Calculated Talk

Washington’s most provocative, well, mouthpiece of the Iranian regime, Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett, had an impressive performance last night in Charlie Rose’s show (who has interviewed the Iranian president Ahmadinejad four three times) at PBS. Flynt Leverett directs the Iran Project at the New America Foundation. He is also a Professor at Pennsylvania State University’s School of International Affairs. His wife Hillary Mann Leverett is presently CEO of STRATEGA, a political risk consultancy. They are right now running the blog The Race for Iran.

Both have a certain reputation, as their host started the talk, which may mainly be based on the fact that, since June 2009, they have vehemently denied that there is hard evidence for electoral fraud after last year’s presidential election (which doesn’t mean, of course, that there is evidence that there wasn’t fraud). Both argue that it was eminently plausible that Ahmadinejad won the election. They’ve got the impression (they had just visited Iran, in particular their friend Mohammad Marandi at Tehran University’s Institute of North American Studies, a couple of weeks ago) that a majority of the population, represented by working class people, lower middle class, the population in rural areas, strongly supports Ahmadinejad, admittedly a populist who has visited every corner of Iran several times but who, they concede on the other hand, is also an extremely polarizing figure. They mainly base their arguments on polls done by three Western organizations before and after the election and one conducted by the University of Tehran (which might be completely irrelevant in a dictatorship for obvious reasons).

As expected, the Leveretts made crystal clear what they believe are eminent American interests regarding the theocratic dictatorship: forget about human rights denial, torture, even killings; or oppression but rather engage with the murderous regime, as Nixon did with China. According to Leverett, there have been “tectonic shifts” in the region over the last ten years, which add up to a situation where the strategic standing and influence of the United States in this critical part of the world is in decline while the Islamic Republic of Iran is able to take advantage. The United States can simply not achieve any of their high priority objectives in the region, i.e., the Arab-Israeli peace making, stabilizing Iraq and Afghanistan and assuring the energy security, without positive and productive relationship with the Islamic Republic of Iran.

It is becoming common sense nowadays to believe that Ahmadinejad’s threat of Israel being wiped-off the map was a wrong translation (Iranian news agencies have in fact translated his words exactly this way). What Flynt Leverett is doing here, though, is to give this 2005 agitated speech of a populist in front of a crowd an unjustified analytical touch. So, according to Leverett, the Jewish state is doomed basically because of demographics: in a two-state solution “the Palestinian population grows faster than the Jewish population and so over time you’ll basically get a one-state solution and Israel disappears from the pages of history.” One is inclined to hear this twice.

Ahmadinejad’s denial of the Holocaust, we learn, does in fact hurt Jewish-American Hillary Mann Leverett (but this is, according to her account as a former student in Cairo nothing when comparing it with the rhetoric and acts of former Egyptian president Anwar al Sadat before he made a shift towards a strategic relationship with Israel and the U.S. which finally won him a Nobel Peace Prize) but as her husband tells us, this rhetoric “serves his (Ahmadinejad’s) interest politically not just in Iran but in regionally by being seen as standing up to Israel, by being seen as the great supporter of Hizbollah and Hamas.” Likewise his denial of the Holocaust, so the Leveretts, is calculated talk carefully weighing blank horror in the West against enthusiastic support not only at home but in the Sunni-Arab streets of Saudi Arabia or Egypt.

At least, Flynt Leverett believes in the Holocaust, has read the literature, has visited concentration camps in Europe; has spoken to survivors. It is not hard to find educated Iranians who understand full well what the Holocaust was and what it represented in the history of European Jewry. Alas, “Ahmadinejad is a politician who is making a certain calculation. It is not serving him well in the West; I think he is making a calculation that it does serve some of his interests in other quarters.”

Last update March 31, 2010

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One Response to Calculated Talk

  1. Pingback: When in New York « Freelance

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