Ledeen on the Run

On National Review Online, 8/14/03, Michael Ledeen addresses his apparently controversial dealings with his “old friend Manucher Ghorbanifar.”

Nothing quite like seeing Ledeen write from a position of relative weakness, especially given how much face time he has gotten in the last couple of years. Ledeen, who David Frum claims has scored up to $25 million for his advocacy of US action against the Iranian “mullahcracy,” feels it necessary in the safe space of NR‘s website to address his dealings with Iranian “private citizens” and how they were misrepresented by unnamed “overzealous scribblers.”

For kicks, let’s review some of that “overzealous scribbling,” specifically the August 8 report in the Sydney Morning Herald entitled “Arms Dealers in Talks with US Officials about Iran.” The SMH dispatch reported the claim that “Administration officials said at least two Pentagon officials working for the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, Douglas Feith, have held “several” meetings with Manucher Ghorbanifar, the Iranian middleman in United States arms-for-hostage shipments to Iran in the mid-1980s.” Along the same lines, a “senior Administration official identified two of the Defense officials who met Mr Ghorbanifar as Harold Rhode, Mr Feith’s top Middle East specialist, and Larry Franklin, a Defence Intelligence Agency analyst on loan to the undersecretary’s office.”

Of the two liaisons mentioned in the Australian paper’s report, the most interesting for Ledeen watchers is Mr. Rhode. As the report points out, “Mr Rhode recently acted as a liaison between Mr Feith’s office, which drafted much of the Administration’s post-Iraq planning, and Ahmed Chalabi, a former Iraqi exile groomed for leadership by the Pentagon. Mr Rhode is a protege of Michael Ledeen, who was a National Security Council consultant in the mid 1980s when he introduced Mr Ghorbanifar to Oliver North, a NSC aide, and others in the opening stages of the Iran-Contra affair. It is understood Mr Ledeen reopened the Ghorbanifar channel with Mr Feith’s staff.”

Now if that isn’t a shot across Mr. Ledeen’s bow, I don’t know what is. The feisty internationalist gives as good as he gets, however, making out the Ghorbanifar affair to be nothing so much as a tempest in a teapot. “The journalists in Washington ran around chasing their own very short tails for several days until they concluded a) that people talking to people isn’t much of a story and b) it seems to be about turf, not anything serious, and c) it really doesn’t lead anywhere.”

A couple of points here from this writer: People talking to people, as Ledeen so chastely puts it, is very much a story. Consider how many of the Terror War investigations are predicated on something as simple as some potential evil doer having some confirmed evildoers phone number in his address book. We wouldn’t hear news dispatches about “terrorist chatter” if conversations weren’t monitored, catalogued, and examined for problematic tropes. Along those lines, “turf” isn’t “anything serious”? Since when? Do I need to send Mr. Ledeen a copy of the first two Godfather movies, a Mobb Deep album, and copies of The Art of War and The Prince to show him otherwise? Turf is everything, whether in the freewheeling world of street gangs or the more structured milieu of policy discussion. To pretend otherwise is to play one’s readers for marks, but Mr. Ledeen has never had problems in that regard.

Ledeen’s NRO piece very early on becomes an attack on those who would limit the Pentagon’s ability to go into business for itself, without the sanction of State. “The implication of the complaint about Pentagon officials’ conversations is that it’s okay for our diplomats to talk to the official representatives of the murderous mullahcracy in Tehran, with an eye to establishing some form of rapprochement, but it’s not okay for midlevel Iran experts at DoD to talk to private Iranians to enhance our understanding about what’s going on inside Iran, and what the Iranian regime is going, or planning to do, to Americans and our friends and allies. Why should that be so? One would think that any such conversations should be praised, not leaked to death.”

Disingenuous, but what else can be expected from Ledeen in this case. He undercuts statecraft as “rapprochement,” because it apparently is beneath the US to negotiate with the “murderous mullahcracy.” Meanwhile, Ledeen makes some hazy claims about what those mullahs intend to do to Americans, adding that conversations with “private Iranians” should be “praised, not leaked to death.” One question: who would praise those discussions if they weren’t leaked?

