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The Race for Iran


We just returned from a trip to the Middle East, which included stops in Lebanon, Syria, and the Islamic Republic of Iran.  We will be writing about our meetings, discussions, and observations on this trip in future posts.  First, though, we want to express our gratitude to the Faculty of World Studies at the University of Tehran for inviting us to come and meet with their students and faculty. 

We particularly want to say how impressed we were with the graduate students in American studies with whom we had the opportunity to spend some time.  University admissions in Iran are done on the basis of competitive national examinations.  Those Iranian students who end up at the University of Tehran are among the brightest young people in the country.  But, beyond their obvious intelligence and talent, the graduate students in American studies impressed us with their seriousness and determination to explore their subject as deeply as possible. 

One of our favorite moments came when two female graduate students (most of the graduate students we met are women) asked us for advice.  The two were preparing for an exercise in one of their classes, in which students would—in English—hold a mock U.S. congressional debate about health care reform legislation.  These two students were tasked to represent the Republican side of the debate.  They had already done extensive research; they were, for example, aware of editorial differences among CNN, MSNBC, and Fox in these networks’ coverage of the health care debate in the United States.  But, while these two students had the opportunity to talk with a couple of American political analysts, they wanted to deepen their understanding of the nuances of conservative argument about health care reform in the United States.  So, we did our best to channel our inner David Frum and tell them what we could about conservative perspectives on health care issues.  We hope those students got something useful out of the conversation.  (They were nice enough to say that they did.)  We also wish that more Americans could encounter young Iranians like those we met. 

Shortly before we arrived in Tehran, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the Islamic Republic is turning into a “military dictatorship”.  As we drove around Tehran, we looked hard to see a soldier anywhere on the street but did not see a single one—except for a couple at the entrance to the Behest-e Zahra cemetery just south of Tehran, where many of the Iranian soldiers killed in the Iran-Iraq War are buried.  Over the years, we have spent a lot of time in a lot of Middle Eastern capitals.  We have never been in one—including in Egypt and Israel—that has fewer guys in uniform on the streets than in Tehran right now.   

–Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett



  1. Green is Truth says:

    Wow. I really have to wonder how much you guys got paid to write this article. What, did they promise to use some companies you own stock in to build the parts for their next missiles or something?

    I can’t believe you think anyone is stupid enough to believe this crap. You’re as bad as the democrats.

  2. Liz says:


    Are you joking?

  3. Gary says:

    Check the spellings, phrasing, grammar, and expressions used in “Dan Cooper’s” posts: this is not the pattern of any ‘Dan Cooper’ (i.e. self-described US or ‘Western’ national) but of a, most probably, Iranian pro-regime propagandist. Sophisticated, but not quite good enough… :-)

  4. Iranian says:

    It is interesting to see Clinton worry about Ahmadinejad and how, allegedly, the Revolutionary Guards are undermining his authority!

  5. Liz says:

    The recent wave of anti-Iranian propaganda in the west is to exaggerate the influence of the Revolutionary guards. They are popular in Iran because most of them are war heroes and that is why they have so many volunteer baseej members. If you travel to the south of Tehran or outside of Tehran most mosques have many baseej volunteers.

  6. Mehdi says:


    When it comes to political matters Iranians are not the only ethnic group or nationality that tend to exaggerate and/or speak in hyperbole. After all here in U.S. we had politicos and politicians on the right who promoted the idea that democrats health care plan included a ‘death panel’ ! So regardless of ones nationality you have had and will have people with special political interests distorting the FACTS. Ala the comment Leverett’s made in this post about their drive through Tehran and their conclusion that it is not a militarized regime because there were no soldiers and tanks in their guided visit. And it is the job of us lay folks to point out these distortions.

    Which brings me to your my respond to you — again what part of my two separate but interrelated comments about the Sepah or IRGC was exaggerated. I don’t see you denying the FACT that they have a heavy influence in various aspects of Iranian economy not to mention politics. Your comment comes across as if you either think this is a perfectly normal occurrence to have such an influence by the military let alone a paramilitary group or simply a denial of this FACT — of which I disagree with both of those suggestions. I understand the army of a country can have its tentacles in various aspects of a country’s economy ala how the DOD in U.S. has done here in what is now famously referred to as the military industrial complex — but can you imagine if DOD buys a stake in Caterpillar, or Flour or in AT&T?!

