The article by Hillary Mann Leverett*, with its usual CNN disclaimer "The views expressed are her own", is quite a show. Created by CNN on-line editor and by the author both. Its catchy formatting and the embedded clip** with Josh Earnest's criticism of Netanyahu's appearance in the Congress make it look like something coming from very high up on the US political ladder.
The author, though, isn't a member of the official political elite, not anymore, at least according to the blurb:
Hillary Mann Leverett, co-author of "Going to Tehran: Why America Must Accept the Islamic Republic of Iran," served at the National Security Council under Presidents Clinton and Bush. She is CEO of Strategic Energy and Global Analysis (STRATEGA), a political risk consultancy.The fact of the author not really representing the current administration, at least not formally, is somewhat becalming, but only somewhat. For the reasons to be presented later. Now to some recreational fisking of the piece. It starts with the following recollection:
In September 2002, then-former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a U.S. congressional committee "there is absolutely no question whatsoever" that Saddam Hussein's Iraq was developing nuclear weapons at "portable manufacturing sites of mass death."Ms Mann Leverett, however, omits two relevant and important points: first of all it was Israeli Air Force that destroyed the Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981, pushing the Iraqi nuclear efforts quite a few years back. Secondly, way ahead of the US 2003 invasion of Iraq, Ariel Sharon - the then PM of Israel, was quite open about his objections to this adventure (part of the info here).
Fast forward to this week, and Netanyahu was back, this time as prime minister, to make virtually identical claims about Iran.Virtually identical? Assuming that Bibi made some questionable claims in 2002, even Iranians would be insulted to call the state of the art nuclear industry they have developed "portable manufacturing sites". No, madam, this is a trite attempt, sorry.
Yet not only has the U.S. intelligence community disagreed with Netanyahu's assessment of Iranian nuclear intentions, so does Israel's, according to leaked documents.Bunkum too, as you can clearly see.
Sadly, Netanyahu's presentation reinforces caricatures regularly advanced by American and Gulf Arab pundits -- caricatures of Iran as aspiring Middle Eastern hegemon, bent on overthrowing an otherwise stable regional order.You can use this quote as a lesson in stealthy building of a strawman. First of all - a perfectly reasonable beginning that mentions presentation (but hardly a caricature) of Iran as an aspiring Middle Eastern hegemon. A person's skull must be pretty thick not to agree with this assessment. And then, on top of this, Ms Mann Leverett adroitly bolts on her own invention of "an otherwise stable regional order", putting into Bibi's mouth something he could have hardly imagined, let alone said.
It becomes quite boring actually, so easily finding falsity in almost every statement of that article, but here Ms Mann Leverett felt the ramp-up was sufficient and went into a full-out attacking mode:
It's [the quote above] a misguided perspective that is actually hurting the United States.How so, you might ask? Because:
...rapprochement with a genuinely independent Iran -- not a nominally independent Iran whose strategic orientation is subordinated to U.S. preferences -- is vital to halting the decline of America's strategic position.And how do you stop the decline? Very simple:
...for its own sake, the United States needs to stop trying to be the Middle East's hegemon.Frankly, it is probably a more complicated thing than you and I can understand. You stop your decline by not trying to be a hegemon anymore - figure it out, please.
However, Ms Mann Leverett is much clearer regarding Iran's hegemony ambitions:
Iran has gained influence in Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Syria and Yemen by backing political structures that, in Tehran's judgment, will produce governments committed to foreign policy independence.Leaving aside the nigh impenetrable wording of the sentence after the word "Yemen", it is all crystal clear. In one of the quotes above Ms Mann Leverett called the picture of Iran hegemony drawn by Bibi "a caricature", remember?. Now she is going out of her way to draw the same picture...
So US as a hegemon - bad, Iran as a hegemon - good. Got it? If not, do not ask me for explanation. Because it is too high on the academic complexity scale, y'all know...
From this point on, Ms Mann Leverett dives into a scathing denouncement of Israel, and I am really not in the mood to fisk that crapola, frankly. But the conclusion, the conclusion of the whole piece, it is simply phenomenal! To build it up, the author gets to another quote from an Israeli VIP (taken out of context, by the way):
The reality is that Israel's concern about Iranian nuclearization is not that Tehran will use (at the moment nonexistent) nuclear weapons against a nuclear-armed Israel. Instead, as then-Defense Minister Ehud Barak explained in 2012, it is that a nuclear Iran would "restrict our range of operations."Let aside the fact that the two sentences in the quote above somewhat contradict one another. Let aside the fact that Barak's quote looks quite different in the original text. Because here it comes, the bomb (no pun intended):
But this is precisely what a truly stable balance of power requires.Let us see: it is not enough that Iran of the Ayatollahs, the supporter and enabler of mayhem and terror all over the globe, puts its mitts on Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Syria and Yemen, building up its presence on two Israeli borders. On top of it Iran has to get nukes. Because "true balance" requires it... Ain't it cool to be a professor?
So this was the goal of the whole article: to prove, in its roundabout and devoid of logic way, that Iran has to have nukes - for the "stable balance". But what worries me about it is how close most of the "logic" of the generally asinine piece dovetails the White House/State Department dysfunctional Middle East policy in general and policy on Iran in particular. Check out this article, one of many:
In its bold attempt at an Iranian opening, the Obama administration views Netanyahu, AIPAC, the Gulf States, Congress and, perhaps, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as obstacles. Its partners are Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. Obama and a small knot of advisers believe this deal could be the defining foreign policy moment of the second term — the Cuba opening, times 100.I think that this quote covers the main points sufficiently. And, while no one in the Obama administration went so far as to say openly what Ms Mann Leverett blurted out, e.g. that Iran needs the nukes for the "stable balance", I am not at all sure that this thought never crossed any mind in the said administration.
This driving vision has already distorted U.S. policy in a variety of ways. Obama could not take forceful action against Iran’s proxy, the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad, for fear of undermining nuclear negotiations. The administration has downplayed the issue of human rights in Iran for the same reason. The United States has now blessed the operation of Iranian-dominated militias within Iraq — particularly in the liberation of Tikrit — raising the prospect of Iranian control over Iraq’s security and oil sectors. Iranian military forces and proxies now operate freely from Baghdad to Beirut, seemingly tolerated in the overarching strategic goal of defeating the Islamic State.
As Obama has avoided direct confrontation with Iran to preserve the viability of nuclear talks, Iran has been busy destabilizing the Middle East, replacing us as the major power and threatening our allies. And those allies have taken note.
Too bad. But this is what realpolitik is about, ladies and gentlemen. Too bad.
(*) Prof Hillary Mann Leverett has a long and distinguished past of rallying for Islamic Republic of Iran and the necessity of "genuine rapprochement" with it. She shares this passion with her husband, Flynt Leverett. To the tune of calling a site they keep together Going to Tehran (to be fair, in the name of a book they co-authored). The level of her obsession with Iran could be indicated by the headlines of her articles on Al Jazeera:
- Rouhani won the Iranian election. Get over it.
- Consequences of western intransigence in nuclear diplomacy with Iran
- The Iranian nuclear issue and the future of international order
- Obama's choice: Real diplomacy (or war) with Iran
- The coming collapse of Iran sanctions