Iran’s Election and the Rift Inside the New America Foundation

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clemons leverett mousavizadeh molavi iran.jpg
The events in Iran over the past week have raised a number of important and difficult questions. What is the source of Iranian discontent? What is the likely outcome of the protests?
Was the election fraudulent or not?
And, most importantly from an American perspective, What does all of this mean for American strategy?
Suffice it to say that there are multiple schools of thought inside the New America Foundation with one school led by Steve Clemons, Amjad Atallah, and Afshin Molavi — and another on a different page with Flynt Leverett and Patrick Doherty. Parag Khanna is out there — but may have a foot in both camps. Nader Mousavizadeh has a nuanced approach he’s promoting called “Option Ignore Ahmadinejad” which tilts toward Clemons — and Terror Free Tomorrow’s Ken Ballen tilts toward Leverett and Doherty.
To discuss the ongoing events in Iran and address these questions, the New America Foundation is hosting an event TODAY from 3:30pm5:00 pm.
The complete roster of participants is below:
featured speakers
Ken Ballen
President, Terror Free Tomorrow: The Center for Public Opinion
Author, “Iranians Want More Democracy,” CNN, June 16, 2009
Steve Clemons
Director, American Strategy Program
New America Foundation
Publisher, TheWashingtonNote.com
Flynt Leverett
Director, Geopolitics of Energy Initiative
New America Foundation
Author, “Ahmadinejad won. Get over it,” Politico.com, June 15, 2009
Afshin Molavi
Fellow, New America Foundation
Author, Persian Pilgrimages: Journeys Across Iran
Nader Mousavizadeh
Consulting Senior Fellow, International Institute for Strategic Studies
Former Special Assistant to U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan
Author, “Option Ignore Ahmadinejad,” Washington Post, June 18,2009

moderator

Nicholas Schmidle
Fellow, New America Foundation
Former Student, University of Tehran
Author, To Live or to Perish Forever: Two Tumultuous Years in Pakistan
– Ben Katcher

Comments

31 comments on “Iran’s Election and the Rift Inside the New America Foundation

  1. JOHN CHUCKMAN says:

    AHMADINEJAD WON INDEED AND THE REAL SOURCE OF INTERFERENCE IN IRAN’S ELECTION IS LIKELY THE UNITED STATES
    John Chuckman
    A recent article called “Ahmadinejad Won, Get Over It” by Flynt and Hillary Leverett is not the only source with serious credentials offering reasonable, non-sensational explanations for events around Iran’s presidential election.
    Kaveh Afrasiabi, a scholar who once taught at Tehran University and is the author of several books, says many of the same things.
    Close analysis of the election results gives absolutely no objective basis for making charges of a rigged election. Mousavi’s expected win – expected, that is, by the Western press and by Mousavi himself – never had any basis in fact.
    Afrasiabi also tells us that Ahmadinejad is extremely popular with the poor in Iran, a very large constituency, and he tells us further that Ahmadinejad spent a great deal of time traveling through the country during his first term listening to them.
    Ahmadinejad is himself a man of fairly humble origins with a good deal of genuine sympathy for the poor.
    Of course, the public in the West has been treated to a barrage of propaganda about Ahmadinejad, conditioned by countless disingenuous stories and editorials to regard him as the essence of evil, ready to stir up trouble at a moment’s notice. These perceptions, too, have no basis in fact.
    Ahmadinejad is a highly educated man, ready and willing to communicate with leaders in the West, although given to poking fun at some of the shibboleths we hold to. His office as president is not a powerful one in an Iran where power is divided amongst several groups, just as it is in the United States. He has no war-making power.
    Even his infamous statement about Israel – mistranslated consistently to make it sound terrible – was nothing more than the same kind of statement made by the CIA in its secret study predicting the peaceful end of today’s Israel in twenty years or the statement by Libya’s leader, Gaddafi, saying Israel would be drowned in a sea of Arabs.
    Unpleasant undoubtedly for some, the statement was neither criminal nor threatening when properly understood.
    The post-election troubles in Iran definitely reflect the interference of security services from at least the United States and Britain. We have several serious pieces of evidence.
    First, Iran discovered and arrested just recently a group with sophisticated bomb equipment from Britain. They were caught red-handed, although our press has chosen to be pretty much silent on the matter. Of course, we all recall the arrest of a group of fifteen British sailors a couple of years ago, an event treated in our press as the snatching of innocents on the high seas when in fact they were on a secret mission in disputed waters claimed by Iran.
    Robert Fisk recently wrote an excellent piece about photocopies of what purported to be a confidential official government report to the head of state, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, regarding the election results. It attributed a ridiculously small share of the vote to Ahmadinejad and was somehow being waved by Mousavi’s followers all over the streets. It seems clearly invented as a provocation, much in the fashion of the famous “yellow cake” document before America’s invasion of Iraq.
    We know that Bush committed several hundred million dollars towards a program creating instability in Iran and that Obama has never renounced the operation.
    Iran, surrounded by threatening enemies and the daily recipient of dire threats from Israel and the United States, has absolutely no history of aggression: it has started no conflicts in its entire modern era, but naturally enough it becomes concerned about its security when threatened by nuclear-armed states.
    Such threats from the United States are not regarded idly by anyone, coming as they do, from a nation occupying two nations of Western and Central Asia, a nation whose invasions have caused upwards of a million deaths and sent at least two million into exile as refugees.
    It is a nation moreover that definitely threatened, behind the scenes, to use nuclear weapons against Afghanistan immediately after 9/11, helping end that threat being one of the main reasons for Britain’s joining the pointless invasion in the first place.
    In assessing the genuine threats in the world, please remember what we all too often forget: the United States is the only nation ever actually to use nuclear weapons, twice, on civilians. It also came close to using them again in the early 1950s hysteria over communism – twice, once against China and once in a pre-emptive strike at the Soviet Union – and again later considered using them in Vietnam.
    As for the other regular source of threats against, Israel, it is a nation which has attacked every neighbor that it has at one time or another. In the last two years alone, it has killed more people in Lebanon and Gaza than the number who perished in 9/11. It is also a secret nuclear power, having broken every rule and international law to obtain and assist in proliferating nuclear weapons.
    Of course, there are many middle class people in Iran who would like a change of government. Such yearnings are no secret and exist everywhere in the world where liberal government is missing, including millions of Americans under years of George Bush and his motivating demon, Dick Cheney.
    But saying that is not the same thing as saying that a majority of Iran’s people want a change in government or that the election was a fraud.
    And remember, too, Iran had a democratic government more than half a century ago, that of Mohammed Mosaddeq, but it was overthrown in 1953 and the bloody Shah installed in its place by the very same governments now meddling in Iran, the United States and Britain.

