Hillary Mann Leverett appeared on a panel broadcast today on CNN’s GPS, hosted by Fareed Zakaria; see video above or click here. Besides Hillary, the panel included Hooman Majd, Vali Nasr, and Bret Stephens. It was immediately prompted by the mounting “talk of war” between the United States and/or Israel, on the one hand, and the Islamic Republic, on the other, but it also provided an occasion to discuss bigger questions about U.S.-Iranian relations and U.S. policy toward the Islamic Republic.
The most telling exchange is between Hillary and Bret Stephens. After Stephens argues that engaging Tehran is pointless, because the Iranian government demonstrated its manifest disinterest in improving relations with Washington by rejecting President Obama’s unprecedentedly generous offer of engagement, Hillary recites in detail how this assessment is fundamentally at odds with the historical record and how the Obama Administration was never serious about pursuing real rapprochement with the Islamic Republic.
Stephens has no direct response to this. He is reduced to “You are telling of a 30-year record of outreach to the United States that has been foolishly rebuffed by the United States; this is not a regime that supports terrorist groups or tried to kill the Saudi ambassador, perhaps has justly incurred the resentment and fear of its neighbors.” In other words, he changes the subject.
We will leave aside, for now, the utter lack of substantiation for the charge of Iranian government responsibility for an alleged plot to kill the Saudi Ambassador to the United States or the thorough politicization of the U.S. government’s state-sponsors of terrorism list. As Hillary points out, before Richard Nixon made his historic opening to China in 1972, American political and policy elites routinely accused the People’s Republic of supporting terrorism and fomenting all sorts of dastardly deeds around the world. This did not undermine the strategic logic of Sino-American rapprochement, either for Washington or Beijing. But it took an American president capable of strategic leadership to act on that.
–Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett