The same weekend Iran’s foreign minister showed up unexpectedly in France as world leaders met, his ministry went on the attack. Iran, it said in a statement, was suffering under a campaign of “economic terrorism,” pushed in part by an institution with what it called “a deceitful name”—the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD)—and its CEO, Mark Dubowitz, both of which would henceforth be sanctioned.
And with that, a regime locked in a tit-for-tat escalation with the United States—the world’s biggest economy, the biggest spender on national security, and a global superpower with intelligence and military resources around the world—focused its rage on a guy who runs a think tank.
How a 60-odd person organization became the enemy du jour in Tehran is a story about the Washington, D.C., influence game as seen from the receiving end. Yet it also illustrates how what happens here doesn’t stay here, and how a Beltway reputation can reverberate far from the city’s policy debates.
Since its founding in 2001, the FDD has carved out a niche for itself as the go-to haven for D.C.’s Iran hawks, with Dubowitz as its well-connected leader. The institution’s media stardom—its analysts show up on cable news, their comment pieces are published in The Atlantic, The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times—along with Dubowitz’s own forceful Twitter feed, has built it an outsize reputation in Tehran to match its stature in Washington, all filtered through a lens of enmity and conspiracy theory.