< Distinguished speaker series

Trita Parsi, Ph.D.

Executive Vice President of the Quincy Institute

America and the Middle East: Marriage on the Rocks

DATE: March 14, 2023 6:00 pm

Event information


Trita Parsi is the Executive Vice President of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, a Washington think tank he co-founded in 2019 with support from both ends of the political spectrum: liberal-leaning George Soros and conservative-leaning Charles Koch Institute.

A well-known critic of the U.S. reliance on military coercion in the Middle East, he decries the “endless wars” in the region.

Since the First Gulf War, he notes, the United States has kept a large military force in the Middle East, distributed among roughly 20 military bases. America’s de facto military dominance of the Middle East has been justified as protecting the flow of oil, preventing regional chaos, defeating terrorism and preventing Russia or China from controlling the region’s resources.

But, he asks, has America’s military dominance stabilized the region? Does an energy-independent America need to protect the oil of the Persian Gulf? Will China take over the region if America brings its troops home? Is the cost – endless wars in the Middle East – worth it? Can America achieve its vital interests more efficiently through another strategy?

In Ukraine, he says America’s current course increases the risks of a war with Russia and adds to the possibility of a Russia-Iran-China alliance. At the present rate of destruction, “there won’t be anything left of Ukraine,” he told a Harvard Kennedy School forum on Feb. 24. And he urges the startup of back-channel discussions so each side can feel out the other’s positions. “Russia has already lost. What is the value of letting it go on for years and years?”

His colleague, Andrew Bachevich, co-founder of Quincy and its current board Chairman, goes further. He says the money the U.S. is spending on Ukraine should be used to alleviate climate change, to deal with the crisis on America’s southern border and to improve the lot of working-class Americans. Russia should be “someone else’s problem,” he writes in the lead essay of this month’s Foreign Affairs. He would turn the U.S. military into a force “designed to protect the American people rather than serve as an instrument of global power projection.” He’d also shut down the regional military headquarters, starting with the U.S. Central Command for the Middle East. He’d cut the military footprint abroad and cap U.S. military spending at 2 per cent of GDP.

The stance of the leadership of the Quincy Institute differs 180 degrees from that of our last speaker.  Robert Kagan, you’ll recall, argued that America should impose its military, economic, political and ideological preferences on the world, for without that hegemony, world order will break down as it did in the period before the two World Wars of the 20th century.

Trita Parsi is well known as an expert on US-Iranian relations, Iranian foreign policy and the geopolitics of the Middle East. His first book, Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Iran, Israel and the United States (Yale, 2007), won the silver medal of the Arthur Ross Book Award from the Council on Foreign relations. A Single Roll of the Dice – Obama’s Diplomacy with Iran (Yale 2012) was selected by Foreign Affairs as the best book of 2012 on the Middle East. His latest book, Losing the Enemy: Obama, Iran and the Triumph of Diplomacy (Yale 2017) reveals the behind the scenes story of the Iran nuclear deal.

He was the 2010 winner of the Grawemeyer Award for ideas on improving World Order. He was named by the Washingtonian Magazine one of the 25 most influential voices on foreign policy in Washington in 2021 and 2022. Writer Noam Chomsky calls Dr. Parsi “one of the most distinguished scholars on Iran.”

Parsi was born in Iran but moved with his family at age four to Sweden to escape political repression. His father was an outspoken academic who was jailed by the Shah and then by the Ayatollahs. He moved to the U.S. as an adult and studied foreign policy at SAIS, where he received a Ph.D. under Francis Fukuyama and the late Zbigniew Brzezinski.

He teaches at Georgetown University. He is fluent in Farsi, English and Swedish.