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Dr. Michael A. Ledeen, American Enterprise Institute

"How to Liberate Iran"

I will confess to not knowing much about nuclear technology or nuclear weapons. I am an historian, but as an historian I must tell you that I've always been impressed by the surprise that external countries have always shown when another country developed nuclear weapon. Historically the West, the nuclear powers have always been astonished in how quickly some other country came up with nuclear weapons, we were astonished when Stalin did it, we were astonished when the Chinese did it recently, we were astonished at Indian and Pakistani nuclear tests, and so my general attitude is that I am very skeptical about intelligence in this area and I am very dubious whenever I hear people say confidently: "well, they won’t have a nuclear weapon before" whatever year, "2004, 2010", whatever it may be. I scratch my head and say: 'well, you know, has intelligence gotten all that much better over the years?' and I am enormously, I must say, I am enormously impressed with the Iranian ability to deceive.

Iranian culture is rich with deception, their ability to fool us, and indeed to fool themselves for that matter, is almost limitless, they are masters at this kind of art, and so I will begin by saying that as far as I am concerned I've been told by people who have been good sources for me over the years that they believe Iran now has all the components necessary for nuclear weapons, that it’s just a matter of assembling them. They may be right. They may be wrong. But I think it's a wide open question, and I think for the Western world to make policy toward Iran based on some assumption that we know when Iran will have nuclear weapons is a mistake. I think it's better to reason from first principles and put the nuclear matter in the context of what kind of threat Iran represents to us, and what we need to do about it, and here, from what I've heard this morning and what I hear most of the time from excellent scholars like Bob Einhorn and Pat Clawson, seems to me to be outside the real context in which we are living today.

The context in which I live is that we are at war, we have been attacked and we've been attacked by a coalition of terrorist organizations and states that support them, just as the President has said from the beginning, and they are not going to stop! They are going to continue. Why should they stop? I mean, Iran has been attacking us for more than 20 years. What reason do we have for thinking that that should change now?
I mean, modern terrorism probably begins in Lebanon in the early 1980's with Iranian sponsored attacks against American diplomats and American soldiers, and French soldiers, we should add. Why now should they change, when they've had great success from that over the years from their standpoint? So we should assume that that's going to continue unless something changes.

We hear endlessly that we have to win in Iraq, that Iraq is the key to everything, that Iraq is the battlefield in which the war against terrorism is currently being tested. It's true. But can anybody believe that we can win in Iraq, winning meaning stable peaceful democratic Iraq so long as the Mullas are in power in Teheran?

They tell us every single day, not a day goes by without a leading member of the regime, the revolutionaries, as they've been called here today, that America must be driven out of Iraq, and they are constantly calling on the Iraqi people to rise. My guess is that the Iranians are very disappointed at the failure they have had in generating mass demonstrations … against coalition presence in Iraq. I think they expected to do a lot better with that, and I think they will be pursuing terrorist activities.

There was a seemingly funny article in the New York Times a couple of weeks ago in which I, and as usual un-named Administration officials conceded that they knew that Hezbollah was all over Iraq, but they said Hezbollah is not doing terror. And I called the journalist who wrote this story and said 'I have another story for you, which is that, yes, Michael Jackson was indeed in bed with that boy but nothing happened', and imagining Hezbollah to be all over a country without being engaged in terror in one way or another is like imagining Michael Jackson in bed and nothing happening.

In short, I think that Iran is not going to change, and that what we have in Iran is an outright challenge that can best be met, and I am much more optimistic than Patrick, they can be best met the same way we met the challenge of Afghanistan and Iraq, namely by changing the regime. And I believe that because I think if you look at the countries that sponsor terrorism, that support terrorism, the common denominator of these countries is tyranny, it's not Islamic fundamentalism.