    As far as my intention for mentioning Schutzstaffel and Wehrmact – first it wasn’t to compare the Nazi’s SS army with the Iranian Artesh but rather to the Sepah. My point wasn’t very nuanced so I’m surprised you missed this important distinction. That said the broader point I was trying to make by bringining up Hitler’s creation of SS in lieu of Wehrmact and the Islamic regime’s choice in having the Sepah growing by leaps and bounds 31 years after the revolution in lieu of the Artesh was simply to show the commonalities in regimes that think their regular army is not sufficient or frankly trust worthy enough in defending the country — or actually the rulers personal interests!!

    Regarding the threat to Iran. I suggest stop watching FIX news – the odds of a preemptive attack by U.S. on Iran (at least under Obama’s administration) is as much as U.S. going to war with China over Taiwan. The probabilities for both events are not 0 but they aren’t one that I would be willing to put some serious money on it or worry about it too much. At least not in the next couple of years. As far as Israel – they couldn’t even take care of Hezbollah when they attack Lebanon so the idea that they can do any major harm to Iranians is ludicrous. Israeli’s are formidable only if their motherland is at risk just as Iranians are!

    As far as my comments about Iranian students and their limited understanding of American politics or what we call here inside the beltway talk it was simply to show the difficulty for even an intelligent person to have a complete understanding the various nuances of another country from a far abroad even if they can speak that country’s language. Now imagine how difficult or impossible it would be to become a subject matter expert on a country’s politics like Iran while living in U.S. without access to classified materials and when you can’t even speak Farsi!

    Finally if you like to label the above mentioned points as an attack on the messenger rather than an argument on facts – then so be it.


  7. Liz says:

    A link to an open letter from a number of leading Iranian websites to US media outlets. The English version (which isn’t all that great) comes after the Persian.


  8. kevin says:

    Dan, anecdotal word of mouth. In a country that has a complete kung fu grip on the news, what evidence do you have that they were not?

    Do you believe there were no murders by the regime? Torture? Rape?

    Whether it was Lebanese Hezbollah or not is actually irrelevant. Funny you would pick out that one piece to try to discredit.

    Go ahead, believe it was the CIA that is directing Mousavie, Rafsanjani, Karroubi, Khatami, and millions of well-educated Iranians. The logic in such a stance is intellectually insulting. Even worse, such an insinuation is tantamount to forgiving the regime for declaring war on its own people, let alone the human rights and press violations that you are COMPLETELY IGNORING.

  9. Dan cooper says:


    “Iranian@Iran” recommended this site:


    Please study the entire article and be good enough to give us your honest opinion.

    Regarding Hezbollah:

    This is a typical opposition’s propaganda that “the regime import Lebanese Hezbollah to torture and kill their own people”, it is absurd.

    Where did you get this information from and what evidence do you have to justify such outrageous claims?

  10. kevin says:

    Dan Cooper, I don’t care about the election last summer. If millions of Iranians think it was stolen, if defecting Basiji are going into detail about the mass dumping of ballots, and if former and current Iranian leaders are calling it bullshit, that’s good enough for me.

    What I do care about is the inhumane treatment that the regime is committing against its own people. SL and AN have declared war on their own citizens. That alone makes this regime illegitimate. They import Lebanese Hizbollah to torture and kill their own people. They rape, lie, and murder.

    All of this overshadows any “what if AN won in June” debate as far as I’m concerned. The evil of this regime really relies upon retarded western apologist stooges to help them piss on the memories of Iranians who have suffered under this regime.

  11. Dan cooper says:


    Thanks for the link: http://www.consortiumnews.com/2010/022710.html

    I recommend everyone to read the entire article.

  12. kevin says:

    I am glad that there is a limited security presence like the one you are talking about. However, there are some one million non-uniformed Basiji murderers roaming those streets. I hope in your visit there you didn’t forget the horrific human rights abuses these cowards have committed against their own people. The regime wants more than anything else for the events of the past year to disappear. This type of regime promotion (praising the “lax security) serves the interests of murderous cowards.

  13. Iranian@Iran says:

    This is a very interesting piece:


  14. Loreta Dench says:

    Hello just stumbled your blog and have been browsing around some of your posts and just wondering why you chose a WordPress site dont you find it difficult to do anything with? Been thinking about starting one.

  15. Dan cooper says:


    You have obviously misunderstood my point.

    By posting you the clip of Ahmadinejad, I was showing you how some Iranian exaggerates and referring to you as a good example.

    Your recent post comparing Iranian army to SS Nazi organization and sentences like “multibillion-dollar business empire.” is nothing but exaggeration.

    By propaganda and unfair comparison, you are trying to demonize your regime and insult the one million Iranians who gave their lives in the US and Zionist backed Iran/Iraq war to keep you and your family safe in Iran.

