Flynt Leverett and Hillay Mann Leverett:

"Going to Tehran" (2012)

(Copyright © 2011 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions )
There are Westerners who are more convinced of their government's evil purposes than the very enemies of their states are. Flynt and Hillary Leverett are a prime example, even more so than Noam Chomsky. They are absolutely certain that the USA has one of the most evil governments and one of the most unreliable media in the world. I heard them in person and their talk was a long litany of conspiracy theories against a long list of successive presidents of the USA. There are many other Western intellectuals who are ready to swear that the government and media of the USA are the worst of the worst, pure scum. Just like their predecessors who held the Soviet Union as a model of democracy and economic success, these intellectuals don't even think of moving out of the USA. In the USA they can have a career criticizing and insulting the political leaders of the countries, publishing books that will sell thousands of copies among fellow conspiracy theorists and be invited to talk shows as "experts", whereas elsewhere they would simply spend their life in jail or would have to find a decent job instead of writing books against the regime.

Their book on Iran, "Going to Tehran" (2012), is more about how evil and stupid the USA is than how smart and nice the Iranian regime is, although at first glance you perceive only the second part. The book begins with a long and detailed defense of everything that the media normally depicts as negative about Iran: the Iranian revolution that installed the ayatoolahs in power (the Leveretts seem to ignore the fact that the revolution was started by secular politicians who were later exiled, imprisoned and/or killed by the ayatollahs), the democratic elections that brought and kept Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power (although real power is wielded by the supreme leader Ali Khamenei, as any Iranian could have told them), the repression of the 2009 revolution against the results of such elections (that they totally distort as a restrained crack down on a minority of disorderly rich youth by a benign regime), and even the treatment of women and minorities. Along the way they imply that Iran is more democratic than Turkey and that Iran has (quote) "the largest stock of industrial robots in West Asia". I guess Israel does not belong to West Asia in their eyes, or they don't recognize the existence of Israel, and Turkey is probably European in their eyes since it is part of NATO. The Leveretts defend Ahmadinejad's theses that the Nazist massacre of six million Jews during World War II never took place and that the 2001 terrorist attacks against the USA were manufactured by George W Bush and Israel.

None of this would sell in Iran: Iranians routinely make fun of their own regime and of its ridiculous propaganda. But the Leveretts can't know it because they probably never spoke to a single Iranian, inside or outside Iran. They think that anti-Americanism and anti-Zionism are popular among Iranians, confusing Iran with the Arab countries. I could not find a single Iranian willing to shout "Death to America!" (the official slogan) even though Iranians are so encouraged by the official propaganda. It's as if you couldn't find anybody in the USA willing to shout "Communism is bad!" after decades of anti-communist propaganda by the government, the schools and the media of the USA. As for Zionism, probably a majority of Iranians sincerely dislikes Israel, but, to be fair, the Leveretts should ask the same Iranians whether they like, say, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan. The same people who dislike Israel are likely to dislike the Sunni countries and their messy neighbors to the north. The Leveretts seem to ignore that Iran was fighting both Al Qaeda and the Taliban way before George W Bush did. The Leveretts hardly mention that the most traumatic experience of the last century in Iran has not been the CIA-engineered coup of 1953 (does any living Iranian remember that?) but the war against Saddam Hussein's Iraq of 1980-88 that cost about half a million lives. Iranians have a problem with Arabs and Afghans, not with the West. Iranians view themselves as the heirs of an more ancient and much more advanced civilization than the Arabs or those barbarians of Central Asia, much closer to the Western civilization than to the Arab civilization. The Leveretts obviously never asked the average young Iranians where they would like to live.

It is true that in the past the Iranian regime has used the two slogans to cement its legitimacy: "Death to America!" helped domestically to create the myth that the ayatollahs were defending the sovereignty of Iran against evil Western powers; and "Death to Israel!" helped internationally to create the myth that the ayatollahs were the first line of defense against the machinations of the evil Zionists. Both slogans, however, have become obsolete. People are not as sensitive today as they were in 1979 about CIA interference in Iranian affairs, and the Israeli-Palestinian issues does not inflame the Islamic world the way it used to.

That said, it is true that much of the current ideology of the Iranian regime was shaped by Western interference in Iranian affairs dating back to the "big game" played by Britain and Russia a century ago. Whoever has power in Iran has reasons to fear Western interference simply based on statistics.

It is also true that the Iranian regime is less brutal than perceived in the West. Thousands of young people who attended the mass demonstrations against the regime were never molested. There was general intimidation by the militias, but nothing comparing with the violence used by Mubarak in Egypt and nothing even remotely similar to what Assad is doing today in Syria. One simple reason is that the regime did not need excessive violence: the 2009 uprising took place when Barack Obama had just replaced George W Bush and, contrary to what the Leveretts claim, Obama's first international deed was to extend the olive branch to the Iranian regime, something that millions of protesters perceived as betrayal. The USA never supported and quickly abandoned the protest movement, hoping in a deal with the regime that never came. The regime was smart enough to give hope to diplomacy so that the USA would not interfere militarily during the mass protests and then, once the mass protests petered out, the Iranian regime resumed its anti-American stance. Obama was tricked and ridiculed, and the protesters lost faith in the USA. A few months later, in the spring of 2010, Turkey and Brazil worked out a proposal for negotiating with the Iranian regime, a document that further isolated the protesters: instead of a roadmap to democratize Iran here was a roadmap to legitimize a stolen election. (The USA later rejected the proposal).

