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Bargaining With the Devil

5:34 PM, Apr 10, 2013 • By LEE SMITH
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Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett, the husband and wife team of former U.S. officials (he was with the CIA and she was with the State Department) who’ve made a second career out of advocacy of the Islamic Republic of Iran, have just published a book. Going to Tehran: Why the United States Must Come to Terms With the Islamic Republic of Iran has been roundly panned by critics, most perplexingly for the Leveretts, even by reviewers in places like the New York Times that used to welcome them with open arms.

Calling for a “grand bargain” with Iran, and visionary American leadership modeled after Nixon’s trip to China, the book touches on all the same themes that once excited the Times. In 2006 the paper of record published the Leveretts notorious “redacted” op-ed—“redacted,” as the couple explained, by the CIA under orders from the White House—helping to make them one of Washington’s premier speak-truth-to-power couples. But that was when taking on Bush was an all-entry pass to political, intellectual and cultural credibility, and the Leveretts, who claim to have a privileged insight into Iranian politics, are apparently unaware that the culture of American politics has shifted underneath their feet.

A decade ago, the Times and others were eager to publicize the Leveretts’ unfounded contention that Bush had ignored overtures from Iran and was instead bent on conflict with the Islamic Republic. That same media, with the same political loyalties, is not now interested in crediting the equally ludicrous charge that Obama isn’t trying hard enough to strike a deal with the regime.

The Leveretts’ response has been to lash out at their critics, which is to say the couple’s paranoid dogmatism has blinded them to the fact that the fundamental contours of their argument have been adopted by the institution they had most hoped to influence—not the American press, but the White House itself. The Obama administration not only wants a “grand bargain” with Iran, it has also premised its wider Middle East policy on the notion that Iran’s regional interests are, in the words of the Leveretts, “legitimate.” Instead of writing sulky letters to the editor to complain about their bad reviews, the Leveretts should be taking a victory lap.

For a book proposing an accommodation between Iran and the United States, it’s peculiar that among the book’s negative reviewers only Roya Hakakian, writing in the Wall Street Journal, focuses on the Leveretts’ treatment of the regime’s foreign policy, including its anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism. The New York Times’s Laura Secor and the New Republic’s Abbas Milani, on the other hand, choose instead to emphasize the Leveretts’ position on the Islamic Republic’s domestic legitimacy. They challenge the Leveretts’ assertion that the regime represents the political aspirations of the majority of the Iranian people, that the 2009 election that returned Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power was not rigged, and that the Green revolution failed because it was backed only by an effete urban minority.

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