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The Race for Iran

LEVERETTS RESPOND TO CRITICS

Our Op Ed, “Another Iranian Revolution? Not Likely”, in The New York Times on January 6 is eliciting very strong reactions from many quarters.  Much of the reaction is critical, which is fine and was very much what we anticipated, given the subject.  We thought it might be useful to respond to some of the more widely displayed themes in the critical commentary on our piece. 

One theme, which was especially prominent in Dan Drezner’s commentary on our Op Ed that was posted on his blog at ForeignPolicy.com , was the notion that we “cherry picked” numbers comparing the crowds participating in the Ashura protests of December 27 and those in the pro-Islamic Republic rallies on December 30.  In particular, Dan says that we left out a report of “hundreds of thousands” of anti-government Ashura protestors in The New York Times and a report of only “tens of thousands” participating in the December 30 pro-Islamic Republic rallies published in the Los Angeles Times

On this issue—first of all, we did not cite the New York Times and Los Angeles Times pieces mentioned by Dan because the crowd numbers they used were not sourced in way.  Moreover, the reference to “hundreds of thousands” of Ashura protesters in the New York Times piece—which was reported from Toronto—appeared to us to conflate the large numbers of people who were on the street for Ashura (something that happens every year in Tehran and other Iranian cities) with those who came out under cover of the Ashura crowds to protest.  This is, in our view, a critical distinction that needs to be drawn in any analysis of the events of December 27. 

For our own analysis, we decided to use crowd figures for both the Ashura protests and the pro-Islamic Republic demonstrations on December 30 that came from sources inside Iran.  For the Ashura protests, we drew on a range of figures—the upper limit, drawn from anti-government websites, was “tens of thousands”, not the unsourced “hundreds of thousands” used by the New York Times journalist filing from Toronto.  That formulation—“tens of thousands”, and citing opposition websites—was also used in several Western wire service stories.  We also had Iranian sources who said that the actual number of Ashura protestors—as opposed to people who were out on the streets for normal Ashura commemorations—was much smaller; those sources that defined the lower end of the spectrum of figures were found from sources inside Iran. 

With regard to the crowd figures for the pro-Islamic Republic rallies on December 30, the “tens of thousands” figure used in the Los Angeles Times story referenced by Dan Drezner is not attributed to any source.  When we reviewed figures available from sources inside Iran, it was striking to us that a conservative website that is widely read in Iran, well-regarded by many across the Islamic Republic’s political spectrum for the quality of its coverage, and had opposed Ahmadinejad’s re-election reported that one million people participated in the pro-Islamic Republic rally in Tehran.  (That website is Tabnak which is associated with Mohsen Rezae—who ran against incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in last year’s presidential election.)  Our own contacts in Tehran and photographic evidence of the crowd and its distribution over specific parts of the city bolstered our assessment that the figure of one million participants was very plausible.  (For those who wish to view photos of the December 27 protests and the December 30 rallies, we posted some on www.TheRaceForIran on January 6; click here .) 

Others, including Andrew Sullivan and Scott Lucas, criticized our comparison of the December 27 and December 30 crowds by discounting the larger numbers who turned out to support the Islamic Republic on December 30 on the grounds that some of the participants in the pro-Islamic Republic rallies were reportedly ordered to take part and received free transport, cake, and tea.  From a strategic perspective, the most important point here is the comparison between Iran today and in 1978-1979:  when protests started against the Shah, there was no level of state coercion or any amount of tea, cake, or free transportation that could bring significant numbers of people into the street to rally for the Pahlavi regime.  By contrast, the Islamic Republic retains an obvious and demonstrable capacity to elicit such manifestations of support—and that reinforces our argument that the Islamic Republic is not imploding.  In this regard, we would note the following passage from Daniel Larison’s “Eunomia” blog, published by The American Conservative:    

As expected, Andrew [Sullivan] didn’t like the Leveretts’ Op Ed, which he calls part of “their campaign to diminish the significance of the Iranian uprising”.  They might say that they are interested in correctly assessing the significance of any uprising in order to make their policy recommendations as realistic as possible.  After all, if Western policymakers start banking on domestic political unrest to undermine the Iranian government in a major way, they will pursue policies that would be very different than if they assume that the current Iranian government is not changing and not going anywhere…Of course, it might have some bearing on the real power of the Iranian government vis-à-vis the opposition that it can conjure up a crowd of a million “supporters” to the opposition’s tens of thousands.  Andrew is right that the opposition protestors face far more risks and dangers, which is why the immediate post-election protests seemed so impressive and why the latest cycle of protests points to the steady weakening of the opposition.  

We are indeed interested in correctly assessing the significance of the “uprising” in order to make our policy recommendations as realistic as possible.  And, in that regard, we agree with the assessment that the opposition is getting weaker, not stronger, over time.  Conversely, we respectfully disagree with Juan Cole and others who argue that the ground is shifting in favor of the Green movement and against the regime.  We have learned much from Juan’s scholarship and writing over the years and appreciate his statement of admiration for our work and support for our argument that “the Obama administration should engage the government in Tehran, whatever it is”.  But we do not believe that we have “a blind spot toward the most significant movement of popular mobilization in thirty years”.  Rather, we are not persuaded that this movement will have a strategically determinative influence on Iranian politics or foreign policy. 

