Iranian president Mahmud Ahmadinejad is due back on American soil in the next few days for his annual visit. The president makes most Americans cringe with embarrassment. From his holocaust denial, wild claims about the West blocking rain clouds from reaching Iran, or his now infamous statement that “there are no gays in Iran”, Ahmadinejad’s speeches have often served as unintended tools of self-de-legitimization.
However, his racist and homophobic views will find a soft landing in certain sections of the American chattering classes. The brutal dictator’s welcome in the land of the free will be undoubtedly completely ameliorated by sympathetic pro-Iranian commentators and even former White House officials.
Keep a look out for one in particular. Hillary Mann Leverett, a former White House, U.S. State Department and National Security Council official, has a worryingly distorted view of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and she is a media favorite.
“We always think of Iran as a military dictatorship, but the Iranian message is clear, they want free and fair elections”, she noted to CNN’s GPS.
“The Iranian message and belief is – if a country has free and fair elections, it will pursue independent policies that are in that country’s national interest. The Iranian belief is that if they [Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Iraq] pursue independent policies, they will inevitably be unenthusiastic about pursuing U.S. or Western policies.”
Leverett also notes that:
“It’s a battle today between this message that Iran has to promote of freedom, and the Saudis that are really trying to fight that message.”
Her Manichean analysis of the ‘ideological battle of the Islamic theocracies’, the Saudi versus Iran conundrum, is shallow, simplistic and wholly inaccurate. Of course she is correct that ‘freedom’ does not find its way into the lexicon of the Saud family rulers, but that doesn’t mean that their Shia rivals are somehow exempt from the theocratic oppression undermining the most basic human rights of the average Iranian citizen.
Surely Leverett is not unaware of the Iranian opposition leaders under house arrest for the last 18 months. “Free and fair elections” have never been held in the theocratic Islamic Republic of Iran. There is no sapling of liberty from which democracy even has the potential to grow. Basic freedoms are trampled upon on a daily basis. Leverett’s statements are dangerously misleading and reveal a clear bias. But her actions can border on the absurd, as when she brought a naïve group of Yale students to meet her friend, or in bragging about dining at his table.
For many Iranians (and indeed Westerns alike), the images of the green movement and the brave Neda are still fresh. Lives were lost demonstrating precisely for those free and fair elections that Leverett believes the current Iranian regime “wants”. Someone of her stature and experience should be more careful with such irresponsible and inaccurate statements. The media should be extra careful before seeking her opinion on Ahmadinejad’s visit or any other Iran-related issue.