    Reply

  2. Paul Norheim says:

    Toppling the shah took at least 1/2 year, some say one year – with longer periods of silence, no
    demonstrations etc.
    It seems a bit premature to make a complete list of “losers” after just a couple of weeks.
    Things may happen before Christmas that will turn at least Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Israel into valid
    candidates on the list of “losers”.

    Reply

  3. WigWag says:

    Actually, on second thought, I would like to amend my list of losers from the Iran imbroglio.
    My revised list of losers is:
    1) The Iranian people
    2) Flynt Leverett
    3) The Shia in Iraq
    4) Hezbollah
    5) Hamas
    6) Syria
    7) Some very disappointed readers of the Washington Note.

    Reply

  4. WigWag says:

    “With the benefit of hindsight, we now know that the Iraqis had a far less positive view of the United States than “we” had been led to believe. And now they seem to prepare for civil war.”
    Yes the effect of the Iran imbroglio on Iraq has not much been commented on. I do think that if the United States leaves (as Obama promised), that a civil war is on the way in Iraq.
    A weakened Iran will be considerably less able to assist its Shia brethren in Iraq. This means that the chance that the Malaki government (or any Shia led government that replaces it) will prevail over the Sunni and Kurds just got alot smaller. Moreover, the Shia in Iraq are divided into numerous factions that hate each other; Iran always served as the arbiter between them. A preoccupied Iran may very well result in greater infighting amongst the Iraqi Shia weakening them vis a vis the Sunni and Kurds even more.
    A good guess is that Iran will end up breaking into three states; an oil-rich Shia south; an impoverished Sunni heartland and an oil rich Kurdish north. A wild card is whether Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the rest of the Sunni Arab world will tolerate the Iraqi Sunni being relegated to controlling a portion of Iraq that contains no oil. If they intervene things could get interesting. I doubt they would intervene militarily but Saudi Arabia might use its enormous oil reserves to punish the Shia in Iraq (and in Iran) by driving down the price of oil.
    Regardless of what happens, I think the big winners in all of this are the Kurds. The Sunni and the Shia each want to control Iraq and its oil wealth; the Kurds just want out of Iraq. In the coming civil war, whichever side forms an alliance with the Kurds will probably win; the Kurds will have enormous leverage and their price will be clear; control of Kirkuk, influence in Mosul and a graceful exit from Iraq.
    By the way, the Kurds share a large border with Iran and there is an armed Kurdish resistance movement in Iran. Given all of this it is unlikely that Iran will want to “mess with” the Iraqi Kurds.
    The Kurds have two other plusses in their favor; a longstanding friendship with the Israelis who are providing significant military assistance to the Peshmerga and a slowly developing friendship with the Turks who can benefit from Kurdish energy products flowing to Europe through Turkey. The Turks are also coming to appreciate the Iraqi Kurds rejection of the PKK.
    In rank order, here are the biggest losers from the Iran imbroglio:
    1) The Iranian people
    2) The Shia in Iraq
    3) Hezbollah
    4) Hamas
    5) Syria
    In rank order, here are the biggest winners from the Iran imbroglio:
    1) Egypt
    2) Palestinian Authority/Fatah
    3) Iraqi Kurds
    4) Saudi Arabia
    5) Jordan
    6) Israel
    7) Iraqi Sunni
    8) New Lebanese Government

