The New "Useful Idiots" of the Iranian Mullahs: Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett

There is an influx of new “useful idiots” these days — the term attributed to Lenin which refers to all the Western dupes who buy the lies of the Communists and who do their bidding without realizing it. But this time, since the Soviet Union no longer exists and a love affair with Communist Cuba has become somewhat passé, the shift in support of repressive regimes has turned to none other than that of the mullahs’ Iran.


This was made clear in a recent issue of The Nation, which featured an article by our country’s two most notorious apologists for the brutal Iranian regime: Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett. Titled “The Real Challenge from Iran,” the mullahs’ new American spokespeople argue that most people are spreading myths about Iran, calling the regime “irrational, illegitimate and vulnerable.” Rather than being “despised by its own people,” they argue, the current regime is based on “participatory politics,” “elections with the principles and institutions of Islamic governance, and a commitment to foreign policy independence.”

It is, they conclude, “what a majority of Iranians living inside the country want.”

Reading this, I get a feeling of déjà vu, since it reminds me of the scores of articles the magazine used to run from the 1930s through the 1960s about how wonderful and progressive Stalin’s Soviet Union was. The fellow travelers of the Old Left always argued that the people supported the Soviet regime; that all the stories of executions, a vast secret police, repression, and a huge prison system were lies spread by the right-wing press and by anti-Communist émigrés. If some of their claims turned out to be true, it was the fault of the West and the United States, who forced them to turn to repression to protect the revolution always under fire from the oppressors of the capitalist nations.

It is therefore not surprising that The Nation would stay true to its roots, as if nothing had been learned since those long ago days of the Cold War. In their article, the Leveretts claim that the Green movement had no internal support, that the government itself closed bad prisons where inmates were treated harshly, that most of those arrested during anti-government rallies were released, and that polls reveal the Iranian people view their government’s opposition to the Greens “as legitimate.”


Therefore, they argue, policymakers should accept the regime, end the sanctions against it that only hurt the innocent Iranian people, not oppose Iran developing an atomic weapon, stop the war against Assad and Syria, and understand that Tehran needs the Arab governments only to be “less pro-American, less pro-Israel, and more independent.”

Also, the U.S. has to accept the reality that the Iranian Islamic Republic will not be transformed “into a secular liberal state.”

Written under the guise of policy advice for the U.S. government, what the Leveretts have really written is an apologia for tyranny, in which they repeat every lie of the regime regarding how it has continually negotiated in good faith with Western powers to reach a solution on the nuclear issue, only to be rebuffed by the warlike American government that wants to use talks as an excuse to destroy the mullahs. If only that were true! (As our colleague Michael Ledeen says: “Faster, please!”)

Indeed, their solution is rather simple: the U.S. “must accept “Iran’s nuclear rights.” Just as the Old Left used to argue that the Soviets wanted peace and the U.S. had to accept its needs for secure regimes on its borders, the Leveretts say that now the U.S. has to recognize “Iran’s core security concerns.” The regime’s behavior, therefore, is our fault. If we do not accept its demands, our country will be seen as one acting without any legitimacy and be rightfully seen as “an outlaw superpower.”

In their eyes, we should not oppose radical Islam, but should instead improve our ties with “Islamist political order across the Middle East.” The goal should be “rapprochement with the Islamic Republic.”


All of these themes are spelled out in more detail in their new, widely publicized book titled Going to Tehran: Why the United States Must Come to Terms with the Islamic Republic of Iran. Fortunately, two reviews appearing today decimate their argument in the most cogent way.

The best is by Roya Hakakian, appearing in the Wall Street Journal. She gets it correct, saying right at the start that what the Leveretts present is not a policy argument, but “a long and elaborate promotional brochure designed to sell Americans on the mullahs and their nuclear program.” They “dismiss as lies or misunderstandings,” she writes, “everything that would get in the way of such a trip [to Tehran by Obama]: the mullahs’ congenital hostility toward the U.S., their eliminationist rhetoric toward Israel, their illicit nuclear ambitions and terrorist activities, their brutality toward Iran’s women, minorities and dissidents — it’s all America’s fault, anyway.”

So kudos are due to Ms. Hakakian, who knocks apart all of their lies and fables. That these two people, Hillary Mann Leverett and Flynt Leverett, were once on our government’s National Security Council is indeed more than shocking. It is a disgrace.

As Ms. Hakakian notes, the two authors deny that Iran ever committed or supported terrorism, used suicide bombers, or did anything that interferes with their phony narrative.

