When it comes to more recent events, Crist gets much wrong. Like many journalists, he is beholden to conventional wisdom and the agendas of sources, some of whom — including Hillary Mann Leverett and James Dobbins — have distinguished themselves with post-retirement opinions that exculpate Iran and bash Bush. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, a gossip whose leaks paralyzed the Bush administration and led to the Scooter Libby investigation, misleads Crist outright when he says that Pentagon civilians favored utilizing the Mujahideen al-Khalq (some in the military did, and the Pentagon civilians scrambled with the State Department to end such discussion).
Crist repeats the mantra that the Iranian people sympathized with the United States after 9/11, but fails to note Khamenei’s gloating over that event. Like the proverbial blind man describing the elephant, he amplifies limited experience into an unrepresentative whole. He reminisces about a game of brinkmanship with Iranian small boats soon after the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom. “What I did not know until later . . . was how little CENTCOM or the civilians in the Pentagon had bothered to consider Iran when planning to remove Saddam Hussein.” Nothing could be farther from the truth. Pentagon civilians raised the Iranian challenge repeatedly — but the State Department convinced itself that Iranian promises could be taken at face value.
Crist also credulously accepts the idea that the Iranian regime offered the Bush administration a grand bargain that, in a peak of arrogance, the White House and the Pentagon rejected. This is nonsense. Tim Guldimann, the Swiss ambassador in Tehran, unveiled the proposal, unaware that the Americans and Iranians were talking at a higher level. Trita Parsi, an Iranian-born activist and lobbyist in Washington, promoted the story even though his own e-mails (released through courtroom discovery process) indicate that the Iranians denied the offer was theirs.
Crist gets sloppy toward the end — confusing, for example, the amount requested and the amount granted for programs to promote democracy in Iran. As he brings his narrative into the Obama years, he lets his underlying assumptions shine through. By 2012, he relates, “seasoned, pragmatic Iran watchers called for tougher sanctions to punish Iranian intransigence. . . . But punishing Iranian intransigence also hardens Iranian leaders and justifies in their minds the need for a nuclear program, both for increased self-sufficiency and as a deterrent.” Alas, here he not only, like many who are overly reliant on American sources, downplays the ayatollahs’ ideological motivations, but also ignores the lessons of the past: When the Islamic Republic is chastened, as it was by Reagan’s 1988 ordering of the U.S. Navy into action, sometimes the regime reconsiders further provocations. Nevertheless, Crist is correct to note that, when it comes to Iran, “glimmers of optimism invariably give way to the smell of cordite.”
– Mr. Rubin is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a senior lecturer at the Naval Postgraduate School.