    Reply

  5. Paul Norheim says:

    Good luck with Proust. One of my brothers is a devoted Woodhouse fan. Guess I should check him out.
    Just to sum up what I said in my long post that disappeared:
    The Iraqi`population is demographically quite similar to Iran: Most people had no memory of any other
    oppressor than Saddam and his infamous sons pre 2003.
    With the benefit of hindsight, we now know that the Iraqis had a far less positive view of the United States
    than “we” had been led to believe. And now they seem to prepare for civil war.
    But who knows? Perhaps some historians will say, 200 years from now, that Bush did the right thing?
    On the other hand: they won`t have a clue about what would have happened had he not invaded the
    country. I think the judgement of history is a bit overrated.

    Reply

  6. WigWag says:

    Yes, the New York Review of Books is a good idea.
    I am planning on starting my Proust adventure in July. I just finished reading Don Quixote which I have read many times. The mundane nature of the Knight of the Sorrowful Face’s death after such a life writ large always leaves me a little melancholy. I guess it reinforces for me that regardless of how big or small our personality is, in the end we are all insignificant; regardless of how consequential our mortality is to us, ultimately it doesn’t matter very much.
    To cheer myself up before starting Proust I am reading two wonderful little books simultaneously; Christopher Isherwood’s “Mr. Norris Changes Trains”/”The Berlin Stories.” I don’t know if your familiar with these books but they are the basis for the Show and Movie “Cabaret.” They highlight Isherwood’s adventures as a young man in Berlin in the 1920s.
    At the same time I am reading some P.G. Woodhouse short stories from the “Jeeves” series. They are quite light-hearted and entertaining and they describe the adventures and misadventures of the genetically enfeebled members of the British upper classes in the years before World War I.
    I frequently think that if I am to be reincarnated, I would happily come back as any of the characters in Woodhouse’s books, but especially Jeeves or Wooster.
    Anyway, so sorry for going on and on. Once I get into Proust I will let you know what I think.
    ps: The Kindle is great. I’ve only had it for two months and I am already wondering how I ever lived without it.

    Reply

  7. Paul Norheim says:

    We live in strange times, WigWag. You are in Florida; I am in Bergen, Norway, and we have an online discussion about
    stuff going on in Iran, based on rumors, news reports and more or less informed “experts”.
    When I checked this site just now and saw your last reply, I was investigating a rather unknown band called Badfinger,
    one of the bands released on the Apple label created by the Beatles in 1967. I found them on “Spotify”, a brilliant and
    very popular free music service that has not yet reached America, where you can search for all kinds of music and
    stream it live. I chose the paid version – 10 dollars a month – where you get CD quality and no advertising.
    And the other day, you mentioned that you may download Proust on your Kindle (unfortunately not yet available in
    Norway). A library on a Kindle… I never stop wondering about this kind of stuff – perhaps it started with the industrial
    revolution: you are sitting in the restaurant section of a train, having dinner late at night, talking, drinking wine, while
    the train drives at high speed through forests and over mountains covered with snow.
    To your question: I am not familiar with the English translations; I have only read an excellent Norwegian translation, so
    unfortunately I can`t be of any help here. What I can say is: This is a very very long novel. Occasionally, you may get
    bored for ten, twenty, even thirty pages. Then suddenly something happens, and you are absorbed by what you read.
    The first 70 pages or so is a kind of extract of the whole book, where he also articulates the philosophy or poetics of
    the book. The second book may be read as a separate novel about a love affair. Later on, there are some very decadent
    figures from the aristocracy, and in the end, the narrator sees all these characters getting old, with wrinkles and white
    hair. The life, habits and manners in the French aristocracy in the beginning of the 20`th century doesn`t interest me
    much. But Proust`s ability to see, think and write may make it really worthwhile, if you get fascinated by his way of
    seeing things (which is, by the way, inseparable from his style of writing.)
    Perhaps you could search for some reliable reviews – in places like the New York Review of Books, or the (British) Times
    Literary Supplement (TLS), to get an idea about the different translations?

    Reply

  8. WigWag says:

    No, I never saw it, Paul but I would like to.
    On anther matter, I am planning to take you up on your suggestion about Proust. I wonder if you would suggest any particular english translation or “Remembrance of Things Past.”
    Any help will be appreciated.
    With much thanks!
    WigWag

    Reply

  9. Paul Norheim says:

    WigWag (and Steve),
    I wrote a long reply to you many hours ago under your last comment above (Iranian demography). It passed the
    captcha and was available for several hours. Now it has mysteriously disappeared from this thread.
    Did you read it? Anybody else who read it and can confirm this?