We would use an important historical precedent to underscore this point.  In 1997, Khatami’s victory in the Islamic Republic’s presidential election surprised virtually everyone—including, by all accounts, the Supreme Leader and other power centers in Tehran—and was widely interpreted in the West as something that the Leader and Iranian conservatives were “forced” to accept.  The following year, the assassination in Iran of four dissident intellectuals and the wife of one of the four by what Khatami described as “rogue” intelligence agents prompted considerable public outrage.  A year later, the Islamic Republic experienced unprecedented and nationwide student protests.  The accumulation of these events led many observers in the West to conclude that the Islamic Republic’s political structure was surely losing its foundations in Iranian society and that momentum was on the side of those who wanted fundamental political change.  But this was wrong.        

In the first years of the George W. Bush administration’s tenure, we heard then-National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice say that the United States should not engage with Khatami’s administration—comparing Khatami to Mikhail Gorbachev in the Soviet Union’s last days and arguing that engaging Khatami would only “prop up” a collapsing system and prevent the United States and its allies from reaping the benefits of fundamental political change in Iran.  Rice’s misreading of the internal situation in Iran at that time and her corresponding policy recommendations are eerily similar to arguments offered today that the United States should not pursue serious engagement with the Islamic Republic because it is imploding.  (Again, that is not Juan Cole’s position, and we enjoyed his reference to Henry Kissinger’s observation that “diplomacy is a game played with the pieces that are actually on the board at any one time”.)            

We have seen, literally, no evidence that those who protested the results of the June 12, 2009 presidential election—much less those who are now calling for the Islamic Republic’s replacement by a (presumably secular) “Iranian Republic”—represent anything close to a majority of Iranians.  On this point, even the dissident journalist Akbar Ganji warns Iranian oppositionists that “it should not be forgotten that most of Iran’s people are still religious…Activists from the Green Movement should be very careful not to say anything that would result in a deeper divide based on religion”.    

With regard to the U.S. policy debate, it is certainly true, as one of our correspondents pointed out, that not everyone in the United States who believes America should be supporting the opposition in Iran advocates military strikes against Iranian nuclear targets and defining “regime change” as the ultimate goal of U.S. policy toward Iran.  But, just as clearly, neoconservatives and others who have long opposed U.S. engagement with the Islamic Republic and instead advocate military action and support for regime change in Tehran are using what we believe is an increasingly widespread misreading of Iranian political dynamics in the United States to promote their preferred policy agenda.   Of course, we have long been opposed to the neoconservative policy agenda on Iran, and have worked for some time to define an alternative course for U.S. policy—strategically grounded engagement with the Islamic Republic, with the aim of resolving U.S.-Iranian differences and realigning U.S.-Iranian relations.  On this point, we would also note Daniel Larison’s observation that negotiating with Iran is

the only realistic option there is. The hostage crisis ended 29 years ago, and the barracks bombing in Lebanon was over 26 years ago, and by this time after our war with Vietnam we had already normalized relations and had begun engaging in commerce with them. Considering how much more reason many Americans had to dislike and distrust Vietnam’s communist government, it is extraordinary that it has taken us less time to bury the hatchet with Hanoi than it has with Tehran.

Some say that our policy preferences have unduly skewed our analysis of Iran’s internal dynamics.  Others have written to say, in what seem to us non-specific terms, that we do not understand Iranian society or current conditions on the ground in the Islamic Republic.  There is certainly much that we do not know about Iran, and we welcome challenges that improve our understanding and knowledge base.  However, we would ask that those who want to challenge our analysis of this critically important country do so by putting facts, data, information, and relevant history on the table, as we have tried to do—and not by making vague and unsubstantiated claims about our competence or motives. 

We saw, first hand, as career U.S. government officials detailed to the National Security Council in George W. Bush’s White House, how prominent neoconservatives distorted and misused intelligence to support a particular policy agenda—and how many in Congress, the media, and the commentariat failed to ask hard questions about the rush to war in Iraq.  We cannot speak for others in the media or commentariat today.  For ourselves, however, we can say that we are determined to be as rigorous as possible in our assessment of Iranian developments and arguments about the best course for U.S. policy toward the Islamic Republic.      

We look forward to continuing the conversation.              

–Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett

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30 Responses to “LEVERETTS RESPOND TO CRITICS”

  1. @Reza says:

    Mousavi, Rezaei and other denied the coup story, even they never mentioned this story, also never in their written complaints to guardian council and interior ministry. Rezaei even called Makhmalbaf as liar. Apart from that how can interior ministry counts sufficient votes to declare mousavi as the winner? Was not one of the complaint, that the results are too fast!?!
    Mousavi strongly denied that Makhmalbaf is his speaker, Mousavi want the implementation of the constitution and Makhmalbaf is against the constitution and even against Iranian Uranium, something which no reformer agree! How can the regime pressure Musavi for denying his sporkeman but not to stop the protests, very strange story.

    Someone in the west claims to be spokesman of person XY without an official appointment, witness or letter. XY denies it, and the representative (spokesman) denies the denying ha ha ha, a clear evidence.

