Reflections on the newly published book, Going to Tehran, Why the United States Must Come to Terms with the Islamic Republic of Iran, by Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett.
No less than the Leveretts could have possibly tackled and challenged the well-established narratives and portrayals regarding Iran, which are based on a set of myths and negative propaganda that could lead to another unnecessary and this time even more catastrophic engagement in the Turbulent Middle East against the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Flynt Leverett served at the National Security Council, State Department and the CIA, and is currently a professor of international affairs at Penn State University. Hillary Mann Leverett also served at the National Security Council and the State Department, and is now a senior professional lecturer at American University. Both Flynt and Hillary served as analysts in Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations, focused on the Iran issues.
The Leveretts’ biographies, appearing on their blog www.goingtotehran.com, are quite impressive. Is short, we are not dealing here with a couple of featherweights attempting to do some real heavy lifting; they know what they are writing and talking about, without any personal angle or bias to distort their objectivity.
I have also been an Iran observer-analyst for the better part of thirty years and have been a frequent lecturer and writer on the US/Middle East issues with special focus on the Islamic Republic of Iran.
I returned to the United States a few months after the establishment of the Islamic Republic, and a few months before the US Embassy hostage crisis. My own background and experiences, both in business and government, and my interest in international affairs, compelled me to devote the major part of my time to following the developments in the post-revolution Iran and the analysis of US/Iran relations.
After joining the World Affairs Council of San Diego, and serving as the regional council’s president in the mid-80s, there remained no doubt in my mind that there were forces in America’s sociopolitical sphere that were actively involved in deliberate distortion, misinformation and negative portrayal of not only the Islamic Republic of Iran, but the world of Islam as a whole. Any attempt to challenge even the most blatantly obvious distortions of the truths regarding these portrayals or the Iranian regime and its policies or intentions would taint and discredit one as an Iran apologist or worse, a paid agent of the Islamic Republic.
Unfortunately, this knee-jerk reaction was not exclusive to the generally and categorically uninformed American public that is historically oblivious to the machination of global politics. For rather obvious reasons, practically all self-exiled or diaspora Iranians I ever met, with the exception of a mere handful, share in that view, not out of ignorance as is the case for the American public’s naiveté, but for the bitterness and personal angst against the events that had led to their expatriation.
To think back, I also lost as much as or even much more than most diaspora Iranians during the course of the Islamic revolution. I am also a fully “Westernized”, American educated and professionally trained individual, I have spent more years here than perhaps 98 percent of diaspora Iranians, my marriages have been with American women, and all my children and grandchildren have been born and raised right here in the United States. And at the ripe age of 77, I have no expectation of receiving any favors from the leadership of the Islamic Republic as a motivation to skew the observations, analyses and opinions I express. I consider myself a realist, not an apologist, and that is how I regard Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett.
I am not praising the Leveretts because I agree with their analyses and conclusions as presented in their new book or expressed in their previous articles posted on their original race for Iran; site. I admire them for the time and energy they have devoted to this daunting task, as well as for their objectivity, honesty and courage it must have taken to swim against the turbulent current of misperception regarding the US/Iran relations.
Groundbreaking work by Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett.
Like me, they also want what is clearly the best course of action for the United States, which is certainly not allowing the persistent difficulties in reaching a meaningful dialogue and rapprochement to lead to a more counterproductive entanglement or even a military confrontation.
Since March of 2003, I have posted almost 700 pages of articles in my own website, intellectualdiscourse.com, the most recent of which appear on the opening page. These articles have appeared on several national and international websites on a regular basis.
What I have been maintaining persistently is that there are no insurmountable or “civilizational” barriers preventing a rapprochement, meaning a mutually beneficial détente, but not necessarily a love affair, between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran. However, elements of influence that have been preventing such a rapprochement are manifold, as outlined and addressed in the Leveretts’ new book.
In Part III of the book, neoconservatives: philosopher activists of American Empire; liberal internationalists: imperialists with the best of intentions; the Israel lobby: (mis)appropriators of American interests; and, expatriates: native authenticators (and enablers?) are discussed as the forces that inadvertently or deliberately cause the derailment of American policies that would serve the nation’s best interests.
What was not discussed was the influential role that pro-Zionist evangelicals also play in distorting public sentiments in a nation that is perhaps the most religiously oriented among the powerful modern societies.