    Reply

  10. WigWag says:

    I should also point out, Paul that more than 50 percent of Iranians are 32 years old or younger and the median age is an astoundingly young 26. 74 percent of the country is 65 or younger. That means most Iranians don’t personally remember Mosedeigh and a majority of Iranians don’t even remember the Shah. While they’ve read about Mosedeigh and the Shah in their history books these historical figures probably have about as much saliency for most Iranians as the Viet Nam War has for graduating college seniors in the United States.
    The only oppressors that the majority of Iranians have ever known are the Mullahs and the rabble who enforce clerical rule.
    My guess is that the United States is far more popular in Iran than perhaps you think because the tyrants once supported by the Americans are a distant memory while the tyrants of the moment can be seen hunting down innocent demonstrators in the streets tonight.

    Reply

  11. WigWag says:

    You make a number of good points, Paul. I’m no historian but I have a strong suspicion that French and Dutch assistance to the American revolutionaries was largely motivated by self interest too.
    I don’t suggest the parallels are perfect. But the idea that foreign intervention is in itself bad (a point repeated frequently at the Washington Note) is disproved by the American Revolution. Foreign intervention was the key to its success.
    There is no doubt that the United States played a destructive role with its toppling of Mosedeigh and support of the Shah. But a good argument can be made that we are merely compounding the mistake by not intervening on behalf of the student led freedom fighters. This is the chance for the United States to make amends by supporting the “good guys” instead of the “bad guys.” Of course the good guys are the ones demonstrating peacefully for their votes to be fairly counted. The bad guys are the ones cracking heads or ordering heads to be cracked.
    As for U.S. intervention, Leverett himself has identified U.S. interests in Iran as (1)preventing it from obtaining nuclear weapons; (2) reducing its support for Hamas, Hezbollah and other terrorist groups and (3) obtaining Iranian help in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq.
    The question now at hand is what is the most cost effective way to achieve those objectives. My argument is simply that Leverett’s strategy of seeking a grand bargain is less attractive today than it was before the imbroglio Iran is now facing. More muscular policies that previously may have been less likely to work than the “grand bargain” may now be more likely to work than the “grand bargain.” A realist who defines strategy purely as what’s in the interest of the United States (which is what Leverett does) should be open to considering a new approach. Instead Leverett has to insist that everything today is the same as it was before. This is plainly not true.
    As for my analogy with Eastern Europe, with the benefit of hindsight we now know that citizens of most eastern European nations despised the Soviets and viewed the Americans and its Western European allies as liberators. Apparently the Iranians (at least the millions who hate the regime) have a far more positive view of the United States than we had been led to believe.
    Like the Eastern Europeans before them, the United States and its political leadership seems to be more popular in Iran than their own leaders.
    You have to admit that it’s quite ironic.

    Reply

  12. Paul Norheim says:

    WigWag said: “Without foreign “interference” the American Revolution would have failed. Of course
    the Dutch and the French had their own fish to fry with the British; like the United States today,
    they were motivated by their own interests not just by sympathy for the insurgents.
    In light of this history, it’s hard to understand why American support of an insurrection in Iran
    today is any more suspicious or illegitimate than French and Dutch support to American insurgents
    233 years ago.”
    ———————-
    In light of Iran`s own history – especially from 1953 through 1978-80 and the American
    interference in the Iran-Iraq war – you end up with a rather different picture: US interference
    exclusively motivated by their own interests. You can`t seriously expect the Iranians to believe that
    the Obama administration represents a complete change – a belief you yourself have ridiculed on
    this blog since long before he was elected?
    It seems obvious to me that the only way America today could try to convince the Iranians that
    they have motives beyond their own interests, is by not interfering at all.
    Watching to which extent you have suggested US interference in Iran since the events started, it
    looks like you completely ignore how US influence is perceived by the Iranians, and how justified
    their perception is. In recent posts you have contemplated anything from invading and bombing
    the country, to assassinating the current leaders; and in one of your comments above, you say:
    “(…) the United States now has other tools to promote regime change that won’t require an
    invasion or massive military intervention. Enhanced sanctions, arming and training insurgent
    groups in Iran, supporting separatist minorities or even a naval blockade now have a realistic
    chance of promoting regime change from within”.
    Comparing full “support” to the “democratic opposition” in Iran with US support to people in
    Eastern Europe who opposed Soviet-dominated regimes during the cold war, is utterly misplaced.
    After all, America never sabotaged democratic elections to instal despots in Eastern Europe, and
    they never encouraged wars between neighboring countries and assassinations of elected political
    leaders in the region – in contrast to what they routinely did in South- and Central America and
    the Middle East.

