An eerily familiar drumbeat of war is intensifying across Washington, just as the United States ends its decade-long adventure in Iraq. The ghosts of America's neoconservative past have dusted off their Iraq playbook to make the case for war with Iran. Their formula is simple but effective: Portray the Iranian government and its nuclear program as existential threats, insist that a chain of catastrophic events will result from inaction, and minimize the costs and risks of war.
If one looks back, however, neoconservative officials in the U.S. government weren't alone in their push for war with Iraq. A crucial aspect of selling the war to the U.S. public was support within the Iraqi-American community. Iraqi dissidents living abroad, such as Ahmed Chalabi and Kanan Makiya, as well as supposed whistle-blowers turned known fabricators like the infamous "Curveball," led a contingent of vocal Iraqis who pushed for steadily more aggressive actions to topple Saddam Hussein's regime. Their promise that the invasion would be a cakewalk and that U.S. soldiers would be greeted with flowers and candy didn't quite pan out. Now, the fruits of their labor are clear for all to see -- a broken country, devastated by war and sectarian strife, with no discernible end in sight.
Iranian-Americans, in stark contrast with the Iraqi diaspora, have largely opposed a rush to war. This is a fact that I have observed up close, while working in the State Department's Office of Iranian Affairs and now at the National Iranian American Council, where I maintain close and continuing contact with Iranian-Americans to ensure we accurately represent their views. Together, these two vantage points have crystallized one key takeaway: Iranian-Americans deeply resent the Iranian regime, but prefer U.S. policies that emphasize engagement and de-escalation.
Why have Iraqis and Iranians living abroad reached such drastically different conclusions? For more than three decades, the Iranian-American community has grappled with the paradox of wanting to make Iran a better place -- but fearing success as much as defeat. Some worry that contributing to positive changes inside Iran will only strengthen a draconian system, extending its lease on life.
For many Iranian-Americans, this dilemma was resolved by their disastrous historical experience with revolutionary upheaval. Rather than laying the groundwork for democracy, Iran's 1979 revolution simply replaced one dictatorship with another. As a result, Iranian-Americans strongly prefer to use the rule of law to alter not only the Iranian government's behavior, but also the thinking of Iranians inside Iran.