More significantly, the Jewish and Zionist domination of the American media outlets, which include both the news and the entertainment industries, and its powerful influence in formulating the American mindset, were not adequately addressed under the (mis)appropriation of American Interests section.
I do understand quite well the negative implications of attempting to put the Jewish, Zionist and Israeli factors influencing America’s foreign policies under too large a magnifying glass. We saw the difficulties that Stephen Walt of Harvard University and John Mearsheimer of University of Chicago had in attempting to have their book, The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy, published in the United States, and for which they have been relentlessly chastised. I, therefore, do not blame the Leveretts for exercising a degree of prudent reservation in amplifying these groups’ direct and indirect power, not only in the public domain, but also over some of the other foci of influence mentioned above, which result in policies that do not prioritize America’s best interests in global affairs.
You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist, a racist or a bigot to focus on a certain ethnic, religious or racial group and its disproportionate presence, power or influence in a given society. For example, Black Americans dominate the field of professional sports, and that is a fact. Whether this inordinate presence that is far greater than the percentage of Black Americans in the population is due to their natural physical superiority, their motivation because of economic pressures and limitation of access to better opportunities, or other cultural incentives, etc., is immaterial. These athletes make good money and deserve the admiration and prestige they earn. Their success is in no way detrimental to the general well-being of the nation or a concern for the policy makers in the government.
The Jewish, Zionist or the pro-Israel populations in the United States amount to a tiny fraction of the total American population. However, in the vital organs of America’s social life and body politics, the brain, the heart, liver and lungs and kidneys, so to say, the presence of these groups are degrees of magnitude greater than their population percentages would warrant.
Well, what’s wrong with that? As the book, Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life, by Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray (Jan 10, 1996), clearly indicates, the American Jews of European ancestry, the Ashkenazim, are among the minorities that enjoy the highest IQ and the best track record in business, science and academic success. We can easily see this enormously inordinate presence in the fields of finance, law, medicine, entertainment, science and other intellectual endeavors.
To have a problem with these statistics or to complain about the meticulous research done by the authors of the book is, in fact, prejudicial and unfair. However, in this case, unlike the case with Black athletes or other minorities such as the Indian, Pakistani, Iranian or Oriental immigrant groups that do exhibit highest IQs and successes in similar domains as do the American Jews, there does exist a potential source of problem: the Israel connection.
Whether people consider and identify themselves as Jewish, or are Jewish or non-Jewish Zionists, the presence of a Jewish state, a Jewish homeland (a Biblical promised land), regardless of whether the very concept is scientific or has a historical basis or legitimacy, has a natural emotional appeal that cannot be discounted or ignored. I may have never played football, but by virtue of the fact that I am a decades old UCLA graduate, I subconsciously root for the Bruins when they play against any rival; go Bruins!
In the American public domain, where the average citizen cannot correctly point to a country as big as Iran on the world atlas, or believes that Mandarin is only a variety of citrus fruit, sentiments or gut feelings alone determine most decisions and policy directions. The Israel or Zionist lobby, therefore, has an enormous fan club among the most successful and influential segments of the American society.
The lobby and its tentacles, therefore, have an extraordinary multi-faceted outreach to the most influential and consequential elements that formulate policies relating to Israel and its regional agendas. One of these tentacles has long penetrated the US Congress, where America’s elected representatives, those who must count on money and media support as well as the backing of their well-indoctrinated constituents to get elected to high-paying, prestigious jobs, can be coerced to toe the lobby’s line.
I have no doubt that there are exceptions, but I am convinced that for most seekers of congressional seats or government jobs the material benefits that the job ensures far outweigh the prospects of serving the nation with integrity and honesty.
I rather doubt that the “liberal internationalists: imperialists with the best of intentions” referred to in Leveretts’ book are all honest liberal international imperialist who’d prefer enforcing a regime change or a military campaigns of “good intentions” against the Islamic Republic in order to spread freedom, democracy and a better life for the Iranian nation. They cannot all be that stupidly naïve! I would have a hard time labeling high-profile “liberals” such as Nancy Pelosi or even Hillary Clinton as misguided, well-intentioned, patriotic hawks. Similarly, many “neoconservatives: philosopher activists of American Empire”, who’d supposedly promote any policy, including war against the Islamic Republic, to expand and secure the sphere of America’s hegemony in the Middle East, are not, in my opinion, genuinely in favor of a war regardless of its adverse consequences and potential blowbacks for such action. People like Newt Gingrich, John McCain or Lindsey Graham are not ignorant knuckleheads.