One of the surprising conspiracy theories that the Leveretts don't mention (because they probably never spent a day talking to people in Tehran) is that the USA actually wants the current regime in power. This may sound incredible to Western eyes, but i heard it from more than one Iralian. Iran, after all, is an island of stability in that part of the world: Arab regimes are falling one after the other, Lebanon is a mess, Israel is still technically at war with most Arab countries, the Palestinians still don't have a country, Iraq is still engulfed in an ethnic/religious civil war, Afghanistan is anarchy, Pakistan seems to be a ticking (nuclear) bomb. By comparison, Iran has had the same regime for 30 years and it has changed only two supreme leaders. Too bad they keep screaming "Death to America!" otherwise the Iranians would be the perfect ally.

Iran is even the one country in the region where women are doing relatively well: they have to wear the headscarf but they have way more educational and employment opportunities than in Arab countries, in Afghanistan and in Pakistan. Girls don't get their nose cut off if they have run away from their abusive husband, unlike in USA-controlled Afghanistan. Many of them become doctors and academic researchers. Virtually all of them get a driver license, unlike in Saudi Arabia, a staunch ally of the USA.

The Leveretts routinely refer to the two wars fought by George W Bush as debacles. That's an interesting definition of "debacle". Saddam Hussein is not only gone, but dead, and his entire system of power has disintegrated. It is hard to see how contemporary historians can see it as a victory. Saddam obviously lost, which means that Bush won. The Iraqi civil war that followed and from which Obama wisely withdrew was a different story, and Bush, at least formally, never took sides with either camp (Sunni or Shiite). The Taliban, who were the target of Bush's war in Afghanistan, are no longer in power. They are still fighting and may eventually make a deal with the central government of Afghanistan, but it's hard to see this as a "victory" by the Taliban. Therefore, there is little doubt that militarily Bush won both wars against his two enemies, Saddam Hussein and the Taliban. Whether winning those two wars was good or bad for the USA is like asking whether winning World War II was good or bad for the British Empire (that started disintegrating a few years later). But that's a different kind of discussion, and it will take decades before one can give a certain answer.

It is true that both wars helped the Iranian regime. Saddam Hussein and the Taliban were the only two enemies of Iran. The USA removed both from the map. The obvious consequence was that Iran became more powerful in the region. In fact, the new regime in Iraq is closely related to Iran, a dramatic improvement for Iran over the previous situation (arch-enemy Saddam Hussein). However, Bush critics forget to mention the destabilizing effect that the democratization of Iraq has had on the entire region. It s not a coincidence that the 2009 protests in Iran followed the 2005 democratic elections in Iraq. Iranians blush when told that, for the first time in centuries, one of their Arab neighbors has a better political system than theirs. It was ok to be ruled by a dictator (first Khomeini, now Khamenei) when the Arabs were ruled by all sorts of crazy dictators like Saddam Hussein and Qaddafi. Now it is embarrassing to see Maliki elected in real elections while Iranians are mocked by their leaders with fake elections. The new Shiite Iraq may seem to be a net gain for the Iranian regime but in reality it puts more pressure on them to democratize and modernize. The Iranian regime is lucky that the Iraqi economy is still a mess. If that economy ever recovers, the other obvious limit will become even more apparent: the Iranian economy has been in shambles for decades. Again, this is something that the masses were willing to tolerate as long as their neighbors were in the same situation.

Anti-American conspiracy theorists like the Leveretts blame imperialist policies by the USA for everything that happens or does not happen in the world, which to some extent is true since the USA is the world's superpower and, in theory, can do and undo many things.

The Leveretts advocate the acceptance that the Iranian regime will be in power for a long time. The subtitle of their book is: "Why the United States Must Come to Terms with the Islamic Republic of Iran". I think that would be the worst possible mistake. The USA, and the West in general, has always paid a price whenever it has accepted and befriended a dictatorship, and it has always been rewarded in the long run when it sided with democratic movements. In fact, if the USA did what the Leveretts recommends, they would probably come out with a book blaming USA acceptance of the regime for whatever problem comes next.

Denying the obvious is never a good way to solve problems. The Iranian regime is hated by its people, and disliked by the entire region except for pockets of Shiite nationalism like Hezbollah in Lebanon. Iran is one of the most corrupt countries in the world, and the wealth gap has reached incredible levels (big SUVs cruise around Tehran while tens of millions of peasants live on the brink of starvation). Most of the population was not even born in 1979 and could care less what the USA did before the Islamic revolution that brought to power the current regime. Even Russia has had enough of Iran's nuclear program. If Syria falls, Iran would be completely isolated except for democratic Iraq. Accepting a regime that nobody likes would be the worst possible policy the USA could endorse.