Obama’s nightstand: Recommended Iran reading

Obama’s nightstand: Recommended Iran reading

Last night, after he had made a grocery-store run, helped put his two kids to bed, and answered reporters’ phone calls about Washington’s decision to join international talks with Iran, Trita Parsi, a protégé of Francis Fukuyama and Zbigniew Brzezinski and a former Hill aide, was surfing the web when he noticed a spike in Amazon sales of his 2007 book, Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Iran, Israel and the United States.

That’s when Parsi, the president of the National Iranian American Council, a group that promotes engagement with Iran, realized what was causing the bump: a new opinion column in the New York Times that calls for President Barack Obama to read his book.

In the latest in a recent series of bracing columns on U.S. policy toward Iran, the TimesRoger Cohen argues that Israel has been hyping the Iranian nuclear threat going back more than a decade. “You can’t accuse the Israelis of not crying wolf,” Cohen writes:

Ehud Barak, now defense minister, said in 1996 that Iran would be producing nuclear weapons by 2004.

Now here comes [Israeli prime minister Benjamin] Netanyahu, in an interview …spinning the latest iteration of Israel’s attempt to frame Iran as some Nazi-like incarnation of evil:

"You don’t want a messianic apocalyptic cult controlling atomic bombs.When the wide-eyed believer gets hold of the reins of power and the weapons of mass death, then the entire world should start worrying, and that is what is happening in Iran."

What’s critical, Cohen continues, “is that Obama view Netanyahu’s fear-mongering with an appropriate skepticism, rein him in, and pursue his regime-recognizing opening toward Tehran, as he did Wednesday by saying America would join nuclear talks for the first time … The president should read Trita Parsi’s excellent ‘Treacherous Alliance’ as preparation.”

Parsi, 34, who as president of the NIAC and before that as a Hill aide and Ph.D. student at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, has long advocated for Washington to engage with Tehran. He found himself frequently demonized during the Bush era as an apologist for the Islamic Republic of Iran, which the Bush administration shunned as a charter member of the axis of evil.

With the Obama administration now making a series of recent moves to try to engage Iran, Parsi finds his analysis in daily demand. Parsi, an Iranian-born Zoroastrian who lived in Iran until he was four, and whose father was previously imprisoned in Iran, spent his youth in Sweden before emigrating to the United States.

Of Cohen’s mention of his book, Parsi says, "Pretty cool. Will give the president a copy of the book per the NYT‘s recommendation.”

But the other day, after Obama spoke in the Turkish capital Ankara, Parsi thought he detected evidence that someone in Obama’s inner circle had already read it closely.

"We want Iran to play its rightful role in the community of nations, with the economic and political integration that brings prosperity and security,” Obama said in Ankara.

“This is completely new language for the White House to use, but it sounded awfully familiar to me,” Parsi wrote excitedly Monday. “I went and checked the last chapter of the book where I discuss a strategy of regional integration, and on page 279 I write: "This policy would be based on the recognition that, like China, Iran is a country that the US cannot contain indefinitely, that Iran becomes more antagonistic when excluded, and that the US can better influence Iran by helping it integrate into the world’s political and economic structure rather than keeping it out." (Emphasis his).

Coincidence? Whatever the case, Parsi said he would be happy to forward a copy of his book to the White House.