Michael Ledeen’s Sudden Distrust of the Iranian People

Neoconservative activist Michael Ledeen has for years been among the most aggressive Iran hawks on the right. He has steadily pushed for U.S.-backed regime change in Tehran, and during the 2009 post-election crisis was one of the leading voices attacking the Obama administration for not taking a more aggressive stance against the Islamic Republic. He still continues to insist, somewhat coyly, that he opposes a military strike against Iran — but if an Israeli or U.S. strike actually occurs, I for one will not be holding my breath waiting for him to denounce it.

Like most neoconservatives, Ledeen has no hesitation speaking on behalf of The Iranian People and proclaiming their overwhelming hatred not merely of Ahmadinejad or Khamenei but of the Islamic Republic itself. A constant trope of his writing is the virtuous, secular, freedom-loving, pro-Western Iranian People oppressed by a totalitarian government, eagerly awaiting assertive U.S. action to deliver them from their oppressors. So confident is Ledeen of the Iranian People’s hatred of their government and sympathy for the U.S. that he denies that a military strike would rally the populace around the government. (He recently attacked Jim for attributing the “rally round the flag” view to him, although ironically it seems that Jim’s only error was to attribute to Ledeen a saner, more moderate view than the one he actually holds.)

All this background is relevant because Ledeen is now attacking Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf for, among other things, fundraising for the Park51 project in Iran. Or, to be precise, for not explicitly stating that he would never fundraise in Iran. This, apparently, is evidence for his treachery, Islamism, totalitarianism, terrorist sympathies, and so on.

Now, the New York Post story that Ledeen links to conflates fundraising in Iran with accepting “cash for the project from Holocaust-denying Iranian nuke nut Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.” (Keep up those journalistic standards, Rupert Murdoch!) But of course, there is no evidence that any fundraising Imam Rauf might hypothetically do in Iran would be coming from the government, much less from Ahmadinejad himself. Rather, a fundraising trip to Iran would involve soliciting donations from — well, from none other than those same freedom-loving, pro-Western Iranian People.

So we have a paradox. According to Ledeen, the Iranian People are virtuous, secular, and pro-Western when the subject is fomenting regime change against their government. However, if any of these Iranian People donate to the Park 51 project, they are immediately to be regarded as crazed, violent, Islamist, and anti-American, and their support is to be taken as proof of the project’s extremist ties.

Of course, the ugly current that underlies Ledeen’s allegation — the implication that if any Iranians give money to fund the project it is ipso facto suspect — is nothing new. We saw much the same thing in the attacks on J Street, where critics tarred the group as “anti-Israel” because of the bare fact that some of its donors had Arab names. In Ledeen’s case, however, the contradictions involved are particularly glaring.

Daniel Luban

Daniel Luban is a postdoctoral associate at Yale University. He holds a PhD in politics from the University of Chicago and was formerly a correspondent in the Washington bureau of Inter Press Service.



  1. Look, this all goes back to “Preserving the Realm” in the mid-nineties. It’s about Israel, not the Iranian people or democracy in the Middle East or even oil (though for Dick Cheney of course it was about oil). The agenda is preserving and extending the state of Israel; all the other stuff is just window-dressing.

    We should focus on the reality and avoid getting caught up in debates about extraneous points. Let’s expose the real agenda of the Ledeens of this world, and how that agenda affects America, rather than debating irrelevancies such as the level of public support for the Iranian government.

  2. What difference does it make if the Iranian gov’t does give money? Objections along this line commit both the Genetic fallacy and the Ad hominem fallacy. Anyone doubt the FBI won’t be monitoring the actions of this mosque? The FBI has infiltrated every mosque of note. Even if they do advocate dangerous views, we DO have the address, and will surely be monitoring them.

  3. “So we have a paradox.”
    Yes, as is so often the case when there is dishonesty or lazy thinking involved. People like Ledeen are counting on people having VERY short memory spans so as to not notice the obvious flaws in their reasoning. How would he resolve this problem? By confidently saying, “Oh, well THOSE Iranians are not so good, but MOST of them are…”

    It is as easy to succumb to propaganda as it is to become oblivious to the odors of a meal being prepared in a poorly ventilated kitchen for having spent too much time inside it – one entering from the outside is immediately struck by the smells of what is being cooked up. What’s for dinner, Mr. Ledeen?

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