The other review is by Laura Secor, and appears in this Sunday’s New York Times. As we have become used to from writers for this paper, Ms. Secor starts by letting its readers know that she too is no fan of U.S. policy. As she writes: “We make little sense of history, and less progress toward resolving our conflicts, when we demonize our adversary and ascribe to him dark motives and irrational thoughts.” Why would anyone do that when writing about the regime of the mullahs? Why would anyone dare to think that Ayatollah Khamenei or Iran’s chief executive, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, would harbor irrational thoughts? How silly of us!


Ms. Secor seems at first to agree with the Leveretts that “American policy must not be blinded by sentimentality about Iranian human rights and democratic aspirations” — in other words, we must be “realist” and take Iran as it is, not as what we wish it to be.

Having established her bona fides for NYT readers, she proceeds to knock the Leveretts for writing not a realist book, but one “partisan” to the Iranian government. As she puts it: “Rather than delivering a corrective to the one-sided view from Washington, they deliver its mirror image.”

She continues to show that the Leveretts are indeed propagandists for the regime. They even accept that the video of the young woman killed by sniper fire in the 2009 widespread protests “was actually shot by provocateurs in a deliberate effort to frame the Iranian security forces and fan rebellion.” Their view is that any dissent is “marginal,” and that the regime has the support of the Iranian people.

Again, this is precisely what the Old Left consistently argued about world Communism and claimed whenever evidence was presented that made clear the people’s opposition of communism. Those of us from an older generation remember well how the Old and New Left responded whenever the people in Eastern Europe rebelled against Stalinist repression in countries like Czechoslovakia and Hungary. Ms. Secor writes:

Following the 2009 election, Iran’s government sent militias into the streets to beat demonstrators; it arrested reformist political figures en masse, beginning on election day before the polls were closed; it placed them on show trials with confessions clearly obtained under duress; it banned reformist political parties and continues to hold journalists, former government ministers and human rights lawyers in prison. Even if most Iranians truly did support these actions, it’s not at all clear that Western analysts should be in the business of justifying them. Nowhere do the Leveretts take account of the role physical intimidation, imprisonment and censorship have played in silencing critics of the Iranian regime. But they ascribe the ensuing silence to consent.

Like the old Soviet Union, we again have show trials, forced confessions, no free political parties, and dissidents and others in prison. And like the old days, we have journalists and writers devoted to gathering U.S. support for tyranny — this time not one whose leaders claim to be creating a new socialist man, but leaders seeking to create an Islamic state that would bring the world back to the Middle Ages.


As for Ms. Secor’s realism, I ask only one question: Why is it wrong for the U.S. to do what Michael Ledeen and others have argued for a long time — give aid and support to the regime’s democratic opponents? Just as our nation did during the Reagan years, when it came to the aid of Poland’s Solidarity movement, which eventually was able to topple the Communist government without violence and without war?

Ms. Secor accurately exposes the Leveretts’ apologia; what she does not do is advance any ideas of her own on how the U.S. should address the issue of dealing with Iran. She chastises the Leveretts for their naiveté about what would come out of diplomacy and negotiation; yet she does not say what is wrong about hoping or working for “regime change.” She just implies that because unnamed neo-conservatives support such an option, it must be wrong.

At least, for the time being, the Leveretts are being torn apart by the reviewers of their new book. Let us be happy for small things.


No sooner than I posted this column, I received an e-mail sent out by the Leveretts. It follows:

From, Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett,

Predictably, a number of mainstream media outlets have assigned their reviews of Going to Tehran to pro-Green (if not outright anti-Islamic Republic) polemicists. These writers can hardly pay attention to any of our arguments and analyses save for those that deal with Iran’s 2009 presidential election and our case that the Islamic Republic is, for the majority of Iranians living in their country, a legitimate order. In the end, reviewers of this sort don’t even really deal with our arguments and analyses on Iranian politics, preferring simply to dismiss us as “apologists” — or, put marginally more politely, “partisans” — for the Iranian government.

We are writing our own piece on the charge of “apologetics” and what it signifies about the warped U.S. debate over American policies toward Iran and the Middle East more broadly. In the meantime, we want to highlight Gareth Porter’s review of Going to Tehran, which was published this week by IPS, see here, and is getting picked up by other online sites (including, see here, Consortium News, see here, CounterPunch, see here, and Truthout, see here). It deals with our book in its totality — with our evaluation of the Islamic Republic’s foreign policy as well as its domestic order, and with our arguments about America’s grossly counterproductive quest to dominate the Middle East as well as our analyses of Iranian strategy and politics.


Their words are evidence for my argument about the connection between the Old Left, New Left, and the current pro-Iranian writers: all their support, as they cite in their message, comes from current major left-wing papers and websites. The review by Gareth Porter, an old anti-Vietnam War veteran, appears on the site of the Institute for Policy Studies, the far left, pro-Soviet, and old pro-Cuban think tank.



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