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The Race for Iran

EXPLAINING THE CONCEPT OF “LEARNING CURVE” TO JEFFREY GOLDBERG

In his blog today at The Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg published a piece, “Hillary Mann Leverett: From Iran Critic to Iran Apologist”, in which he notes discontinuities between some of the pieces that I wrote on Iran in the 1990s, when I was the first Terrorism Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and the views on Iran and U.S. policy toward the Islamic Republic that I espouse today.  He concludes that these discontinuities demonstrate I have “lost [my] bearings”. 

It seems inappropriate for Mr. Goldberg—who has never spoken with me—to offer any assessment of my “bearings”.  More substantively, though, there is a simpler and more compelling explanation for the evolution of my views about Iran over the course of my professional career:  I have learned from experience—including experience actually negotiating with Iranians as a U.S. diplomat

In the 1990s, when I worked at the Washington Institute—which was created by AIPAC staff as a non-profit, 501(c)(3) “think tank” to influence substantive policy discussions in Washington about the Middle East—I was indeed part of the intellectual apparatus that helped justify the use of unilateral primary and secondary sanctions by the United States Government as a way to pressure Iran and other governments that Washington had designated as state sponsors of terrorism.  My work for the Institute clearly reflects that point of view, which had significant influence over the formulation of America’s Iran policy during the 1990s. 

However, after entering the State Department as a Foreign Service Officer in 1998, I had the opportunity to negotiate directly with Iranian counterparts on matters related to Afghanistan.  I did this first as a political adviser to the U.S. Mission to the United Nations in New York, where I represented the United States in the so-called “6+2” framework (encompassing Afghanistan’s six neighbors, including Iran, along with Russia and the United States) during 2000-2001.  Following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, I was asked to move from my post at our UN Mission to join the National Security Council staff at the White House as Director for Iran and Afghanistan.  In this role, I participated for almost two years in regular (effectively monthly) meetings with Iranian counterparts to coordinate U.S. and Iranian policies regarding the overthrow of the Taliban, stabilizing Afghanistan in the wake of the Taliban’s defeat, and dealing with Al-Qa’ida operatives trying to flee Afghanistan as a consequence of the U.S. invasion.

From this experience, I saw first-hand that the first approach—diplomatic isolation, sanctions, and economic pressure—did not and could not work to influence Iranian decision-making on issues that matter to the United States.  As a result, by the time of the 9/11 attacks, I was intellectually prepared to have at least an open mind regarding Iranian messages that those attacks had been so strategically consequential that Tehran and Washington could and should work together to stabilize Afghanistan and fight Al-Qa’ida

During my experience actually negotiating with senior counterparts from the Islamic Republic, I saw first-hand how my Iranian interlocutors were able to negotiate productively, deliver on specific commitments, and make concessions and calculate trade-offs across a range of issues.  In this regard, recent statements by Kenneth Timmerman on C-Span’s Washington Journal that my husband, Flynt Leverett, and I have been spreading “lies” about Iran’s substantial cooperation with post-9/11 American efforts in Afghanistan are beneath contempt.  Mr. Timmerman was not in government, and does not know what he is talking about.  I was one of very few U.S. officials authorized to deal directly with Iranian officials regarding Afghanistan–Timmerman’s neoconservative friends at the Pentagon were deliberately kept out of those discussions–and I saw what the Iranians did to help us in Afghanistan.     

Moreover, as a result of my interactions with senior Iranian officials, I came to understand better the role of Iran’s ties to groups that Washington designates as terrorist organizations in the Islamic Republic’s broader national security strategy.  These ties are taken at the Washington Institute and many other venues in Washington as confirmation of the Islamic Republic’s irredeemably aggressive and malign ambitions.  But proxy actors in various regional settings—political, paramilitary, and terrorist—are a critical element in Iran’s “asymmetric” national security strategy.  This strategy aims to generate security for the Islamic Republic, even though it lacks serious conventional military capabilities, powerful strategic allies, and significant strategic depth.  In this context, ties to proxy actors in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, etc. give Tehran tools to ensure that those states will not be used as anti-Iranian platforms, providing the Islamic Republic an effective measure of strategic depth it would not otherwise have.  This element of Iran’s national security strategy encompasses not only groups identified by Washington as terrorist organizations—e.g., Hizballah and HAMAS—but also Iraqi and Afghan political parties and their associated militias.       

As a result of my experience dealing with the Iranians over Afghanistan, I also came to appreciate how profoundly warped is much of the discussion in the United States about alleged Iranian ties to Al-Qa’ida.  Senior George W. Bush Administration officials and the neoconservative commentariat of the day initially provided grist for this mill in much the same way that they manufactured an alleged connection between Saddam Husayn’s Iraq and Al-Qa’ida.  But, in fact, after the invasion of Afghanistan, Tehran detained hundreds of suspected Al-Qa’ida operatives attempting to flee across Iran’s border; these detentions were fully documented to the Secretary-General of the United Nations and passed on to the State Department at the time.  Iran repatriated at least 200 of these individuals to the new Karzai government in Afghanistan, to Saudi Arabia, and to other countries.  But Iran could not return all of its detainees—for example, Iranian diplomats told my colleagues and me that, because the Islamic Republic has no diplomatic relations with Egypt, Tehran was not able to repatriate Egyptian Al-Qa’ida members.  Likewise, Iranian officials told us that, since Saudi Arabia had stripped Osama bin Laden of his Saudi citizenship, they did not believe the Kingdom would repatriate any of the Al-Qa’ida leader’s progeny.  (This issue is still being negotiated by Iranian and Saudi diplomats today.)     

My current views on U.S. policy reflect, I believe, thatI have learned from professional experience and am capable of adapting my policy views in light of a more accurate understanding of reality.  I would hope that Mr. Goldberg—who, in 2002, was peddling what turned out to be utterly inaccurate reports about Saddam Husayn’s ties to Al-Qa’ida and his possession of weapons of mass destruction—is able to do the same.       

 –Hillary Mann Leverett

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53 Responses to “EXPLAINING THE CONCEPT OF “LEARNING CURVE” TO JEFFREY GOLDBERG”

  1. mithra says:

    E: Scholarship?? LOL

  2. E says:

    It is really bizarre that you would denigrate WINEP by calling it a “think-tank” in quotes and not so subtly implying that it is part of an AIPAC conspiracy, when referencing your own work that you now want to distance yourself from! Are you implying that your own scholarship at the time was somehow influenced by “AIPAC” – and if thats the case why should your scholarship now be taken any more seriously?

  3. WigWag says:

    Thanks for the link Alan!

