“Going to Tehran: Why the United States Must Come to Terms with the Islamic Republic of Iran”

Book Cover

We’ve just finished the day-long symposium here at Penn State.  The event was well organized, and the hosts have been extremely kind and gracious. I thought my panel went well, and I was very impressed with Ambassador Butler. He has a true wealth of diplomatic experience, and possesses what I think to be a very fundamentally correct understanding of the NPT.  Penn State is very fortunate to have him here teaching in the School of International Affairs.

But the best thing about today, for me, was learning more about Flynt and Hillary Leverett’s new book “Going to Tehran: Why the United States Must Come to Terms with the Islamic Republic of Iran.” Reading their book and hearing both of their truly excellent presentations of their research and arguments in it, was a singular and profound thinking and learning experience for me. They are both first class scholars and intellectuals, and present their arguments in an extremely well organized, thought through, well researched and supported, and persuasive manner. Having read some of their book before I got to the conference, while I agreed on the essential thrust of the book already, there were a few points on which I was not at all sure that I agreed with them. But their discussions of their research and arguments today were persuasive, and I walk away from the conference with my mind changed on some things. That is a good day in academia. Being intellectually challenged, hearing rigorous and persuasive reasons supporting the challenge, and ultimately being persuaded to change your mind because you’ve learned something new.

I think it goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway, that I HIGHLY recommend to readers Flynt and Hillary’s book.  It seeks to correct so many incorrect assumptions that even professor-types have about Iran, and proposes a particular approach for diplomatic rapprochement with Iran that I think is absolutely the best way forward for the US and the world.

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37 Comments on ““Going to Tehran: Why the United States Must Come to Terms with the Islamic Republic of Iran””

  1. Having been a regular at the Leveretts’ Web site, http://www.raceforiran.com – now http://www.goingtotehran.com – and having seen both of them express themselves and their arguments on various talk shows and panels, I can say that these two are some of the smartest, most logical people I know of.

    I don’t always agree with absolutely every nuance of their opinions, but by far I am more in agreement than I am with pretty much almost anyone else.

    The only complaint I ever have about them is that, like virtually all “pundits”, they really don’t seem to believe – or can’t admit to believing – just how deep the corruption goes in the US government and how criminally motivated the US ruling elites actually are. But that’s no surprise – cognitive dissonance is the second largest psychological problem in humans after fear itself – indeed it is merely another expression of fear.

    Anyone who wants a very intelligent, unbiased and logical look at the Iran nuclear issue can not do better than follow the Leveretts.

  2. Scott Lucas says:

    Dan,

    I really like your work on the Iranian nuclear programme and the politics around it — I think it’s essential to dispel the propaganda and manipulation of the issue.

    So I hope you’re just being polite to your Penn State hosts when you mention the Leveretts’ book. In contrast to your approach, Going to Tehran is a polemic in the guise of supposed historical background and political critique.

    Certainly a close examination of US foreign policy, and its flawed approach to Iran over several decades, is essential. Certainly a contemporary diplomacy which gets us out of the cul-de-sac of possible military action and ever-increasing sanctions that punish Iranians is necessary.

    But that is not the real point of Going for Tehran. It is, first and foremost, a eulogy to the current Iranian regime. It is skimpy on the nuclear issue because its emphasis is on presenting geopolitics as “the US is losing and Iran is winning” in the Middle East and beyond.

    And when it comes to Iran, the ill-informed presentation — the Leveretts are largely dependent for their information of Iran’s political situation from a pro-regime academic in Tehran — exalts the Supreme Leader, President Ahmadinejad, and Iranian officials at the expense of those who have sought rights and justice. They not only portray the 2009 election as legitimate beyond doubt; they accuse opposition candidates such as Mir Hossein Mousavi of sedition and pursuit of regime change.

    Doing so, the Leveretts justify the detentions without charge not only of opposition politicians but of those seeking women’s rights (even as they claim that the Islamic Republic should be applauded for its treatment of women), students’ rights (even as they claim that the Islamic Republic should be esteemed for its approach to education), and legal rights.

    In this book, you will not find a single name of the thousands who have been imprisoned since June 2009 for political and social activity. You will not see a reference ot the house arrests since February 2011 of Mousavi, Presidential Mehdi Karroubi, and activist Zahra Rahnavard. You will find pages of ad hominem attacks by the Leveretts against those who do not share their point of view, but you will not find them raising a word of question about those who lead the Islamic Republic.

    Critique of US foreign policy is to be welcomed. Unquestioning promotion of the Iranian regime should not be.

    • Bibi Jon says:

      Scott,

      Can you expand a little on ” the Leveretts are largely dependent for their information of Iran’s political situation from a pro-regime academic in Tehran”

      Did Hillary lose her rolodex? What happened to all the Khatami-era officials she was directly dealing with from 2001 to 2003? Are we to believe Flynt could have, but chose not to contact any number of folks in the state department with past dealings with Iranian government officials/business leaders/academics and intellectuals to share their contacts?