    Reply

  13. Paul Norheim says:

    “Paul, I was thinking about Leverett’s admonition that, if anything, Khamenei and Ahmadinejad
    were likely to become even more recalcitrant in negotiations with the West. Upon reflection,
    I’m not sure I think this is right.” (WigWag)
    Hard to say, WigWag. I don`t know if you read Dan Kervick`s question in another thread
    (before the UK diplomats were expelled):
    “Do you know why the Iranians have been so determined to single out the UK as the chief
    source of foreign intervention?”
    I replied: “(…) You may also ask: why didn`t they single out the Americans? Perhaps they want
    to blame the foreigners to divert from the internal power struggle, but want to keep the doors
    open for Obama, to see, when all this is over, what his invitation to dialog really implies?
    So they blamed the UK instead.”

    Reply

  14. ... says:

    i don’t have time to respond thoroughly as i have to go out for the day, but suffice to say wigwag will find a way to justify ‘meddling’ in others affairs, while panning ron paul at the same time… why am i not surprised? lol.. keep on having your star spangled bullshit meddle in faraway countries and watch how it will come back to bite you in the star spangled ass..

    Reply

  15. WigWag says:

    That’s a good point, and you could have cited the fact that United States Senators weren’t popularly elected until the 17th Amendment was passed in 1913.
    All of this puts me in mind of several remarks I’ve seen on the comment section of numerous posts about the Iran imbroglio. Many people seem to feel that U.S. interference in the current dispute between the Iranian government and Iranian citizens somehow delegitimizes the revolt. The suggestion seems to be that any American interference on behalf of those fighting the regime is nefarious and morally out of bounds.
    This is a strange conception coming from Steve’s American readership who rise when the “Star Spangled Banner” is played before the start of a baseball game. Had their view prevailed in the 18th century, they would instead be standing to sing “God Bless the Queen.”
    I was particularly amused to see that Ron Paul was the only congressman to vote against the resolution criticizing the Iranian mullahs. The strange little man never seems to tire of citing George Washington’s admonition against foreign entanglements. What Paul is too dense to understand is that but for “foreign entanglements” he might be serving in the House of Commons but their would be no House of Representatives.
    As every school child knows, the first thing the Continental Congress did to promote the colonies revolutionary aims was to send Benjamin Franklin and later John Adams to France to enlist French support against the British. Later, Adams traveled to the Netherlands to obtain Dutch financing for the American Revolution. Without logistical and financial assistance from the French and the Dutch, the U.S. Revolution would have been still-born.
    In support of the American Revolution, France provided arms, uniforms and military supplies. They provided idealistic young officers like the Marquis de Lafayette who volunteered their services and in many cases their personal wealth to help equip, train and lead the fledgling Continental army. French military aid was decisive in the American victory and the French Army and Navy fought on the side of (and sometimes side by side with) colonial forces.
    Politically, French recognition of American independence in 1778 was a tremendous shot in the arm to the beleaguered colonists. Had the Dutch not loaned the Continental Congress the funds to purchase muskets and ammunition, the bankrupt colonists would have had no choice but to surrender.
    Without foreign “interference” the American Revolution would have failed. Of course the Dutch and the French had their own fish to fry with the British; like the United States today, they were motivated by their own interests not just by sympathy for the insurgents.
    In light of this history, it’s hard to understand why American support of an insurrection in Iran today is any more suspicious or illegitimate than French and Dutch support to American insurgents 233 years ago.
    Is 21st century Iran the same as 18th century North America? Of course not. But those of us enjoying the fruits of foreign intervention today should be a little more reticent before we criticize American support for other insurgencies and liberation movements like the one taking place in Iran.
    And someone should teach Congressman Paul a little history.
    David McCullough’s book on John Adams and the Evan Thomas biography of Jefferson might be a good place for him to start. Those who oppose American intervention to help the Iranian freedom fighters might learn something from reading these books too.

    Reply

  16. Dan Kervick says:

    The right of Americans to elect the President of the US is also not part of the US constitution, which vests that power in electors and leaves the details of choosing electors to the states. The tradition of popular election of the President evolved over time, without the need to replace the constitution.
    The Iranian constitution puts the job of selecting the Leader in the Assembly of Experts, who are themselves elected. My understanding is that as a practical matter the Experts probably have some latitude in determining the procedures they might use in the future in choosing the Leader. But the Iranian constitution also contains procedures for amendment.
    The other freedoms Iranians are seeking are all plausibly, though not ineluctably, derived from articles 19 through 42. The Islamic Republic is still young, so the future shape of its actual constitution is still flexible, and depends on what sort of construction key historical events and decisions, and evolving tradition, place on the written constitution.

