Even for August, the media’s handling of the latest round of leaks from the usual unnamed sources in State and CIA on the subject of Iran is unusually feckless. The gist of the “story” fed to the press is that some Pentagon officials (and maybe I, as well) met and actually spoke with some Iranians a year or more ago, and then again a month or two ago. These talks were “unauthorized,” which apparently means that Colin Powell and George Tenet weren’t asked for permission beforehand, and, according to Newsday and the Washington Post, they got in the way of the State Department’s own secret talks with members of the Iranian regime. One unnamed deep thinker went so far as to see the dark hand of a neoconservative plot, designed to prod the Iranians into a rigid and uncooperative posture that would defeat State’s efforts to arrive at a deal with Tehran.
The story was given sex appeal by the mention of the name of my old friend Manucher Ghorbanifar, unfairly but predictably cast in the role of the Peter Lorre of Iran-Contra, who was allegedly involved in the talks. And so the journalists in Washington ran around chasing their own very short tails for several days until they concluded a) that people talking to people isn’t much of a story and b) it seems to be about turf, not anything serious, and c) it really doesn’t lead anywhere.
Notice several points, please. First, the implication of the complaint about Pentagon officials’ conversations is that it’s okay for our diplomats to talk to the official representatives of the murderous mullahcracy in Tehran, with an eye to establishing some form of rapprochement, but it’s not okay for midlevel Iran experts at DoD to talk to private Iranians to enhance our understanding about what’s going on inside Iran, and what the Iranian regime is going, or planning to do, to Americans and our friends and allies. Why should that be so? One would think that any such conversations should be praised, not leaked to death.
Second, the leakers — and some of the more overzealous scribblers — suggested that somehow the Pentagon was repeating the errors of Iran-Contra by talking to Ghorbanifar. But the shoe is on the wrong foot here, for it’s the State Department that has repeated one of Iran-Contra’s momentous blunders by believing that there are “moderates” in Tehran with whom the United States can and should work.
Third, we are constantly told, most recently by Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage (who recently pronounced the incredible phrase “Iran is a democracy” and has never repented) that the State Department wants Iran to turn over top al Qaeda terrorists who are believed to be under Iranian-regime control. Why doesn’t some reporter ask our diplomats the obvious questions: is it not correct that al Qaeda terrorists have been operating out of Iran? And if that is true, could that only have happened if the regime approved? And if the regime approves (as the State Department’s own annual surveys of state-sponsored terrorism invariably document), then why on earth should anyone expect the regime to turn them over to us? After all, one of the effects of surrendering terrorists to us would be to enable us to further document Iran’s role in the terror network. So just what do Armitage and the others expect to accomplish? After all, the Iranians have said publicly that they will not deliver anyone to our justice.
Many of the journalists thought they smelled “covert action” in the tea leaves of this story, but there is none, alas. We are doing nothing to support the desperate efforts of the Iranian people to free themselves from the mullahs, despite the almost daily flow of proof that this is one of the world’s most odious tyrannies, that the regime scorns even minimal standards of human rights and, for example, recently bludgeoned a femal Canadian journalist to death and then even denied her son the fulfillment of his obligation to arrange for a proper burial in her own country. State continues the fruitless (for nearly a quarter century now!) efforts at “dialogue,” which only serve the interests of the mullahs, for they are able to whisper to the democratic opposition “you see, the Americans accept us, they deal with us, and they do nothing for you.”
Is this the Iran policy the president wants?
So there are other questions to ask, and they should be directed to Secretary of State Colin Powell: Why do you find the Iranian people so uniquely unworthy of support in their efforts to be free? Why do you think that the Liberians, Phillipinos, Yugoslavs, Bosnians ,and Iraqis are entitled to our support, but not the Iranians? Why do you use phrases like “family squabble” to describe mass murder and systematic repression in Iran, when you used much stronger language to (accurately) describe a similar regime in Iraq?
In The War Against the Terror Masters (a new edition of which has just hit the bookstores), I documented the way in which our intelligence community developed a phobia for accurate information about international terrorism. They did not know much, in large part because they did not want to know. This phobia — a suicidal reflex — underlies the recent leaked stories. The opponents of the Pentagon officials’ conversations do not want the U.S. government to have a full picture of events in Iran today. If they did, they would not only welcome the conversations they are now complaining about, they would look for ways to have even more contacts. But they are acting to shut down sources of information that may not jibe with their picture of Iran and their desires to make deals with the mullahs.
And the hell of it all is that this president has it right, and has had it right from the beginning. He knows Iran is at the heart of the Axis of Evil. He knows that America, because of its very essence as the embodiment of the democratic evolution, must support the fight for freedom in Iran. He says it all the time, only to have many of the others gainsay him.
Americans are being murdered in Iraq and Afghanistan, in Jordan and Saudi Arabia, by terrorists supported by Iran. Yet those who try to unravel the terror network are treated as if they were somehow suspect, while those who appease Tehran pompously proclaim the righteousness of their endeavors. One wonders what they will say when Iran tests an atomic bomb in the near future, and one wonders what they will say to their president when he asks them why they acted so desperately to shut down the possibility of getting all available information about our enemies.
Faster, please, Mr. President. Ask them now.
— Michael Ledeen, an NRO contributing editor, is most recently the author of The War Against the Terror Masters. Ledeen, Resident Scholar in the Freedom Chair at the American Enterprise Institute, can be reached through Benador Associates.