This week saw the publication of a two-part hit piece in Tablet magazine purporting to expose the machinations of the “Iran lobby” in Washington. The author, Lee Smith, is apparently not the great baseball closer, but rather a former reporter for Bill Kristol‘s Weekly Standard and a current fellow at the neoconservative Hudson Institute (also the home of such luminaries as Scooter Libby, Doug Feith, and Norman Podhoretz). The first piece (titled “Iran’s Man in Washington”) targets Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett, while the second (bearing the equally classy title “The Immigrant”) goes after Trita Parsi and the National Iranian American Council (NIAC). While pitched as an analytical treatment of its targets’ careers, Smith soon slips into overwrought emotional mode, accusing the Leveretts of “trad[ing] their government experience and intellectual credibility for access to the worst elements of a regime that continues to murder its own people in the streets” while arguing that Parsi was “corrupted” by immigrant ambition and a taste for political power.
Smith’s pieces wear their ideology on their sleeve to such a degree that it hardly seems necessary to respond (although the Leveretts have, and Matt Duss has also picked the pieces apart). Regarding the Leveretts, I do not personally agree with all of their writings, and many Iran analysts whom I respect have criticized them for underestimating the Green Movement’s prospects of success. Still, their pessimism does provide a needed counterweight to much of the high-flown commentary we see these days claiming that the Islamic Republic will fall tomorrow if only the U.S. strikes the proper heroic pose, and they certainly deserve better than the transparent smear job that Smith produces, which all but accuses them of being Iranian agents of influence. It is quite obvious that the real reason the Leveretts are being targeted by Smith and his cohort is not they are pessimistic about the Green Movement, but rather that they are staunchly opposed to U.S. military action against Iran (which, ironically, is the main issue on which they agree with the Green Movement).
As for the attack on Parsi, it merely marks the continuation of a neoconservative campaign aimed at silencing any insufficiently hawkish Iranian voices. (I previously wrote about the campaign and its architects here, here, and here, among other places.) Like his allies, Smith drops insinuations of dual loyalty in a way that would clearly be deemed anti-Semitic if applied to a Jewish political figure. He also implies that Parsi is thin-skinned or conspiratorial for identifying his antagonists as neoconservatives — but nearly all of the critics Smith cites are, in fact, neocons, from Eli Lake to Michael Rubin to Reuel Marc Gerecht. (See Jim’s post from last week for more on Rubin’s and Gerecht’s recent antics.) Smith mentions Parsi’s award-winning book on the U.S.-Iran relationship, but bases his critique of the book entirely on reviews in Commentary and Daniel Pipes‘s Middle East Quarterly (the latter of which was written by — no surprise — Michael Rubin). Smith does quote a couple Iranians, one of whom, Hassan Daioleslam, is currently involved in a defamation lawsuit with Parsi and has already been dealt with extensively here. Multiple knowledgeable sources have identified Daioleslam as an associate of the Mujahedin e-Khalq (MEK) terrorist group, but he has become the Iranian face of an anti-NIAC campaign driven primarily by Washington neoconservatives. Another Iranian cited in the article, Pooya Dayanim, is an ardent regime change advocate and contributor to National Review Online.
Among the ironies of Smith’s article: he more or less accuses Parsi and the Leveretts of being Iranian agents, while relying heavily on Michael Rubin, a longtime shill for actual Iranian intelligence asset Ahmed Chalabi. He argues (against all evidence) that Parsi only shifted to a pro-human-rights stance in the wake of this summer’s Iranian election crisis, while taking anti-Parsi talking points from a magazine published by Daniel Pipes, who notoriously endorsed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad prior to the June elections. (Unsurprisingly, Pipes has written a glowing review of Smith’s new book, the basic message of which — as Matt Duss correctly notes — is the familiar claim that Arabs only understand force.) He accuses Parsi and the Leveretts of indifference to the lives and wishes of the Iranian people, while sharing an institutional home with the likes of Norman “Bomb Iran” Podhoretz. And so on.
While Smith’s pieces are predictable pieces of neocon agitprop, the venue in which they were published is more interesting. Tablet is one of the new breed of Jewish cultural journals and websites that have sprung up in recent years, aiming to offer what it calls “a new read on Jewish life” more in tune with the sensibilities of the younger generation. Like its peers Jewcy and Heeb, Tablet is relentlessly progressive in its sensibility and politics — at least as far as domestic politics are concerned.
But foreign policy is another matter; insofar as the magazine offers political coverage of Israel and the Middle East, it is relentlessly conventional and nearly always hawkish. (Nearly all of their foreign policy articles are written by hawks of either the liberal or neocon variety — Adam Kirsch, Seth Lipsky, and Michael Weiss, etc.) Smith’s pieces, which could have been ripped from the Weekly Standard or Commentary, are, sadly, par for the course.
I suspect a lot of this has to do with money. Several people who have personal experience with Tablet and its predecessor, Nextbook, have told me that the group’s funders are both significantly older and more right-wing than the rest of the operation — a common pattern in such organizations. Hence the tendency to delegate all discussion of Israel to the hawks, in order to keep the funders satisfied. But while this sort of compromise might be necessitated by internal politics, it has clearly had a destructive intellectual effect on the magazine’s content. It’s hard to provide “a new read on Jewish life” when all discussion of Israel and foreign policy as a whole is confined within the narrow limits deemed acceptable by the right.