    Reply

  17. WigWag says:

    Dan K., you may be right that my conception of what Iranians want and their conception of what they want are different. Sitting this far away it would be presumptuous of me to claim any special or first hand knowledge that I obviously don’t have.
    But I think you go a little too far when you say,
    “The freedoms Iranians want are vouchsafed and promised in the IRI constitution. So Iranians demanding more freedoms may well think they are just asking the IRI to live out the true meaning of its creed.”
    The Ballen poll found that in excess of 75 percent of Iranians want the supreme leader to be elected by universal franchise. Amazingly, if I remember the poll correctly, a greater percentage of Ahmadinejad supporters were in favor of a popularly elected Supreme Leader than Mousavi supporters.
    The right to elect the Supreme Leader is not vouchsafed by the Iranian Constitution. The Iranian Constitution assigns the responsibility of selecting the Supreme Leader to a small group of clerics; that’s one of the things that makes it a theocracy. If the majority of Iranians do indeed desire the right to elect the Supreme Leader, that undermines the clerical nature of the State. I would say the Iranians who feel this way are looking for a pretty fundamental change in their governing structure.
    Paul, I was thinking about Leverett’s admonition that, if anything, Khamenei and Ahmadinejad were likely to become even more recalcitrant in negotiations with the West. Upon reflection, I’m not sure I think this is right.
    The two despots are obviously preoccupied with their own survival. They have demonstrated by their actions that regime change is something they want to avoid at all costs. Perhaps they will be even more incentavized to ink a deal with Obama and the Europeans that precludes regime change than they were before when the regime was somewhat less imperiled. I think it’s possible that they will make a deal more easily not less easily than before.
    But who knows?

    Reply

  18. Paul Norheim says:

    WigWag and Dan:
    the quotes above from The Guardian are also interesting in light
    of what WigWag said about Flynt Leverett being pissed off
    because his Grand Bargain theory is imperiled. However, this is of
    course quite serious stuff. Obviously, and unfortunately, Leverett
    was right when he assumed that Iran will “raise the bar” for future
    talks if Ahmadinejad and Khamenei survive this.

    Reply

  19. Paul Norheim says:

    The Guardian has more today on the Iranian accusations against
    foreign powers – especially the UK. Some interesting excerpts:
    “Following the cue given by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Friday,
    when he described Britain as the “most evil” of Iran’s foreign
    foes, pro-government media have escalated their attacks.
    “Brown is one of the most inefficient politicians of England who
    has witnessed cases of financial corruption in his cabinet … and
    has moved towards collapse and destruction,” said the Siyasat-
    e-Ruz newspaper. “He is trying to interfere in other countries’
    domestic affairs in order to hide his failures.”
    According to the BBC’s monitoring service, Iranian al-Alam
    television has been continually broadcasting “confessions” by
    two alleged members of the Mojahedin-e-Khalq, also known as
    the People’s Mojahedin of Iran, a US-designated terrorist group
    opposed to the regime. Al-Alam claimed the two had admitted
    receiving instructions from the group’s “operations room in
    Britain” that included incitement of demonstrators and
    “sabotage attacks inside Iran”. Other channels have carried
    similar reports.
    Raising this witch-hunt to a new heights of fantasy, Iran’s
    security forces are now claiming that unknown “terrorists” and
    “vandals”, rather than they themselves, were responsible for
    shooting and killing demonstrators in Tehran on Saturday. With
    relatively independent figures such as Ali Larijani, speaker of
    the Majlis (parliament), giving credence to talk of foreign plots,
    and with the Majlis’s foreign policy commission calling for a
    review of diplomatic ties with Britain, it’s possible on current
    trends that Britain’s ambassador may soon be packing his bags.
    Ominously, foreign ministry spokesman Hassan Qashqavi
    refused today to rule out expulsion of foreign ambassadors.
    Unsourced reports are circulating, meanwhile, that British banks
    have frozen $1.6bn in funds belonging to Mojtaba Khamenei,
    son of the supreme leader. This supposed affront is cited as
    another reason for displeasure with Britain in high places.”
    (…)
    Iran’s obsession with specifically British interference has a long
    history, dating back to the Napoleonic era, and is to some
    degree justified. At that time London pledged military and other
    assistance in return for Iran’s help in keeping imperial Russia
    out of British India. But as Ali Ansari relates in his book,
    Confronting Iran, repeated British double-crosses, acts of bad
    faith, and shameless exploitation of Iran’s resources, convinced
    Iranians that while the Russians were bullies, “the British were
    duplicitous at best”.
    Even now, despite the demise of the British empire and reported
    Bush era covert operations aimed at regime change, senior
    Iranian figures continue to believe London, rather than the
    “Great Satan” in Washington, is its most dangerous, potent
    antagonist.
    None of this is at all helpful to the leader of the world’s current
    superpower. As he endures Republican accusations of timidity,
    Obama knows the more bitter the Iran crisis grows, the slimmer
    his chances of securing a “grand bargain” involving renewed
    western engagement, a normalisation of relations, and a deal on
    Iran’s nuclear programme. Improved collaboration with Tehran
    on other key issues, such as Iraq, Afghanistan-Pakistan,
    counter-proliferation, and ultimately, Israel-Palestine, are other
    potential casualties.”
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/jun/22/iran-
    west-relations