    No matter how large the Iranian army is, you must first understand that in this day and age when your country is surrounded by invading armies, security is paramount.

    The threat to Iran from USA and Israel is real, wake up

    You said in your post that Tehran university students do not understand American politics and Leveretts do not understand Iranian politics.

    You foolishly and sarcastically wrote: “Are you two really analysts or politicians?”

    You should be ashamed of yourself for making such stupid remarks.

    You underestimate other people’s intelligence.

    If you cannot win the argument intellectually, do not attack the messenger.

    LEVERETTs are two highly educated, honorable and peace loving people and have had a distinguished career in the U.S. government.

    What leveretts are doing is to prevent another war and to save Hundreds of thousands of innocent Iranian men, women and children from being slaughtered in similar fashion by coalition forces, during the bombardment of both Iraq and Afghanistan.

  16. Unknown says:

    Too bad you didn’t stay.

  17. GeneralMalaise says:

    What does the eternal optimist, Mr. Leverett, think the rulers of Iran plan to do with their enriched stockpile of uranium?

  18. shafagh says:

    I’m a University of Tehran student. I just wanted to say that in order to be successful in a university like Tehran, students dont usually have enough time to spend on streets in protets that have no benefit for anyone. lets get serious, and stop fabricating news and info about the streets of Tehran, and rely on reliable sources for the info we get.

  19. Arezoo says:

    I am one of those female students who talked with Mr and Mrs Leverrets in a warm and academic session on healthcare in faculty of world studies. I am so proud of University of Tehran and faculty of world studies and also I appreciate Dr.Marandie who arranged the meeting so that we can have a free and enjoyable conversation with the Leverrets and we are looking forward to seeing them again.
    thank you Dr. Marandie

  20. Goli says:


    Please enlighten us on the exact reason(s) for your opposition to President Ahmadinejad’s jacket!

  21. GeneralMalaise says:

    All those guilty of the brutal, illegal repression of the Iranian people will receive their just reward in due time. The apologists for the mullahs and the one who wears the Members Only™ jackets will be exposed. Nearly all terrorism can be traced back to these evil men.

  22. Mari says:

    Noushin, I am one of those students at the University of Tehran who had a chance to meet Mr. and Mrs. Leverret. I wonder how you recognized Tehran University students in the protests?!!!!!! Obviously you claim that there is no freedom and democracy in Iran because you like to distort the reality and see things the way you want.

  23. Iranian says:

    First they were saying the Iranian president has no power, then they said Ahmadinejad is a threat to the world, now they are expressing fear that Ahmadinejad is losing power!

    That’s what some people call propaganda.

    Just one correction: There are no soldiers on the street and the fact that there are far fewer policemen and policewomen on the streets of Tehran than in Paris or London is very significant.

  24. Daniel Lippman says:

    Just because there are few soldiers in the streets does NOT mean that the Revolutionary Guard is controlling the regime behind the scenes, which I think they are.

  25. Liz says:

    With all do respect, you are “acting like a typical Bushites”. Members of the baseej in Tehran are volunteers and they mostly live in the central and southern part of the city, not in the wealthy and somewhat secular northern parts of Tehran. For those of us who regularly visit the country, this is common knowledge.

  26. Mehdi says:

    History sure rhymes:

    Schutzstaffel (German for “Protective Echelon”), abbreviated SS —was a major Nazi organization under Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party. The SS grew from a small paramilitary unit to a powerful force that served as the Führer’s “Praetorian Guard,” the Nazi Party’s “Shield Squadron” and a force that, fielding almost a million men (both on the front lines and as political police), managed to exert as much political influence in the Third Reich as the Wehrmacht, Germany’s regular armed forces. Built upon the Nazi ideology, the SS, under Heinrich Himmler’s command, was responsible for many of the crimes against humanity perpetrated by the Nazis during World War II, and most of the severest of those crimes.

    The Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution (Persian: سپاه پاسداران انقلاب اسلامی , Sepāh e Pāsdārān e Enqelāb e Eslāmi, also Sepāh) also known as the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), is a branch of Iran’s military, founded after the Iranian revolution. Sepāh has 125,000 military personel including ground, air and naval forces. It also controls the paramilitary Basij militia which has 90,000 active personel, and in recent years has developed into a “multibillion-dollar business empire.” In recent years the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps has become a vast military-based conglomerate. It is active in oil and gas, telecom, and farming, to name a few sections, and has considerable economic and political influence.
    Since its origin as an ideologically driven militia, the Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution has taken an ever more assertive role in virtually every aspect of Iranian society. Its expanded social, political, military, and economic role under president Ahmadinejad’s administration — especially during the 2009 presidential election and post-election suppression of protest — has led many analysts to argue that its political power has surpassed even that of the Shiite clerical system.