  2. Bobzee says:

    Leverett’s claim:

    “there was no level of state coercion or any amount of tea, cake, or free transportation that could bring significant numbers of people into the street to rally for the Pahlavi regime. ”

    January 1979:

    http://www.payvand.com/news/07/jul/Shah-supporters-Amjadieh-1979.jpg

  3. Bobzee says:

    Well said Bill. These are legitimate questions and scenarios that pro-regime cheerleaders are afraid to tread because they refuse to see the true face of the regime. I was a supporter of Khameini, Ahmadinejad, velayat-e faqih, until June 12th 2009. I vigorously defended the IRI and its actions and made excuses for them to no end, until that day. And I still do defend them in an uncontrollable knee-jerk fashion once in a while. But like many, i’ve awoken from this terrible nightmare. So I understand the mentality and desperation of pro-regime supporters. It’s all about lies and deception. Fear and oppression. That’s the life blood of the regime, and people like the Leveretts give it legitimacy.

    I just want to add a few things in regards to the poor and tie it with the ’79 revolution. It wasn’t the poor that started the revolution. Nor was it the clerics. It was the students. The young elites. The intellectuals. Regardless of class. They were the core of the movement. They formed political groups. Spread newspapers. Set up rallies. They were standing up to the Shah before Khomeini said a word. But Khomeini and the clerics helped unite the factions and gave them the social outreach of the mosques(and ultimately purged most of them right after they took power). Now look at who is leading the green movement. The same type of people, who have now faced an oppression far worse than the Shahs opposition.

    So poverty was a factor during the revolution, but not a major one. And it won’t be a major one now either. As long as there is food on the table, they could care less who is in power. And unfortunately, the regime plays the poor like a fiddle. Instead of giving them a helping hand to bring them out of poverty, they throw some money in their face to keep them compliant. But, I may be underestimating the intelligence and importance of the poor.

    The leveretts are right about one difference between now and 79. Now there is no clear leader. IMO, this is a positive thing. But for sure there are many leaders that you will not hear about, and they have purpose.

  4. Bill says:

    News Flash: Your missing the central point comparing the protests!!! One was manufactured and one was largely spontaneous. Just imagine if the people of Iran were given the right to freely protest how many would show up! My friends mother in Tehran told her the day of the pro regime protest she saw the streets lined with buses letting people off, people in offices being invited only to find out their boss was told they must attend, and it was all highly organized with banners handed out and loud speakers telling the people what to say. Wonder how many would have shown up faced with beatings, shootings, killings, and the possibilty of rape? Hello–they put on a show that you bought hook line and sinker into!! The fact remains the Green Movement has been able to gather larger and more fequent protests despite the oppression of the government. How can you fail to notice this? It speaks volumes of the weakness of the regime that they have to go to so much work to pull of one succesful rally. Did you forget they tried this a couple weeks before and only a couple thousand showed up?

    “We have seen, literally, no evidence that those who protested the results of the June 12, 2009 presidential election—much less those who are now calling for the Islamic Republic’s replacement by a (presumably secular) “Iranian Republic”—represent anything close to a majority of Iranians. On this point, even the dissident journalist Akbar Ganji warns Iranian oppositionists that “it should not be forgotten that most of Iran’s people are still religious…Activists from the Green Movement should be very careful not to say anything that would result in a deeper divide based on religion.” Gee now why would that be? How can you reasonably make that claim when the reform movement is literally not allowed to communicate with the outside world. Are you aware that all Iranian media literally has a black out regarding Moussavi, Karoubi, and any rallies/protests. For god’s sake the regime aired a cooking show when millions marched in Iran right after the elections. Your also missing the significance of the clergy in Iran. The majority of the clercy sided with the Green movement. Not one Grand Ayatollah came out in support of the regime yet six did for the green movement. The regime has lost it’s religion and it why the majority of the people are against it. Your statement should have said we just don’t know either way because we have no way to substantiate the information other than what the regime provides.

    Finally we all need stop buying into the canard the religious poor make up the majority of the people. The majority of Iranians are urban and over 70% are under the age of 30. Notice this movement for what it is. It is a spontaneous movement that arose from over 30 years of theocractic oppression. It wasn’t a CIA or some foreign government pulling the strings but simply the people saying they had enough. The election was the match that started the torch burning and the significance of the movement is that they have persisted despited the violence and threats. Cheer them on because they want the freedom and democarcy we often take for granted hear in the states.

    Thx
    Bill

  5. Lysander says:

    Mehdi,

    “Thus suggesting that in fact Iran had reported those facilities to IAEA prior to the 2002 revelation? How about their revelation in 2007 about Quds force involvement in Iraq was a lie!? Are you suggesting that since Iraq invasion Quds force has not been meddling inside Iran?”

    Mehdi, I’m not Iranian so I will try to venture carefully. First let us assume that Iran has covertly and overtly involved itself in post invasion Iraq. I can see how Americans would be angered by that but as an Iranian, why should that bother you?

    Look at it this way. The United States, a super power hostile to Iran, had just invaded a neighboring country. It had expressed clearly its intent to use Iraq as a means to destabilize or even invade neighboring countries. “Everyone wants to go to Baghdad, but Real men want to go to Tehran.” Do you recall that? In the US I heard it all the time 2002-03. Recall that Mohammed “dialog of civilizations” Khatami was president.