    The Dobbins piece is very interesting and very balanced, but it hardly confirms the positions adopted by either Leverett. The Taliban and Al Qaeda consider the Shia to be apostates who should be liquidated. They consider the government in Iran to be an abomination. The same Taliban controlled government allowed Afghan territory to be used to plan the worst terrorist attack in American history. The fact that Iran and the United States could cooperate to oppose such a bitter mutual opponent doesn’t seem all that surprising to me; nor does it seem particularly consequential. Dobbins does make the point that the United States came late to the game; a coalition of Iran, India, Russia and the Northern Alliance had already been formed to oppose the Taliban. Of course, they were completely ineffective; that is until the Americans stepped in.

    By way of comparison, Dobbins references the coalition (mostly European) that worked to settle the disputes in Bosnia and Kosovo. Of course this European led effort was equally ineffective until the United States stepped in with diplomatic intervention and the threat of military force; a threat that was actualized.

    Dobbins also makes the point that Mann-Leverett never does; the Iranian diplomats he met with were accountable to a reformist regime; that of President Khatami who was wildly popular with that segment of the population that morphed into today’s “Green Movement.” To claim that the same people running Iran today is simply not true.

    Dobbins also makes the point that at the time he was meeting with the Iranians, the regime could claim to be more democratic and representative than the regimes in Egypt or Saudi Arabia. Of course today, whatever “Race for Iran” readers think of the legitimacy of the regime, millions of Iranians believe their leaders are illegitimate.

    Dobbins makes the point repeated by many that the Bush Administration missed a major opportunity to achieve a rapprochement with Iran; this is almost certainly true. But there is no reasonable inference that can be taken from this strategic mistake that suggests a rapprochement is possible today. In fact, unlike Mann-Leverett, this is what Dobbins says,

    “President Barack Obama holds a much weaker hand in dealing with Iran than
    did his predecessor in 2001 or 2003…Obama can not, therefore, pick up the dialogue with Tehran where it was left in 2003. Nevertheless, the experience of cooperation over Afghanistan, and incipient cooperation over Iraq, remains relevant, a reminder of what was once possible and could be again.”

    Dobbins also explains why the Iranians were so interested in engaging the United States in those days,

    “The Iranian leadership was both thankful and fearful thankful that the United States had eliminated its two most dangerous regional rivals, and fearful that their own regime would be next.”

    These motivations for engagement no longer exist and the Leveretts oppose incentivizing the Iranians by threatening regime change.

    There are numerous other differences between what Dobbins says and what the Leveretts say. Here are just a few:

    1) The Leveretts are convinced the regime is legitimate and that the election was not stolen; Dobbins says no such thing.

    2) The Leveretts believe that the Green Revolution has no chance for success; Dobbins is agnostic on that.

    3) The Leveretts are convinced that sanctions are destined to fail; Dobbins is skeptical that they will work but doesn’t suggest that they aren’t worth a try.

    4) The Leveretts don’t think Obama has genuinely reached out to the Iranians. In his essay, Dobbins sites chapter and verse how the Obama Administration has reached out to the Iranians only to be rebuffed.

    At the end of his essay, Dobbins essentially damns the approach that Mann-Leverett, Leverett and Katcher advocate. Here’s what Dobbins says,

    “For thirty years, Washington and Tehran have communicated only intermittently and then usually at low levels. Given the distrust and misunderstanding that have built up on both sides, it would be remarkable if the recent reestablishment of higher level contact led to early breakthroughs. Yet, while engagement may not always produce accommodation, but it always yields information, which helps to create better policy. Thus, even failed negotiations are better than no negotiation at all.”

    Dobbins seems to think that engagement is almost destined to fail at least in the timeframe necessary for Iran to develop nuclear weapons. Leverett and Mann-Leverett think the opposite.

    I’m afraid Alan that citing Dobbins to support the Leveretts accomplishes exactly the opposite of what you intended.

  4. Jon Harrison says:

    It’s not possible for Jeffrey Goldberg to make anyone look silly. He himself is a joke. As I said earlier, no serious person takes him seriously.

  5. Alan says:

    Above post addressed to WigWag – sorry for omission.

  6. Alan says:

    Regarding your point 1, here’s Bush’s special envoy to Afghanistan, who I hope will suffice for “seniority”:

    http://www.twq.com/10january/docs/10jan_Dobbins.pdf

    Regarding your point (2), Ahmadinejad is much more pliable over the nuclear issue than his predecessors, but it’s not up to him anyway. Khamenei is and was Supreme Leader, Rafsanjani now heads the Expediency Council. Previous lead negotiator Larijani now heads the Majlis. The regime is the same. Where’s the problem? The point is nobody talks to them, and somebody should.

    Regarding your point (3), Iraq was March 2003, HML refers to her work regarding Afghanistan two years earlier.

    On the whole, Mr Goldberg doesn’t sound too devastating, and I fear he has made you look silly rather than HML. I think I’ll give him a miss.

  7. WigWag says:

    So its 10:25 am on the east coast (where I live) and Jeffrey Goldberg has posted his reply to Ms Mann-Leverett’s post at the “Race for Iran” responding to his original essay at his blog where he said “she’s lost her bearings.”

    I am looking forward to Ms Mann-Leverett’s response to Goldberg’s new post because it is truly devastating to her argument. Goldberg points out the following: (1) Diplomats who were more senior, more experienced and more respected than Mann-Leverett don’t remember the negotiations with Iran as being as productive and she does; (2) Many of the Iranian diplomats that Mann-Leverett negotiated with have been purged or even arrested. Goldberg points out that negotiating with the previous reformist regime was one thing while negotiating with the current hard-line regime is something else again; (3) back when Mann-Leverett was negotiating with the Iranians they were petrified of the United States because of our very early success in Iraq and the keen anger at Muslim extremism in the United States generated by the fresh recollection of the 9/11 tragedy; this fear on the part of the Iranians has now evaporated. Of course, it could easily be reintroduced if the Iranian leadership genuinely believed military action aimed at overthrowing the regime was being contemplated.

    Ms Mann-Leverett and her husband would be wise to try to develop a better appreciation for history and its lessons. First they exaggerate the similarities between China in the 1960s and Iran in 2010 and then they exaggerate the similarities between Iran in the early part of this decade under Khatami and the Iran of today under Ahmadinejad.

    I hope Ms Mann-Leverett’s new response to Goldberg is a good one because he sure makes her look silly.

  8. Iranian says:

    You can’t denounce capitalism and imperialism from the point of view of a religious or idealogical tyranny… Each just fuel the other…. So on the purest and highest moral ground, IRI apologists always fall at the final fence by gaining capital out of a tyranny!

  9. Iranian says:

    How does it not stand to gain from an installed pro-western and puppet regime (Iraq/Afghanistan)? The Leveretts are certainly not Iranian, but they offer the most logical solution and one that is in the best interest of both Iran and its people and the US sans Israel.

