Iran and the United States: An Insider’s View on the Failed Past and the Road to Peace

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By: Seyed Hossein
Shair ShahidSaless

Publisher: Bloomsbury Academic

New York, NY: Bloomsbury Academic, 2014. 368p. $23.54. ISBN: 978-1628920079.

Volume: 2 Issue: 11

November 2014

Review by:

Martin Scott Catino, PhD

Henley Putnam University

Santa Clara, CA

As dark clouds of hostility and conflict continue to overshadow US-Iran relations, a global public, including many in the United States, continues to look for a silver lining in this foreboding atmosphere. Unfortunately, Hossein Mousavian and Shair ShahidSaless appear in this storm as a bolt of lightning and thunder rather than a silver lining, offering little light and a lot of noise. Iran and the United States: An Insider’s View on the Failed Past and the Road to Peace, Mousavian’s latest work — assisted by ShaidSales s— is propagandistic, tedious, defensive, and superficial; and thus fails to address the crux issues that created the four decades of enmity between Iran and the United States.

Mousavian’s lengthy and impressive credentials as an Iranian diplomat, security professional, scholar, and member of Iran’s formal and informal executive decision-making circles is compromised by his nearness to the subject — and some of his critics would add outright complicity in Iran’s subversive and aggressive activities. For the sake of this review, the focus of commentary will remain on the actual arguments posited by the authors. Nevertheless, simply ignoring the fact that Mousavian’s insider perspective involved leadership in one of Iran’s chief propaganda organs — the Tehran Times — would create an artificial background that obscures the main points of the book.

The author’s intentions for writing the book are explicitly admirable. He states directly: “As a proponent of the maximum engagement school of thought between Iran and the West/US, based on 35 years of experiences and diplomacy, in order to address mistrust and promote better and enduring friendly relations between Iran and the West/US, my aim is to formulate a workable, realistic, win-win roadmap to resolve the protracted standoff in Iran – US relations. I wish to substitute friendship and peace for hatred and hostilities between the two great countries of Iran and America” (p. 14). Yet, this diplomatic tone which pervades the book is punctuated by outright denials of Iranian aggression at home and abroad, and is diluted by bold statements by Mousavian in the text and elsewhere claiming the United is completely to blame for the “impasse” in US-Iran relations — a position that undermines the author’s quest for “mutual forgiveness.”

Mousavian’s thesis is that Iran is misunderstood by the United States because of its lack of cultural insights and its inept policy makers, and subsequently applies an aggressive and provocative policy, including regime change, support of terrorist organizations like the MEK (Mujahedeen-e-Khalq), interference in Iran’s domestic life, aid to Iran’s archenemies Israel and Iraq (under Saddam Hussein), and economic sanctions aimed at crippling the regime. Furthermore, he laces his thesis with warnings of potential conflict, missed opportunities for peace, and dangers of escalation that could have dire regional and global consequences.

What follows next in the authors’ discourse is a tedious, shallow, and grossly biased explanation of the key events in U.S.-Iran relations. Subsequently, Ayatollah Khomeini emerges in the narrative as a victim, not an agitator in the Iran Hostage Crisis; the overthrow of Mohammad Mosaddegh in the 1953 Iranian coup as a subversive act of the United States with no mention that the Iranian clerical class also opposed him; and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s statement that Israel should be “wiped off the map” as a misunderstanding rather than common discourse in Iran deeply embedded in its social fabric.

The most disturbing aspect of Mousavian’s assertions is more than blatant denials of Iranian aggression in Lebanon, acts of terrorism in Europe, interference in Iraq and Afghanistan, and gross human rights violations including the systematic persecution and execution of organized dissenters (religious and political). Iran and the United States … asserts “rogue cells” within the Iranian government or “false flag” operations account for the terrorist acts of which Tehran has been accused (pp. 140-1411; 160; 174). The danger in such assertions by the author who is seeking deniability is that it removes accountability for terrorist acts and emboldens further state aggression, which risks escalation of an already volatile situation. Furthermore, for those of us who served in southern Iraq in Operation Iraqi Freedom, and have witnessed or analyzed up-close Iranian training of Iraqi insurgents, agitation, EFPs (explosively formed penetrators) and other forms of lethal aid, and direct action (Quds Force operations in Iraq), the statements appear to be the same denial and deception tactics Tehran used in the past rather than conciliatory efforts to resolve this major impasse.

Mousavian’s experience as a member of Iran’s nuclear negotiation team for the European Union, and for engagement of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), coupled with his scholarship on the subject — he authored Iranian Nuclear Crisis: A Memoir (2012) — should have generated some of the more insightful analysis of this subject in his current work. Instead, the author continues his dismissive attitude toward the IAEA while asserting Iran’s benign and peaceful intentions for developing nuclear power. When addressing the issue of Iranian concealment of its nuclear activities, a finding by the IAEA, the Iranian diplomat softens the cover-up by stating: “no gas was introduced to the centrifuges and no enrichment was carried out at Natanz” (p. 183).

Iran and the United States … makes the case for deeper cultural understanding including an accounting of Iranian “national pride,” “anti-foreign domination sentiments,” and desire for reciprocity. Yet the author overlooks major American sentiments, including the United States’ deep revulsion of state violence, typified in cases like the Satanic Verses controversy and fatwa by Khomeini ordering the execution of Salman Rushdie — a fatwa affirmed by the current Supreme Leader and his Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps — and supported by public monuments honoring an assassination attempt on Rushdie.

However, Hossein Mousavian and Shair ShahidSaless do offer some hard truths for an American audience seeking a better understanding of Iran. The Iranian Green Movement that brought hope of reform in the aftermath of the disputed Iran presidential elections of 2009 did not represent the majority of Iranians, but an urban, intellectual, and professional sentiment hotly contested at the grassroots level, the authors note. [The Green Movement was crushed by the powerful state security forces that had significant local support, including the well-organized Basij.] Even Mousavian’s brief imprisonment on espionage charges by President Ahmadinejad in 2007, a major episode discussed in the book, demonstrates not only the fierce factional conflicts among Iranian leadership, but also the ability of the state to maintain control amid such convulsive domestic forces. Therefore those optimistic reformists hoping for domestic organized political change in Iran should understand clearly the potent reactionary forces dampening such prospects.

Mousavian concludes his current work with a Road Map for Peace, an anti-climactic appeal to the United States to acknowledge that Iranian policy is defensive and thus amenable to a “comprehensive agreement” that would allow communication, peace, and economic benefits for all parties. But here is the problem with his work, the very arguments he presents in the book generate further mistrust, suspicion, and alienation, the very “impasse” he laments.

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