Students and faculty from all majors flocked to Carver Hall on Wednesday, Nov. 28. Instead of a musician or entertainer uniting the different members of the community, it was politics. Trita Parsi, the president of the National Iranian American Council, expert and author of two books on international relations between Iran and the United States visited Bloomsburg University. The Iranian born author presented a lecture to students and faculty on the ongoing negotiations between the two countries, possible future diplomacy and the events leading up to them, such as the recent reelection of President Obama.
Parsi was born in Iran but had to flee the country with his family at the age of four, where they relocated in Sweden. Parsi then went on to study International Relations at John Hopkins University. In 2002, Parsi founded the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) in Washington D.C. The NIAC is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing the interests of the Iranian-American community. Since then Parsi has written two books on American Iranian issues and relations.
In 2007 Parsi published his first book, “Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Iran, Israel and the United States” with the prestigious Yale University Press. The book goes through 20 years of conflicts and dealings between these three nations and secrets each one held. Parsi is considered to be the only author with complete access to senior officials of Iran, Israel and the United States. In early 2012, Parsi published his second book again with Yale University Press, “A Single Roll of the Dice: Obama’s Diplomacy with Iran.” Parsi’s second book reveals the early negotiations in Obama’s early years between Iran, France, Brazil and the United States. The book received a lot of press including an interview with Jon Stewart on the Daily Show.
Before he presented his lecture to the Bloomsburg community, Parsi sat down with BUnow for an exclusive interview.
What was the deciding factor when you came to the United States to attend John Hopkins University and study international relations?
“Well, I wanted to be close to Washington D.C because that’s the political capital of not just the United States but, to a lot of professionals, to the entire world. John Hopkins of course is one of the best schools. I applied and fortunately I got in.”
Did you always want to study international relations particularly between the United States and Iran?
“I can’t say I always wanted to focus on US and Iran but international relations I had a interest in for quite some time. I think it has to do with the fact my family fled Iran right before the Iran revolution and we came to Sweden. The events of the war was something that had affected my life in a very profound way when I was only four years old. So, for some reasons, I was very aware of that and I think that drew me and my older brother to this field.”
When you founded the NIAC in 2002 were you met with opposition or struggles during it’s development?
“Whenever you found an organization there are always going to be struggles. I can’t say there was any particular opposition or struggles but there was skepticism on how the organization would work and all these kinds of things. It’s the same thing when founding a business or an organization. Whatever you want to do, the critical keys to success in the early phases is not listen to the naysayers but to proceed with your vision with the commitment strong enough to be able to carry into success. So there’s no difference between founding an organization or starting a business or embarking on a idea that perhaps your parents were advising you against. You have to believe in yourself believe in your cause and keep sticking to it.”
You conducted over 130 interviews for Treacherous Alliance from Iranians, Israelis and US officials was it difficult to stay impartial to all sides during your research?
“Impartiality and objectivity is extremely important and unfortunately there is very little of it in much of what is being published today. It is difficult, but there is a moment when you realize it’s more difficult to become partial because you are undermining your own work, your own credibility I have my opinions but you have to be clear that here’s the analysis, here are the facts and here’s what you interpret, and here is my conclusion. People can disagree with the conclusions I draw from them and that’s perfectly fine, I don’t expect full agreement. But it’s critical to make sure that the analysis and the facts presented are factual and then you can disagree with the conclusions and interpretations. It’s very problematic when we see books that are written that presented with certain facts without supporting the conclusions. For instance my last book, “A Single Roll of the Dice,” I think I present a lot of criticism against both Iran and the United States and I received praise from almost all corners. Because they can disagree with my conclusion but I heard only good things about the factual presentations of what actually happened and when it comes to interpretation I will have my perspective and it’s colored by things I think should have been done.”
Did you anticipate the reaction you got from “A Single Roll of the Dice” and are you satisfied with the ongoing results?
“Yes, I think the interview with John Stewart was very helpful for sales and the attention it got. It is a very politically sensitive topic, though I wasn’t surprised but I was nevertheless not pleased to see that major newspapers would not give the book to impartial reviewers but give the book to people are of offices of political orientation. So for instance in the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post had the book reviewed by very outspoken conservatives who ideologically opposed the idea of diplomacy, the very premise of the book. They disagreed with it because they believed that there should not be diplomacy at all. And I found it very unhelpful for constructive debates, it should have been giving to a impartial party or an expert on the topic. But those were the only two bad reviews I got.”
In the epilogue of “A Single Roll of the Dice” you quote John Allen Paulos, ” Uncertainty is the only certainty there is, and knowing how to live in insecurity is the only security.” Since completing the book and the reelection of Obama do you still stand by this quote? And is the future of these two nation and little more uncertain?
“Yes, it is more uncertain now then it was before because we are entering an uncertain stage. Because we are faced right now with a transitional period in which the already dysfunctional and not functioning order in the region is crumbling even further because of the decline of the United States. Take a look at the region right now you will see that the US’s dominate position is extremely hollow. The regional states don’t look towards the US any longer as a leader because the US is simply not in a position to lead any longer, more or less. It’s power has declined significantly, it’s less visible. In fact I can make the argument you were to not see the Arab Spring in the matter that you did had not been for the American decline in power. Under these circumstances it’s going to be a very intense, unfortunately violent struggle to establish a new order. And that automatically brings more uncertainty to situations. Order by definition means certainty or a greater degree of certainty, now we have unordered.”
What advice do you have to students who not only want to study international relations but improve on them as well?
“The critical things any student should do is probably say three things. A:You have to study as hard as you possibly can. You have a very different challenge now then when I was a student 20 years ago. You have an information overload, there is just so much information it’s difficult to know what to read and what not to read, we didn’t have the Internet and even in the early stages there was not that much information on the Internet. Now you have far greater responsibility on yourself to be able to shift through what is important, what is credible and what is not. Secondly you have to travel, you have to see the world. The United States is one of the largest countries in the world, which means you can pass through your entire life without ever visiting another country. To work in international relations you have to know the world like your own country. So take the opportunity that exist right now as a student to travel as much as possible. Do exchange periods with other schools in other countries and for the love of God study other languages. That’s something I think the primary schools in the US are not good at. And the third thing is do internships on Capital Hill and in Washington, D.C within government. To be able to see how policy making works, the theory and practice is quit different. You have to see it you have to experience it in order to understand it. You cannot understand it simply by reading books.”
Over 70 students, faculty and community members attended Parsi’s lecture later that night in Carver Hall. He covered topics ranging from the Bush Administration, to the rights of a nuclear energy sources in Iran, to President Obama’s potential next moves in establishing peace with the Iranians.
“Although I am a nursing major I have interest in military intelligence. That is what drew me here tonight, [Parsi] is an amazing speaker and has a lot of knowledge on the approach,” said BU junior, James Gould.
After the 45 minute lecture, questions were asked from the audience.
“It was excellent and well attended. We would have stayed another hour taking questions and discussing the topic if I had not stopped it,” said Nawal Bonomo, Assistant to the Dean of the College of Liberal Arts, who coordinated the event.