1. About the Author
Born Iranian but educated in the West, Trita Parsi at the age of four emigrated to Sweden, where he acquired his master degree in International Relations, and later moved to the USA where, under the supervision of no other than Francis Fukuyama, completed his PhD.
Also known by being the founder and current president of the National Iranian American Council, Parsi is the author of three books (all of them about the USA-Iran relations):
- Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran and the USA (2007)
- A Single Roll of the Dice: Obamas Policy with Iran (2012)
- And, the book that concern us, Losing An Enemy: Obama, Iran and the Triumph of Diplomacy (2017).
We can fairly say that Parsi is an expert on USA and Iranian relations.
2. Argument and content
As the review on Foreing Affairs by John Waterburry points out, Losing an Enemy is basically about the “psychology” of the negotiation process between Iran and the P5+1 in general and more specifically about the relation Washington-Tehran.
Parsi explains how domestic and geopolitical factors, “as well as luck”, he adds, made diplomacy possible.
How after almost three decades of no USA-Iran relations and sanctions which began with Bill Clinton, continued with Bush son and even got hardener by Obama, came to an end with the establishment of the bilateral secret Oman Channel, posterior P5+1 meetings and the formulation of Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
The author argues that, since the isolation and contention, enforced by the sanctions, did not succeed in making a more “friendly” Iran, on the contrary, it turned Iran more belligerent and focused in developing his nuclear power, the Obama administration, who anyways wanted to shift his attention to South Asia and avoid another war in the Middle East, decided to engage diplomatically.
At the same time in the background Parsi explains how mainly Israel, thought also South Arabia, view with concern this peace process.
The unleash of Iran would mean the end of an USA policy based on the primacy of Israel and South Arabia. That is why Israel tried, trough it´s Jewish lobbies in the USA Congress like the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee, to deter the negotiations.
Two issues will be evaluated in the assessment: methodology approach and objectiveness.
a) Methodology approach: The value of Parsi work resides in the way he collected his information. Instead of making his research on the base of other books (secondary sources) he got his data directly from the key players involved in the negotiation process (primary sources).
With more than 130 high quality interviews, Parsi, also an insider and indirect participant of the Iran Nuclear Issue himself, talked with almost everyone involved in the decision making process.
His informants includes diplomats, ex diplomats, high rank government officials from USA, Iran, Israel, Europe, and even Turkey, directors from the International Atomic Energy Agency and also of course Javad Zarif himself and his counterpart John Kerry.
Faced with the problem of how to manage and process this huge amount of information, the author just quotes the necessary in order to support his arguments avoiding paragraph-long transcripts.
b) Objectiveness: As a born Iranian who spend most of his life the west, Parsi has a deep understanding of the USA and Iranian mentality. He is really cautious about assessing both USA and Iranian foreign policy and analyzing their interests.
However, when trying to understand Israel points of view, Parsi does not perceive other thing than a country obsessed with taking military action against Iran and doing everything possible to sabotage the peace process. In this history, Israel is the bad guy.
At the same, as we can see in the second chapter, Iran is portrayed as then victim of Israel policy of convincing the world that Iran is a global threat in order to keep their relation alive and dependent with Washington.
However, Israel accusations against Iran are not assessed. Rather, the author depicts them as the broken record Bibi keep repeating every time he has the opportunity.
But why Isarel is so concert with Iran?
As Dalia Dassa argues in her paper, Isael´s , Iran Policy After the Nucelar (2016), Israel perceive Iran as main security threat not only because of the nuclear aspect but also because Iran´s non-nuclear activities: its continue missile development, its growing presence in the Syrian Golan Heights and its committed support to Hizbollah.
Altough the book can be also seen more as a foreign correspondent work rather than an deep theoretical academician investigation, by focusing on interviews the author identifies the key decision makers in every stage of negotiations giving the reader the opportunity to know the list of individuals who made the deal possible, instead presetting abstract national players that act sometimes as a shield preventing us to know who was the behind the decision.
Inside those interviews there were the ones who predicted what would have happened with the new administration that was taking power at the moment. In 2018 Trump announced the world who would exit the deal. Things went down from that moment.
The new US administration gave the EU and Iran a short period to fix the “flaw” deal. In response the parties involved presented the “Supplemental Agreement” which was rejected.
When Trump broke the deal, the EU decided to continue, arguing, as the briefing of May 2018 of the European Parliament states, that the deal indeed imposes very tough nuclear inspections (which the USA criticized) and the International Atomic Energy Agency “has confirmed 10 times that Iran is abiding its commitments under the agreement”.
As Parsi wrote in his own conclusions, while Obama tried to move away from the Midle East, Trump´s actions reinforce the idea that U.S. wanted to recover the hegemony in the region. Consequently, the containment of Iran and realignment with Israel and Saudi Arabia became priorities again.
“The triumph may not endure. Ultimately, the Trump administration may act on its stated desire to roll back the deal, whether through a move to nullify or renegotiation the JCPOA or by causing the deal to collapse under the weight of growing U.S-Iran tensions following Trump´s effort to reestablish the hegemony in the region” (pp.380).
One year later, his forecast became real.
- Dassa, Dalia. (2016). Isarel´s, Iran Policies After the Nuclear Deal. RAND Corporation
- Immenkamp, Beatrix. (2018). Future of the Iran Nuclear Deal. How much can US pressure Isolate Iran? European Parliament Research Service.
- Katzman, Kenneth; Kerr, Paul. (2018). Iran Nuclear Agreement and U.S Exit. Congressional Research Service
- Waterburry, John. (2017, Noviembre). Losing an Enemy: Obama, Iran and the Triumph of Diplomacy. Foreing Affairs. Capsule Review