    Now, Iran had two choices. 1) do everything it possibly can to appease the US in hopes it will not invade it. Or 2) gain as much leverage as possible over the US to make any invasion too expensive to be profitable.

    Iraq had already tried the former and it resulted in invasion. Iran quite wisely decided to try the second option. Now an American strategic planner would clearly be annoyed at this choice and I understand why. But why would any Iranian, Musavi or Ahmadinejad supporter, be troubled? Especially since Iran seems to have been successful in preventing any US (overt) attack.

    Which is why I’ve come to be suspicious of the green movement. If it demands freedom, great. If it demands free speech, great. If it demands restrictions on police power, an end to torture and indefinite imprisonment without charges, great.

    But when it demands Iran conduct policy to suite US interests rather than its own, I begin to wonder if the Greens are addressing an Iranian audience, or a western one.

    Again, my apologies. As a non Iranian I have no business at all questioning the patriotism of Iranians. Still, I do wonder.

  6. Reza says:

    “And please stop quoting the clown Makhmalbaf. He lost every credibility after his coup d’etat story which even Musavi strongly denied (by the way the interior ministry could never count all votes on the very same night of the election!!!). Musavi even denied that this guy is his spokesman.”

    Mousavi never denied the coup story, never!
    Mousavi never denied Makhmalbaf as unofficial spoksman of the green movement. They are actually in contact. Mousavi has boon under pressure to distance himself from Sazegara and Makhmalbaf, but he never did that.

  7. Mehdi says:

    No I honestly cannot see the fault with the Tiger analogy. How about if you use the knowledge you’ve gained on Wikipedia to educate me ;-) … just remember I didn’t say that one needs to have proof on ‘that’ particular affair to see if he had actually done the affair with her rather to conclude if: “he has been having a difficult time controlling his urges”. Another word after all the revelations we’ve seen for advertisers or more importantly his wife the actual validity of this new claims is not necessary to make a conclusion about his loyalty to his wife! But that is neither here or there.

    You said: “I’m sorry but I have “forgotten” those valuable information already. Oh, you mean the flood of lies regarding the Iranian nuclear programming? Yeah, I do remember that.”

    Here – and as much as I hate to be defending the MKO aka cult of Rajavi’s who in my opinion are no different than the cult of Khamenei … I have to ask that by this comment above are you then suggesting that MKO’s revelation back in 2002 about the Natanz and Arak facilities was a lie!? Thus suggesting that in fact Iran had reported those facilities to IAEA prior to the 2002 revelation? How about their revelation in 2007 about Quds force involvement in Iraq was a lie!? Are you suggesting that since Iraq invasion Quds force has not been meddling inside Iran?

    As I mentioned in my last comment here the information about Khamenei that has been fed to Makhmalbaf may and probably does include some misinformation and disinformation; however for many Iranians inside Iran who are tired of having an absolute ruler, tired of having some of their basic human rights taken away from them they will not go through the type of ‘Wikipedia critical thinking’ that supposed Iran experts like you go through.

    At this stage it is all about ‘perception’ – it doesn’t matter if 5 people were raped in Kahrizak or 10 – it doesn’t matter if 1000 people came out on Ashura chanting Death to Khamenei or 10,000 – it doesn’t matter if they have rounded up 500 protestors since June or 5000 etc … it is all about perception … and if you don’t get that then you are a stubborn fool.

    Best of luck with all your opinions, position papers and prognostications. In my opinion in max two years you will be proven that you’ve been on the wrong side of history.

    Last comment here as I need to troll around to other side with less critical thinking ;-)

  8. @Mehdi says:

    You wrote : “In a country that had had the likes of other supposed clergymen like Reyshahri who were awarded a whole city.”

    This is nonsense. You surely know many family names in Iran are according of their hometown. Like Khomeini from Khomein or Shirazi from Shiraz and so one.

    And please stop quoting the clown Makhmalbaf. He lost every credibility after his coup d’etat story which even Musavi strongly denied (by the way the interior ministry could never count all votes on the very same night of the election!!!). Musavi even denied that this guy is his spokesman. He is absolutely not serious if he for example tell militia from Hizbollah was engaged to quell the protests. Or Ahmadinejad want to access the atomic bomb in order to bomb Arabic countries. Please stop, this site is serious, we do not need Fox New spokesmen.

  9. Alfred says:

    @ Mehdi

    Sorry guy, but the believe in the assembly of experts give the religious people confidence that the leader is just.
    By the way do you remember the story of Jazayeri Arab, the young million business man? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shahram_Jazayeri-Arab Since them there is no doubt about his justness in the eyes of the religious opponents.

  10. Alfred says:

    Dear Flynt

    let me tell you that the accusation the regime bring the masses by paying them in give them sandwiches is very old. May be this accusation is 30 years old. I didn’t see any Youtube Video of giving one million people sandwishes and so one. And the western journalists were free to report about the pro government rally and as far as I know nobody claimed such stupid accusation which reflect just the exile Iranian wishful thinking.