    What are you trying to say?? You’re contradicting yourself. The solution is for the United States, Israel, Timbaktu, to stay away from Iran, period. Iran’s government has never been stable due it’s inherent structural and foundational inconsitancies. Instability has been the bread and butter of the regime for the past 30 years. That is the only way it has ever been able to survive. A stable IRI will not have lasted 30 years.

    Iran does not have a nuclear weapon and it is no threat either to US or Israel.

    Just stay the hell out, both Israel and US, and let the Iranian people determine their own future.

  10. Goli says:

    Iranian,

    During my conversations with the Green supporters in Iran, not a single one purported to see Israel/Palestine as an Iranian issue. In fact, practically every Green I spoke with was very adamant in his/her belief that Palestinians are not Iran’s problem and Iran should reestablish its ties with Israel. (Unfortunately, this disassociation with the Palestinian cause in part stems from a rather racist perspective. Certain Iranian elites identify themselves as Persians as distinct from the Arabs, and by implication, in the context of both Iran’s history and contemporary events, superior.) Some of them had read or heard of Trita Parsi’s book on Iran/Israel relations and chosen to focus on his implicit suggestion that Iran and Israel are natural allies surrounded by Sunni Arabs and not his hypothesis that Iran/Israel relations has continued to be based on realism and power politics. Now, this does not represent the view of every Green, but a great many. It certainly does not represent the views of Mousavi whose take on Israel is somewhat closer to the present government (albeit more realistic) and the great majority of Iranians who feel a strong camaraderie with the Palestinian people and deep sympathy for their plight of occupation and oppression.

    The evidence that the Neocons, AIPAC, and the rest of the Israel Lobby, including the media, have been working around the clock to fuel the unrest in Iran is simply overwhelming. How does Israel not stand to benefit from an unstable Iran adrift in civil strife and lacking strong leadership? How does it not stand to gain from an installed pro-western and puppet regime (Iraq/Afghanistan)? The Leveretts are certainly not Iranian, but they offer the most logical solution and one that is in the best interest of both Iran and its people and the US sans Israel.

  11. Iranian says:

    As Elias Sajjad has said
    by Bavafa on Mon Jan 11, 2010 02:21 PM PST

    As Elias Sajjad has said in her blog here, there are many wolves around that would like to discredit this movement. The enemies of this revolution are not just IRI, be aware of the enemies outside of Iran as well. Neocons/AIPAC are working hard to derail this revolution by the people. They know they can contorl one or two clown in charge, but not the whole nation.

    http://www.iranian.com/main/blog/elias-sajjad/neo-wolf-green-s-clothing

  12. Iranian says:

    The US interfering in Iran’s internal affaires at this point is nothing different than the Operation Ajax. How does throwing a life line to the Islamic Republic (i.e. legitimizing the IRI) does not constitute as direct intervention in Iranian’s struggle for democracy? How many times does the US is going to prevent Iran from being a democratic country??

    I’m beginning to think that it’s not in the long term interest of the US to have a democratic Iran in the region. That really explains all the incosistencies we have seen for the past 30 years coming from all US adminstrations.

  13. Iranian says:

    This analysis does is it gives insight into some of the most prominent forces behind the Iranian political structure. Also, it raises awareness on some important political science concepts.

    Any analysis that does not address the Hojatieh group under the auspieces of Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi is not worth reading. The Mahdi’s soldiers and Velayte Faghih Islamic Revolutionaries are the new powers the US needs to deal with in the future. Rafsanjani and Khamenie are powerless at this point.

  14. Iranian says:

    Normalization of relationship with the US for the IRI tantamounts to signing their death warrant. It will never happen as long as Khamenie and Velayte Faghih’s Islamic Revolutionaries (VFIR) are in Power.

    Mission impossible
    Iran’s exceptional crisis is not sustainable

    http://www.insideiran.org/news/iran%E2%80%99s-change-of-power-structure-destabilizes-the-system/

  15. Iranian says:

    I just noticed the title of your blog?? “THE RACE FOR IRAN”?? What does that suppose to mean?? Do you think you own Iran?? Please elaborate.

  16. Iranian says:

    You can’t denounce capitalism and imperialism from the point of view of a religious or idealogical tyranny… Each just fuel the other…. So on the purest and highest moral ground, IRI apologists always fall at the final fence by gaining capital out of a tyranny!

  17. Iranian says:

    The State of the Opposition is Strong
    A response to the most infuriating op-ed of the new year

    http://iranian.com/main/2010/jan/state-opposition-strong

  18. Iranian says:

    Leverette et al are not interested in democracy for Iran and Iranians because they suffer from the insidious orientalism that has afflicted all non-Iranian experts. Period. Iranian people are much more sophisticated than you think and will remember who stood on their side and who didn’t. As far as I’m concerned, you two are the enemeis of the Iranian people and no different than the neocons who want to bomb Iran into smitherines.

  19. Wendell says:

    I understand that, while Jeffrey Goldberg has never spoken with H. M. Leverett, he did secure an exclusive interview with her auto mechanic, and that she had, in fact, lost her bearings.

  20. Gustavson says:

    For formulating US policy it is irrelevant if Iranian regime is evil or not. Surely Chinese regime, the regime in Saudi, Egypt or Jordan is far more repressive than the partly democratic regime in Iran. What’s important is if Iranian regime are imploding. That is not the case. We should not take exile parties as our only source. Take a look at Iraq. All exile groups have a similarity in their nature, they always think their opponent regime is imploding, in Iran it is the case for 30 years. Exile groups are in their perception never neutral, so how could we scientists take them as solid sources?

    Integrate Iran and decreasing the sanction is a demand of the Green movement (reformists) in Iran (there is a huge difference between Green movement in Iran and outside Iran).

  21. JohnH says:

    Wigwag, some of us “leftists” believe that taking American pressure off Iran is much more likely to produce desirable reforms than keeping the pressure on them. Regimes under attack typically become increasingly repressive. Sometimes a little benign neglect is just what the doctor ordered. It worked in Latin America.

    What some of us “leftists” support is a policy of non-interference–like Warren Metzler says, “no foreign government should interfere with what happens in this country. Following that point with simple logic alone, we should have a government that acts in the same manner.” Of course, dealing with other nations as peers doesn’t stoke tensions, foster fear in the American public, or justify the need for massive increases in “defense” spending. So for people like Wigwag, treating other nations as peers is a non-starter.