    Reply

  20. Dan Kervick says:

    er… IRI, not IRA

    Reply

  21. Lee Diamond says:

    Realism in our foreign policy makes sense. So called realism being
    applied to what happened in another country’s election is uh,
    stupid. You let the situation play out, as Clemons and others said.
    There is no excuse for Leverett’s disgorging. If he needs to write
    stuff like that to survive, God help him. I really don’t think he does
    though

    Reply

  22. Dan Kervick says:

    I think WigWag is basically right about Leverett. I think he is in denial, and basically just annoyed that unforeseen events have altered the playing field drastically, and will require pro-engagement folks like him – and like me – to go back to the drawing board and work out a new approach to adjust to the new scene.
    However, I don’t think the fact that polls show that Iranians want more freedom and more democracy licenses WigWag’s conclusion that they “reject the notion of the Islamic Republic”. I suspect most Iranians have a different understanding of the meaning of the Islamic Republic than WigWag does. The freedoms Iranians want are vouchsafed and promised in the IRI constitution. So Iranians demanding more freedoms may well think they are just asking the IRA to “live out the true meaning of its creed.”

    Reply

  23. WigWag says:

    Steve Clemons (affectionately) called Flynt Leverett a “crack cocaine realist” while Andrew Sullivan was more dismissive when he referred to him as “Ahmadinejad’s useful idiot.” Sullivan is being too harsh; Leverett is simply an unrealistic realist. More than anything else, Leverett seemed annoyed at the demonstrators for throwing a monkey wrench into the grand strategy of engagement that he and his wife have peddled to the New York Times and anyone else who would listen. During his comments, Leverett could barely disguise his irritation with the idea that ordinary Iranians would put life and limb at risk and thus imperil the grand bargain theory that he has worked so assiduously to promote. You could practically see him thinking to himself, “how dare those Iranians for putting themselves in a position to be beaten, maimed and shot.”
    Leverett’s argument that Ahmadinejad must have won the election was intellectually dishonest. He based his insistence that Ahmadinejad won on the Ballen poll. But when he insisted that most Iranians really didn’t want change and certainly didn’t reject the notion of the Islamic Republic he ignored the same poll he had just sited as authoritative. The Ballen poll also showed that most Iranians want improved relations with the West and that most Iranians want a radical change in the system that would allow them to actually vote for the Supreme Leader. Leverett’s predilection to site the Ballen poll when it supports his prejudices but ignore it when it challenges his prejudices is telling.
    Leverett suggested that it was simply nonconsequential that (1) millions of Iranians were demonstrating in the street;(2) that hundreds of thousands put themselves in harms way to rally for Mousavi; that (3) the two major power figures in the country, Rafsanjai and Khameni were at each other’s throats, or that (4) chants of “death to America” had been replaced by “death to the Supreme Leader.” The idea that these facts don’t matter simply strains credulity.
    Presumably there is nothing inherent in realism that inhibits the ability to change your views or your policy recommendations when the facts change. Committed as he is to his “grand bargain” approach, Leverett chose to simply ignore the new facts in favor of his old theory. That’s not realism, its delusion.
    Leverett has acknowledged that it’s in American interests to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons; to ameliorate Iran’s inclination to support Hezbollah, Hamas and various terrorist groups; and to secure Iran’s assistance in Iraq, Afghanistan and to a lesser extent Pakistan. The rationale behind his grand bargain approach was that assuring Iran that the United States was not pursuing regime change was the lowest cost and most efficacious way of securing Iran’s cooperation on these matters of concern to the United States.
    The idea that Leverett seems too sclerotic and unimaginative to entertain is that the dramatic dissatisfaction of the Iranian people that we are now witnessing makes regime change a much more realistic option than it was before the election.
    Before the election the costs of regime change were clearly unacceptably high to everyone except the most died in the wool neoconservatives. The only way to achieve it would have been an Iraq type invasion with hundreds of thousands of American troops with all the human and financial costs that we’ve seen in Iraq and Afghanistan.
    Now that hundreds of thousands of Iranians have been radicalized and the regime’s brutality has robbed it of legitimacy, the idea of regime change may be much more realistic. A majority of Iranians may want Khameni and Ahmadinejad gone or it may only be a large minority. In either case, the United States now has other tools to promote regime change that won’t require an invasion or massive military intervention. Enhanced sanctions, arming and training insurgent groups in Iran, supporting separatist minorities or even a naval blockade now have a realistic chance of promoting regime change from within where before those options would probably have been insufficient.
    After everything we’ve witnessed in the past two weeks, its not at all clear that these more muscular measures will be less effective than Leverett’s proposed grand bargain in achieving U.S. objectives vis a vis Iran. Leverett himself admitted during the question and answer session that if anything, events of the past week were likely to harden Khameni’s and Ahmadinejad’s resolve and inspire them to drive an even harder bargain.
    And while Leverett himself exhibits depraved indifference to the suffering of the Iranian people that doesn’t mean American’s need to follow his heartless example. Leverett’s grand bargain would require the United States to give up the right to assist Iranian freedom fighters essentially forever. Is that really in America’s interests? When those freedom fighters eventually prevail whether in 1 year or 5 years or 50 years how will Iranians feel about an America that abandoned them for the sake of momentary expediency? How would the Poles, the Czechs or the Hungarians feel about the United States today if our message to them had been to learn to live with the communist dictators and give up the idea of democracy? How would they feel about us if we had made a deal with the Soviet Union to give up the idea of regime change in Eastern Europe forever? How fondly is Yalta remembered today?
    Leverett may be a realist; he may even be a “crack cocaine realist.” But there is nothing realistic about his thesis that nothing has changed in Iran; that it’s the same Iran it was last month.
    As a result of everything that’s happened, the United States may now have better options for pursuing its interests than pursuing Leverett’s grand bargain.
    That may be hard for Leverett to accept; he’s committed to the narrative he’s constructed in his own head.
    My advice to him is, “get over it.”