  11. ali says:

    how much did iranian government pay you for this article? you know you arenot right .i think it is good for you to leave your job and open a smokshop or a grocery stor .you got to much money from iran to write this article but if i am not right and you belive your idea then you are a stupid and you can not manage a small smokshop or small grocery then you could be good dishwasher at a very small restourant but be careful and never wash the dish with the machin becuse you can not work with the dishwasher machin then wash dish with hand .i do not know you know computer and internet and google? i do not think so . there are many kids under 10 yers old around you and they can help you and show you to watch many many videoes on youtube (you dont know youtube and how is work and it is to hard for you to work with it then just listen and watch the kids )from iran and iranian green movement and also iranian fascist regime.you could see how iranian fascist regime kill people on the streets and hit very young boys and girls and univercity students and also very old women and men .it is too hard and dificolt for you to understand politic then i try to explain to you very easy about iranian green movement . 7 month ago there was a presidential election in iran and iranian fascist regime stole the iranian votes becuse majority of iranian voted to mir hosain mosavi but the next day after election day iranian fascist leader sayed ali khameneie chosen the mahmod ahmadinjad as a new president .in fact he stole the people,s vote . majority of iranian voters came to the streets to protest to their stolen vots and ask a very simple question ( wher are our votes ) without violence but regime answered their question with gun , killing , hiting and prison . voters have not stoped the protests and iranian fascist regime have not stoped killing , hiting , and prison. it is now 7 month after election and many of iranian protesters and voters got killed (almost 700 ) by iranian regime and there are many many videoes on youtube about violence of iranian fascist regime with iranian people and dosent matter for regime who they are old or young ,man or women , boy or girl . they kill every body so so easily .ok iam tired and i have to go and i know i wasted my time and i dont think you undrestan what i wrote .dont wory beacuse to undrestandig you dont need to go to university and waste your time to study politic .just watch the videos on youtube and if you could not undrestand just ask kids.

    from a 6 yers old iranian kid .

  12. Bahar says:

    The article is crying out so louad that the writer is one of SEPAH’s abroad leechs.

  13. GREEN says:

    What is the exact reasons for your support of this fascist regime who kills, arrests and destroys lots of human lives not only in the Iran but in the whole Middle East? It’s better that you know: More than 80 percent of Iranian want DEMOCRACY and FREEDOM in Iran. Although most of Iranian are Muslims, they don’t want this brutal liers which do everything in the name of GOD. They tried to tell this during “election” but that election became a “selection”! (what did you Americans do if Bosch had stolen Obama’s votes in US election?!) “Ahamdinejad” is not Iran president. “Khamenei” is a dictator in Iran. They are terrorists like “Taliban” in Afghanistan which support terrorism in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Lebanon and…Dictator forced civil servants to attend the pro-govenment rally. So never trust a rally which is supported by juice! Shame on anyone who supports killers.
    ( MOVEMENT in IRAN)

  14. @Mehdi says:

    “If a woman claims that she has had an affair with Tiger Woods do you really need to have proof on that particular affair to conclude that Tiger was in fact having a difficult time controlling his urges!?”

    Can you honestly not see the fault with the statement you just made?

    “one has to be stubborn in their viewpoints”

    Yeah, called it whatever you like http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Critical_thinking

    Now. Use some critical thinking on the blog you referred to.

    “let’s not forget that in the past there have been cases where in which opposition groups like for example MKO were more than likely fed valuable information by various intelligence services be it Mossad or CIA about the regime’s nuclear activities”

    I’m sorry but I have “forgotten” those valuable information already. Oh, you mean the flood of lies regarding the Iranian nuclear programming? Yeah, I do remember that.

    “not to mention given some of the factions within the regime there are numerous leaks going around which is how MM is claiming he has gotten this info.”

    whatisaidbeforeetc

    /facepalm
    Seriously, this is a common feature with all anti-Iranians/anti-IRI, you lack the basic functions for fundamental logical reasoning and critical thinking. I am dismissing you as a troll Mehdi.

    /Beers!

  15. Mehdi says:

    Just saw this and thought it would be a good fit here for viewing of all:

    http://www.tnr.com/article/world/the-state-the-opposition-strong

  16. Mehdi says:

    At the risk of going off tangent let me pose this question to you. If a woman claims that she has had an affair with Tiger Woods do you really need to have proof on that particular affair to conclude that Tiger was in fact having a difficult time controlling his urges!? This is why I posed the rhetorical question of “why is it that you think Khamanei a man of cloth is not grandiose!” and wasn’t expecting to have to prove this matter.

    To believe that Khamenei is a humble clergyman at par to say the likes of other ayatollahs that I had mentioned in my earlier comment one has to be either ignorant about Iranian affairs which as a SME on Iran I doubt you are (although you did kind of miss an important fact about the events in 1978), or one has to be extremely naïve about how politics operate in that part of the world, or one has to be stubborn in their viewpoints- which I would venture that would be the case in your quest for more proof.

    In a country that had had the likes of other supposed clergymen like Reyshahri who were awarded a whole city for their loyalty to the regime you don’t need to have invoices or land deeds to believe that a ruler who holds himself as an absolute ruler but more importantly as someone who has a direct contact with god is not living a grandiose life!

