August 20, 2015 | Forbes
The Iranian Attack Against Me, Forbes, and the Wall Street Journal
I recently commented on Senator Charles Schumer’s rejection of the Iran deal. My remarks, which appeared here August 9th, included a reference to an exchange of messages between the Obama Administration and anti-regime forces in Iran in 2009. Schumer had a Wall Street friend who had contacts with the leaders of the Iranian opposition Green Movement, and he was asked to have the friend pass two questions from Washington to the Greens: “What should we do? What should we not do?” In due course, the Greens replied in eight typewritten pages, stressing that the regime of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei would never reform and would never abandon its quest for nuclear weapons. I obtained a copy of the letter.
I was struck by some similarities in language between that letter and Schumer’s critique of the latest deal, and I thought it useful to quote from both.
I was trying to shed light on Schumer’s difficult decision, and it didn’t seem like the sort of article that would greatly excite the Iranian leaders, but it sure did. The hardline paper Kayhan, which often speaks for Khamenei himself, announced that the “secret channel” between Washington and the opposition had been revealed (by me!) to be a journalist for the Wall Street Journal. No matter that I had made no reference to the Journal, or anyone associated with it. The Iranians simply forged the word “Journal” to the “Wall Street” I had written. Thereafter, other newspapers, politicians and television broadcasters have repeated the fabrication, even demanding apologies.
The hardliners’ typically hypercharged “aha!” is a pure invention, as has been reported in the Journal. I know the channel, a person in New York City, and he has nothing to do with any newspaper, American or foreign. So why all the furor?
To be sure, the Iranian leaders are capable of believing amazing nonsense, and it may well be that they think the Wall Street Journal is the official organ of “Wall Street.” In Iran, publications are very rarely independent, and, if so, have very short half lives. But I don’t think the current tirade is simply one more bit of regime nutsiness.
I think it has to do with the regime’s profound anxiety about its own survival. Khamenei and his henchmen desperately want the world to believe that the opposition has been decimated, and the regime is popular. Yet they know this is false, as their behavior demonstrates. If they were firmly in control, Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani would not have increased the tempo of executions by half, compared with the Ahmadinejad era. They have locked up the Green leaders, but do not dare to put them on trial, fearing public reaction. And they have insisted that opposition to the regime is alien, a foreign conspiracy to sabotage the Islamic Republic. Anything that reminds the world of the deep-seated opposition that includes most Iranians (the 2009 demonstrations were bigger than those that led to the fall of the shah in 1979) infuriates them. My article gave them an excuse to falsely blame America for opposition to the regime.
There’s an American footnote to this affair: President Obama has said that American critics of the Iran deal are in cahoots with Iranian hardliners, but the attack against me and the Journal shows that claim is false. The fabrication and attendant rhetoric come from the worst of them, and is hardly new. They have long accused me of being the invisible hand behind the Iranian opposition (some poor souls put on trial after the 2009 uprising were asked in court how they communicated with me, and what I instructed them to do. They had no idea what the judge was talking about), but in fact the opposition is neither American-supported (can anyone seriously imagine this administration providing secret support for democratic revolution in Iran?) nor invisible. It’s Persian, and the regime, hardliners and the rest, fear it. They know it’s the sentiment of the majority of the Iranian people, reaching out for help against a regime they hate.
The Journal and its reporters have every reason to be upset; we all know the case of the Washington Post’s Jason Rejaian, the unfortunate Tehran correspondent suffering in Evin Prison, along with at least two of his fellow Americans The Journal doesn’t have a Tehran bureau (the journalist accused of acting as the back channel was based in Beirut, in fact). But any editor would be properly concerned about the false charges the Iranians have leveled against the paper. It puts their correspondents and stringers in the region at risk.
Sadly, the facts will do nothing to change the behavior of Iran’s bloodthirsty leaders. Only regime change can accomplish that.
Michael Ledeen is the Freedom Scholar at Foundation for Defense of Democracies.