The Leveretts' Myopic Advice to Obama

In Sunday’s New York Times, a remarkable and thoroughly wrongheaded op-ed by Flynn Everett and Hillary Mann Leverett takes up three-quarters of a page, and reveals not only the authors’ myopia, but the dangerous advice they and other “realists” have for the Obama administration.


The issue is Iran, and what to do about their dangerous march towards attainment of a nuclear bomb. The authors begin with a judgment call: Obama’s policy towards Iran has already failed.  The regime has not stopped its move towards enrichment of uranium; the antagonism between the US and Iran has not diminished; indeed, it has arguably become worse. What should Obama do about this?

To the Leveretts, the ball is totally in America’s court. Iran is not the power that has to stop working day and night to attain the bomb; it is the United States that must show its willingness to “assuage Iranian skepticism about America’s willingness to end efforts to topple the regime and pursue comprehensive diplomacy.”

The Leveretts recommend that the Obama administration end any covert programs now in effect to destabilize what they persistently call “the Islamic Republic.”  All of Iran’s hostility to the United States is not due to the extremist ideology of the mullahs, but rather to a “fundamentally defensive reaction to the American government campaign to bring about regime change.”

While many conservative commentators worry that the Obama administration is already showing it is willing to live with a nuclear Iran and is on the road to appeasement, the Leveretts believe that the Obama administration is carrying out George W. Bush’s policies to the letter. Obama’s rhetoric, such as his March greeting to Iran is simply rhetoric, they argue, but the policies he is  following are simply Bush continued.


 They point to Hillary Clinton’s skepticism that diplomacy will work, and most important of all, they are concerned that the President appointed Dennis Ross, a well known supporter of Israel and a hardliner on Iran, to be his point man on diplomacy with the Iranian regime. Ross supports “engagement with pressure,” and the Leveretts want the first carried out, and all pressure to be dropped. They claim that last summer Ross admitted to them that he was advocating a diplomatic course only so that in the future, the next President will have to order a military strike against Iran, and diplomacy needs to be undertaken first for the President “to claim any military action was legitimate.”

Its sounds nefarious, but Ross spoke to them during the campaign- not now in his official capacity- and what he was saying was simply expressing a well founded skepticism about the intention of the mullahs. Evidently the Leveretts think Ross is angling for a US offer that Iran cannot accept, which will lead to “international support for coercive action.”

So the Leveretts first suggest that we do not do what they seem to think only Israel favors: a deadline by which Iran has to show it is stopping nuclear enrichment. Drop the deadline, they say, as well as all other “American conditions for limiting its nuclear activities.” What they never address is the destabilizing effect an Iranian bomb will have on the entire Middle East, and the dangerous situation it would create throughout the entire world. In their eyes, giving the Iranians what they want now is the sole and only road to peace.

So the Leveretts repeat that Obama’s policy is “an only slightly prettified version of George W. Bush’s approach.” Like the previous administration, Obama’s policy-makers want only to contain a “perceived” threat without solving the real political conflicts. Look carefully at that word “perceived.” The implication is that an Iranian bomb is only a threat to those who think it is, and they have no good reason. The reality is different. The Leveretts imply, without making a case, that it would not be any kind of a threat and is therefore an event we in the West can live with.


They also oppose what they call a “Bush era delusion;” that world events give moderate Arab states a very real reason to oppose Iran, and hence a willingness to perhaps even engage with Israel in order to effectively deal with their own concerns about Iran’s power and policies. Finallly, the Leveretts note that “strategic cooperation with Israel is profoundly unpopular with Arab publics.” Again, the implication is that this truth means that the Arabs must be appeased, and no effort taken to get moderate Arab states to accept Israel. With that logic, Israel never would have been able to sign a peace treaty with both Egypt and Jordan. Instead, they want US cooperation with Iran, and of course, its proxies- they identify them with a benign term- “regional allies,” Hamas and Hezbollah.  

In simple terms, what the Leveretts offer is old fashioned appeasement- this time of Iran and the mullahs who rule it. If the United States only commits “not to use force to change the borders or the form of government of the Islamic Republic,” all will evidently work itself out. The same people who urge the US to break its alliance with Israel, to pressure them not to build in existing settlements, and who urge pressure on Israel to agree to borders favored by the hard-line Palestinians, and to make concessions to the Arabs and Palestinians in advance of negotiations-now urge no pressure whatsoever against Iran- despite its sworn aim of destroying Israel. Thus the Leveretts urge integrating both Hamas and Hezbollah into any settlement, and accepting a major role in the Middle East for both terrorist groups.


The Leveretts conclude by urging President Obama take their “new approach” on Iran into consideration. Were he to do so, the US would not just lose Iran, but perhaps the chance for any peace and real stability in the Middle East.



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