      Also, can you please provide page numbers for the your charge of “pages of ad hominem attacks by the Leveretts against those who do not share their point of view?”

      Don’t you think it is fairer to say the Leveretts have decided not to take a position on human rights rather than, as you accuse them, because their purpose for writing the book was ” first and foremost, a eulogy to the current Iranian regime?” Could it be that in the precedent of Nixon goes to China, the arguments about human rights is simply not germane to the geopolitics that might lead to ‘Obama goes to Islamabad, Riyadh, or Tehran?’

      The aftermath of 2009 presidential elections is consistent with the Leveretts characterization of the “regime” as a participatory system of government. In the early days of June, the ranks of Tehran’s student and professional classes were joined by ordinary looking people, including women in full hijab because their expectations of a fair voting system had been deeply offended. Iranian’s history of democratic yearning spans 2 centuries. Since 1979, after dozens of elections over the years people of all walks of life have developed a sense, sensibility,and expectation that their votes count. When it was asserted the election had been rigged by none other than an ex prime minister, and an ex speaker of parliament, even the usually reserved and undemonstrative folk took to the streets demanding redress. And, of course as the Leveretts demonstrate, once it became clear that the fraud charge is a complete and utter boloney, they went home. In short, the crowd dynamics itself is congruent with the notion that a clear majority of Iranians believe the system is legitimate, and demand for it to continue to be legitimate. This of course jives with the results of all the public opinion surveys that PIPA has done.

      • And if I may add…

        The proper rebuttal is that discussions of Iran’s political system or internal governance are irrelevant to the issue of rational and “realist” US foreign policy, let alone the nuclear issue. When we’re talking about the possibility of another massive war in the Middle East, diversion to irrelevant issues belies a hidden agenda.

        Because regardless of the Iranian regime’s treatment of its own people, a WAR is going to kill literally hundreds of thousands, if not a million or more, people – a fate worse than any political crackdown on dissidents. So people need to keep focused on the irrationality of the US approach to Iran, and specifically the nuclear issue.

    • Irshad says:

      Scotty boy,
      You still trolling I see! Do you want to be reported to the dean of your uni again for wasting univ time and bandwidth, spewing nonesense again?

      Or is this your way at getting back at the Leveretts for them banning you from their site?

      Say what happened to all those reports of mass uprisings in Iran that you was spewing about at RfI? You really are a paid hack who brings nothing but shame on Birmingham Univ!

    • Scott Lucas is well known to those of us who post regularly at http://www.goingtotehran.com. He has spent literally hundreds of posts over there trying to discredit the Leveretts – to no avail. No one takes him seriously over there. Most of his posts were obviously intended to “spam” the Leveretts’ Web site and get people to go over to his site. I don’t remember if he was banned from there due to this violation of Internet etiquette, but he doesn’t post much there any more.

      In his post here, he resorts to the same tried-and-true trick all those who dislike Iran do: try to shift the discussion from the nuclear issue and the necessity for the US to deal with Iran in rational terms to a polemic about Iran’s “civil rights” issues. This in turn he uses to try to discredit the Leveretts’ fact-based and foreign policy “realist” approach.

      No one, let alone the Leveretts, apologizes for Iran’s internal political organization. What the Leveretts have done is point out that the majority of Iranian citizens approve of the organization of their society, to one degree or another, and thus the regime is “legitimate” in the eyes of the people most affected by it. It is not the place of the United States to expend effort to convert the world to an imitation of itself. This is not rational foreign policy.

      I’m an anarchist myself, so it’s hardly likely I would approve of the US government, let alone the Iranian government. I’m also an atheist, so the notion of religious leaders having the final say in society is anathema to me. Nonetheless I understand fully the Leveretts’ position.

      Lucas has zero evidence for the Iranian elections of 2009 being illegitimate. The evidence is overwhelming that it was legitimate. The crackdown on the demonstrations was hardly different from the Bahrain crackdown, yet the United States had nothing to say about that.

      All of these accusations are irrelevant to the Leveretts’ point – that Iran has be treated in the same way that the US now treats China – as a legitimate political entity and society with its own national interests which cannot be brow-beaten into being a US puppet regime.

      Lucas has his own agenda in making the accusation he makes here and that agenda will lead to another Mid-East war if it is replicated in the Beltway (which it pretty much is already.)

