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.