Ledeen Begins his Pivot

Michael Ledeen, a neoconservative polemicist and long-time Iran hawk who joined the Foundation for Defense of Democracies after leaving the American Enterprise Institute in 2008, is being honest when he reminds us here that he has opposed direct US military intervention in Iran. For Ledeen, Iranian-regime change is more attainable if it’s executed from the ground up, and the US should do everything it can to facilitate that process. In 2010 he unapologetically argued that the US should covertly or openly support regime change-inclined Iranians during a debate at the Atlantic Council and reiterated that argument in “Takedown Tehran” this year. (For some reason Ledeen seems to think that the Green Movement would invite the regime-change-oriented US support he advocates, even if key opposition figures have opposed the broad sanctions that he endorses. This may be due to his allegedly well-informed sources, some of whom have led him astray in the past.)

In any case, sanctions should be part of the US regime-change strategy, argues Ledeen, who promoted the US invasion of Iraq (although he later denied doing so), but sanctions alone will never be the means to his desired end:

But I don’t know anyone this side of the White House who believes that sanctions, by themselves, will produce what we should want above all:  the fall of the Tehran regime that is the core of the war against us.  To accomplish that, we need more than sanctions;  we need a strategy for regime change.

Like fellow ideologues — such as Bret Stephens, a Wall Street Journal deputy editor and “Global View” columnist — Ledeen argues that the US must also execute a war strategy with Iran because like it or not, we’re already at war (for a closer look at this line of reasoning, see Farideh’s post):

But even if all these are guided from Washington and/or Jerusalem, it still does not add up to a war-winning strategy, which requires a clearly stated mission from our maximum leaders.  We need a president who will say “Khamenei and Ahmadinejad must go.”  He must say it publicly, and he must say it privately to our military, to our diplomats, and to the intelligence community.

Without that commitment, without that mission — and it’s hard to imagine it, isn’t it? — we’ll continue to spin our wheels, mostly playing defense, sometimes enacting new sanctions, sometimes wrecking the mullahs’ centrifuges, forever hoping that the mullahs will make a deal.  Until the day when one of those Iranian schemes to kill even more Americans works out, and we actually catch them in the act.  Then our leaders will say “we must go to war.”

But Ledeen’s Washington Times column this week suggests that he may be pivoting toward the military option:

I have long opposed military action against the Iranian regime. I believe we should instead support democratic revolution. However, our failure to work for regime change in Iran and our refusal to endorse Mr. Netanyahu’s call for a bright “red line” around the mullahs’ nuclear weapons program, makes war more likely, as similar dithering and ambiguity have so often in the past.

Interestingly, in August Ledeen stated that the Israeli strategy was to push the US to attack Iran:

…Israel does not want to do it.  For as long as I can remember, the Israelis have been trying to get U.S. to do it, because they have long believed that Iran was so big that only a big country could successfully take on the mullahs in a direct confrontation.  So Israel’s Iran policy has been to convince us to do whatever the Israelis think is best.  And while they’re willing to do their part, they are very reluctant to take on the entire burden.

“Faster, Please!”, right?

Jasmin Ramsey

Jasmin Ramsey is a journalist based in Washington, DC.