Certainly not Richard Armitage, who Ledeen lambastes for never repenting for his claim that “Iran is a Democracy.” Ledeen has it in for Armitage to such a degree that he embraces “conspiracy theory.” intimating that State’s desire for Iran to turn over “captured Al Qaeda terrorists” is prima facie absurd; after all, those terrorists were operating out of Iran, which to Ledeen is proof that Tehran sanctioned their actions.

Ledeen knows better than to make this argument. If terrorists operating out of an area were proof in itself that said area’s government sanctioned their dastardly deeds, then the US regime itself would come under fierce scrutiny. As would that of Canada and every other country in the world. The bromide that “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” bears a special relevance here, as there will always be people in the Middle East, Europe, and even in the US who believe that Al Qaeda operations are legitimate defenses of personal sovereignty against a Leviathan state and the marauders under its employ.

More from Ledeen: “We are doing nothing to support the desperate efforts of the Iranian people to free themselves from the mullahs, despite the almost daily flow of proof that this is one of the world’s most odious tyrannies, that the regime scorns even minimal standards of human rights and, for example, recently bludgeoned a female Canadian journalist to death and then even denied her son the fulfillment of his obligation to arrange for a proper burial in her own country.”

It’s regrettable that a “femal Canadian journalist” was “bludgeoned,” but is that really the business of the United States? Michael Ledeen is a one-trick pony, as the above passage illustrates. His specialty is shrill tub thumping, in which he makes emotional appeals on specious grounds to justify reckless, untenable foreign policy initiatives. Perhaps it should be said: if the journalist in question couldn’t handle her own business, maybe she should’ve stayed out of Iran.

Ledeen saves some of his most bilious language for Secretary of State Colin Powell, who only months ago mortgaged a good chunk of his soul to assemble the “Coalition of the Willing.” Ledeen “asks” Powell the following, seemingly rhetorical questions: “Why do you find the Iranian people so uniquely unworthy of support in their efforts to be free? Why do you use phrases like “family squabble” to describe mass murder and systematic repression in Iran, when you used much stronger language to (accurately) describe a similar regime in Iraq?”

Perhaps Powell understands what much of the military brass does. Perhaps Powell is aware of how perilously overextended American troops are, and, rather than starting a fight the US is ill-positioned to finish, he realizes that the mullahs must be tolerated, because it is damned hard to liberate the world when the news is full of reports of the disillusionment of American troops.

But don’t tell that to Ledeen, who even now exhorts President Bush toward more military adventurism. “The hell of it all is that this president has it right, and has had it right from the beginning. He knows Iran is at the heart of the Axis of Evil. He knows that America, because of its very essence as the embodiment of the democratic evolution, must support the fight for freedom in Iran. He says it all the time, only to have many of the others gainsay him.”

More “conspiracy theory” from Ledeen, who stops short of ascribing motivations to the “gainsayers.” Do they hate America? Are they Islamofascist dupes? Inquiring minds want to know, but Ledeen realizes that, with scant proof that the Powell/Armitage wing’s willingness to negotiate with Tehran stems from anything more nefarious than knowing the limits of the US military, he’s better off just throwing bombs and seeing if anyone blows up in the process.

Michael Ledeen is a dangerous animal, a laptop bombardier, a thug with a hidden agenda and a security clearance. It is no coincidence that the 8/14 column, like so many of his others, closes with an exhortation to the President. “Faster, please,” it always goes. He talks of military confrontation with Iran, which will be ugly like nothing since the Korean war, like he’s a frat boy trying to get laid. Ledeen is a risible presence on the American scene, and this column hopes that his enemies in Washington find a way to take him to task for reckless, foolish talk that will lead to the death of more Americans and further diffusion of the Administration’s credibility. This columnist, however, is not holding his breath waiting for Ledeen to get his just deserts.