However, most well-intentioned liberal internationalist imperialists and many neoconservative philosopher activists count on and receive huge political endorsements and benefits by aligning themselves with the Israel lobby and flashing their anti-Iran and pro-Israel credentials in order to preserve their personal positions in the American power hierarchy.
Even the Iranian expatriates who have managed to mole their way into the limelight by jumping on the Iran-bashing bandwagon are encouraged and supported by the various arms of the Israel lobby, as long as they express views that are in line with Israel’s perspective of the Islamic Republic. After they are “discovered” by the likes of Benador Associates or other influential individuals or think tanks favored by the lobby, they are vetted and launched as “Iran experts”. They are invited to panel discussions on Iran or as guests in major media outlets. They are plugged into various mostly conservative Washington think tanks, given academic positions and encouraged and helped to write books of fiction in the guise of personal biographies and experiential accounts. Agents of influence can do that for you if you are willing to play the game as scripted. A quick look at the rise to fame, popularity and tenure of one, Azar Nafisi (Reading Lolita in Tehran), would prove rather enlightening.
In short, I believe the Leveretts could have focused a bit more on the broader aspects of pro-Israel or Zionist influences over not only the formulation of public sentiments against the Islamic Republic, but also over the very process of decision making regarding Iran policies at governmental level.
Another area of great importance that was very briefly addressed without questioning the merits of its established historical narratives was the storming of the American embassy and the taking of the embassy staff as hostages in late 1979. This was without doubt the one pivotal event that has most affected the course of US/Iran relations to this day. No detailed analysis has thus far challenged the established accounts of what exactly happened, by whom and for what reasons, not by anyone here, nor by anyone in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Perhaps it is not time yet to open the Pandora’s Box of the hostage crisis, simply because changing the established narratives might do more harm than good!
The Leveretts’ analyses of US/Iran relations and potentials for a rapprochement between the two countries differ with my own analysis in only one major way: They believe that the US Administration and the President are headed for a major confrontation, even if a limited war, with the Islamic Republic, in which the government of Israel is clearly complicit. Their efforts have been to expose the fallacies of such an approach and to warn of its dangerous and counterproductive consequences.
I am certain that the Leveretts are not naïve enough to think that their warnings, a mere sound in the dark, would outdo the roar of the war drums we hear on a daily basis. And I am sure they are not going to claim credit for any rapprochement should the march toward a dangerous confrontation be reversed.
I, on the other hand, have continued to maintain that an actual military confrontation with Iran by the United States, with or without Israel, is not and has not been in the playbook. I also believe that the sanctions imposed against the Islamic Republic have been very carefully implemented by the Administration to appear crippling enough to compel the Iranian regime to bow to the American demands and Israeli wishes, while in actual fact any clear-minded analyst can see that these sanctions won’t result in the professed objectives.
As a parallel, just think about the hunt for the mastermind of the Al-Qa’eda network of international terrorists, one Osama Bin Laden, supposedly our main target in our war on terror. The campaign in Iraq and Afghanistan has cost us close to a trillion dollars a year, which is almost three-billion dollars each day. And just suppose that, instead of mere millions of dollars as a prize for his capture, we had assigned a couple of billion or even a hundred-billion dollars for his head, mere pittance compared with the continuing wars’ annual costs. How long do you honestly believe it would have taken before Bin Laden and his chief advisor and mentor, Al-Zawahiri, would have been captured and turned over to claim such an attractive prize? The hunt for Bin Laden was allowed to continue in order to accomplish other objectives, rightly or wrongly perceived.
I invite the interested readers to check into my more recent writings posted on my website to evaluate my reasoning as to why I believe a military confrontation against the Islamic Republic is not in the books, and why I believe that President Obama’s second term in office is our best chance toward a meaningful rapprochement with Iran.
Finally, I cannot overemphasize the importance of the recent book by Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett, and encourage everyone interested in the future of US/Iran relations to read and promote their groundbreaking work.
I would encourage the readers to read the following articles:
Kam Zarrabi is the author of In Zarathushtra’s Shadow and Necessary Illusion. He has conducted lectures and seminars on international affairs, particularly in relation to Iran, with focus on US/Iran issues. Zarrabi’s latest book is Iran, Back in Context.
More information about Mr. Zarrabi and his work is available at:intellectualdiscourse.com