Just what do Iranian leaders think about the United States and the ongoing disputes over Tehran's nuclear program and the Middle East peace process? If Mousavian, former spokesman for Iran's nuclear negotiating team and a polished Iranian diplomat, is to be believed, the Islamic Republic is a pragmatic, rational actor misunderstood by a generation of U.S. policymakers.
Impediments to reconciliation, however, do not lie in misunderstanding. The problem is that Americans know the Islamic Republic all too well. They know of its support for terrorism, the "Death to America" rallies, and the missiles draped with ban
ners promising to wipe Israel off the
face of the earth. Although a succession of former U.S. officials—Obama appointee Vali Nasr, former Carter aide Gary Sick, and career diplomat Thomas Pickering—testify to the book's importance in elucidating the Iranian perspective, what they and Mousavian actually do is promote a sanitized and perverted narrative of history.
The truth about the 2002 seizure of the Karine-A, a ship carrying fifty tons of Iranian weaponry destined for the Palestinian Authority? Simply an Israeli disinformation plot, Mousavian claims. Never mind that the ship had been tracked from the moment of its loading at an Iranian port. The Khobar Towers truck bomb that killed nineteen U.S. servicemen in Saudi Arabia? The real tragedy, it seems, was that the Clinton team
wrongly fingered Iran, which sidetracked real opportunities for diplomacy. Forget the fact that U.S. intelligence conclusively showed Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps training the terrorists who carried out the attack.
The author likewise whitewashes the so-called Iranian reformists and their actions. Do not expect mention of current President Hassan Rouhani bragging about his success in deceiving the West so as to advance Iran's nuclear program during negotiations. Mousavian may call revelations exposing Iran's covert nuclear program "shocking," but he bypasses any discussion of why Iran kept such facilities secret if its intentions were benign. Instead, he rehashes Tehran's usual talking points about its right to enrich uranium, despite the International Atomic Energy Agency's finding that Iran had violated its Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty safeguards agreement, which led to the U.N. Security Council demand for a cessation to Iran's activities.
Those prone toward moral equivalence will find much solace in Mousavian's account, for he suggests (based on discredited assertions by Seymour Hersh) that terrorism is a problem of which the United States is equally guilty. Mousavian dispenses with the problem of Iran's murderous hostility toward Israel's existence and, citing Harvard University Stephen Walt's polemics, suggests that most Americans would understand Iran's position if it were not for the nefarious activity of "the Israel Lobby."
Mousavian holds out hope that Washington and Tehran can reconcile. Indeed, by jettisoning discussion of the role of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the discrepancy between what Iran's so-called reformers say in English versus what they say in Persian while cherry-picking his way through history, he creates a narrative in which a diplomatic thaw could probably be accomplished tomorrow. Luckily for the rest of us, there is still reality to keep such impulses in check.