    So, Wigwag, your #1 complaint against the Iranian regime is that they won’t let women expose their hair? Wow! And for that we should annihilate the regime? It’s as if you’re totally oblivious to the long cultural tradition that is at root of the government’s policy! Probably the vast majority of Iranians actually agree with the government’s policy. Then you provide a whole litany of complaints against the Iranians, as if you’re oblivious to the fact that many close US allies routinely behave exactly the same way. Yet you save your invective for Iran, not for countries like Saudi Arabia, which is far more repressive than Iran.

    Sorry, Wigwag, the motivation behind your obsession with Iran is all too transparent. Unsurprisingly, it parrots the obsessions of the Likud/Kadima government.

  22. WarrenMetzler says:

    I suggest that all Americans believe that no foreign government should interfere with what happens in this country. Following that point with simple logic alone, we should have a government that acts in the same manner. If we could have an embassy in Moscow during Soviet times, an embassy in Beijing during the Cultural revolution, an embassy in Chile during Pinochet, then we certain can have an embassy in Tehran now. And if we don’t, it is only because something is going on that has nothing to do with our Constitution and the well-being of all American citizens.

    So let’s either see an embassy in Tehran, of be clear that there are government officials who are not acting in our best interests. And if there are government officials who are not acting in our best interests, let’s be clear that Obama is a despicable liar, self-centered, and never had any person’s interests at heart, including his wife and children, other than his own self-aggrandizement.

  23. Lysander says:

    I always appreciate civil debate, WigWag. Thank you.

    As for myself, I studied medicine in a catholic part of Europe and took the Geneva Oath and not the Hippocratic. I don’t know what they do in Iran. I suspect some religious students in this country might consider it idolatrous and avoid it.

    You are right. I can’t speak for the Leverettes but I suspect that many people you call realists have looked at the long History of US interventions in foreign governments from Asia, Middle East and South America and found it has done much more harm than good. We can debate that at a later time.

    The US is actively trying to destabilize the Iranian government. It is openly US policy to do so, and has been for 30 years. So, I suppose if the US were to normalize it would stabilize the current government. That would not be bad for Iran or even the Green Movement in the long run. First, economically Iran would improve rapidly without sanctions and everyone’s standard of living would improve. Second, it will remove any excuse the government has for poor economic performance and third it will make any accusation by the government that the opposition is a puppet in foreign hands totally hollow. The Green Movement can then go about the work of demanding civil liberties unhindered.

    Now I will try to make a realist US intersts based argument for engagement, with the caveat that I, unlike the Leverttes, am a pure non interventionist who would advocate strict neutrality in all international and domestic disputes.

    The US is in a bind in Afghanistan. It could use Iran’s help against a common enemy, radical Salafists. Iran, under the proper circumstances, would be willing to assist in using its influence within Afghanistan and possibly even providing an alternate supply route should Pakistan prove difficult…hardly an implausible scenario.

    The ‘unipolar moment’ the US enjoyed in the Post cold war period appears to be running out. In the near future, Russia and or China will be in a position to ally themselves closely with Iran. 20 years from now, An Iran allied with China will mean a strong foothold in the strategically valuable Persian Gulf. Iran, potentially is the strongest nation in the region by far. It would be far better to have Iran on our side rather than China’s.

    Alternatively, the US could wait and attempt to regime change Iran. If that gamble works, I suppose it would serve US interests the most. But, according to the Leverttes, its a long shot and probably they are correct. The downsides of losingthat gamble is that 10-20 years from now Iran will be even stronger rather than weaker. And the deal the US could have now will not be available then.

    That’s just an outline.

    Best Wishes

  24. Dr. Zurvan says:

    As an Iranian-American I am amazed and stupefied by Ms Mann’s statements and her having been deceived by the Islamic Republic to even consider them trustworthy negotiators. This is so unbelievable and so inconsistent with all the facts coming to foreground about the IR’s secret nuclear sites and their recent negotiation flip flops. The Obama administration has bent backwards to accommodate the regime and to make negotiations possible. But time and time again they have been frustrated by the Supreme Leader’s uncompromising stance and commitment to develop a nuclear weapon. I am really sorry for Ms Mann and her husband who have been so gullible and have let themselves become laughing stocks or foreign policy.

  25. Mark says:

    Mahmoud Ahmadinejad = Avigdor Lieberman = Richard Cheney

    Each a blind conservative.

    Each interested in some sort of near dictatorial rule.

    Each thirsty for power and endless battle.

    Each a creature of self-interest at the expense of his countrymen and the rest of humanity.

  26. WigWag says:

    “I would state it in a very different way, WigWag. The Leveretts might espouse something resembling a Hippocratic Oath of foreign policy; first do no harm. Do not prop up unstable regimes, do not topple them.” (Lysander)

    It’s interesting that you bring up the Hippocratic Oath, Lysander. I wonder if new medical graduates in Iran take it (maybe some “Race for Iran” reader can inform us). My bet is that they don’t, because the Hippocratic Oath as originally written by Hippocrates (some say it was actually Pythagoreans) begins with an appeal to the pantheon of Greek deities. It starts,

    “I swear by Apollo, the healer, Asclepius, Hygieia, and Panacea, and I take to witness all the gods, all the goddesses, to keep according to my ability and my judgment, the following Oath and agreement…”

    I can’t imagine that the Mullahs running Iran would take too kindly to that preamble.

    Whatever you may think of which candidate legitimately won the Iranian Presidential election and whatever you may think about whether the government or the demonstrators command greater support, it is disingenuous to claim that the situation in Iran isn’t unstable. Even the regime is concerned about the lack of stability in Iran. Otherwise, why would they be going to such great lengths to suppress the protests? It is pretty obvious that the regime is working assiduously to restore stability and it is equally obvious that they have not succeeded; at least so far.

    You surmise that the Leveretts believe that unstable regimes should neither be propped up nor toppled. It would be interesting if the Leveretts would speak for themselves about this. To me it seems clear that following the Leveretts advice would do exactly what you suggest they oppose; it would prop up a regime that finds itself in unstable circumstances.

    The grand bargain they advocate would restore economic relations between the United States and Iran (and enhance economic cooperation with the Europeans). It would demoralize the “Greens” who, whatever you think of them, number at the very least in the tens of thousands. It would remove the threat of Western or Israeli military action. It would enhance cultural relations between Iran and Western nations. It would reduce or even terminate the activities of U.S, government agencies that seek to promote democracy in Iran. Whatever you may think about the utility or even morality of all of these programs, it is clear that eliminating them would “prop up” the current Iranian regime.

    Come to think of it, the Leveretts can’t possibly agree with your interpretation of their views because the very essence of their grand plan (and the only motivation the regime has for accepting it), is it would be “propped up” if they signed on the dotted line.

