The Iranian uprising shows no sign of abating. It is impossible to know where the protests might lead.
The budding revolution still lacks clear leadership. In 1979, liberals wanted a democratic Iran and heard in Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s imprecise rhetoric what they wanted. Once he ousted the shah, he allowed his most hard-line supporters to hijack power. The ayatollahs have now lost all legitimacy and face a similar vacuum at the top. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is unwell, and even if he recovers, the average life expectancy of cancer-stricken, octogenarian ayatollahs is limited.
Inside Washington, the biggest casualty of the Iranian uprising is the National Iranian American Council. The group long claimed to be the largest grassroots Iranian American organization. It never was: That distinction belongs to the Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans.
Still, the NIAC can claim to be unique: It is the only Iranian American group that Iranian protesters denounce in chants and with slogans. The Iranian anger toward NIAC is real: While the protests awaken the outside world to the reality of the Islamic Republic, Iranians have long known and suffered the reality. Rather than advocate on behalf of Iranians, however, the NIAC consciously sought to whitewash the regime. It depicted reformists as sincere and sold American progressives the fiction that the homophobic, antisemitic, racist, misogynistic, and anti-environmental Islamic Republic was a cause for which they should stand. It is telling that despite the outrages of the past two months, not a single reformist has denounced the regime or defected. As the NIAC knew, reformists were simply the good cop to the security forces’ bad cop. Their job was to cultivate useful idiots in the West with offers of civilizational dialogue or Track II dialogues, not change society.
The NIAC was also at the root of the calumny about Iran’s supposed offer to strike a grand bargain with regard to Israel, terrorism, and its nuclear program. Emails released in a lawsuit discovery process showed its leader authenticated the supposed offer to journalists even after Iran’s U.N. ambassador told him that the deal was not, in fact, real. Frankly, anyone who analyzed Iran honestly knew this: Contrast the last decade of Khamenei’s bargaining over Iran’s nuclear enrichment program with the NIAC’s tale about his willingness to settle decades of hostility in a single paper absent any real debate.
Journalists often say the low regard in which Americans hold them frustrates them. Part of the reason for this is the sense that journalists act less as honest brokers and more as partisan advocates. For close to two decades, the NIAC took advantage of this. The NIAC’s snake oil segued nicely with the worldview of many journalists, especially with regard to their animus toward the Bush administration, “neoconservatives,” and other bogeymen for the far Left. That the desires of the Iranian people for freedom and the truth about the regime in Tehran became casualties of the NIAC’s influence operation.
Now that the Iranian protests have exposed this dynamic, it is time for journalists to do a forensic audit of their interactions with the NIAC. Look back over past stories. For which scoops was the NIAC the source? In hindsight, were those stories correct, or did journalists just corroborate them with other journalistic accounts also sourced to the NIAC?
If the Iranian people can face down armed security forces in the name of truth, it should not be too much to expect Beltway journalists to face down those in the mirror to achieve the same goal. And if that means coming clean about how the NIAC misled, so be it. It is a small price to pay to restore some faith in the Fourth Estate.
Michael Rubin (@mrubin1971) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner’s Beltway Confidential. He is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.