I hadn’t seen Michael Ledeen in years when I bumped into him at a party for George Gilder’s new book, The Israel Test. An admirer of Machiavelli, Ledeen has for years focused on Iran. His new book, Accomplice to Evil: Iran and the War Against the West, is just out from St. Martin’s Press. He held a chair at AEI for 20 years and today is a Freedom Scholar at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington, D.C.
Born in Los Angeles in 1941, Ledeen has a daughter in Afghanistan and a son in Marine Corps basic training. In October 2007 Ledeen said, “Those who believe that I am part of some ‘hawkish gang’ just haven’t noticed that I am opposed to invasion or bombing the nuclear facilities [in Iran]. My fear is that by failing to promote a nonviolent democratization of Iran we make large-scale vio-lence much more likely.”
For years he has believed that Iran “fulfills all the condition of a revolutionary situation,” and that the U.S. should promote it. The events in Iran this June confirmed this view. I congratulated him for being right. Nothing irritates the experts more than this, he said, and he had become un-popular as a result. He agreed to sit down for an interview.
TB: You are with the Foundation for
the Defense of Democracy. But is democracy always a good idea?
Aren’t “the people” en masse more likely to support fanaticism than
the educated? Democracy can give you what you don’t want, such as
the tyranny of Hamas. Meanwhile in Egypt we have a strongman bought
and paid for by the U.S. who has kept the lid on fanaticism.
ML: It’s true that the least of evils is a legitimate policy. If you’re convinced that you face bad op-tions, then by all means take the least bad. If the lid came off in Egypt most people think that the Muslim Brotherhood would govern Egypt, and that’s a terrible outcome, every bit as bad as Hamas.
TB: How would the Arab world look if
it became more democratic?
ML: It depends. I don’t do the Arab world that much. I’m worrying more about Iran, which is anti-Arab. Iranians hate Arabs. They’re a fairly well-educated population and they have centuries of ex-perience with self-government. The fanatics who have been governing the country for the last 30 years are not uneducated. The Revolutionary Guards, which is now the most powerful force in Iran, have their own university. The overwhelming majority of the Iranian people want to be rid of this regime, which they hate, and they have every good reason to do so. They want to be a normal country enjoying good relations with the rest of the world.
TB: Since I saw you last week, there
has been one more uprising in Iran.
ML: September 18th. I live-blogged it. I tried to follow along the events of the day. Then I posted them.
TB: It was apparently much bigger than
anyone has conceded.
ML: It was bigger than most American media have reported, and I think bigger even than the op-position leaders expected. I don’t think anybody could have expected millions of people in the streets of Tehran, a million and a quarter in the streets of Isfahan. And the crowds were disci-plined.
TB: There was a parallel development
here a few days earlier. A crowd, much larger than media estimates,
turned out on the Mall to protest Obama’s policies. The press said
only “tens of thousands,” but there were estimates of a
ML: It’s becoming a national sport for the dying media not to report things that they don’t like. If they can get away with it they don’t report it at all. In Iran these events were even more powerful because the security people went out intending to put it down. But there were so many people that they were unable to.
TB: I can understand the media wanting
to ignore anti-Obama rallies, but why would they down-play revolt
ML: Because Obama wants to make a deal with the regime. The Obama people are quite visibly annoyed that the Iranian people have refused to go quietly. They get in the way of this wonderful deal that they think we’re going to make.
TB: What are the prospects for these
ML: I’ll be very surprised if Obama gets an agreement that’s enforceable. No one else has. Every American president in the last 30 years has tried to make a deal with Iran. Every one.
TB: Including Bush?
ML: Yes. Here’s another story they will not report. In 2006 Bush approved direct negotiations be-tween the U.S. and Iran. By the end of the summer the Americans believed they had an agreement. Iran would announce the end of uranium enrichment and Condi Rice would announce that we were ending sanctions. She and undersecretary Nicholas Burns went to New York and they were all sitting around waiting for the Iranians to come. And they never came. The story was closely held. It’s featured in a series on the BBC, and it’s all in my new book.
TB: In your September 22 blog you
called the leaders of the Islamic Republic “dead men walking.” How
long might that take?
ML: You never know with these things. Take the Soviet Union. Even those of us who were con-vinced that it was finished were surprised when it happened. And I’m sure it will be the same with Iran. I can’t tell you whether it will happen quietly and peacefully, or by some kind of huge conflagration. But it will happen.
TB: Let’s assume these negotiations
fail. With Iran on the verge of legitimate rebellion, would that
not be the worst time for the U.S. to launch a military
ML: Without some dramatic new facts, there’s no chance that the U.S will attack Iran. We have been busy releasing Iranian prisoners in Iraq — Revolutionary Guards officers and the like. Lots of them. So we’re not going to do anything.
TB: How about Israel?
ML: It’s a tough question to answer. You have to know what Netanyahu thinks he knows. About Iranian nuclear technology: Where does the program stand? Do they have a bomb? A delivery system? How reliable is it? You would also have to know all the key Israelis involved, and figure out how brave they are.
TB: How brave?
ML: It seems to me if you were the prime minister of Israel, and your head of military intelligence or Mossad came to you and said, “Sir, the Iranians are a month away from having a functioning nuclear device, and they already have intermediate range missiles that can hit us anywhere they choose.” At that moment it seems to me that any Israeli prime minister has to say to his military, “Stop it. Whatever it takes.” But “stop it” could take different forms. It does not automatically mean the standard Hollywood bombing run. There are other ways.
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H/T to National Review Online