The Foreign Service Journal - October 2017

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | OCTOBER 2017 61 Against All Odds Losing an Enemy: Obama, Iran and the Triumph of Diplomacy Trita Parsi, Yale University Press, 2017, $32.50/hardcover, $16.99/Kindle, 472 pages. Reviewed By Steven Alan Honley It takes real chutzpah to write about a historic agreement, particularly one as complex and polarizing as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action—the deceptively bland official name of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal—just two years after its signing. This is even truer when one’s subject is the product of six years of intricate negotiations and maneuver- ing on an array of political chessboards, and remains so controversial that its durability is in serious doubt. Fortunately, Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian-American Coun- cil, possesses in spades the two skill sets required to meet the challenge of tracing that history and explaining the significance of the agreement to a gen- eral audience: substantive expertise and insider knowledge. Parsi teaches at Johns Hopkins University and at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at George- town University, and was the 2010 win- ner of the Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order. He is also the author of Treacher- ous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran and the United States , the silver medal winner of the 2008 Arthur Ross Book Award from the Council on Foreign Relations, and A Single Roll of the Dice: Obama’s Diplomacy with Iran , which was named Best Book on the Middle East in 2012 by Foreign Affairs . (As he notes in his preface, he draws heavily on both volumes, particularly in BOOKS Even though we know from the start that the parties eventually reach an agreement, the story is so gripping that it has a real “Perils of Pauline” feel. the first half of this new book.) Although he did not have a formal role, Parsi advised the Obama White House through- out the talks with Iran, and interviewed more than 75 of the key actors and decision- makers he met and worked with for this book. Virtually all the quotes are on the record, and many come from prominent foreign offi- cials, such as Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. Parsi takes a chronological approach to his subject, which works well despite some backtracking and repetition along the way. As a bonus, even though we know from the start that the parties do eventually come to an accord, the delayed gratification confers a real “Per- ils of Pauline” feel that intensifies the closer we get to the denouement. (By the way, skip the “Conclusions” chapter, which is nothing more than an execu- tive summary of the book.) As his title, Losing an Enemy: Obama, Iran and the Triumph of Diplo- macy , makes clear, Parsi is an ardent cheerleader—both for the agreement and for President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry’s roles in pulling it off. (Sadly, that fact alone will probably deter many readers from giv- ing the book a chance.) He also does not hesitate to call out opponents of the deal by name, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netan- yahu at the top of the list. I was some- what surprised at how unsupportive of the negotiations Parsi says Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was—an attitude he ascribes to her presidential ambitions. President Donald Trump has thus far disregarded his campaign rhetoric and grudgingly certified Tehran’s compliance with the JCPOA at each mandatory 90-day mark. As the next deadline for certification approaches in October, shortly before this review appears, let us hope that he continues to follow that practice. I say that not just because I strongly believe the agreement is in our national interest, or even because its survival will confirm the wisdom of Pres. Obama’s strategy of making our Middle Eastern diplomacy less beholden to Tel Aviv and Riyadh. The very existence of the JCPOA shows us that, as Parsi asserts, even the most contentious international conflict can be resolved peacefully if all sides negotiate in earnest, accept painful con- cessions and muster the political will to defend their peaceful path against domestic critics. Steven Alan Honley, a State Department Foreign Service officer from 1985 to 1997 and editor-in-chief of The Foreign Service Journal from 2001 to 2014, is a regular contributor to the Journal .