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Mullahs and Mulligans

In the New York Review of Books, Roger Cohen reviews Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett’s book, Going to Tehran: Why the United States Must Come to Terms with the Islamic Republic of Iran. He didn’t like it: the “eerie effort to whitewash the Islamic Republic in Going to Tehran is so extreme that it would be comical if it did not stray close to obscenity.” The Leveretts “have drunk the Islamic Republic’s Kool-Aid to the last drop.” They are “across-the-board apologists” whose book is “buried in heavy doses of one-sided drivel,” written in a “customary egregious style,” envisaging an “utterly fanciful” grand bargain. The book is “a disservice to the truth.”

On that last point, Cohen writes with knowledge the Leveretts lack, since he witnessed the Iranian uprising on June 12, 2009. His recollection in his review is worth reading, for reasons that extend beyond his critique of the Leveretts’ book:

The revolt began when, within hours of polling stations closing, Ahmadinejad was pronounced the first-round winner of the presidential election with 62.63 percent of the vote, a result that—as Mir Hussein Moussavi’s Green Movement surged—gave the incumbent almost 20 million more votes than in the first round in 2005. How, Iranians asked, could this be?

I was there that day, and for the twelve days following, and will never forget the courage of millions of Iranians protesting what they saw as their stolen votes in the face of the regime’s thuggery throughout the city … Ahmadinejad and the regime set out from June 13 to smash Moussavi and his supporters, burning his headquarters that morning, beating countless women in the streets, closing down the Interior Ministry where votes were being counted, expelling the foreign correspondents they could lay their hands on, ranting about Western conspiracies, and creating an atmosphere of terror in Tehran and other major cities … “Ahmadinejad Won. Get Over It.” This was the headline of an Op-Ed by the Leveretts in Politico on June 15, 2009. At the time they had never gone to Tehran. But they knew.

Roger Cohen is himself a notorious apologist for the Iranian regime, so the Leveretts may find his criticism stinging, in the way it hurts to have one’s appearance criticized by a frog. But this intramural dispute between Walter Duranty wannabes should not obscure a larger point. President Obama voted “present” in June 2009, as the regime staged a fraudulent election and then cut down protesters. At the time, Roger Cohen reported Iranians were asking “Where is Obama?” Perhaps they hadn’t read his Inaugural address, which intoned: “Those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.” It was a graceless signal that America’s freedom agenda from the Bush years would not be a problem for the mullahs.

Four years of wrong-sided history later, the regime is nearing completion of its nuclear program, unresponsive to Obama’s endlessly extended hand, unfazed by his rhetorical red lines and non-crippling sanctions, ready to hold another fraudulent election. Yesterday it effectively barred opposition candidates–an act the New York Times reports “shocked Iranians,” and that would “put the last major state institution under [the Mullahs’ and Revolutionary Guard] control—the first time since the 1979 revolution that all state institutions were under the firm control of one faction.”

A leader looking for a choice between war and appeasement ought to consider a full-throated defense of the Iranian people’s right to vote out an oppressive and illegitimate regime, and take this opportunity to lead the world in delegitimizing it. Perhaps this time Obama will find his voice, but more likely he will remain silent, still hoping (like Roger Cohen) for a bargain, once the Iranian “election” is over and he can use his own post-election flexibility. 



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