    That said and at the risk of making you ‘cough’ again :-) here are some of claims on Khamenei that were recently made by Makhmalbaf – which you may already know but as a FYI for other readers. Before discrediting the ‘whole’ thing as a typical ‘cough’ disinformation or misinformation campaign by the opposition – let’s not forget that in the past there have been cases where in which opposition groups like for example MKO were more than likely fed valuable information by various intelligence services be it Mossad or CIA about the regime’s nuclear activities – not to mention given some of the factions within the regime there are numerous leaks going around which is how MM is claiming he has gotten this info.

    http://homylafayette.blogspot.com/2010/01/makhmalbaf-secrets-of-khameneis-life.html

  17. @Mehdi and Nima says:

    thank you for the newspaper and youtube link.

    the documentary I was referring to was “Iran – The Fall of a Shah – BBC Documentary”.

    @Mehdi
    “why is it that you think Khamanei a man of cloth is not grandiose!”

    I didn’t. you made an accusation. I expected you to provide some proof.

    “rumors going around about Khamenei’s several billion dollar net worth. ”

    not proof

    “Being well familiar with the exaggeration factor in the Iranian culture as well as in politics in general even if we discount those figures by several percentages – let’s say 50% …”

    you have now made an assumption, based on rumours, and from that extracted a hypothetical value = not proof

    and from that you conclude “puts his net worth to be at par with some of the top American hedge fund managers and way too high for someone that is a man of cloth with no source of earnings!”

    not proof

    “If you actually live in Iran and see the motorcade of this supposed clergyman going through the streets you can see that firsthand that he doesn’t live a simple life.”

    I suppose you could be considered an eye-witness. Nonetheless a connection still needs to be established between the motorcade and his wealth (eg is it perhaps a government funded motorcade? Does Obama own the cars in his motorcades or air force one for that matter etc.)

    “Since no one really know how much he has in any one bank account”

    meaning that he could have no or a very low amount of money in the bank account.

    “everyone does know where he lives and forgetting about the value of what is inside those residences – if you just take the land value of all those properties scattered around Iran you will come up figures that is not exactly a humble lifestyle worthy of a typical clergy man’s life.”

    where does the old chap live? Besides that, as mentioned before, it needs to be established that he actually owns the land.

    I’m not trying to bust your balls (I can buy into your accusation that the old man has a considerable amount of wealth), just saying that the people opposing the Iranian government have a bad habit in making conclusions based on assumptions and accusations *cough* the Iranian election fraud accusations *cough* that kind of kills your credibility.

    /Cheers!

  18. Shamangy says:

    So, I wonder if all these people/organizations that fund you http://newamerica.net/about/funding realilze that you’re supporting a brutal dictatorship that’s conducting savage torture, rape, and murder of thousands of innocent people right now!

    You can try to discredit the peoples’ revolution in Iran as best as you can, to sway public opinion in the west to suit your agenda, whatever that may be, but I take pleasure in knowing that your opinion as a husband & wife pro-coup Islamic dictatorship support team is not going to matter one bit in the streets of Iran.

    Watch the power of people at work, cause when they succeed in a few short days, all the millions that you’re getting will disappear.

  19. Babak Taheri says:

    I am neither a fan of Mousavi or Ahmadinejad, but their are certain things that need to be said regarding the two to understand why Ahmadinejad truly won these elections and why Mousavi lost. And why the Leveretts are RIGHT!

    Mousavi was a boring speaker, by admission of his own supporters, he lacked charisma, and made little effort to establish rapport with the people. He made only 6 campaign trips and those were confined to the larger cities. Finally, he had no party structure or even a significant campaign headquarters. He was an accidental leader, a moderate figure anointed at the last minute.

    In stark contrast, Ahmadinejad was a man of the next generation (not belonging to the “old guards”) Active, focused, and showed a popular touch. His campaign featured highly effective videos that were widely seen, and he made some 60 campaign trips around the country to carry his candidacy to cities, towns, and even villages. His message was that under his admin, the lot of the average Iranian had greatly improved and despite what stats showed, his audience appeared to believe him. He also hammered a nationalist theme: protection of Iran from predatory imperialists. And what he did in the debates appeared to be effective. Ahmadinejads strength and Mousavi’s main weakness came down to a single difference: Ahmadinejad’s position was clear, while Mousavi’s was hedged with ambiguities.

    Moreover, Ahmadinejad was a man of the revolution, had long served it, fervently believed in it, and was able to put himself constantly before the public in the media, while Mousavi, distinguished though his services to Iran had been, had been out of the public eye since before many of the voters were even born. And while he supported IRI as a concept, he was critical of it and wanted to change it in ways that must have seemed unclear to many of his supporters and dangerous to those whose livelihoods was dependent upon the bonyads or other government programs.

  20. Nima says:

    Shah’s regime organised its own pro-regime demonstrations. you can see them in the newspapers archives; like this one:
    http://passionofanna.files.wordpress.com/2009/12/2323.jpg

  21. Mehdi says:

    Just as it is logical to assume the high probability of having tens of thousands of people from a grand total of 70 million gathering in support of the theocratic regime irrespective of them attending by coercion or by choice – in contrast it is also ‘illogical’ to suggest that back in 1978 the Pahlavi regime was able to gather just ‘five to ten some people’ in support of that regime either coercively or by choice!

