By John Amirteymour
Most Iranians today are aware that the Ayatollah Khomeini’s rise to power in 1979, and the survival of his Islamist regime over the next four decades, was the result of Western, primarily American, foreign policies. Yet, few Americans realize that a cabal of elite academics, bureaucrats, and businesspersons, influencing US government policies from behind the scenes, have taken the destiny of an entire country into their hands, depriving them of liberty and human rights, while at the same time harming the security of America via their failed ideas. One of these Americans is Gary Sick, a professor at Columbia University, and the director of a think tank headquartered at that university, the Gulf/2000 project.
Described as the “predominant email list for Gulf State policy experts,” the Gulf/2000 project’s online forum membership reads like a comprehensive list of the Khomeiniist regime’s U.S. based lobbyists. They include: Trita Parsi, head of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), Tehran’s main US lobbying organization; Laura Rozen, an Al-Monitor reporter who was very close to the Obama administration, Joe Cirincione; head of the Ploughshares Fund, an institution ostensibly dedicated to promoting peace that has long been one of NIAC’s main sources of funding; Puneet Talwar, a former State Department official and advisor to Joe Biden; John Limbert, Obama’s former deputy assistant secretary of state for Iran; and Tamara Cofman Wittes, Obama’s former deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs.
The Gulf/2000 project, and Sick himself, received some media attention in 2016 for their role in promoting the Obama nuclear deal with the regime. That year, Obama’s deputy national security advisor for communications, Ben Rhodes, admitted in a New York Times interview that the Obama administration, using various liberal/Democratic party-aligned foundations as middlemen, had paid for media airtime to promote the Iran deal, using false and skewed information. One of the foundations utilized by the administration was the Ploughshares Fund. Since 2010, Ploughshares had been the primary funder of Sick’s Gulf/2000 project, to the tune of $75,000 annually. A Washington Free Beacon reporter, who managed to gain access to members of Sick’s private, invitation-only, online forum, wrote that a “member…compared the group to a pro-Iran ‘info-op’—military jargon for a campaign to influence policy decisions. ‘The most significant forum for scholars of Iranian studies to exchange ideas and views was dominated by apologists for the Iranian regime and was dominated by people who would reflexively push back on any argument that the Iranian regime was involved in what we would call ‘malign activities’ or ‘illicit activities.’” As the group’s moderator, Sick had final say over what was allowed to be posted; and while he had no issue with bizarre, Tehran-originating conspiracy theories about “Jews” or “neocons,” he deleted any post that was critical of Tehran.
Sick’s stance should not come as a shock, considering that, in addition to Ploughshares, another of Sick’s main funding sources was the Alavi Foundation, the New York-based branch of the regime’s Mostazafan Foundation in Tehran, which sponsored his professorship at Columbia.
The regime has good reason to be so generous with Gary Sick, considering that he was involved in creating it. Born in Kansas in 1935, Sick earned his PhD in Political Science from Columbia University in 1973. A career navy officer, by his own account, Sick knew very little about Iran when he began working on Middle East policy initiatives as a National Security Council staffer under President Ford in 1976. Nonetheless, Sick caught the eye of the new President Carter’s national security advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, in 1977, because of Sick’s strident anti-Shah views. Brzezinski, who had formulated a policy strategy known as the “Green Belt,” which called for the overthrow of secular, modernizing, and nationalist Middle Eastern governments and their replacement by Islamic fundamentalist regimes, assigned Sick to handle Iran policy at the NSC. According to a 1980 Washington Quarterly article, Sick was part of a group of Carter administration officials who “by March of 1977”…. “had evolved a (Iran) policy that was…very anti-shah….…he had to be removed.” The same article states that Sick was responsible for drafting any memoranda produced by this Iran policy working group. In his 1985 book, “All Fall Down,” Sick himself described his actions in arranging meetings and talks between the Carter administration and the Ayatollah Khomeini’s entourage.
Despite the massive backfiring of the Carter administration’s support for Khomeini, which led to American diplomats being taken hostage, not to mention the birth of international Islamist terrorism, let alone the massive atrocities committed against the Iranian people, Gary Sick never expressed regret for his role in the establishment of the mullahs regime. Instead, he tried to falsely malign his political opponents. In the late 1980s, Sick began promoting the “October Surprise” hypothesis. A conspiracy theory first alleged by extremist presidential candidate Lyndon LaRouche, the October Surprise referred to was a supposed deal made by Ronald Reagan’s campaign with the Khomeini regime to delay the release of the American hostages in 1980, in order to prevent Jimmy Carter’s reelection. The theory had circulated for several years, but was not considered anything close to being believable until Gary Sick chose to wrote a book about it in 1990, and began promoting it in mainstream media. Though one could cynically suppose that hurling accusations at the Reagan administration was an easy way of diverting attention from the Carter administration’s massive failures regarding Iran, Sick’s stature enabled congressional Democrats to make the October Surprise a key 1992 election issue; and several congressional investigations were conducted to discover whether the allegations were true.
