If you think you and your wife have been unfairly tainted as the leading academic apologists for the Iranian regime in the United States, you probably don’t want to close an event for your new book by recounting a fond memory from one of your multiple encounters with the leader of an Iranian-funded Palestinian terror group.
“I remember the very first time we met Khaled Mashal, the head of Hamas,” Flynt Leverett said at the end of an event for he and his wife’s new book, “Going to Tehran,” at the Center for the National Interest in Washington Thursday.
“And he said to us that he and his colleagues pray everyday that they can see facts as they are. And I always thought that is the ultimate realists’ prayer: God give me the strength to see facts as they are.”
Flynt and his wife, Hillary Mann Leverett, both worked as staff on the National Security Council during the administration of George W. Bush, and both left Team Bush after they became increasingly concerned with its Middle East policy, though other accounts suggest that Flynt did not leave on his own accord.
Since leaving the Bush administration, the two academics — Hillary now teaches at American University and Flynt at Penn State — have become prominent defenders of Iran’s Islamic Republic. They contend that if the United States treated Iran differently, Iran would be open to a rapprochement.
“It is up to us to show that we are serious, and then if we are serious, they will be open to us,” Flynt explained.
According to Hillary, the two main arguments of their new book are that “the United States is a power in relative decline in the Middle East” and that “the biggest beneficiary of America’s ongoing decline in the Middle East is the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
Their solution, which Flynt repeated incessantly at the forum, is for President Obama to go to Iran like Nixon to China — a historical parallel that is probably as overused in Washington as calling something a “Munich moment” or a military action “another Vietnam” — and accept the Islamic Republic as it is.
The two like to call themselves realists, but their rhetoric suggest they are less realists and more advocates for the Iranian regime. It’s not like they have reluctantly come to the conclusion that it is in the best interest of the United States to deal with Iran no matter how unpalatable the regime’s human rights record is. Quite the opposite. They can hardly bring themselves to say anything bad about the theocracy, which has an abysmal human rights record, appears to be attempting to build a nuclear weapon, has threatened the U.S. and Israel, funds terror groups around the world and is responsible for the deaths of American troops in Iraq.
After hearing the authors blame the United States exclusively for the hostile relations between the U.S. and Iran, I asked them whether there was anything Iran has possibly done which might be construed as contributing to the current tensions between the two countries?
“In terms of what Iran has done, I’m really not interested in keeping score,” Flynt said, despite the fact he spent the previous hour delineating seemingly every minor and major detail of what he believed were wrongheaded actions by the United States toward Iran.
How about on human rights, I asked? Does the way Iran abuses and kills gays and persecutes the Baha’i, among other groups, concern you both at all? Is the Iranian regime’s human rights record a legitimate concern of the international community?
“I think there are, you know, obviously very serious questions about human rights on multiple fronts in Iran,” Flynt said, which is about as much criticism of the Iranian regime as he was able to muster.
Of course, he added, the U.S. is in no position to lecture Iran on human rights.
“As a matter of U.S. foreign policy, call me jaded, but I think that for the U.S., particularly in this part of the world, to try to make itself the champion of human rights given the utterly self-serving and selective way it has used the human rights issue in this part of the world, you know, to use it when it is convenient as a weapon against adversaries and absolutely to ignore it in cases where human rights are being very obviously abused — but by governments or by, you know, regimes we want to support and we want to work with — I think the U.S. government simply has no credibility to address human rights issues in Iran or in the Middle East more broadly,” he said.
And when the two are not refusing to criticize the Iranian regime, they are busy praising it.
“[I]t is a country that actually delivers for women,” Hillary claimed about a country where a woman’s testimony in court is worth half a man’s, where a woman can be punished by the government for dressing immodestly, where a woman needs her husband or male guardian’s permission to obtain a passport and where rape is allegedly used by the regime as a method of interrogation and punishment.
“[B]ecause it is an Islamic framework the government has been able to make investments and institute policies that have transformed the role of women —transformed the role of women — that give universal access to women from pre-school to PhD so that today the majority of students in all the universities … are women,” Hillary argued.
And that’s not all.
“We see that in poverty alleviation, in medical care, all these areas that really affect not just women, but people from across the spectrum,” Hillary went on.
Of course, Hillary conceded, “there may be parts of the system that people don’t like” but in the end it’s important to remember that Iran is an Islamic Republic and has a system where these problems “can be redressed overtime.”
This is the language one uses to describe American democracy, not a theocratic state rated as “not free” by Freedom House whose highest official is actually known as the Supreme Leader.
Not surprisingly, the Iranian regime sure seems to like the Leveretts. When Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made his annual jaunt to the U.S. to speak at the United Nations in September 2010, for instance, then-Yale Professor Hillary Mann Leverett was able to get a special hour-long audience with the noted Holocaust denier for her 13-student graduate seminar.
Despite all this, the two still can’t seem to understand why they are considered apologists for the unsavory regime.
“This is where we often get billed as apologists,” Hillary lamented during Thursday’s forum.
“We’re not saying that the Islamic Republic of Iran has built by any stretch a perfect system. And they don’t say that either. But what’s so important about what they are trying to do is that they’re not trying to build an Islamic state, like the Taliban or Saudi Arabia. They are trying to do something very different. They are trying to build an Islamic Republic. … And it’s deeply flawed and they know it, but what they are trying to do is have a system that addresses overtime — addresses and redresses — these flaws.”