    • Dan Joyner says:

      Hi Scott, I’m certainly open to discussing this further. I think though that Richard has expressed pretty well my own thoughts at this point. I think that the essential point the Leverett’s are making is that the US should accept that a majority of the people living in Iran are favorably disposed toward and generally support the government system in Iran, and that through elections the government is generally responsive to a majority of Iranians. Thus, this is a government which essentially represents a majority of the people in the country, and should therefore be viewed and dealt with as the legitimate government of Iran. As Richard said, I dont excuse human rights violations committed by the Iranian government any more than I excuse human rights violations committed by the government in China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, or Uzbekistan. And yet, these are all countries that are dealt with by the US on the basis of respect for their governments as legitimate, and on the basis of recognition of their respective national interests. And US policy towards these countries is not accompanied by an undercurrent policy of regime change – not even soft regime change. I think that all the Leverett’s are arguing for is the same diplomatic approach toward Iran. And I find this very persuasive.

      • expatbama says:

        Dan,

        Thank you for this — I look forward to continuing this, especially your kind framing of the Leveretts as putting the argument “that a majority of the people are favorably disposed toward and generally support the government system in Iran”. Indeed, if they had supported this argument in a thoughtful way — for example, noting that there is a difference between calling for “reform” of the system and calling for its removal — this would be a contribution.

        Meanwhile, offering substantive information to the other comments, prompted by a call to arms on the Leveretts’ website….

        1. The Leveretts’ primary source for their assertions on internal Iranian dynamics is the “visiting Iranian academic” who was at their seminar in Washington on 12 June 2009, After the seminar, he took them to “reliable” Iranian websites that “proved” Ahmadinejad had won. He then provided the material for their 15 June editorial in Politico and co-wrote their 24 June editorial on the same site.

        Since then, the Leveretts’ interpretation has been in lock-step with the academic, and he has provided most of their claimed information. On occasion, they have referred to Iranian State and semi-official media to complement this.

        Hillary’s use of her 2001-2003 experience is limited to a few comments on US-Iran relations, rather than the situation in Iran. There is no indication that Flynt drew upon sources in the State Department or his former employers in the CIA and NSC.

        To my knowledge, the Leveretts did not pay any attention — in their published writings — to the internal situation in Iran before 12 June 2009.

        2. Ad hominem attacks are scattered throughout the book but are especially prominent on pages 292-327. I have sharp disagreements with many of those named by the Leveretts, but there is a difference between engaging arguments and making sweeping generalisations and personal attacks.

        3. No, the Leveretts are agnostic on human rights. They repeatedly deny that any human rights violations have taken place in the Islamic Republic. Not only do they ignore detentions, abuses, executions, suspension of political parties, denial of communications, harassment of families, house arrests, denial of due process, imprisonment of lawyers, punishment of journalists, and intimidation (and worse) of human rights activists — they justify some of these with their support of regime claims of sedition.

        4. The account of the 2009 election is selective, to say the least, and supported by no more than a reference to a suspect autumn 2009 poll (as if a poll can “prove” an electoral result).

        The account makes no specific reference to the questions over the legitimacy of the claimed vote, for example, the failure to produce documentation to support the “final” numbers posted by the Ministry of Interior.

        The account makes no reference to the messages sent to the Mousavi campaign — which may have included messages from high-ranking officials — that Mousavi was in the lead in the vote. It ignores the evidence that campaign workers were being harassed and that the “real” vote might not be declared — the reason that Mousavi held his press conference on the evening of 12 June 2009.

        The account ignores the widespread detention and pursuit of many people just before the election, on Election Day, and afterwards; it ignores the cutting of communications; it ignores the plan for intimidation and harassment, subsequently revealed in a leaked audio and a document from the Revolutionary Guards; it ignores the raids on the Mousavi and Karroubi campaign headquarters; and much more.

        5. Certainly there is a good argument for a “realist” approach to US-Iran relations. The point is that, while the Leveretts may advocate “realism”, they do not pursue a rigourous realist approach:

        A. A “realist”, in approaching US-Iran relations, would not make one-sided, polemical claims such as “US is losing, Iran is winning” in the Middle East and beyond. He/she would assess the evidence before casting such sweeping judgements.

        B. A “realist” does not ignore the internal situation in the countries with which he/she deals, for a realist foreign policy has to be based on an understanding of those countries.

      • expatbama says:

        Dan,

        A couple of notes on your summary, “the US should accept that a majority of the people living in Iran are favorably disposed toward and generally support the government system in Iran”

        1. Certainly, it is not for the US Government to cast judgement on what Iranians think about their Government and system. That is a matter for Iranians.

        2. However, the Leveretts’ unsubstantiated claim of “favourable disposition” and “general support” of a majority for the “government system” should not stand as judgement. Apart from their oft-repeated claims of a shaky and now-dated 2009 poll, they offer no evidence for this.

        3. Rather than immediately jumping to the accusation that anyone who raises this issue is promoting regime change, a starting point for analysis might be:

        A. Some Iranians support the existing system; some wish to see significant reform, especially for adherence to the Constitution, rights, and justice, including protection from arbitrary punishment and suppression of dissent; some wish to see the system replaced.

        B. Personally, I think the post-2009 expression was largely a call for reform. But there is no way of knowing because there is no free environment for discussion in Iran.

