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Published on April 23rd, 2009 | by Jim Lobe

5

Michael Rubin Should Explain

Does Michael Rubin, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), editor of Middle East Quarterly (published by fellow-hawk Daniel Pipes’ Middle East Forum), and former consultant to Donald Rumsfeld, the Office of Special Plans (OSP), and the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in Iraq, have some explaining to do?

The prolific writer and oft-quoted “expert” on the Gulf and the Middle East published an op-ed last week on the neo-conservative editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal entitled “What Iran Really Thinks About Talks”. The column inspired Iranian politics scholar and occasional IPS contributor Farideh Farhi of the University of Hawaii to do a little digging about quotes by former Iranian officials cited by Rubin as strong evidence, if not proof, that Iran was engaged in an illicit nuclear-weapons program under former President Mohammed Khatami. In a blog post published on Juan Cole’s “Informed Comment: Global Affairs” website, Farhi concluded either that Rubin’s competence in Farsi is not nearly as good as it should be or that he is deliberately misrepresenting what these officials have said by, among other things, taking sentences out of context.

The post is relatively long but well worth the read. One particularly shocking example of Rubin’s failings cited by Farhi came in a March 4 blog post on National Review Online, entitled “Roger Cohen’s Potemkin Columns” — part of what appears to be a somewhat frantic campaign (led by, among others, Jeffrey Goldberg) against the New York Times columnist. In that post, Rubin argues that Cohen was duped by, among others, former Revolutionary Guard commander Mohsen Rezai (who, incidentally, has just announced his candidacy for the June presidential elections) into thinking that Tehran’s leadership was open to improving ties with the United States. According to Rubin, Rezai had been quoted in the Iranian press that very day (March 4) as saying, “Our enmity with the U.S. has no end.” In fact, according to Farhi, a native Farsi speaker, who linked to the website from which Rubin had found the quote, Rezai had said precisely the opposite: “Our enmity with the U.S. is not without end.”

Now, polemics is one thing; simple translation errors are yet another; but deliberate misrepresentation is quite something else, and that’s what Farhi suggests may be going on. Not that that would be particularly surprising. After all, Rubin not only is a protege of Richard Perle, who recently denied the existence of neo-conservatism or that it had the slightest impact on Bush’s foreign policy; he also worked with the notorious OSP. And, of course, the credibility of the Journal’s editorial pages, which are generally scorned by the newspaper’s outstanding news staff, has featured occasional contributions from former AEI fellow, Michael Ledeen, Amir Taheri, among others whose reputations for scholarly rigor, shall we say, are less than spotless. On the other hand, Rubin is a stickler for accuracy when it comes to what other writers report about him, myself included, so you would expect him to exercise great care in his own writings and translations. But the examples pointed out by Farhi.

As readers of this blog know, Rubin was also the lead author, along with another OSP alumnus, Michael Makovsky, in last September’s Bipartisan Policy Center’s report, “Meeting the Challenge: U.S. Policy Toward Iranian Nuclear Development,” a report which I have characterized as a “roadmap for war” and which was signed by, among others, Dennis Ross, who is supposed to be devising and coordinating policy toward Iran as the State Department’s Special Adviser for the Gulf and Southwest Asia. It’s worth noting that the report’s executive summary states as fact — and with no further elaboration in the text — that former President Mohammad Khatami’s spokesman, Abdollah Ramdezanzadeh, admitted “on June 15, 2008, that a strategy of insincere dialogue provided cover for the Islamic Republic to import technology used to further the Islamic Republic’s covert nuclear program.” This is the same Ramdezanzadeh whose quotations are cited by Rubin in his latest Journal column as proof of Iran’s duplicity but whose accuracy, meaning, and context are placed in serious question by Farhi. (Indeed, Rubin has in other places said that Ramdezanzadeh “admission” took place June 14, but that’s a minor detail.) One has to wonder how influenced Ross might be by Rubin’s rendition and interpretation of Radmezanzadeh’s remarks.

In any event, one would hope that Rubin would take the time to respond to Farhi’s post, which, incidentally, was also backed up by Paul Kerr, a nuclear proliferation expert and consultant formerly with the Arms Control Association.

UPDATE: Rubin has offered an initial response on the “Corner” blogsite at the New Republican Online. You can find it here. I’m sure there will be more to come.

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Jim Lobe served for some 30 years as the Washington DC bureau chief for Inter Press Service and is best known for his coverage of U.S. foreign policy and the influence of the neoconservative movement.



5 Responses to Michael Rubin Should Explain

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  1. avatar Jon Harrison says:

    While I’m as sure as I can be that Rubin was taking sentences out of context, let’s go a bit deeper into this issue.

