Peter Beinart seems surprised that I think the al Qaeda terrorists who committed the East African bombings had ties to Iran. There’s good reason for me to believe it, starting with the testimony of Ali Mohamed, who was one of those terrorists: “I was aware of certain contacts between al Qaeda and…Iran and Hezbollah…I arranged security for a meeting…between Mughniyah (the operational head of Hezbollah) and bin Laden.”
He cites the 9/11 Commission Report to debunk my claim that there was an ongoing relationship between Iran and al Qaeda. But he hasn’t read page 61, which says: “Both Hezbollah trainers and experts from Iran’s Ministry of Information and Security trained al Qaeda fighters in Sudan…Lebanon (in Hezbollah camps) and Iran (in officially run bases). Thereafter al Qaeda’s modus operandi came to resemble closely that of Hezbollah.”
He says I think the mullahs “were probably behind 9/11.” But I never said it. I only said that it’s “altogether possible” Iran was involved. And so does the 9/11 Commission.
He accuses me of slandering Akbar Ganji, a noted Iranian dissident who nearly died under torture, and was released following an international campaign on his behalf. I wrote often about Ganji’s plight, as I have about other Iranian political prisoners. I don’t remember Peter Beinart speaking out for Ganji, who was then calling for an end to the Iranian tyranny. Later, he was permitted to travel abroad. Unexpectedly, instead of calling for international support for freedom in Iran, he spent most of his time warning against such efforts. It’s certainly not slanderous to try to explain this considerable change in Ganji’s behavior, and it’s certainly not unreasonable to suspect that he may well wish to avoid another prison sentence.
If there is any slander, it is rather Beinart’s own awkward attempt at McCarthyism. He says that my description of Iran’s activities in support of international terrorism smack of the same arguments made against Saddam’s Iraq before the invasion. He reminds New York Times readers that a colleague of mine argued (correctly) that Saddam supported various terror groups, and that this was part of the justification for the invasion. But then he concedes, with some surprise, that I don’t want military action against Iran. And so? What does the debate over going to war against Saddam have to do with The Iranian Time Bomb? This used to be known as a non sequitur, the only point of which is to try to condemn me of guilt by association.
Beinart says that American support for Iranian freedom may backfire, exposing the dissidents to even greater repression precisely because they receive our assistance. I’ve heard this argument all my life: Don’t do anything for oppressed people because you’ll only make the tyrants angry. I heard it throughout the Reagan years, when we supported the Bukovskys and the Sharanskys and the Walesas and the Havels. Yet when the Soviet Empire fell, all these people thanked us for our help. People like Peter Beinart were wrong then, and wrong now, both morally and politically. Indeed, it would be right for us to support democratic revolution in Iran even if there were no Iranian nuclear program, and no Iranian support for international terrorism. Beinart’s argument gives a pass to the tyrants in Tehran. I can’t do that.
He quotes a journalist who went to Tehran and interviewed some dissidents, who told her they didn’t want American support. What were they supposed to say? Beinart may have noticed that several Americans were recently arrested in Iran for supporting peaceful political change in Iran. Would any sensible Iranian confide in an American journalist without the confidence that is born only of considerable experience? Moreover, any Iranian working for political change will automatically be accused of being an American agent, whether or not he or she gets any assistance. Isn’t it better to make the assistance available if they want it? Most Iranians believe that revolution can only succeed with American help.
He says that I beg this question, when in reality I devote dozens of pages to it: the pages that describe the ongoing struggle of millions of Iranians against the regime. Two leaders of Iranian workers’ associations recently went to Europe, and, unlike Akbar Ganji, asked their colleagues there to support freedom in Iran. That doesn’t look like rejection of foreign help.
Finally, Beinart addresses the question of whether a free Iranian government would want nuclear weapons. He says it would, and he’s got plenty of company, but in fact nobody knows, and I doubt anyone can know. There is virtually no polling data, as I point out. I don’t think there’s anything serious to say about this question, except that I’d worry a lot less about nukes in the hands of a free Iran than in those of Supreme Leader Khamenei and President Ahmadinejad. But he lambastes me for saying nothing more. I suppose in his world, it’s O.K. to keep talking even though there is no basis for it.
Iran is the key problem facing us in the Middle East. I propose support for a nonviolent democratic revolution. What does Peter Beinart advocate? In his review, he proposes nothing. He doesn’t want military attacks, and he doesn’t want support for the Iranians. So he just wants to stand pat. He must know — as every serious student of contemporary Iran knows — that the mullahs will continue their war against us, as they have for nearly thirty years. He joins the long tradition of American presidents, from Jimmy Carter to George W. Bush, who have declined to respond to the mullahs’ innumerable acts of war against us. It’s not a pretty picture.
– Michael Ledeen, Freedom Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, is author of the new book The Iranian Time Bomb.