        4. It is possible to support engagement and genuine negotiation with the Islamic Republic — which I do — without being blind to the situation inside the country.

        S.

      • Bibi Jon says:

        S,

        1) You would have been far better off not offering substantive information on the Leveretts’ single source of information.

        2) My bad. I had asked for page numbers. But, do provide quotes where the Leveretts disparage someone’s persona in order to refute their arguments, which after all have been proven wide off the mark for the last 34 years and counting. Frankly, if Mr. Chalabi can be called names for costing this country a trillion bucks, 35,000 dead and injured, and consigning her moral standing and credibility to a faint memory, then do we have to wait for the next war before we call spades spades?

        3) My ingeleesh not very gooood. Please let me know if six is another word for half a dozen, why is ‘not taking a position’ so different from being ‘agnostic.’ In their book they put human rights violations in context. Lets try and be numerate. I read recently someone put the number of demonstrators at 3 million in one day alone. I won’t take advantage of that exaggeration. I’ll go with the more realistic figure of 500,000 for 6 days adding up to 3 million. Now the most number of arrests reported by western human rights organizations were put at 6,000 (all but 400 were charged and released within days), and less than a 100 fatalities. Unless you were reading the Guardian, or Huffington Post’s breathless reporting, the arithmetic informs me that 99.8% of demonstrators were subjected to no more than your usual police crowd/riot control action.You are insulting Tehranis by insinuating their civic courage can be countered by this level of brutality.

        More later.

      • expatbama :

        When the Leveretts say that the Iranian regime has the general support of the people of Iran, they’re not relying on a “suspect poll” but actually on multiple independent polls that were conducted by Western polling organizations (
        http://www.worldpublicopinion.org/pipa/articles/brmiddleeastnafricara/652.php ) all of which, incidentally, came to just about the exact same statistical conclusion, which also matched the official results.

        If you’re going to imply there was something fishy about the “documentation” of the poll and the final results, I hereby challenge you to explicitly explain your claim or drop it. The final results corresponded to the figures released, and every single election district results were signed off on by Mousavi’s own observers, not a single one of whom has ever claimed that the results varied with what he signed off on.

        In fact thus far, no one has presented ANY actual evidence of fraud in the elections, and in fact no one can explain why there would be any need for fraud in the first place considering that the losing candidate, Mousavi, who claimed fraud was himself very much part of the same regime, and had been vetted and cleared to run for office by the same regime, and in fact he had even declared himself the victor of the same election initially.

        So if you have something to prove fraud, go on. Put your money where your mouth is. I dare you.

      • expatbama says:

        Re Cyrus’ comment:

        1. A Summer 2009 poll — even if methodologically sound and conducted in “normal” political circumstances — does not substitute for verified results from a legitimate election free from intimidation.

        2. “The final results corresponded to the figures released, and every single election district results were signed off on by Mousavi’s own observers, not a single one of whom has ever claimed that the results varied with what he signed off on.”

        The “final results” were simply “the figures released” by the Ministry of Interior. They are just a set of numbers.

        Mousavi’s observers (and Karroubi’s) did NOT sign off in thousands of polling stations because they had been prevented from getting to the stations, had feared intimidation and/or detention, had had communications disrupted, etc. We do not know what they think of the results because of the danger of retribution if they spoke publicly about the supposed result.

        3. The documentation of the “real” numbers — the Form 22s from each of the polling stations, with the signatures of observers from all campaigns — have never been produced.

        4. I have never claimed that there is conclusive evidence of fraud. That evidence is likely to have been buried or destroyed.

        I have said that the legitimacy and transparency of the election is in question. I have further said that the process occurred amid mass detentions; raids on headquarters; interruption of communications; and threats and intimidations of campaign workers, politicians, and activists;

        5. A question 44 months later — if the regime is convinced of its legitimacy, why are two of the Presidential candidates under indefinite house arrest?

      • expatbama:

        “1. A Summer 2009 poll — even if methodologically sound and conducted in “normal” political circumstances — does not substitute for verified results from a legitimate election free from intimidation.”

        This is merely rehashing your claim, unsupported by anything.

        “2. Mousavi’s observers (and Karroubi’s) did NOT sign off in thousands of polling stations because they had been prevented from getting to the stations, had feared intimidation and/or detention, had had communications disrupted, etc. We do not know what they think of the results because of the danger of retribution if they spoke publicly about the supposed result.”

        Ah, yes, the old “everyone is too intimidated to talk” argument. A “get out of jail free card” for not having to provide any actual evidence.

        Except it’s nonsense. You can’t provide any documented evidence of this claim and the studies done don’t rely on that in any event. The studies show that Ahmadinejad almost certainly had sufficient support to win the election before the election and fully explain the results.

        “3. The documentation of the “real” numbers — the Form 22s from each of the polling stations, with the signatures of observers from all campaigns — have never been produced.”