    Wehrmacht (German: “defence force”) was the name of the unified armed forces of Germany from 1935 to 1945. It consisted of the Heer (army), the Kriegsmarine (navy) and the Luftwaffe (air force).

    The Islamic Republic of Iran Army is the ground force of the Military of Islamic Republic of Iran. In Iran, it is also called Artesh, which is Persian for “army.” As of 2007, the regular Iranian Army was estimated to have 350,000 personnel (220,000 conscripts and 130,000 professionals) plus around 350,000 reservists

    Before accusing me of acting like a typical Bushites let me say that my intention by copying the facts above wasn’t to suggest that Iran’s regime has the same ‘exact’ expansionist intentions of Nazi Germany. Just the similarity between the fundamental grounds that paramilitary groups like SS and IRGC are created and the problems with having two such groups aside from the actual military of the country.

  27. Iranian@Iran says:

    Liz: Did you expect the US media to behave differently?

  28. Liz says:



    Look and see how the reporting on student disturbances differ in the US.


    My husband (an Iranian) says you are using foul language in your posted comments.

  29. Mehdi says:


    After watching the clip you posted I couldn’t help but think of our colloquial saying: gooz be shagigheh che rabti dareh :-) that said which one of the facts I’ve stated in my last post was exaggerated and manipulated?!?

  30. Dan cooper says:


    Your post is a typical Iranian style propaganda, which is based on exaggerations and manipulations of facts.

    سوال خبرنگار بی بی سی فارسی از احمدی نژاد و پاسخ او


  31. Mehdi says:

    It seems that just as those brilliant Tehran Univ. students did not fully understand the nuance and intricacies of American politics — neither do folks like you two understand Iranian politics!

    As far as your jab on Iran being a militarized state — only a fool would have derived at the Clinton’s comments and more importantly the actions of Sepah in the past years that what was meant was that if one drives around Tehran with a government guide s/he will see tanks and soldiers!

    Google these news headlines (assuming you can read Farsi?!?!?) and you may see in your worldly travels countries with more military presence in the street but have you ever seen a subgroup military group that is NOT the actual country’s military to take out $1 billion from the country’s treasury, or establish a bank, or sign a $1.3 billion dollar deal with the country’s oil ministry, or buy $8 billion or 51% of the country’s telecom stock in an IPO!

    Are you two really analysts or politicians?

    سپاه در صدد برداشت یک میلیارد دلار از ذخیره ارزی است
    سپاه پاسداران ایران بانک می زند
    نقش سپاه پاسداران در پروژه های اقتصادی پررنگ تر می شود
    سپاه پاسداران و حضور در عرصه اقتصادی ایران
    قرارداد یک میلیارد و 300 میلیون دلاری سپاه با وزارت نفت
    سپاه پاسداران: بعد از انتخابات دو ماه تمام مسئولیت به عهده سپاه بود
    سپاه پاسداران سهام هشت میلیارد دلاری مخابرات را خرید

  32. kooshy says:

    Thank you Mohammad for your excellent link, as an Iranian I am so proud of the UT and how it has impacted the modernization of Iran since its establishment in 1934.
    UT is where Iran’s first generation of legend scholars like Ghazvini, Siasi,Nafisi, Hekmat, Menavie, Frozanfar, Bahar, Mahdavi, Sadigi and many others worked to established the academic standards of Iran, throughout its history, that in some extend I am aware of, it always was and still is, where prominent scholars visited and lectured, especially if you are set to study “Iranian studies” there is no more prestigious institution then UT.

  33. Mohammad says:

    I wish the comments section at this blog be more productive and constructive than the destructive rants and personal attacks. In my opinion, the well-thought, useful posts do not deserve some of the visitors’ comments I see here.

    Btw, here’s a detailed analysis of the American Studies program in the University of Tehran from the eye of an American scholar who has spent some time there as a visiting scholar:

  34. Goli says:

    Fahad, exactly what is your objection to a Tehran University professor arranging and organizing Leveretts’ visit to Tehran University! Why do you insist on holding Iran to a different set of standards than the rest of the world? Who did you expect to have arranged a visit to Tehran University by foreign Iran experts? CIA? Mossad?

