Earlier this week, The New Republic published its list of America’s Most Overrated Thinkers”, see here. Among the luminaries included in this eclectic collection are: Harvard’s Steve Walt, Newt Gingrich, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, columnist Frank Rich of The New York Times, GOP Rep. Paul Ryan, Parag Khanna, Ayn Rand (who has been dead for 30 years), and…Flynt and Hillary Leverett. For those of our readers who have not seen it, we provide below the citation explaining our inclusion in such an august gathering:
“When this husband-and-wife foreign policy team left George W. Bush’s National Security Council in 2003, ostensibly over differences regarding the war on terrorism, it was predictable that liberals would leap at any expression of their discontent. When, in 2006, they sought to publish a New York Times op-ed on Bush’s supposed unwillingness to meet and negotiate with Iranian officials, and the White House insisted on censoring it, the Times published the heavily edited version anyway. An Esquire profile subsequently cast them as rebellious heroes. But, in the aftermath of the troubling Iranian elections in 2009, the Leveretts practically turned into champions for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, becoming prominent voices arguing for his legitimacy. “I think he’s actually a quite intelligent man,” Flynt told TNR in 2010. “I think he also has really extraordinary political skills.” Apologetics is not analysis. They should be ashamed.”
Instead, we take The New Republic’s citation as a badge of honor:
–We are proud of having stood up to a White House and politically appointed National Security Council officials who—in violation of their own oaths to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States—sought to abuse the prepublication review process, on crass political grounds, after the relevant executive branch agencies had already determined there was no “classified” information in the aforementioned Op Ed draft.
–We are proud of having been virtually the only Western-based Iran analysts who were right about the 2009 Iranian presidential election and how Mousavi’s fact-free challenge to the outcome and the Green movement that rose out of it would both fizzle out.
–We are proud of our commentary on Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as a politician and President. We fully agree that “apologetics is not analysis”; we have not been and never will be apologists for anyone. Our analysis led us to the conclusion that Ahmadinejad is a talented but polarizing political figure who built up significant reservoirs of popular support in Iran. (We think that analysis, too, is spot on.) We would be apologists only if we refrained from publishing our conclusions when they might violate the parameters for “acceptable” discourse about the Middle East established by the likes of The New Republic’s publisher and editors. (We really liked the first comment to the online version of the “Most Overrated Thinkers” list, in which the commenter noted that it would be better titled “a list of people who irritate the editors of TNR”.)
The New Republic has had us in its sights for some time. In January 2010, one of its regular contributors, Abbas Milani—an Iranian expatriate who has not been in Iran for decades but presents himself as having an acute grasp of political reality in the Islamic Republic today—devoted an entire column to denouncing an article we published in The New York Times as “the most infuriating Op Ed of the New Year”. The Op Ed which so infuriated Professor Milani was the first high-profile piece to chart objectively the Green movement’s decline and to predict—accurately and in contradiction to the hyped expectations of Milani and many others—that it would not be able to generate significant protests on February 11, 2010, the anniversary of the Islamic Republic’s founding. We stand by that piece, and remain proud of it; after the Greens’ dismal showing on February 11, 2010, even a few of our more intellectually honest critics began to acknowledge that we were right all along.
In February 2010, The New Republic assigned one of its writers, Michael Crowley, to do the intellectual equivalent of a drive-by shooting on us. His article ended up containing our personal favorite sentence ever written about our work: after reviewing our assessments of Iranian political developments since the 2009 election, Crowley wrote, “It’s not obvious this analysis is wrong.” That this sentence survived editing in such a tortured form says virtually everything one needs to know about The New Republic.
–Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett