“Most people…do not realize that, for nearly thirty years, the Iranians continuously attacked us, and, aside from some harsh rhetoric from time to time, we never responded.” So writes NRO contributor and American Enterprise Institute scholar Michael Ledeen in his new book The Iranian Time Bomb. The book is an analysis of Iran’s ongoing war with “the Great Satan” and a blueprint for finally fighting back. Ledeen took a few questions on the book and the current scene from National Review Online editor Kathryn Lopez over Labor Day weekend.
Kathryn Lopez: Let me channel some Senate Democrats: Is there anything the Bush administration has done right on Iraq?
Michael Ledeen: Sure. Embracing what is now known as the Petraeus strategy was certainly right.
Lopez: What’s been the biggest mistake?
Ledeen: The failure of strategic vision, which endures still: believing “the war” was in Iraq alone, and that we could liberate and protect Iraq from inside her borders. It always was a regional war, but we keep denying it, above all to ourselves.
Lopez: How can it be remedied ASAP?
Ledeen: Call for regime change in Damascus and Tehran, and threaten Riyadh with grave actions if the Saudis don’t stop funding the jihadi global network.
Lopez: Why hasn’t there been another big attack on the U.S. homeland if the Iranian “terror masters”: are as evil as you say?
Ledeen: Nobody knows. Maybe we caught some of them. Maybe they decided not to do anything that would strengthen Bush. Maybe — this one is fairly likely, actually — there’s a rift within top leadership and the two sides (Hit America; no, hit Americans abroad and American allies first, then and only then go after America directly) paralyze each other.
Lopez: “There has been no break in ideological or operational continuity from Khomeini to Khamenei and Ahmadinejad; only the public face of the Revolution has changed.” Is there something more dangerous about Ahmadinejad? Brashness and nukes?
Ledeen: Iran, not a single individual, is getting more dangerous. Ahmadinejad is the mask currently worn by the regime.
Lopez: If the Iranian regime is opposed by literally “millions” of Iranians, why haven’t they taken action already? Why does what George Bush says and does matter? How would they even know what he does and says?
Iranians believe that nothing of consequence can happen in the world without American support (some of them add the queen of England). Millions of Iranians have protested against the regime and called for its downfall, but no country outside Iran has supported them. If Bush were to stand up and say “we want regime change in Iran,” I think there would be a fundamental change in the world, including inside Iran.
You ask how the Iranians would know what George Bush does and says? We can tell them directly, via radio and television. We should also tell them what’s going on in their own country.
Lopez: Who are the dissidents from Iran we should be supporting? How can we?
Ledeen: They are the Iranian people, probably upwards of 80 percent of them, more than fifty million. We should broadcast to them, assemble strike funds for them, get them laptops, servers, anti-censoring software, etc.
If we could overthrow the Soviet Empire with a small fraction of the population, why should we be pessimistic about Iran, where we’ve got most of the population with us?
Lopez: Tell me about the bus workers and union organizers. Are they poised to for a solidarity redux?
Ledeen: Unions are illegal, and the heads of the workers’ organizations are being tortured. The head of the bus workers’ organization is one of the bravest men in Iran, he recently went around Europe trying to get support for Iranian workers, knowing full well he would be arrested upon his return.
Lopez: Who is Akbar Mohammadi and what happened to him?
Ledeen: Akbar Mohammadi was one of the founders of the independent student movement. He was tortured to death by the mullahs about a year ago, and miraculously — despite a truly shameful performance by the State Department — his brother Manoucher escaped and is now in this country.
Lopez: You’ve been criticized by bloggers for having never been to Iran. Is that a problem?
Ledeen: I have never been to fascist Italy either, but I’m considered an expert on it.
Lopez: How important is the success of Hezbollah to Iran?
Ledeen: Very. Very very. Hezbollah provides many of the footsoldiers and most of the strategic planning for their international terrorist operations. I think we will eventually find that Hezbollah has been the spinal cord of the “insurgency” in Iraq.
Lopez: Why should I think “Iran” when I hear “al Qaeda”?
Ledeen: Because they’ve been working together since 1994, and we are now up to our uvulas in evidence showing Iran’s support for al Qaeda in Iraq. The 9/11 Commission — as Tom Joscelyn has written for years — found striking evidence of the al Qaeda/Iran partnership, starting with the sensational discovery that Imad Mughniyah, the operational chief of Hezbollah, was on the plane that took some of the 9/11 terrorists out of Saudi Arabia, en route to the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.
Lopez: So does bin Laden and crew work for Iran? Have they always?
Ledeen: I don’t know about “always.” Certainly they have worked closely with Iran for quite a while. I think the Iranian domination of al Qaeda started when we destroyed al Qaeda in Afghanistan. The key leaders ran to Iran and have mostly been there ever since.
Lopez: Was Iran involved in 9/11?
Ledeen: I don’t know. It’s possible, but certainly unproven. The most tantalizing factoid is the story of Ramzi bin al Shibh, the logistics officer for the 9/11 operation. He went to Iran for a month in late December, 2000, and then he returned to Iran less than a week before 9/11.
Lopez: This war on terror — how akin is it to the Cold War?
Ledeen: It’s similar in that our major enemy sees itself as the inevitable winner of an historic conflict with us. in that conflict, both Iranians and Soviets became major sponsors of international terrorism. it’s also similar in that the Iranians, like the Soviets, have a great talent for wrecking their own country and turning their own people against the regime.
It’s different in that Iran’s army isn’t remotely on a par with the Red Army. nobody’s worried about being invaded by Iranian armed forces.
Lopez: Speaking of: If Reagan was a disaster on Iran, as you say in the book; we’re most definitely not looking for another Reagan for president?
Ledeen: Long question about which I once wrote a book called Perilous Statecraft. The Reagan administration fell into the same self-delusion as every other American president since Carter: he came to believe that we could surely reach a modus vivendi with the Islamic Republic. Nothing new there, just a few years later Clinton was busy approving Russian arms sales to the mullahs, and signing off on Russian help with the Iranian nuclear project.
Lopez: How would Hillary be on Iran?
Ledeen: Who knows? We don’t even know if she’s really a Yankee fan. Certainly her husband was a great appeaser of Iran, and she was said to have had input into all his policies. If that is true, then you’d have to decide if she would repeat her earlier appeasement or if she learned something useful from it.
Lopez: Is it a problem and most Americans do not know the name of just released Haleh Esfandiari?
Ledeen: All is well; now they can read The Iranian Time Bomb and get educated.
Lopez: You do a little criticizing of General Petraeus on Iran. How’s he been doing this summer?
Ledeen: Magnificently. and I am told his report is particularly brilliant on Iran.
Lopez: How much better might have the Iraq war gone if we had addressed Iran differently?
Ledeen: I thought at the time that if we supported revolution in Iran, it would almost certainly succeed, and then we would not have had to face the jihad from Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia when we went into Iraq. I also thought that our strategy in Iraq was excessively military and insufficiently political.
What drives me crazy is that even our most brilliant analysts — among whom I count some very close friends — still aren’t talking about the regional war. They still talk about Iraq alone. And down that road only misery lies.
Lopez: If there’s on message you hope to effectively get out to members of Congress, especially this month, what might it be?
Ledeen: That they’re debating the wrong question. We have to win the war, but the real war, not the battle for Iraq. We must have a winning strategy for Iran and Syria. I don’t think it requires the use of massive military power, although I do think we should attack both the terrorist training camps in Iran and Syria and the sites in Iran where the new explosive devices are being manufactured and assembled.
In other words, I agree with Lieberman, although I don’t think he is yet prepared to talk about a regional war.
Lopez: If we bombed Tehran tomorrow, what might happen?
Ledeen: There is no intelligent answer to that question, except: we’d kill a lot of people. there’s a recent poll according to which the general attitude is, if you’re going to bomb us to bring down the regime, that’s O.K. but if you’re going to bomb us to shut down some nuclear facilities, we’re against it.
But I have no idea if those polls are reliable. it makes sense to me, but I’m not in Tehran.
Lopez: If the administration would listen to you on one point, what would you pray it be?
LEDEEN: Tell the world that we want an end to the regime in Tehran. And keep saying it. And help the millions of Iranians who want to be free.
Lopez: You dedicated your book to Simone, Gabriel, and Daniel Ledeen. What should your fellow Americans know about them?
LEDEEN: That they are the most terrificly inspirational children anyone could imagine. Simone has served, as a civilian, in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Gabe is a Marine 1st Lieutenant currently on his second deployment in Iraq. Daniel will be a Marine officer when he graduates from college in a year and a half. Three amazing overachievers, very close to each other, a testament to the greatness of America. And of course to the wonder of their mother.