After multiple years of hearings, testimony, and research that stretched around the globe, all of the October Surprise allegations were proven to be false, seemingly confirming the words of congressional Republicans at that time, who called it a “Democratic with hunt.” Gary Sick’s credibility, as other commentators have pointed out, should have been shattered, but, instead, he moved on to new things.
In the early 1990s, American oil companies began to invest in Iran, the largest deal being made by Conoco in 1992. At that time, these oil companies began working with the Tehran regime to form a US lobby network that would assist in promoting trade with the regime. In 1993, with funding from the oil companies, Columbia University established Sick’s Gulf/2000 Project, which began issuing position papers, writing newspaper editorials, and holding conferences that promoted regime interests, and more specifically, the interests of the Rafsanjani family business empire, with whom Sick had personal ties. (Sick went as far as defending Rafsanjani from well-established charges that he was involved in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires, Argentina, that killed 85 people. He wrote at the time, “…these practices originated in the early 1980s, when the Islamic leadership faced a massive domestic terrorist threat. The Iranian response to this threat was apparently to establish one or more covert units, possibly buried deep within the intelligence agencies, to hunt down and destroy perceived threats to the revolution………the evidence suggests that these units in Iran have acquired a life of their own, launching operations on an opportunistic basis with little interference by the central authorities and no apparent coordination with Iran’s foreign policy agenda.” Sick’s admiration for Rafsanjani would endure until the mullah’s death in 2017, allegedly at the hand of his enemies within the regime.)
The Khomeiniist regime’s embassy to the United Nations frequently participated in the Gulf/2000 project’s seminars and conferences, and Sick became close friends with the then-ambassador, Mohammad Jafar Mahallati. When Mahallati left the regime’s diplomatic corps, Sick found him employment as a Columbia University professor.
Around the same time, Sick also began working with a self-described “Iran lobbyist,” Hooshang Amirahmadi, helping him form the “American Iranian Council” in 1997, which was the first official lobbyist organization for the regime. Financed by both US oil companies and Iranian-Americans close to Tehran, the AIC, in Sick’s words, was composed of “a huge array of experts and former officials, Republican and Democrat” who “believe that U.S. policy toward Iran should change… A lot of them are consultants for major oil interests in Central Asia and elsewhere in the region.”
Despite his regime advocacy, Human Rights Watch named Sick one of their chief board members, and chair of their Middle East section, even though he had said in an interview that “The demonstrations in Iran are not….about democracy and human rights.”
In 1997, Sick co-founded the “Center for World Dialogue” with Hossein Alikhani, an Iranian-American businessman who had previously been convicted of violating US sanctions against Libya, and had spent time in prison. At a 1999 conference in Cyprus hosted by this organization, which featured many oil executives and regime-linked Iranian businesspersons, Siamak Namazi, then the director of the regime-linked corporation Atieh Bahar, and the above-mentioned Trita Parsi, an Iranian-born Swedish citizen, proposed forming a lobby organization that would use Iranian-Americans to persuade Washington to remove sanctions from Tehran and compete with AIPAC, the Israeli lobby. This was the origin of NIAC, and as the messages from the Gulf/2000 project show, Gary Sick continues to be involved in advising and steering the Khomeiniist regime mouthpiece organ he helped found.
Over the next years, Sick would remain a key voice in support of the Tehran regime, in both media and in advising, mostly Democratic, politicians. In 2007, he sparked controversy for his role in arranging then regime president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s speech at Columbia, an appearance that was granted him after the Alavi Foundation donated $100,000 to Columbia. When Ahmadinejad became president in 2005, Sick had lavished praised on him, telling an interviewer, “I think he came through with some constructive ideas. … He’s a very prideful man, and I think that sense of Iranian pride is one that may be very difficult for the West—and the United States in particular—to deal with.”
Presently, Sick is continuing to promote Khomeiniism from his perch at Columbia University. This April, as ISICRC covered, Columbia hosted an event entitled “The Marginalization of Shi’a Narratives: In American Muslim Discourse, and in Geopolitics, Past, Present and Future.” This event featured a number of speakers who are open supporters of the Khomeniist regime, Khamenei, and the IRGC, in addition to a couple of radical leftist American Tehran sympathizers.
For forty years, Gary Sick has aided and advocated for the mullahs, and with minor exceptions, no one has called him to account for his actions and the horrible results, to both Iranians and Americans, that his ideas have produced. As university students and other socially conscious Americans have demanded and won the dismissals of various professors who have either said inflammatory words or have had relationships with abusers of human rights, it is time to ask Columbia University, does Gary Sick deserve to remain there?