    Parenthetically, the Chinese regime in the late 1960s when Nixon exempted China from the Cold War wasn’t anywhere near as unstable as Iran is now, but it wasn’t a paragon of stability either. The cultural revolution, which had devastated the Chinese economy, was coming to an end; Mao was aging and sick (Chou En Lai was no spring chicken either) and in just a few short years the Gang of Four (which included Mao’s wife)would be imprisoned and sentenced to death (a penalty that was never carried out).

    Nixon’s policy, which both Leveretts want President Obama to recapitulate with Iran, did a tremendous amount to prop up the Chinese regime. In fact, Nixon’s policy did so much to prop up the Chinese that they are one of the few Communist nations to still remain a totalitarian dictatorship. The vast majority of former communist nations are now liberal democracies whose citizens have northing but contempt for their former communist rulers. Even Russia, which is certainly an imperfect democracy, is far more liberal than China is. Ask the Ukrainians, Georgians, Lithuanians, Latvians and Estonians whether or not they’re glad that Nixon didn’t offer the Soviet Union the same deal he offered the Chinese.

    The deal the Leveretts advocate with Iran would “prop up” the Iranian regime just like the deal Nixon made that they like so much “propped up” the Chinese.

    But for the Leveretts it’s not about any of that. It’s American interests that they care about (at least it’s there conception of American interests). If the devil himself ran Iran the Leveretts would be all for making a deal with him; as long as American security interests were enhanced and as long as the United States got a crack at all of Iran’s energy resources they wouldn’t think twice.

    Of course, at least when it comes to literature, Faustian deals rarely pay off in the long run. The time always arrived where the piper demands to be paid.

  27. A Scientist says:

    Regarding the Muntezari funeral even supporter of the government and members of guardian council (like Ayatullah Shahroudi, former chief of judiciary) took part, because it is a religious act to participate to a funeral (even the supreme leader wrote condolence a to his family members).
    Nevertheless the participator was not so high like funerals of Grand Ayatullah Lankarani and Behjat, you can see their videos in Internet. In short the funeral and role of Muntezari is highly dramatized in the west due to the lack of knowledge about the religious Shia community.

  28. Bobzee says:

    WigWag,

    Perhaps I was being too general when I said “leftist”. But whatever you want to call them, its the same group which I’ve marched with against the Iraq war, whom have been vocal against Israeli aggression, but which has been strangely silent and sometimes supportive of the regime. Though I would agree this may not represent the mainstream Leftist ideology. Even Chomsky and Cole have shown their support for the opposition.

    As for the Leveretts, I find their cold hard “realistic” analysis to be far from realistic or objective. They don’t understand the nuances and subtleties of Iranian culture. Have they ever spent time in Iran? I doubt they can read farsi to scour the newspapers which don’t have English versions. With such limited cultural understanding, do you think these two “experts” can make realistically informed assessments when it comes to US interests in regards to Iran? The way you’ve explained to me their viewpoint is basically “be friends with all governments, regardless of how bad they are!” How simplistic and elementary is that? It doesn’t need any analysis whatsoever. If they think writing an op-ed with Mohammad Marandi serves US interests, then by all means keep working with the regime. Let them keeping cherry picking data, and whitewashing significant events like the Montazeri funeral if they believe thats how the US will succeed with Iran.

    Lysander,

    No there shouldn’t be any sanctions. Engaging Iran, but at the same time speaking out against its human rights violations is the best thing Obama can do. Engaging Iran blindly like they do with China as the Leveretts prefer is the wrong approach. Unfortunately, there’s now a news report that says the Obama administration may try to support the Green movement.

  29. Lysander says:

    WigWag,

    “Remember, as extreme realists, the Leveretts care only about advancing U.S. interests; from their perspective decency doesn’t matter and humanitarian concerns are simply out of bounds.”

    I would state it in a very different way, WigWag. The Leverttes might espouse something resembling a Hippocratic oath of foreign policy; First do no harm. Do not prop up unstable regimes, do not topple them. Those advocating a ‘humanitarian’ approach to foreign policy made much hey about Saddam’s crimes and then caused far worse ones in after the invasion. They also advocated a sanctions regime that reduced Iraq to a barter economy. So they are in a poor position to criticize the Leverettes from a humanitarian point of view.

    I can’t speak for everyone, but I am not a leftist, faux or otherwise. I would describe myself as an old school non-interventionist conservative of the Ron Paul variety. Nor am I quite a supporter of the “regime” but I certainly do not oppose it. It may be Iranians will overthrow the government sometime. I’m in no position to assist or stop them. And it is entirely their choice. But I can try to make the best possible observation of what is happening and I see little chance the government will fall anytime soon and I see no evidence of fraud in the June 12 election. Any of the anti-government posters here can point to such evidence and I’m happy change my mind.

    As to Iran’s opposition to US/Israeli policy, I confess I think that is wonderful. US/Israeli policy is horrible. If Iran’s policy were to change in that regard I would indeed consider it a loss, but again, it is not up to me to decide Iran’s policy. Neither the Supreme Leader nor the Greens have ever asked me my opinion. Besides, If the government were pro-Israel and the Greens anti, most opposition sympathizers would suddenly be calling for harsher police crack downs not fewer. We know this because to this day right wingers hate Jimmie Carter for failing to “support” the Shah. (Meaning telling him to kill protesters faster)

    However, as I’ve said before, Iran’s interests will not change even if the government does. No independent government will give away its nuclear program, at least not for free. None will give up hard won influence in Iraq or Afghanistan or Lebanon (ie Hizbullah.) These things have become strategic treasures and they will not be thrown away by any government.

    And yet without those concessions, and much much more, Iran will find that the US is no nearly so interested in reconciliation as they once thought.

    You make many criticisms of Iran’s government, some valid, some not. That’s fine. But the problem with ‘humanitarian’ concerns is that your remedies, sanctions and war, only make matters worse. Humanitarian concerns about Iran’s government would be best addressed through engagement. Iran government would likely be much less oppressive if the west were not trying to overthrow it and people’s lives would be much better if they could trade with the west.

  30. WigWag says:

    Bobzee, your comment (January 10, 2010 at 1:17 pm) is very interesting. You make an excellent point about only Iranians caring about Iran. Still, you have to admit that Lysander is correct about the Leveretts; they never claimed to care about Iran; they care about protecting U.S. interests as they seem them. I think that Lysander is on target when he says that the position the Leveretts take on all of this would be the same if Mousavi were in power or even the “Greens.” In fact, Lysander could have taken his case even further; the Leveretts would have advocated the same policy even if the Shah was still running things in Iran. The degree of brutality of the Iranian regime simply doesn’t enter into the equation for them. Remember, they want Obama to engage Khamanei and his clique the same way that Nixon engaged Mao. How many people died because of Mao? Wasn’t it something like 20 million? I am sure that personally the Leveretts find this horrifying; professionally they couldn’t care less.

