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Who is Behind the Rand Report? A First Review of "The Mujahedin-e Khalq in Iraq: A Policy Conundrum

By Kazem Kazerounian, American Chronicle
October 04, 2009

Co-authored by:

Professor Donna M. Hughes, PhD, Carlson Endowed Chair, University of Rhode Island

Professor Kazem Kazerounian, University of Connecticut

Professor Rabbi Daniel M. Zucker, Chairman of Americans for Democracy in the Middle East, New York

In mid 2009, the Rand Corporation published a report titled "The Mujahedin-e Khalq in Iraq: A Policy Conundrum". This report is a stunning example of misrepresentation and misinformation, erroneous and flawed research methodology and disguised political advocacy hiding behind the guise of unbiased research. While a detailed analytical response to this fallacious document is still forthcoming, let us examine who is behind this report.

The listed authors (Jeremiah Goulka, Lydia Hansell, Elizabeth Wilke, and Judith Larson) collectively constitute a research team with a limited history of qualified credentials and experience on the subject of the report. Its primary author (Goulka) appears to have a publication history at best tangentially related to the report in question. [i] One of the authors (Elizabeth Wilke) is listed as a student at the RAND graduate school, and another (Lydia Hansell) appears to be a research assistant at the institute. The final author (Larson), a communications analyst with RAND, has no known record of publication or research with regards to the subject. Given the relative dearth of experience on the part of the authors, one is forced to question how and why a report of such potential consequence could be left to a novice group of researchers. Subject matter expertise is imperative when it comes to issues related to geopolitically important states like Iran and Iraq.

Upon closer examination, it is apparent that the report represents nothing more than a regurgitation of the views of the s one of the enior "experts" at the RAND institute responsible for its publication. In particular, the report was produced by the RAND International Security and Defense Policy Center, under the auspices of James Dobbins, director of the institute. Understandably, experts and institutions have their own worldview; however, objectivity always remains a requisite fundamental pillar of any credible analysis. Given Mr. Dobbins worldview on Iranian issues, such principle is violated in this report.

Mr. Dobbins is an avid advocate of rapprochement with Tehran´s ayatollahs. However, Mr. Dobbins failed to disclose his intense advocacy for friendship with Tehran, his affiliation with Iranian lobbyists, and his pre-formed opinion before he accepted federal funding to prepare an unbiased and objective report on the ayatollahs´ main opposition. Are we to believe that the report could have represented anything but the realization of Mr. Dobbins' desire to negotiate and appease the clerical regime in Iran? If so, then an honest disclaimer at the beginning of the report would certainly have been prudent and necessary to put things in perspective for those unawares of his bias.

Put aside for a moment Mr. Dobbins' numerous articles and speeches in which he argues that appeasing Tehran´s mullahs is the United States´ only viable option, his role in numerous failed engagement initiatives and backroom meetings with the Iranian government, and his misrepresentation and inflation of the role Iranian envoys have played in helping us to stabilize Afghanistan. These actions can all be viewed as legitimate (albeit flawed) judgments of a veteran politician. However, James Dobbins´ advocacy for Tehran-friendly policies, and his fraternization and affiliation with the Iranian lobby crowd is not only alarming but also must immediately disqualify him from overseeing the creation of a fair and unbiased report on the Iranian regimes´ primary opposition group.

Let´s look at some facts:

In November 2007, in a testimony presented before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee, in an attempt to represent President Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei as true representatives of the Iranian people with whom the US should negotiate, James Dobbins failed to indicate the near-total autocratic powers of Ali Khamenei when he said:

"Americans are fond of characterizing the Iranian regime as a fundamentalist theocracy. The truth is more complex. Iran isn´t Switzerland, but it is rather more democratic than Egypt and less fundamentalist than Saudi Arabia, two of America´s most important allies in the region. Iranian women vote, drive automobiles, attend university in large numbers, and lead successful professional lives. Iran´s Parliament and President are popularly elected. Elections take place on schedule, the outcomes are not foreordained, and the results do make a difference, perhaps not as much of a difference as we would like, but enough to make the process worth understanding a good deal better than we do. Even the Supreme leader is elected to a fixed (renewable) term by a ¬council of clerics who are in turn popularly elected by universal adult suffrage. The last election to that body was a setback to Ahmedinijad. Presidential elections produce even more meaningful swings, as can those to the parliament. Yes the system is rigged, but not the point where it becomes a complete sham, as is the case in many other Middle Eastern elections, when such are held at all."[ii]

But Mr. Dobbins advocacy does not stop here. He has been an active participant and an "expert" in a coalition called "Campaign for a New Policy on Iran (CNAPI)". CNAPI lobbies to repeal the US sanctions against Iran, and to have Congress and the administration engage the Iranian government. Trita Parsi, the president of NIAC (National Iranian American Council) and his organization play a key role in directing CNAPI. Trita Parsi is a self proclaimed "Iranian lobbyist" and the Iranian government newspapers refers to him as such. A thorough analysis of the lobbing activates of CNAPI and the role of its experts including James Dobbins is detailed in the research paper "Rise of the Iran Lobby: Tehran´s front groups move on—and into—the Obama Administration" by Clare Lopez. [iii]

CNAPI campaigned hard to lift the US sanctions against Iran and specifically the HR-362. When the resolution was finally shelved, NIAC claimed the honor of having led this lobby (read "NIAC beats AIPAC" by a NIAC member). [iv] It should be noted that members of CNAPI also hosted Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in New York in 2008. Mr. Dobbins and other CNAPI experts´ pressure in this endeavor was relentless, to the point that even accepted professional ethics were bent when needed.

In November 2008, Mr. Dobbins co-chaired an expert group that supposedly developed an "expert statement" calling for an American rapprochement policy towards Iran. In an effort to have the maximum influence upon Congress, NIAC announced that:

"The National Iranian American Council (NIAC) is hosting an event in the U.S. Senate tomorrow (Nov. 18th). The event is designed to give President-Elect Obama advice on how to deal with Iran. In the process of preparing for the meeting tomorrow a group of 21 Iran experts have issued a report titled "Joint Experts' Statement on Iran"

As the co-chair and participant in this expert group, Mr. Dobbins failed to reveal to Congress and the public that the bulk of the statement presented as the fruit of wisdom and the work of twenty one experts had already been published one year earlier under the sole authorship of Trita Parsi! [v]

As is typically the style of the web of Tehran advocacy, multiple organizations are created with interlocking members and leaders. The American Foreign Policy Project (AFPP) is yet another such organization founded in December 2008 with an "experts list" that reads like a remix of other CAIR and NIAC affiliates, again including James Dobbins. [vi] NIAC presents congressional briefings that Trita Parsi has organized and in which Dobbins serves as a panelist.[vii] Mr. Dobbins has also addressed Iranian lobbyists at a variety of their gatherings.[viii]

So, for those of us in academia, research institutes, area experts and even issue advocates within Washington´s circle, transparency and objectivity is still a virtue. This report also casts doubt on Rand´s ability to filter what is backed by reliable research findings vs. a slanted and discredited political agenda of an "expert". The American public deserves an objective and unbiased report and one would hope that Rand will take steps in correcting such callous violation of the research principles to produce a fair and balanced report.

i Goulka ´s publications are on the use of film piracy as a fundraising tool by some terrorist organizations, and the relationship between the mailbox rule and public safety.





vi "Why U.S. Policy Leans Too Close to Terrorist Appeasement"



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