    As someone who lived in Tehran through the revolution I can tell you that there were several gatherings in support of Shah in Tehran and in several other major cities and although they weren’t in millions but they were large enough gatherings. Unlike now we don’t have the advantage of having thousands of footages of such gatherings uploaded on YouTube and if any of them are still out there they are in the possession of the current regime’s state run media which as you might imagine they may not be too inclined to share with others. That said I was able to find this old footage on YouTube that may convince you:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J4xJ14bOFmg

    As far as your question in requesting to point out the grandiose similarities between the former Iranian king and the current supreme leader – since kings in general are always grandiose I don’t think your request was questioning the grandiose nature of Mohammad Reza Pahalvi but rather Ali Kahmenei. Which made me wonder why is it that you think Khamanei a man of cloth is not grandiose! Is it because you think he lives a simple life just as Montazari did or for that matter Khomeini did – or how Sanei, Dastgheib and Sistani and other grand Ayatollahs are doing now?

    When Iranians revolted in 1979 they wanted to put an end to what they referred to as ‘tashrifat’ or grandiose lifestyle of Pahlavi’s. Now among Iranians there are rumors going around about Khamenei’s several billion dollar net worth. Being well familiar with the exaggeration factor in the Iranian culture as well as in politics in general even if we discount those figures by several percentages – let’s say 50% … then that still puts his net worth to be at par with some of the top American hedge fund managers and way too high for someone that is a man of cloth with no source of earnings! If you actually live in Iran and see the motorcade of this supposed clergyman going through the streets you can see that firsthand that he doesn’t live a simple life. Since no one really know how much he has in any one bank account however everyone does know where he lives and forgetting about the value of what is inside those residences – if you just take the land value of all those properties scattered around Iran you will come up figures that is not exactly a humble lifestyle worthy of a typical clergy man’s life.

    The other similiarities between this king and the former king that are not financially related are how he too has been thumbing his nose at the opposition movement, or how he doesn’t allow political parties to form, but more importantly and perhaps a bit differrently than the former king is in how given his direct contact and talk with god he considers himself to be the absolute ruler of all Iranians.

  22. Jon Harrison says:

    While it’s true that contemporary Iran is complex, that doesn’t mean we can’t elucidate some essentials. It’s clearly in the U.S. interest to engage Iran and, if possible, develop a strategic relationship. Clearly, the Green movement does not have the numbers or the power to topple the current regime. Its fate will be that of the Tiananmen Square protesters, should it decide to force the issue. And clearly, U.S. (or Israeli) military action will not solve the nuclear “issue.” To know this much is to know what U.S. Iranian policy should be.

  23. Reza says:

    The Iranian opposition movement,called green movement, has now the support of at least %70 of iranian population( above %80 in the big cities) and is spreading daily. Like Iranisn society,this is a pluralistic movement, including religious and non-religious, there are all walks of life in the Green Movement. You should just spend two weeks in Iran and see the reality on the ground, before publishing such a piece in NYTimes.
    The people you saw in the pro-regime demonstration are mainly those who live under state-charity organisations (Emdad Committee), transfered with hundreds of bus from Tehran’s poor suburb, and state-paid basij militias. Despite the regime’s efforts, the size of the crowd was actually much smaller than Ashura demonstration.
    However, The green movement is not yet a revolutionary movement, feared to repeat the 1979 experience. It still defines itself as a civil-right movement.
    You are free to advocate any US-Iran policy you want, but I don’t understand your misleading efforts to minimize the Iranian opposion movement.

  24. simon taylor says:

    Today’s Iran is too complex for westerners, especially Americans, to understand. This complexity was introduced initially by Khomeini to establish his rule – creating parallel organizations with divers interest which became a norm in the Islamic Republic and has continued to this date.
    This is almost similar to the lobby groups in the US but with direct government ties and enormous executive power. The result is a set of competing interest groups that exploit any opportunity to reinforce their existence. This is very different than the shah’s system with a monolithic government body vs. the rest of the population.
    Today a large majority of Iranians are directly or indirectly fed through their ties with one or the other government or government sponsored organization and that’s the only way they can survive the actual disastrous economic conditions. Therefore, trying to predict what will happen next is not wise!
    We must look for the signs that one or several of these interest groups find themselves threatened or see an opportunity to devour another. At the moment the prevailing interest group is the revolutionary guards who is spreading its tentacles wide and deep in every part of the society and the government. This should eventually threaten the interests of another group – army, police, who?
    The time frame is between now and the next presidential election which most probably will not be held as before if the guards get their way. By then the Mullahs are completely out of the picture and beheaded. That would be the ultimate turning point. Iran will either become a close dictatorship like Myanmar or a nation engulfed in a civil war! Only time will tell.

  25. Science-Based Politics says:

    I agree with the sentiments that the Western media is hyping up the prospects of a successful Iranian revolution. What we are witnessing is social unrest which certainly has the potential to become a full-blown revolution, but we are quite far from that point and I would agree that the odds are against the protestors.