    Remember, as extreme realists, the Leveretts care only about advancing U.S. interests; from their perspective decency doesn’t matter and humanitarian concerns are simply out of bounds.

    I disagree with one other thing that you mentioned in your comment. You said that

    “All these Leftists don’t give a damn about Iran. They just don’t want to see another antagonist of the “Imperialists” and “Zionists” fall.”

    Instead of using the term “leftist” I think it would have been more accurate to use the term “faux-leftist.” In fact only pretend leftists have sympathy for the regime in Iran. These self-styled leftists are in reality the most vitriolic reactionaries; they flatter themselves by suggesting that they are part of the “left.” In fact, the regime’s supporters on the so-called left are actually far more reactionary than the worst neoconservative.

    There is nothing “leftist” about supporting a regime that requires women to cover their hair whether they want to or not. There is nothing “leftist” about supporting a regime that sends out thugs on motor-scooters to check to see whether women are wearing make-up. There is nothing “leftist” about supporting a regime where many judicial decisions are made by clerics. There is nothing “leftist” about supporting a regime that bitterly persecutes minority religious groups like the B’hai. There is nothing “leftist” about supporting a regime that prohibits the minority Sunni population in Tehran from having even one Sunni Mosque. There is nothing leftist about a regime that closes opposition newspapers; closes down opposition political parties; murders opposition political figures (and their family members) or that completely forbids foreign reporters from entering their country.

    You are entirely correct that there is a large cadre of commentators who express sympathy for the regime because they dislike American and Israeli policies and a large cadre of commentators who oppose the regime because they support Israel and the U.S. “war on terrorism.”

    But no matter what they think; those who express any sympathy at all for the current Iranian regime are not “leftists.” They may be many things, but progressive they are not.

  31. Lysander says:

    “The fact is, the Leveretts dont care about Iranians. They have their own self-righteous agenda which warps their understanding of what Iranians actually want. All these Leftists don’t give a damn about Iran. They just don’t want to see another antagonist of the “Imperialists” and “Zionists” fall. Jeffrey Goldberg doesn’t give a damn about Iranian. He only cares about Israel. They never understood the 79 revolution, and they’ll never understand this one. The only people that care about Iran and its future are Iranians.”

    True enough. Only Iranians REALLY care about Iran and quite frankly that is how it should be. The Leverettes are not pretending otherwise. They are saying that the US should engage meaningfully with Iran Because IT IS IN THE INTERESTS OF THE US TO DO SO. Meaning whatever government is in Iran. If Musavi had one, the Leverettes would be no less supportive of US Iranian reconciliation. Same is true if the Green movement were ever to take power. The Leverttes have no control at all over who rules Iran. They can only observe that it is the IRI and it likely will continue that way for a long, long time. Like it or not.

    Now, Bobzee, assuming you are Iranian, what do you suggest? Continue to sanction Iran until the Green Movement takes over? Isn’t that harmful to average Iranians?

    The “Left” along with many non leftists definitely have admired Iran’s refusal to bend to American/Israeli demands. But Iran does so for its own interests, as it should be. To succumb to western demands will only elicit more demands. The US will not reconcile with Iran, Green or otherwise, unless and until Iran submits to a huge US embassy that will decide who is Iran’s police chief, interior minister, army commanders, etc. I hope anti-government demonstrators realize that.

  32. Alan says:

    To deny a revolution is imminent or likely is not to support Ahmadinejad or any formula of repression. There seems no doubt that the green movement in Iran is important and has many followers. There is also no doubt that the same applies to Ahmadinejad. This is the situation the IR is now faced with, because it is their own elite that has split for the first time.

    It is that split which must be addressed, and most likely will be, because there is a long record of populist and politically expedient actions by the regime to keep the population happy. Violence is uncommon, and the use of it since the election has given the regime more problems than it solved. There is a good deal of confusion as to who is responsible for the violence, however I find it very difficult to believe that Khamanei or Ahmadinejad would ever sanction rape or murder.

    What seems more likely is that elements within the IRGC and Basij and the hardline clerical establishment (e.g Yazdi) are acting independently, and Ahmadinejad and Khamanei seem strangely toothless in the face of it. The real risk of the protests right now appear to be the unwitting initiation of a coup from that quarter, rather than anything they can bring to pass themselves.

    For that reason, the ruling elite need to sort out their differences, and probably will, because any hardline coup would not only send Iran into a very dark place it would be just what the hawks in the West are looking for.

  33. Bobzee says:

    Another thing. I pray that Obama listens to more level-headed people like Trita Parsi and organizations like the NIAC who better understand Iran instead of these so called “realists” and “experts” in regards to engagement with Iran. When these realists write flattering articles with regime propagandists and completely dismiss the opposition as a tiny minority, their objectivity crumbles. When they sweep human rights abuses under the rug and call themselves “realists”, you have to question how in touch they are with reality.

    The fact is, the Leveretts dont care about Iranians. They have their own self-righteous agenda which warps their understanding of what Iranians actually want. All these Leftists don’t give a damn about Iran. They just don’t want to see another antagonist of the “Imperialists” and “Zionists” fall. Jeffrey Goldberg doesn’t give a damn about Iranian. He only cares about Israel. They never understood the 79 revolution, and they’ll never understand this one. The only people that care about Iran and its future are Iranians.

  34. Bobzee says:

    Goli,

    Just like the Leveretts, You are absolutely delusional in the face of reality. Even with the 3 day preparation, non-stop bussing in from other provinces, canceling classes and work, and threatening workers, the regime could not even come close to the June 15th protests and Montazeri funeral. Not to mention, the pro-regime protest didn’t face death threats, batons, guns, taking the wounded from hositals, breaking into houses, destroying property, show trials etc. They got snacks and juice. The pro regime protest didn’t even go to Azadi square for a reason, because they couldn’t fill it. Who knows how many were out during Ashura, but there were thousands of Basij and Police were out the suppress peaceful demonstrations, which ultimaly leads to increased belligerence. Your claim that since the we only see or hear about the the opposition protests in the large cities is also another laughable rationalization for a feable attempt at minimizing the growing importance of the opposition. Just like the 79 revolution, Tehran and other larger cities were also at the center of the struggle. After the shah left, the rest of the country began to rise up in the small areas. Go read your history instead of trying to rewrite it. Go look at the video evidence. Go look at the Montazeri funeral in Qom. It was a protest in the tens of thousands. This isn’t a “small minority” like you are desperatly hoping it to be.