        Read Eric Brill’s analysis of this:

        Quote

        On election day, none of Mousavi’s registered observers complained that he had been barred from watching when ballot boxes were sealed in the morning. Three days later, Mousavi alleged this had occurred in many places, though he did not specify where (then or later). The Guardian Council speculated that some Mousavi observers may have missed the sealing because many had arrived late, often “one or two hours” after the polling station had opened. Election officials were not required to keep voters waiting until Mousavi’s observers arrived, and they had not. Once again, it is unnecessary to resolve this disagreement.

        Mousavi identified 73 representatives who had been turned away from polling stations. The Guardian Council investigated and confirmed this, but pointed out that none of the 73 individuals had been registered. It added that “there has been no report of any problem for those representatives who had ID cards.” Mousavi did not dispute either contention. The Guardian Council did confirm that five registered observers had been ejected from polling stations for alleged violations of election rules, though its report does not indicate whom they had represented.

        End Quote

        There’s more in Brill’s report.

        “4. I have never claimed that there is conclusive evidence of fraud. That evidence is likely to have been buried or destroyed.”

        Again, the “get out of jail free card”… Hardly a credible argument.

        “I have said that the legitimacy and transparency of the election is in question. I have further said that the process occurred amid mass detentions; raids on headquarters; interruption of communications; and threats and intimidations of campaign workers, politicians, and activists;”

        Welcome to Third World – and for that matter, even in the US – politics… 🙂

        “5. A question 44 months later — if the regime is convinced of its legitimacy, why are two of the Presidential candidates under indefinite house arrest?”

        Probably because the regime believes them to be in the pay of the West and considers them to be “seditionists”.

        For those wanting an excruciatingly detailed analysis of the 2009 election, Eric Brill’s report can’t be beat:

        Did Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Steal the 2009 Iran Election?
        http://brill-law.com/iran-2009-election—100710.html#ExcludedObservers

      • Cyrus says:

        Sorry expatbama but you’ve made no novel points and you have failed to provide any justification for your claim that the elections were fraudulent. As i said, there were MULTIPLE, INDEPENDENT polls not just one, and furthermore Mousavian did in fact have representatives at every polling station, and they signed off of every form 22s (and not a single one has said otherwise.) Those forms are not supposed to be “produced” to anyone, and in fact Mousavian never asked them to be produced — he never specified which polling station was fraudulently counting votes at all.

        This issue has been dealt with extensively (Brill for example) and it is about time you lot accepted reality.

      • expatbama says:

        Cyrus,

        Your reply — “you’ve made no novel points” — is not a reply to the five substantive arguments. You do not even comprehend the basic but important statement, ” I have never claimed that there is conclusive evidence of fraud….I have said that the legitimacy and transparency of the election is in question.”

        You only cite the Maryland poll. Your other “multiple, independent polls” — which can easily be dissected — are no better substitutes for the legitimacy of the electoral result.

        And you are simply wrong that Mousavi’s observers signed off on every Form 22s. Produce those Forms — as both the Mousavi and Karroubi campaigns asked during the process which was pre-empted by the Supreme Leader’s statement of 19 June 2009.

        The Brill report is no more than a re-statement of the official “findings” put out by the Guardian Council. It does not deal with the objections summarised in my five points.

  3. Sasan says:

    Scott Lucas is more obsessed with the Leveretts than he is with Iran. He is angry because the Leverett’s analysis of the situation in Iran and Iranian politics has always been accurate, while Lucas has constanly been proven to be ill informed.

  4. yousaf says:

    I think it is largely irrelevant what one thinks of foreign governments’ conduct, unless they are being completely ruthless e.g. genocide etc.

    Point is, Iranian regime is not pretty and no need to put lipstick on that pig — BUT, neither are the Chinese or the Saudis or Bahrianis (neither is much of USG’s conduct…), but we deal with China, Saudis and Bahrainis.

    Personally, I don’t like either — but the Iranian regime seems, if anything, much better than the Saudis. At least women can drive in Iran. And people can vote (even if the candidates are vetted by Guardian Council).

    So these discussions go nowhere: no-one is asking you to love the Iranian regime to recognize that it is in our own interest to deal with them, warts and all. Just like we dealt with China, and the horribly repressive Soviet “evil empire”.

    • “And people can vote (even if the candidates are vetted by Guardian Council).”

      I always like to ask what is the difference between an Iran election where the candidates are vetted by the Guardian Council and a US election where the candidates are vetted by the Republican and Democratic Party elite? 🙂

      And which is better? To have an election vetted by religious figures or vetted by corrupt politicians? 🙂 Is there even a difference? 🙂

      • yousaf says:

        Not a fan of either system: witness 2000 US election. Electoral college seems odd also. That is not a justification for the IRI regime. Moral relativism only gets one so far. IRI regime very repressive.