Of the four countries that I originally defined as the terror masters: Iran, Iraq, Syria and Saudi Arabia – two are extremist Islamic countries – Saudi Arabia and Iran. Two are not – the two Ba'athist countries, which after all came to power as secular Arab socialist regimes, that's why the West liked them so much for such a long time, because they weren't religious nut cases. They spoke the same cheerful pseudo-scientific Western leftist language that so many of the governments that have been appeasing them all these years speak themselves. And so they are not. What they all have in common, all four, plus other countries that we could add in, like Libya and so forth, they are all tyrannies. And so I think that when president Bush says that the war against terrorism is a war for freedom he is exactly right – it's not a new kind of war, it's a very old kind of war, it's an old fashioned 18th century struggle between tyrannical regimes and free societies, and of all the countries that sponsor terrorism Iran is two things at once: it is the central terrorism, as Mr. Sneh said earlier, it's the leading terrorist sponsor on earth. The State Department says so every year, every year when the State Department comes out with its ranking of countries that sponsor terrorism Iran is always number 1. And number 2 – Iran is today the country, which is easiest to change, because it doesn’t require military power to bring down that regime.

I will say parenthetically for those of you who haven't memorized my work, that I felt that the war in Iraq was excessively military and insufficiently political, and that our failure in Iraq stems primarily from our failure to see the possibility of democratic revolution in the Middle East at this moment, but in Iran everybody sees that, the only debate is – how do you get it? How likely is it? And here there are basically two approaches: there are the social scientists who look at Iran and say "it's either ready or it's not ready to go" and "it's either going to happen or not going to happen", and then there are others who believe – OK, here is the situation in Iran today, we can make it happen".

I am in the second group. I am one of those who believe that the obligation, the moral obligation of the Western world is to support freedom movements and countries oppressed by tyrants, and I believe that we should support the Iranian people even if there were no nuclear program and even if there were no war against terrorism – that's just simply the way the Western world is supposed to behave, if I understand our mission in the world correctly. It's made more urgent by the fact that Iran is the world's leading sponsor of terrorism and that Iran has a nuclear program, which will eventually threaten us. I mean, when Rafsanjani stands up and says: "when we get nuclear weapons we are going to drop a nuclear bomb on Israel, and we don't care if Israel responds, because it will be a great deal for the Islamic world – we will have killed half the world's Jews and they will have killed a small proportion of the world's Muslims – it's a good deal", and everybody says, you know, "crazy Iranians". But it's really astonishing, again, speaking as an historian, it is astonishing over the years how many of these crazy statements turn out to be real expressions of intention.

I was at Yad Va'Shem yesterday and there is another case where people said: "well, you know, crazy Germans", and yet it turned out to be a real expression of intension. I think you have to take it seriously. So what's the state of affairs today in Iran? Somewhere upwards of 70% of the Iranian people, according to public opinion polls taken by the regime, hate the regime, and these are polls taken in circumstances where pollsters come up to people in the street and say: "I am from the Interior Ministry, I am from the Information Ministry, I'd like to ask you a few questions about your attitude toward the regime", so the person being asked knows it's a loyalty check, and not withstanding that they say "we hate this regime".

Now, Patrick says that he doesn’t think that the youngsters in Iran are prepared to die for freedom. Well, notice please that when we say "youngsters in Iran" we are talking about two thirds of the population, because more than 60% of Iranians are under 35 years of age, and how many people have to die before we are willing to give them credit? What have happened in the last several years is that up to a million people have demonstrated in the streets of major cities calling for an end to the regime. They have gotten no Western support, with the exception of occasional speeches from President Bush. And we betrayed them last summer, when they were leading up to an attempt to launch a general strike and bring down the regime, the Secretary of State of the United States stood up and said: "we don't want to get involved in this kind of internal family squabble in Iran", and when the broadcast of the American based radio and television stations, which is the main means that Iranians have for communicating with one another and staying on top of what is going on both in their own cities and in other cities, the United States did nothing to stop it, even when we discovered that it was being jammed from Cuba.

So what I am saying is that we don’t know. Nobody knows for sure whether a revolution would succeed in Iran. What we do know is that a lot of Iranian people are begging for Western assistance and Western support, and what we ought to believe, all of us, is that we are obliged to give them that support, both because it's morally right and because Iran represents an existential threat, not only to Israel but to all Western countries, and because it is an integral part of the war that we are fighting. What we want to arrive at as soon as possible is to be able to say to the entire Muslim world: you have now tried both versions of extremism – you have tried the Sunni version in Afghanistan and someone who pretended to be a Sunni extremist for a while in Iraq, and you tried the Shiite version in Iran – both have failed and both have failed in the most dramatic way possible – wrecked the countries, alienated the people and brought humiliation to the leaders. Thank you.  

 

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