    And you’re telling me since Ahmadinejad supposedly gave Ghazvin a few hospitals and roads, an assassination attempt on Kharoubi was probably understandable? Tell me, how did these ordinary Ghazvinies even know kharoubi was even there? hmmmm. Sounds pretty fishy. How can someone trust and respect a government that uses threats and violence to silence people?

    Yes, there is mounting evidence alright. That the elections were a fraud and the government will lie, torture and murder to keep itself in power. Did you even read the 385 page report of all the problems with the elections? What happened to the full box count the Ministry of Interior was suppose to release? Why was communications shut off? Why were the numbers accidentally released the night before? What up the basij who confessed? Was he another BBC/MI6/PMOI agent just like all the rest? All you and the Leveretts have as “evidence” is WPO poll, which itself has flaws and inconsistencies.

    I find it unfortunate and despicable that some Iranians in the US continue to support the IRI’s repression, torture, rape and murder of their own people while enjoying all the freedom of a western country. You and the Leverett’s are on the wrong side of history. You put so much energy into trying to support the IRI instead of the Iranian people.

  35. Goli says:

    Leyla, there is no “massive uprising” in Iran. The “green movement” is limited to the city of Tehran and a couple of other large cities and is comprised of a small minority of Iranians. (Please do not reply with some fabricated video or document of some green demonstration in a little town or village, or one proving the demise of the government from within.) You saw what happed to Karubi in Ghazvin a couple of days ago. Ghazvin , for example, voted for Ahmadinejad. As explained to me by several Ghazvinies in Ghazvin, prior to Ahmadinejad’s presidency, they had no hospitals or clinics in town. Ahmadinejad visited the city twice during his presidency, spent four days there each time, and extensively met with the people. As a result, they now have two hospitals and several new roads and schools and no longer have to haul their sick to hospitals in Karaj or Tehran. This is just one example. I find it unfortunate that most Iranians in the US (at least the vocal ones) continue to pretend the elections were rigged in the face of a mountain of evidence to the contrary.
    While you are right in your analysis that much of the cooperation between Iran and the US took place at the time of Khatami, you are mistaken in your assumption that this cooperation would not have continued under Ahmadinejad. As you recall, it was the US who designated Iran as one of the axis of evil and its president, a boogie man. It was the US, influenced by the Neocons and the Israel Lobby, who bombarded the path to cooperation with rocks of nuclear non-issue, unfounded accusations of providing the Iraqi insurgency with weapons, and terrorism , to name a few, not vice versa.

  36. Moses says:

    Well argued and showing an intellectual depth not present in the right-wing “bomb them all” mentality. I can see why Jonah “Virtually Always Wrong, Nepotism is Great” Goldberg would be silly enough to try and take you task, as it were. You are so far above his (and his idiotic neocon brethren, including the trolls that attacked you) shallow positions and comments your essay is like a diamond in a coal mine.

  37. Michel says:

    Wigwag said: “They have almost no support amongst the pundit class;”

    And that’s precisely what makes them credible and worth reading, unlike the Sullivans, Goldbergs and Cohens and….

  38. Leyla says:

    Ms Mann-Leverett should consider the fact that it was actually under Mohammad Khatami’s administration that Iran cooperated to help the US with Afghanistan. Khatami is a reformist, and while the Supreme Leader held power, Khatami was able to wedge in more reforms and influence policy.

    We are not dealing with the same Iranian government today. Bush squandered the opportunity that 9/11 presented to reconcile with Iran and instead labeled them the “Axis of Evil”, and it allowed the hardliners of Ahmadinejad’s ilk to gain power (even then Ahmadinejad did not win until the runoff round). The young Iranian society has never quite assimilated with the regime’s brand of Islam- reason why Khatami won in a landslide.

    I too thought the US should engage Iran as the isolation clearly did not work, but the situation after the 2009 elections has completely changed everything. Make no mistake this uprising has much deeper roots then the election, the election was just the last straw. I think we should change our approach to Iran in view of the fact that there is a massive uprising against the government- let’s face it, the fact that the movement is alive even 7 months on in the face of massive repression shows it is nothing like the 1999 protests and is here to stay at the very least.

    No one too, saw the 1979 revolution coming. It is foolish for anyone to assume we can with absolute certainty predict what will happen next.

  39. Great writing. The arguments speak for themselves. More chicanery from Jeffrey Goldberg: saying that someone has lost their bearings, simply because they used to be closer to your righteous truth. One could say the same thing about Goldberg not changing his views – Israel fully embraced its rogue status, and Goldberg lost his bearings.

    PS The title should be just concept of learning, learning curve is when you do the same thing repeatedly and eventually get better at it, you actually learned something new.

  40. Shhh says:

    Anthony,

    Thank you for posting the Tehran Bureau link.

    It is encouraging that Ms. Mann-Leverett is capable of learning and changing her views. I suggest she continue that process and expand her experiential base to include greater exposure to opposition thought and the citizen reporting that is occurring on YouTube, Twitter and the few remaining opposition blogs. Yes, I’m quite serious. The Leveretts’ perspectives seem dated.

  41. Anthony says:

    Good response to Jeffery. However I think both you and your husband should read this response by an Iranian to your New york times article:

    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/tehranbureau/2010/01/a-response-to-the-leveretts.html

  42. Andy says:

    Of course Iran is worried about it’s security. The US has started two criminal wars on it’s borders and has been monkeying around in Irans affairs for 70 years. Our number one ally, Israel, has been threatening to attack Iran repeatedly. Iran has not attacked anyone in centuries. The Leveretts are attacked so viciously because they speak truthfully about a very important issue. I hope they continue their good work.

  43. WigWag says:

    Correction:

    I apologize for my error. In my comment (January 8, 2010 at 4:58 pm) I mistakenly referred to the Foreign Policy blogger and Tufts University professor as Andrew Drezner. His name, of course, is Daniel Drezner.

    Sorry about that Professor Drezner.

  44. Mark says:

    “They have almost no support amongst the pundit class….”

    WigWag,

    Then I support the Leveretts 100 percent. Can anyone actually name the last time the D.C. pundit class was correct about anything?

    Anything?

    How about Jeffrey Goldberg? Can anyone name the last time Goldberg was correct (as opposed to far right) about a single issue?

    As for Kenneth Timmerman, he trumpeted his recent trip to Israel as a journalist for NewsMax. Can anyone name the last time NewsMax actually produced an accurate piece of first-person reporting on anything? You know, the last time NewsMax got the who, what, where, when, and why correct AND spelled all of the words accurately?

    Also, let’s not blast Israel for Mr. Timmerman and Mr. Goldberg. Not all Israelis back these two. Instead, Mr. Timmerman and Mr. Goldberg work for Likud and Avigdor Lieberman, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and the American Enterprise Institute, Shelly Adelson and Michael Milken. Mr. Timmerman and Mr. Goldberg are Neoconservatives. Neoconservatives do not represent Israel or the Jewish community.