  5. Am not gonna leave a long post, but I’ll just say this: Dan, I think you currently run the most interesting blog on the issues surrounding Iran’s CWS and the unwholesome bullying of Iran by the US and the IAEA. Am not saying this to flatter you. Am saying this, because Scott is right. Read the book by the Leveretts and make your own judgement. This book is not simply a foreign policy briefing telling the US to back down from its decades long saberratling. It’s not a history book setting a propagandized record straight. In fact, many THOUSANDS times better such accounts exists in the libraries, written by Iranians or Iran-scholars. Going to Tehran is a complete whitewashing of the IRI.

    • And again the point is that Iran’s internal social conditions are neither relevant nor useful in resolving US relations with that country.

      This is a constant refrain from Iran-bashers: Ignore the US motivations for bashing Iran and instead concentrate on Iran’s internal social issues.

      The same approach was done with regard to Afghanistan (“the Taliban are Bad People”) and Iraq (“Saddam is a Bad Man”.)

      There are two motivations for this approach:

      1) It tries to establish that the arguer is “morally superior” to the foreign policy “realist” position. While that may be true, it’s completely irrelevant to rational action. Worse, taking the “moral high ground” – if it leads to war – results in hundreds of thousands of dead people. But this result has never bothered the “morally superior” in any historical period.

      2) It attempts to “justify” US hostile actions toward Iran – invariably with the aim of promoting “regime change” because the arguer thinks he will somehow benefit from that result.

      It’s an intellectually dishonest, personally aggrandizing, grandstanding, scheming, and generally disgusting approach to world affairs.

      • Of course internal Iranian conditions are important factors in US-Iranian relations (this goes, whether you are a “realist” or not – which in the end is just a honorific term for describing an antiquated and totally meaningless ideological-methodological straightjacket). Internal US conditions are also a relevant factor in those relations. The reasons for this are so trivial that a discussion about it is superfluous. I am not an “Iran-basher” (I am Iranian!), nor am I trying to take a “moral high ground” to make the case for “regime change” (I am totally against that, and I don’t accept your non sequiturs!). There is an ethical balance to be respected, and those who care for truth should take that balance seriously. Rehashing IRI propaganda under the guise of “realism” can only stem from a distorted notion of what it means to be “realistic”, and surely it doesn’t merit “novel” objections.

  6. Bibi Jon says:

    Respectfully disagree with Yousaf, and Richard.

    If indeed “discussions of Iran’s political system or internal governance are irrelevant to the issue of rational and ‘realist’ US foreign policy, let alone the nuclear issue” then Going to Tehran could have dispensed with a lot of material. The book could have been a boilerplate argument for dealing with country …. (fill the blank as per Dan with the words Iran, ” China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, or Uzbekistan”).

    It seems to me that discussing Iran for a Western audience required 2 things:

    a) Bust the myths that decades of MSM distortions have created which holds that the “Iranian regime is not pretty and no need to put lipstick on that pig”, One cannot ignore the very real impediment to ‘realist’ thought/policy/action which the MSM’s “pig” caricature of the Iranian government actually is.

    b) Show concrete social results/achievements (way beyond “women can drive”) which explain why the Iranian government enjoys popular support as a launch pad to argue why Iran has invented an attractive narrative for the Mid East, Muslim world, and the developing world generally. Surely this is not something that China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, or Uzbekistan have offered. While the economic/technological success of the West/Japan/SK etc. were a model for the constructionist mindset of the 1950’s generation, long decades of getting nowhere near those ideals have convinced most folk in developing countries that it was the wrong model for them. Ditto nationalism, and communism.

    What sets the Leveretts apart is their courage to take the bull by the horn knowing they would engender cognitive dissonance among well-meaning intelligent audiences, and outright hostility by agenda-driven Scott Lucases of this world.

    • yousaf says:

      Well, a lot of things the IRI does do not appeal to me, personally. This will be hard for you to change. The IRI may appeal to a majority of the people in the country, but they do not appeal to me.

      I still think we need to talk to them.

      A lot of things that the Saudis and Chinese do also do not appeal to me, yet we talk to them.

      In fact, I think the tyrannical Saudi regime is so repressive that we should critically examine whether it makes sense to continue to coddle them, given that it is likely that the country may be on a path to Egypt 2.0 sometime soon.

      • Bibi Jon says:

        We seem to be on a convergent path, and I don’t want to derail that in any way. I certainly do not wish to, nor do I give myself the right to change your opinions. Just to be sure you don’t get me wrong, let me say for example that I find a literal application of 7th century penal code as un-Islamic in a 21st century where more humane methods of punishment are available.

        I don’t mean to be persistent, but also I don’t wish my larger meaning to be lost in some oxymoronic debate about ‘governments’ and ‘prettiness.’

        I think the lakes of ink expended by MSM in demonizing the Iranian government can only be explained by the relevance negative public opinion has to the inability of governments, academics and analysts to formulate a blindingly obvious course of detente to the manifest advantage of the US.

