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How do Iranians react to threats of attack?

Trita Parsi talks about the effect of threats on Iranian public opinion

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Story Transcript

PEPE ESCOBAR, ANALYST, THE REAL NEWS NETWORK: The latest report by Seymour Hersh in The New Yorker confirmed that the US is involved in counterinsurgency and black ops inside Iranian territory. But what does it really mean to attack a country of 70 million people? To get a perspective on how Iran would react and how Iranian public opinion would react, I spoke to Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council.

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ESCOBAR: Trita, it’s all about demonizing Iran from the McCain camp, apparently. He said in his speech to AIPAC a nuclear-armed Iran is a danger we cannot allow. Iran poses an existential threat to the State of Israel. And he has a series of proposals as well, apart from saying that Iran will have a nuclear weapon by the end of 2009. So he recommends sanctions on foreign companies involved with Iran, the oil and gas industry, an international effort to curtail Iran’s import of gasoline and refined petroleum products. And he also says that Iran is going to have ICBMs capable of reaching the US. What do you make of all this?

TRITA PARSI, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL IRANIAN AMERICAN COUNCIL: Well, it’s a continuation of a failed policy, because at the end of the day, the sanctions that have been put on Iran have cost the Iranian government a lot, and it has definitely imposed a significant cost on the Iranian people. However, it has not translated into a change in Iranian policies, which should be the aim of the sanctions. So we’ve seen over the last ten years in which US sanctions have been intensifying on Iran that Iranian influence in the Middle East has grown, that its nuclear program has advanced, and that its foreign policy has not altered in the fashion that the United States wanted. So intensifying an already failed policy will only bring more failure, I fear. And as a result, it doesn’t seem to be the right way to go about it. It’s particularly not accurate, in my view, to argue that the sanctions constitute economic diplomacy. Sanctions are economic warfare, not economic diplomacy.

ESCOBAR: And the sanctions are not biting the regime in Tehran, basically. Are they biting the bazaarists, for instance, merchant classes? Are they biting the middle class in Iran?

PARSI: It’s biting the middle class more than it’s biting the regime itself. I certainly believe, though, that the sanctions have been problematic for the Iranian government, but so has previous sanctions as well. Iran has been under US sanctions for more than 12 years, and initially they are always very, very costly. Then they find a way around it. The problem is, though, to make sure that you have a policy that causes the Iranian policies to change. Sanctions have so far failed at doing so. And I think part of the reason why it’s failed is because the leverage that the United States can have through the sanctions, which actually is considerable, can only be utilized in the context of a negotiation, in which the United States can say, "Well, we can lift some of these sanctions in return for changes in Iranian foreign policy on these specific areas." But as long as we refuse to go to the table, the leverage that you have gained through your sanctions cannot be utilized. And McCain is very clear on this—he does not want to negotiate.

ESCOBAR: He will never go to the table.

PARSI: He will never go to the table. Thus he can never utilize the leverage of the sanctions.

ESCOBAR: Are you having any echoes from Iran that with a possible Democratic presidency maybe the United States [inaudible] table?

PARSI: There seems to be an excitement—it’s certainly here in the United States—about Obama’s new approach. The argument "Do you talk to your enemies or not?" I think has been clearly won by the Obama camp, in the sense that people are very much turned off by the policies of the last eight years. And I think in Tehran as well there is a mystery around Obama, there is a mystery that the next president of the United States may not only be African-American, but may also have a Muslim father and a Hussein as his middle name. And that actually can give the United States significant political capital that it can again utilize in the Middle East, but only in the context of negotiations.

ESCOBAR: Meanwhile, at the AIPAC conference, there was a lot of [inaudible] talk. Do they really represent the Jewish-American community [inaudible]?

PARSI: Well, various polls have shown that support for a military attack against Iran seems to be quite low in the Jewish-American community, less than 20 percent. And even on the issue of Obama, 62 percent of the Jewish-American community, according to some polls, support Obama. So this more hardline tone that one hears at this conference does not necessarily seem to be representative of the larger Jewish-American community. But one has to remember also that this is politics, and in the American political system, if you’re well organized, then you have more power. And AIPAC is the best-organized Jewish-American organization in the United States right now, and as a result, it does have considerable clout.

ESCOBAR: Tell me about your organization, the National Iranian American Council. What can you do to counteract what can largely be conceived as AIPAC militaristic propaganda?

PARSI: Well, our approach is not necessarily to counter anyone in particular. Our approach is that our community believes, as does the majority of the United States population, that war would have tremendously negative consequences, and that it would be un-American to even vote for a military solution prior to having exhausted all other options. And when it comes to diplomacy, it has not even begun to be utilized. And I think the Iran-American community stands in a strong position to be able to point out that no other people in the United States have suffered as much as the Iranian-American community from the policies of the government in Iran. Almost every Iranian-American in the United States has or had a relative that has suffered by this regime. But the majority of the community recognizes that the policy of threatening war and economic sanctions know diplomacy has not improved the situation, has not advanced American interests, has not helped pro-democracy activists in Iran, has not helped the cause for human rights in Iran, and as a result a new policy is needed.

ESCOBAR: Hypothetical terms: in the horrific event of a US attack on Iran, would you say that the majority of the population would rally behind the theocratic regime?

PARSI: The historical pattern in Iran has been that when attacked, people rally around the flag. We saw that in 1980 when Saddam Hussein invaded Iran. This was at a time when Iran was in great chaos: the revolutionary regime had executed a large number of people from the Iranian military; Khomeini’s grip on power was not as strong; he was in a very intense power struggle. But then Saddam invaded, thinking that Iran was weak, thinking that the Iranians would not unify, and within weeks you had 100,000 volunteers rushing to Khuzistan region in order to expel the invaders. And a lot of historians argue that the Khomeini government did not survive in spite of Saddam’s attack; he survived because of Saddam’s attack. And if history were to repeat itself, which it so often does, then an attack on Iran would not weaken the government in Iran; it would strengthen it. An attack on Iran would not help the pro-democracy forces in Iran; it would kill it. An attack on Iran would not prevent an Iranian nuclear bomb; it will probably cause it to rush towards a nuclear bomb.

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Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.