    Is Iran seeking a nuclear capability? It’s very hard to believe that it isn’t. We who think a certain way would like it if Iran’s program was purely for energy development, but common sense should tell us that the Iranians are after something more.

    Israel is a nuclear power with, by most estimates, at least 200 weapons that it can deliver regionally. Given that, why wouldn’t Iran want weapons of its own? If Venezuala was a nuclear power and the United States wasn’t, wouldn’t we be working night and day to develop a deterrent against an obviously unfriendly neighbor?

    Now, granted, Iran may be seeking more than deterrence. But in the last analysis, what is that to Americans? We possess a deterrent power that forever will prevent Iran using nukes against us. So why the fuss over the Iranian program? The fuss of course is on behalf of Israel. Why is my country entangled in this business, when no threat to it exists? Why does U.S. policy and the fate of the American people revolve around a small state in the Middle East? I understand why Israel is of special concern to many Jewish Americans, but should 1% of our population determine U.S. policy? I think not. I am of English descent. Should I expect the U.S. to give the fate of England special attention, to the detriment of its own citizens’ interests? Of course not.

  2. avatar American says:

    “Now, granted, Iran may be seeking more than deterrence. But in the last analysis, what is that to Americans? We possess a deterrent power that forever will prevent Iran using nukes against us. So why the fuss over the Iranian program?
    The fuss of course is on behalf of Israel. Why is my country entangled in this business, when no threat to it exists? Why does U.S. policy and the fate of the American people revolve around a small state in the Middle East? I understand why Israel is of special concern to many Jewish Americans, but should 1% of our population determine U.S. policy?
    I think not. I am of English descent. Should I expect the U.S. to give the fate of England special attention, to the detriment of its own citizens’ interests? Of course not.”

    Exactly.

  3. avatar kooshy says:

    Fact 1- NPT allows member states to have enrichment therefore any country with an enrichment capability can have a nuclear deterrence just like Japan does.
    Fact 2- According to all IAEA reports Iran has not diverted it’s enrichment to a nuclear capability so it has not birched its agreement.
    Fact 3- If a NPT member state has a working enrichment program it already poses a nuclear deterrence.
    Mr. Robin needs to prove his alleged what might be Iran’s future intentions without having a proof, just because so far all other activities Iran has been involved is legal for a NPT signatory state. Therefore to convince his targeted audience Mr. Robin resorts to any tool including taking quotes out of contents and if it happens to be cut he resorts to his translators being lost in translation. Or he blames the academic bias although admittedly he can not read or write Persian, that is convenient. Of course Mr. Robin doing Iraq has gained a tremendous experience at his game but fortunately this time around it isn’t working and he may need to change his tactics

  4. avatar scott says:

    Of course it is seldom noted that nukes first appeared in Iran under the Shah. These were given to him by the USA. I agree with the comments above. I think we should disarm Israel of Nukes. In 1967 before the Six Day War Israel had her nuclear armaments.

    Israel is right Nuclear weapons have lead rogue states to commit blackmail. Israel and her nukes should indeed be stopped. Hell, I think this is all a fait-accompli, as the Gaza War will undo Israel.

    With the demographic challenges Israel faces every Palestinian farm or life they take will be returned to the Palestinians with time from pre-67 Israel. I know there’s little evidence to make such statements, but me thinks Israel has exhausted international goodwill and yet doesn’t itself know this. How did Uri Averny put it, “a blood-thirsty monster?”

  5. avatar TutuG says:

    Of course, no surprises here! The neo cons and the AIPAC lobby (how can you tell the difference?) are working overtime to change Obama’s policy on engaging Iran and in light of new White House-backed legislation in the US Congress that aims to impose “crippling sanctions” on Iran by targeting its energy imports, it looks like they are winning. Here we go again! Good luck with the Obama administration and the United States in Afghanistan then. It will be interesting to watch who wins the election in Lebanon. Obviously there is a tug of war going on within the administration while each side is trying to force the other side’s hands. One clear example of it can be found in the Undersecretary at the State Department, William Burns, telling a conference on the US-Saudi religions in Washington this week that the Saudi king has had a talk with the Israeli president Simon Peres at a UN conference on dialogue among world religions, which took place in New York last November. Understandably, as reported in the Arab News, King Abdullah is furious (http://www.arabnews.com/?page=1&section=0&article=122092&d=1&m=5&y=2009). Whatever was Mr Burns thinking of? Telling Obama that if the US now go and start bombing Iran, it will have the blessings of both Israel as well as Saudi Arabia?

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