    Reply

  24. samuelburke says:

    i still havent had the time to watch the show…i am looking forward to doing so tomorrow morning.
    http://www.commondreams.org/view/2009/06/22-0
    ,” Stephen Kinzer, the author of “All the Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror,” told me. “For a long time the perpetrators were the British and Russians. Beginning in 1953, the United States began taking over that role. In that year, the American and British secret services overthrew an elected government, wiped away Iranian democracy, and set the country on the path to dictatorship.”
    “Then, in the 1980s, the U.S. sided with Saddam Hussein in the Iran-Iraq war, providing him with military equipment and intelligence that helped make it possible for his army to kill hundreds of thousands of Iranians,” Kinzer said. “Given this history, the moral credibility of the U.S. to pose as a promoter of democracy in Iran is close to nil.
    Especially ludicrous is the sight of people in Washington calling for intervention on behalf of democracy in Iran when just last year they were calling for the bombing of Iran. If they had had their way then, many of the brave protesters on the streets of Tehran today—the ones they hold up as heroes of democracy—would be dead now.”

    Reply

  25. WigWag says:

    Rich, FYI it’s posted now. Click on the empty box in the post that says “New America Foundation Presents.” That will bring you to a “US Stream” page. Then just click on the small box that says “Iran’s Election” to play.

    Reply

  26. rich says:

    Looking forward to the video of the event when it gets posted.**
    Seriously, this has been an issue for quite some time, and for some of us it’s beyond our control which media will work in the 9-5 workplace.
    Iranians are twittering all over the place, but in the age of YouTube the hottest policy ticket around can only be viewed once and once only, live, and that’s it? No one has a 13-year-old daughter or neighbor who can post it between geometry homework and pre-text thumb calisthenics?
    **Just tracked down the *mp3 file at the New America Foundation website, link is waaaay down at the bottom of the page and the dead video box at the top leads one to believe video is the siteowners’ chosen media.
    For those of us have a real hunger for this stuff, it’s frustrating to know video is offerd only to those who can free up that time-slot for that purpose. Which used to include me. (Assumed video was it and so hadn’t chased down audio.) NOt criticizing — excellent content and excellent accessability here at TWN — it’d just be another excellent, quality touch, is all. I also think the video helps calibrate for the less-familiar faces. Thanks much, as always.
    Now, for some listening. ..

    Reply

  27. WigWag says:

    Great job by all. Congratulations! The fact that the New America Foundation can accommodate such diverse opinions under one roof is quite impressive. Talk about a team of rivals; you are it!
    Schmidle did a great job. That young man is going places. I can’t wait for his next book. (Please tell Schmidle to have his publisher release “To Live or to Perish Forever” for the Kindle).
    On a side note, watching the webcast I couldn’t get out of my head that Schmidle reminded me of someone but I couldn’t figure out who. Then it hit me: he’s the spitting image of a young Robert Redford in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.”
    Anyway, I learned alot by watching. Thanks to Steve Clemons for allowing Washington Note devotees to participate by streaming video.

    Reply

  28. Ynetsplash says:

    Am just wondering if the label “crack-cocaine
    realist”, a term Steve used to refer to Flynt, will
    stick, or if indeed it might even slip into a more
    permanent political lexicon? Being a ‘crack-cocaine
    realist’ certainly sounds more impressive than being
    a paleoconservative!

    Reply

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