        Thus I find the Leveretts’ myth busting about the Iranian government as central/fundamental to their advocacy for a US course correction.

      • Solon says:

        BiBiJon,
        You’re giving US govt ministers of propaganda and MSM, their megaphones, too much credit and not noticing the relevant history: Generals — and warmongers — always fight the last war.

        In the case of Iran, they are using a well-worn battle plan.

        WWI was called “total war” because it involved the total population: the entire polity was target for that other innovation in warfare, full spectrum control of media. British actually practiced the genre first — they produced dozens of works of fiction demonizing Germans — but US followed closely, setting up Creel Commission on lines of Ed Bernay’s “public relations” tactics. They too commissioned writers of popular fiction to create the equivalent of “car dealer plots assassination of Arab diplomat;” used radio, movies (Hollywood entertainment), newspapers, magazines, even hired thousands of “4 minute men” to give speeches in coffee houses, etc.

        The message had a controlled focus: Germans are barbarians, brutes; kill the Hun, hate the Hun. The goal was to incite hatred of Germany, in order to obtain popular buy-in for a war against Germany. It worked in WWI and it worked again, with some added elements — an economic boycott of Germany — to gin up WWII.

        Interesting sidenote, especially relevant to all the bellyaching about “the wimmen.” Suffragettes sought the vote in the era preceding WWI. Wilson needed women’s support to take the US into the war in Europe. He made a deal with the Suffragettes: support entry of US into war, and women get the vote. So much for women being peacemakers. They can be bought just like anybody else, just have a different medium of exchange.

    • Bibi Jon:

      “It seems to me that discussing Iran for a Western audience required 2 things:

      a) Bust the myths that decades of MSM distortions have created which holds that the “Iranian regime is not pretty and no need to put lipstick on that pig”, One cannot ignore the very real impediment to ‘realist’ thought/policy/action which the MSM’s “pig” caricature of the Iranian government actually is.”

      I agree. When I say that discussions of the internal conditions of Iran are “irrelevant” I refer to the practice of shifting the discussion from of the geopolitical goals of the US vs Iran to issues of Iranian internal politics and civil rights issues which can not and should not be part of the discussion at all.

      In other words, while it would be valuable from the point of view of the US electorate to not be exposed to MSM distortions of the facts, it would be better if the US electorate would understand the latter point – that it’s none of their business what Iran does internally. I suspect there are very few countries where the electorate spends their time worrying about the internal civil rights of some other country on the opposite side of the world.

      I think for the most part the US electorate doesn’t particularly care about ANY country other than their own. They uncritically accept whatever they’re fed by the MSM because of this basic apathy. So it’s easy to paint Iran as a “Big Bad” place.

      For the people supposedly responsible for US international relations, however, the issue of Iran’s internal conditions should be irrelevant. Understand them, yes. Concern oneself about them, no. The Leveretts do the right thing.

      “b) Show concrete social results/achievements (way beyond “women can drive”) which explain why the Iranian government enjoys popular support as a launch pad to argue why Iran has invented an attractive narrative for the Mid East, Muslim world, and the developing world generally.”

      But this is a side issue. It is useful only to explain why US influence is dwindling and Iran’s is increasing. The real issue is what are the US motivations for its behavior in the Middle East.

      I’ve emphasized this point before at the Leveretts’ site: If pundits aren’t prepared to explore the REAL reasons why the US is behaving as it does, it will be useless to discuss how wonderful Iran is – because the US elite doesn’t care.

      And as long as the US elite controls the MSM, nothing is going to change in terms of how the US electorate regards Iran.

      In other words, Iran is not the issue at all. The issue is the United States and the goals and behavior of its ruling elite. Until that is comprehended by intelligent, positively motivated people and communicated clearly to the US electorate, nothing can or will change.

  7. Solon says:

    Dan — Is there a way to access the webcast of the Penn State Symposium?
    Thanks

    • Solon says:

      PS the posted link to audio is password protected.
      I heard part of your speech; the conclusion was particularly brilliant. I wanted to listen to it more closely.

  8. yousaf says:

    On how the Iran War — I mean Iraq War — was sold by the Weasels of Mass Deception:

    http://maddowblog.msnbc.com/_news/2013/02/18/17005939-hubris-selling-the-iraq-war-the-rumsfeld-memos

  9. Nice article by Franklin Lamb who is one of the few journalists to actually GO THERE.

    The Iranians and Unconditional Friendship
    http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/02/18/the-iranians-and-unconditional-friendship/

  10. ExpatBama: Let’s look at this point by point…

    “1. The Leveretts’ primary source for their assertions on internal Iranian dynamics is the “visiting Iranian academic”…”

    In the book, perhaps. However, the Leveretts have spent a fair amount of time IN Iran and have talked to people of all walks of life, as well as Iranian academics and politicians. Ignoring these sources of their information does your credibility no good.