    That said, you fail to address your claims as to how you “know” the sentiments of the Iranian majority. How do you know they are disgusted and moving away from the opposition? Regarding the size and support of either the Iranian opposition or the regime, the only intellectually honest opinion is to be agnostic.

    Frankly, as many commentators have already pointed out, comparing the relative size of dueling rallies just doesn’t cut it and is meaningless as they both occurred in different circumstances. It’s hard to gauge the full extent of the opposition rally because objective reporters weren’t allowed on the ground and confrontational protests tend to be dispersed, not a large mass making photography difficult. In the case of the regime rally, we see the protestors in Enghelab square but we don’t get views of the feeder streets. Just because the regime can pull a rally together isn’t necessarily a sign of its strength. Perhaps the majority in attendance were IRG, Basij, and their families? You can’t rule it out but you can’t prove it either. The evidence just isn’t there.

    Going back to the issue of Iranian society at-large, would you please tell us (without resorting to the flawed and out-of-date September U. Maryland poll) how you can back up your claims that the movement is getting weaker and the majority doesn’t support it? What leads you to believe this? How were you able to take an objective, unbiased, statistically significant sample of the Iranian populace to reach your conclusion?

    Just to be clear, I’m not taking the other side. I’m just curious to know what solid evidence you have that allows you to make your claims.

  26. @Mehdi says:

    “Let me add that you are incorrect to suggest that during the Pahlavi era pre 1979 revolution there were not any pro-govt rallies similar to the one that was held on Dec 30th by the current regime.”

    Could you please provide sources. I saw a BBC documentary about the Shah and his fall, and yes there were “pro-govt rallies” (during the uprising). All five-to-ten something people.

    “people begin to learn more about the grandiose similarities between the former Iranian King Mohammed Reza Pahlavi and the current Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei”

    Could you please explain those similarities? And please provide sources.

    Thank you Mehdi.

  27. Tehrooni says:

    I applaud you for your effort to voice an assessment based on reason regarding these events (and its a sad commentary on the “free press” that I first became aware of the scope of the pro-government protests from your website).

    Further, as an Iranian-American I am encouraged to see that the entirety of the United States analytical class has not set aside the (near and long term) interests of United States in service of narrow (and alien) interests and is capable of presenting effective dissenting views on the ultimately self-defeating position taken by United States towards Iran. I can (perhaps) understand why some would consider the shifting of hard production capacity to China serves the interests of USA, but I fail to see how handing Iran to China on a silver platter is in any way going to further the interests of this nation.

  28. Thanks for continuing the conversation on Iran from the perspective of the reality-based community, or perhaps even the smaller subset, the analytic-based community.

    From my limited reading, I haven’t seen anyone even answer the “3 questions” differently than the Leveretts, so I’ll move on to another question.

    I’ve heard it said that whoever in Iran eventually restores normal relations with the US will be greatly rewarded with popular gratitude. Is that true? Who is the current player that wants this the most? What circumstances and/or limitations prevent this from happening in the near future?

  29. Mehdi says:

    Like you I don’t think that the solution to the Iranian dilemma as pertaining to US foreign policy is one that can and should be solved via military means.

    I also agree that the events you are seeing inside Iran can not be compared ‘exactly’ to what happened pre 1979 revolution there. That said it isn’t like the events pre Tiananmen square either. The point is history doesn’t exactly repeat itself – it just rhymes with the events in the past. So yes just as Chinese anti riot vehicle are rolling into Tehran street there may be some similarity as you have mentioned to China given how the current Iranian repressive regime will deal with the opposition movement there – however one can not also deny that many of the tactics that are being used such as the usage of religious holidays or slogans shouted from the rooftops are not ironically similar to what happened pre 1979 revolution.

    Moreover I think you are putting too much emphasis on the nuance of exact number of crowds that attended a rally on a certain day. Just maybe the number of folks that did attend the pro government rally was more than those who came out against the same regime couple of days earlier but the grande point you are missing is the seismic shift among public opinion and how they talk about there government both from pre June election but more importantly post election.

    Let me add that you are incorrect to suggest that during the Pahlavi era pre 1979 revolution there were not any pro-govt rallies similar to the one that was held on Dec 30th by the current regime.

    You are correct about your suggestion that significant number of Iranians as suggested by Ganji are religious however as more people begin to learn more about the grandiose similarities between the former Iranian King Mohammed Reza Pahlavi and the current Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei they may not necessarily become secularist like those of us in the West but they will continue to become even more disillusioned by the whole concept of having a billion dollar ‘absolute ruler’.

  30. Arnold Evans says:

    I just want to thank the Leveretts for being some of the very few Western sources of information on Iran that do not start from the proposition that Iran’s government should be replaced with one more accommodating to Israel’s security needs, such as Egypt’s Mubarak, Saudi Arabia’s monarchy or a new Shah.

    In making the valid point about the difference between US policy towards Iran and that towards Vietnam, Israel comprises a significant part of the difference that explains why the US has not restored relations with Iran. Israel’s security needs, including the unreasonable demand that Iran not have domestic uranium enrichment – which could make Iran “nuclear weapons capable” is the single most important obstacle preventing a peaceful, mutually beneficial and mutually agreed outcome between Iran and the West.