I must confess that I am beginning to feel sorry for the people–the men, that is–who issued the now-infamous NIE proclaiming their near-certitude that Iran “halted” its secret nuclear weapons program in 2003, and their heartwarming belief, at a lower level of certitude, that the mullahs haven’t resumed it. This embarrassingly crafted bit of fluff has failed to pass muster in London, Paris, Berlin and Jerusalem, and in much of Washington and New York. Most of us thought this would put an end to any aggressive policy toward Tehran, but life is full of surprises and if anything the call for tougher sanctions is stronger today than it seemed last week.
And apologists for the NIE–a group that more or less coincides with those who still believe in the likelihood of a “grand bargain” with the mullahs–are resorting to some pathetic attempts to advance their policy. Two of them, Hillary Mann Leverett and her husband, Flynt Leverett–both former Bush administration dissidents–have an odd oped in today’s New York Times, in which they argue a) that anyone who proposed “engagement” with Iran in the early Bush years was risking her career, and b) that Iran has really tried to cooperate with us in the past, but got nowhere.
As for a), I’m not aware that anyone was ever fired or demoted from the Bush Administration for advancing the “engagement” policy. Indeed, Richard Haas, an intimate of then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and head of State’s Bureau of Policy Planning, vigorously advanced it, and I think he got various high-ranking officials (perhaps Mr. Leverett himself) to go meet quietly with Iranian counterparts to explore the possibility of detente. And, as I have written several times, a bit more than a year ago, Secretary Rice asked former Spanish Prime Minister Felipe Gonzales to go to Tehran, which he did. He met with Mr. Larijani, who told him to forget it.
So a) seems factually wrong.
As for b), you really have to read the small print. For Leverett and Leverett actually say this:
“Iran has tried tactical cooperation with the United States several times over the past two decades — including helping to secure the release of hostages from Lebanon in the late 1980s and sending shipments of arms to Bosnian Muslims when the United States was forbidden to do so.”
Yes, the Iranians were in a great position to be “helpful” to our hostages in Lebanon in the mid and late eighties. After all, they had instructed Hezbollah to take the hostages in the first place. They were running the old mafia insurance scam, first demonstrating their ability to kill us (as they did to at least two of the hostages, Higgins and Buckley), then showing their control by releasing a handful. If that’s the “grand bargain” that the Leveretts have in mind, I’d rather pay protection money. It saves on travel expenses and time wasted.
As for the provision of weapons to “Bosnian Muslims,” this was one of the Clinton Administration’s most scandalous undertakings. We enabled the Iranians to smuggle weapons into the Balkans in violation of formal international agreements (CIA at the time was within a hair of accusing the White House of carrying out a covert action without legal approval), and it enabled the mullahs to set up a substantial terrorist-training network through which many of the most infamous killers, including some involved in the 9/11 attacks, passed in the eighties and nineties. I wouldn’t hold that up as a great example of “tactical cooperation.” More like “American stupidity combined with Iranian murderous cunning.”
The Leveretts give us one more pathetic example of Tehran’s presumed virtue, and America’s meanness in response.
“Tehran’s expectations of reciprocal good will have been dashed by American condemnation of perceived provocations in other arenas, as when Iranian support for objectives in Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks was rewarded by President Bush’s inclusion of Iran in the “axis of evil.”
Do they not know that the mullahs were playing both sides of the table? At the very moment Tehran was sitting at the negotiating table with us to discuss the future of Afghanistan, Iranian-guided terrorists were trying to kill Americans on the ground. Just as they are today, in both Afghanistan and Iraq.
It’s kind of a template for the nuclear program: on the one hand they make a friendly gesture, on the other hand they continue to produce the ingredients of their atomic bomb.