    Neoconservatives represent only themselves.

  45. neutrality says:

    Wig Wag has some nerve telling Ms. Mann-Levereet to “calm down”. The piece she wrote is well argued and clear with the purpose of explaining why her views have changed. This is what people do when they write essays or discuss something in writing. It has nothing to do with whether or not someone is “calm”. Furthermore it was useful and interesting to read about how the views on Iran were formed. There was no sense of taking it personally.

    A good way to trump someone, to belittle their writing, to cast contempt on someone’s point is to tell them to calm down, implying that their point of view does not matter becuase it is “emotional” (which it is not in this case). It is a classic way for men to belittle women who enter the public domain to speak and argue and have opinions.

    He is the one engaging in personal attacks… as is Goldberg. Put people down, that way, the argument does not have to stand on its own merits.

  46. romath says:

    Since there is no evidence that Iran is building or is even potentially close to building nukes, this talk about getting “tough” on Iran has all the markings of something else entirely. I don’t know whether it is the desire of the Western imperialist powers to have control over a key element of Iran’s economy – energy production – or that Iranian Islamic regime is seen as centrally symbolizing the ascendance and continuation of ‘radical’ Islamic politics in the Near East, or something else entirely. But if Iran, even its reactionary Muslim rulers, were to build some nuclear weapons, the world would be a safer place.

    Leverett is not the only westerner to have claimed that the Iranian elections were basically run ok. Odd-ball leftist Alexander Cockburn of CounterPunch (and The Nation) has argued the same thing – and he’s no friend of the theocratic regime.

  47. JohnH says:

    Wigwag says, “After all, the position [the Leveretts] espouse on Iran has been widely criticized by commentators of all political stripes.” Of course, Wigwag has to know that what commentators spew is what they are paid to spew. Political commentators were all for the Vietnam War long after thinking Americans realized it was a pointless quagmire. Same for the Iraq War. Same for Afghanistan. Wigwag’s point can be summed up as “Follow the lemmings!”

    Wigwag is all for having the US slay any enemy that Israel happens to conjure up.

  48. Gustav says:

    @ Adler

    No Iranian authorities confessed rigging the election, perhaps you mean the so called confession of the guardian council. For you information the guardian council never confessed fraud, they just told that even if the claims have been true (in this case 3 mio votes), it have had no influence to the issue, because Ahmadinejad had 11 mio votes more.

  49. David Adler says:

    Yes, Ms. Leverett, but you and your husband assured us back in June that the Iranian election wasn’t rigged (“get over it” as you so delicately put it), which was promptly contradicted by the Iranian authorities themselves. You were spectacularly wrong. You furthered the whitewash and the propaganda of a regime now wielding truncheons against the citizenry. And we’re supposed to regard your close interactions with the IRI as somehow *enhancing* your objectivity?

  50. Nomnomdom says:

    I found your blog after reading your outstanding Times editorial. It was a welcome change from the usual paranoid fear mongering.

    I am mystified by WigWag’s advice that the authors should “calm down” as “criticism they’ve taken is directed at their opinions, not at them personally”. Goldberg doesn’t actually rebut any of your points. Calling you “the Salahis of foreign policy punditry” doesn’t advance the debate.

    Luckily, political debate isn’t a White House dinner. You don’t have to sneak past armed Secret Service agents to post an editorial.

  51. Alan says:

    That’s quite an extraordinary post WigWag. You’ve managed to provide a perfect picture of precisely why it is important for the Leveretts to maintain their profile and their position on these issues.

    As it happens, much of the criticism they attract is of a personal nature, but I suspect they know it comes with the territory. Your ubiquitous presence here is a good example.

  52. WigWag says:

    Ms Mann-Leverett should calm down. In fairness to her (and her husband) it’s not surprising that they’re becoming a little touchy. After all, the position they espouse on Iran has been widely criticized by commentators of all political stripes. Obviously the neoconservatives disagree with them; but so do conservative commentators like Andrew Sullivan (if conservative is what he is) and more progressive commentators like Roger Cohen and Andrew Drezner. They have almost no support amongst the pundit class; the Obama Administration has completely eschewed their advice and if any of the policies that they advocate were ever brought to a vote in either chamber of Congress it is doubtful that they would garner even one vote.

    When criticism comes from all sides it is easy to develop a siege mentality and to become bitter. That’s what happened to Steve Walt and to Tony Judt, both of whom have a devoted fringe following, but have lost the ability to have real influence because they’ve allowed the criticism they’ve received to embitter them to the detriment of their scholarship. Mann-Leverett (and Leverett) would be wise to resist the temptation to allow this to happen to them.

    It’s fine that Mann-Leverett wants to refute the points made by Jeffrey Goldberg, but becoming indignant because he made the mild criticism that she’s “lost her bearings” is excessive. After all, many commentators have called Mann-Leverett and Leverett far worse. Over the past year, Andrew Sullivan has ridiculed their point of view more than once. And why she thinks that Goldberg is under some obligation to speak to her first before he concludes that her written commentary is mistaken is a mystery.

    Goldberg did what every commentator does; he pointed out contradictions in Mann-Leverett’s written statements over the years; this is perfectly fair game. Mann-Leverett’s response that she’s changed her mind based on personal experience is also entirely appropriate.

    Hopefully Mann-Leverett and Leverett will recognize that virtually all of the criticism they’ve taken is directed at their opinions, not at them personally. Becoming irritated and snitty about it can lead to a long road at the other end of which is extinction as a commentator whose thoughts are taken seriously by people who actually have influence.

    Mann-Leverett makes some interesting points in her post about the regime’s using its surrogates in Lebanon, Gaza and Afghanistan in an asymmetrical fashion to protect its interests while more traditional avenues to protect itself are unavailable. Mann-Leverett surely garnered some valuable insights from her days as a mid-level diplomat. Of course numerous far more senior diplomats with greater experience than she and more access to current classified information believe that her point of view is mistaken.

  53. Jon Harrison says:

    Bravo! Great piece. Wonderful to get this view from someone with first hand experience. I have advocated U.S.-Iranian engagement since the 1990s, so everything you say is music to my ears.

    If I may offer one very mild criticism, I would say you are not explicit enough in pinning the misdirection of U.S. policy on the neocons, who are first and foremost Israel’s vanguard in the U.S. In my opinion we must be absolutely frank about the extent to which U.S. policy is made to dovetail with that of Israel — and that this dovetailing is contrary to purely U.S. interests.

    Goldberg’s slanted approach to Middle East policy is well known. Lobelog has done numerous pieces on him. No serious person takes him seriously.