program to push forward with no serious consequences, while urging an “evenhanded” policy that would ban all nuclear weapons from the Middle East region. An impressive array of prominent think tanks and Middle East experts has been lining up to echo this party line.

For example, the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center produced a new report in December 2008 entitled “Restoring the Balance—a Middle East Strategy for the Next President.” An overview chapter by Richard N. Haas, president of the Council on Foreign Relations (and reportedly an Obama special envoy-in-waiting) and Martin Indyk, director of the Saban Center, was followed by individual chapters devoted to the Arab-Israeli conflict, counterterrorism, Iran, Iraq, and more.

The Iran chapter was written by Council on Foreign Relations husband-wife team of Ray Takeyh and Suzanne Maloney and urges direct engagement and rapprochement with the Iranian government. Maloney, who previ- ously had the Iran portfolio at the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff, and Takeyh are among the army of scholars and experts whose gloss of authority helps legitimate the Iranian party line in U.S. policymaking circles.

Dr. Takeyh, who is featured in a number of articles carried on the NIAC website, consistently downplays the seriousness of Iran’s outlaw behavior and instead characterizes the perpetrator as victim, asserting that “the leadership in Tehran has been thoroughly demonized.” He adds that in any case, Iran’s “rhetoric is worse than its conduct”61  and emphasizes the need for U.S.-Iran negotiations as well as Israeli “restraint” in the face of Iran’s genocidal threats.

A December 29, 2008 opinion piece by Takeyh was featured in the Washington Post. In it, he writes hopefully of the prospect of “direct dialogue” with Iran. His plaintive query, “What does Iran want?” (which, in a moment of  candor, he terms “a critical unknown”) is beyond disingenuous. With not a word of condemnation for Iran’s intransigence on its nuclear weapons program, support for terrorism or continuing role in destabilizing Iraq and killing U.S. troops there, Takeyh presents a pleasantly soothing agenda for potential bilateral talks.

Blithely suggesting that “As Tehran gains power and influence in the Gulf, it may prove moderate on more distant terrain,” Dr. Takeyh also dispenses summarily with Tehran’s genocidal threats against the state of Israel.  He contends, without any evident basis in fact, , that “The Islamic Republic will never recognize Israel, but it may limit its mischievous interventions in Palestinian affairs.”62  (This article is also featured on the home page of the Payvand Iran News, a news site that is never critical of the Tehran regime.)

Takeyh’s purpose, like that of his similarly-minded media and think tank associates, appears to be to lull the American public and its leadership into a false sense of security with regard to Iran by portraying its behavior as pragmatic, non-threatening and even on the road to internal reform — if only given the chance to do so by the United States. The cumulative effect of such efforts is insidiously to edge U.S. foreign policy on Iran closer and closer to the one most preferred by Tehran’s clerical clique: acceptance of Iranian hegemony in the Middle East and an end to all pressure for the regime to comply with international norms of behavior. Such a policy would be greatly detrimental to  U.S. national security interests and those of its partner and ally, Israel.

Center for Security Policy

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