    “he has provided most of their claimed information. On occasion, they have referred to Iranian State and semi-official media to complement this.”

    Again, ignoring their personal visits to Iran debunks this statement.

    “There is no indication that Flynt drew upon sources in the State Department or his former employers in the CIA and NSC.”

    Irrelevant. “There is no indication” does not mean there WAS NO such drawing.

    “To my knowledge, the Leveretts did not pay any attention — in their published writings — to the internal situation in Iran before 12 June 2009.”

    Again “to your knowledge” is not exactly credible. Neither is the point relevant.

    “there is a difference between engaging arguments and making sweeping generalisations and personal attacks.”

    I haven’t read the book, but I have read numerous posts of the Leveretts where they express their disagreement with a number of alleged “Iran pundits”. I’ve never seen an ad hominem attack EVER. I suspect your definition of that term is different from the consensus.

    “They repeatedly deny that any human rights violations have taken place in the Islamic Republic.”

    This is just bullcrap.

    “they justify some of these with their support of regime claims of sedition.”

    More bullcrap.

    “4. The account of the 2009 election is selective, to say the least, and supported by no more than a reference to a suspect autumn 2009 poll (as if a poll can “prove” an electoral result).”

    Perhaps in the book, they did not cite the IIRC sixteen other studies of the Iranian election which prove conclusively that the election was not fraudulent. San Francisco lawyer Eric Brill, a former frequent poster at the site, has provided a write up on the subject as well.

    There is ZERO evidence that the elections were fraudulent, one of the main points being that there were NO reports from Mousavian election monitors of even one single documented case of fraud. NONE.

    “It ignores the evidence that campaign workers were being harassed”

    Again, not one single documented case of election fraud reported by Mousavian election booth monitors.

    “A. A “realist”, in approaching US-Iran relations, would not make one-sided, polemical claims such as “US is losing, Iran is winning” in the Middle East and beyond. He/she would assess the evidence before casting such sweeping judgements.”

    Nonsense. A comment with no content whatsoever. “Pundits” make such statements all the time.

    “B. A “realist” does not ignore the internal situation in the countries with which he/she deals, for a realist foreign policy has to be based on an understanding of those countries.”

    And the Leveretts have a considerable understanding of Iran’s internal situation, based on documented facts and personal visits. Your statement is itself a “sweeping over-generalization.”

    “2. However, the Leveretts’ unsubstantiated claim of “favourable disposition” and “general support” of a majority for the “government system” should not stand as judgement. Apart from their oft-repeated claims of a shaky and now-dated 2009 poll, they offer no evidence for this.”

    They have repeatedly cited evidence for this. Further, such evidence is not hard to find, from polls in Iran, from journalists’ reports from Iran (see the article by Franklin Lamb I cited below), and the frequent public celebrations in Iran.

    You’ve offered zero evidence for your assertion that the regime is not generally accepted by the majority of the population.

    “But there is no way of knowing because there is no free environment for discussion in Iran.”

    Zero evidence for that assertion. See for example the Lamb piece I cite below.

    “4. It is possible to support engagement and genuine negotiation with the Islamic Republic — which I do — without being blind to the situation inside the country.”

    The Leveretts are blind to nothing about Iran. Your post is mostly an ad-hominem attack on the Leveretts with zero evidence to back up your assertions.

  11. Dan Joyner says:

    Hey everybody, I’m getting the sense that we are devolving into an argumentative stage that could just go on indefinitely, and I know that this is only replicating the arguments that have been made about the Leveretts’ book elsewhere, so let’s pull back from the tit for tat exchanges. Anyone new to the discussion, or anyone with something original or macro to say about the issues is still welcome.

    • I don’t think there IS anything “original” to say about the issues! 🙂

      I know all I do these days is regurgitate the same points over and over. 🙂

      Problem is: No one’s listening. 🙂

    • Jay says:

      Dan,

      I think that the “macro” issue remains relevant, while the micro arguments, as you point out, may be repetitive.

      Respect for personal opinions should not be equated with license for groundless assertions – a disease that seems to be far too widespread in the mainstream media. It appears that it is permissible nowadays to show up to the media debate with ones own set of facts regardless of whether or not these facts withstand scrutiny! Within the boundaries of this macro phenomena, entirely acceptable statements of the form, “In my opinion Iran’s election was fraudulent although I have no evidence to prove it”, is replaced with “Iran’s fraudulent election”. The former statement clearly alerts the reader/viewer that an opinion without evidence is being expressed, while the latter offers a statement of fact!

      What seems to me to be objectionable is to insist on the factual nature of a statement without the ability to provide acceptable evidence to demonstrate such. This act is particularly troubling when committed by an academic because it reinforces the view of the public that rational and critical discussion is simply another form of “school yard bullying” where the loudest mouth wins! An academic making assertions in the public arena should be concerned with actions that tear down the foundations of the very institution that he or she values.


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