  35. Kamran says:

    I am very proud of Iranian universities, especially universities such as the University of Tehran and Sharif University. They are among the best in the world. The Faculty of World Studies at the University of Tehran should be proud to have such students and academics, who are prepared to pursue dialogue at a time when the US media and government are desperately trying to stir up hatred towards Iran.

  36. kooshy says:

    ASDF and Wig Wag this is for you to read and make comments on can you have this published Mr. Goldbeg’s Atlantic please


  37. kooshy says:

    Does it matter who arranged the visit to the Tehran University, what is wrong if their visit was arranged by Marandi, because he is an Iranian with an opposing view of US’s hegemonic policies. Is it wrong to have a dialogue with him even if we don’t agree with his views? what kind of intellectual argument is this and since when guilt by association is an scholarly academic argument.

  38. Liz says:

    Fahad is not even an Iranian name. Iranians would never use that name because of their dislike of the Saudi regime and the Saudi royal family.

  39. Fahad says:

    Don’t the Leveretts know that the whole visit of the respective department at Tehran University had carefully been prepared by Marandi? What kind of charade had he staged there? Was it new to the Leveretts that female students are plenty in Iran? Did they notice any segregation? (I did, when I visited last year Esfahan University.)

  40. ASDF says:

    This is the regime you people support:

    Another young Iranian, Mostafa Mir Ebrahimi, Dies from Pressures in Prison

    Mostafa Mir Ebrahimi was born February 22, 1987 in Tehran. Six months ago, Mostafa was arrested and taken to an unknown location by regime forces while he was at Neda Agha Soltan’s grave site.

    Mostafa’s friends who witnessed the arrest informed his family about the news. But after six months of efforts to search [for answers], the regime refused to release any information to his family. Mostafa’s name was not registered in any prisons or official lists for the arrested.


  41. ASDF says:

    Kooshy: I find it ironic that you think the murderous regime you support is any better than Rigi et al…

    Also, you are not exactly the brightest tool in the shed but I know you think you’re a genius. Secondly, as I told you before, I’m not Jewish but you keep and using the Hebrew word for greeting. It just shows your bigotry and frankly it’s very typical of IRI VEVAK agents.

    Hopefully someday people like you will be put on trial and pay for their colloboration with the enemies of Iran.

  42. Nooshin says:

    ASDF said it : Basij and ansa-e-hizballh don’t wear military uniform. They are para military in civilian clothing…Are you realy that naive or just feigning naivete??
    Can’t you see the news. Just youtube. Iranian election and see it, then be the judge. Smartness of students has nothing to do with this regime. These are the student protesting in the strres of Tehran all these months since July 09.
    Listen carefully. Iranian people don’t like these fenatic regime. They want freedom and Democracy in Iran. Loo at this video and see what they have done to these smart students.

  43. Chris says:

    Some people are going to see your trip to Iran as a sell-out. Obviously, their narrow minds cannot see anything else.
    Well done for your great contribution to common sense!

  44. Jon Harrison says:

    Please tell us more in detail about the trip to Iran. It’s sad that the average citizen is rarely exposed to this type of information, and instead forms his/her opinion about Iran based on rash statements from people like Mrs. Clinton or the commentators on Fox News.

  45. kooshy says:

    ASDF Aziz e Jan shalom and welcome back to the assignment, we missed you, without you this forum was too serious, we all can use some R&R, have got any new pictures of buses, soldiers ramming people, etc. generally anything that shows Iranians are brutal will help, and if you have any recent pictures of Rigi in Afghanistan would be nice too, thanks

  46. Iranian says:

    It’s a very good point that the Leveretts have made. Iran is the one country in the Middle East which does not have a military presence on its streets and this is because of its inherent stability.

    Unlike the so-called Iran experts in DC, it seems that the US experts in Iran really do know about the United States!

  47. Liz says:

    It’s good news to see that such exchanges are still taking place. This is an excellent way to gain a real understanding about what is the reality on the ground. When it comes to Iran, CNN, FOX News and the BBC sound more like a more sophisticated version of Soviet propaganda.

  48. ASDF says:

    Sargord Pirouz?? What are you doing in Ohio?? Shouldn’t you be back in Iran torturing people??

    How did you poeple ever graduated from college??

    Basij and ansa-e-hizballh don’t wear military uniform. They are para military in civilian clothing…Are you realy that naive or just feigning naivete??

  49. Pirouz says:

    My grandfather was one of the founders of the University of Tehran, and became one of its early presidents. I think he would be extremely proud of your “report card” for the university.

    Thank you, Leverrets.