Coming to Terms with the Islamic Republic of Iran

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad flashes the V-sign for victory as he waits for the arrival of Ismail Haniya, Palestinian Hamas premier. (ATTA KENARE/Getty)

Middle East experts Flynt Leverett and Hillary Leverett discuss the need for a new approach to Iran. In Going to Tehran: Why the United States Must Come to Terms with the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Leveretts argue that America should renounce 30 years of failed strategy and engage with Iran—just as Nixon revolutionized U.S. foreign policy by going to Beijing and realigning relations with China.


Flynt Leverett and Hillary Leverett

Comments [33]

Noach (non-Zionist, anti-war) from Brooklyn

I have now listened to the entire segment and I have to disagree with much of the criticism that has been made of guest-host Julie Burstein in the comments. I did not find Ms. Burstein to have been unfair, unreasonable or less-than-polite and respectful of the guests. Some commentators accused Ms. Burstein of interrupting the guests too often. I did not find that to be true; it seemed to me that Ms. Burstein gave the guests about as much time as could reasonably expected for any interview of this type-- at least given how limited the time for the entire segment was.[1]

I agree that the role of the host of a program such as this, is,

"to solicit the views of [his or] her guests, not advocate on behalf of [his or] her own.",

as "Anthony of Brooklyn" so succinctly put-it in his comment that appears on this page. But the host's role is _also_ to _challenge_ the guest-- respectfully, as appropriate-- particularly and especially whenever a guest presents or is known for views that are considered controversial (no matter how legitimate or correct anyone may consider them). If guests are not challenged but are simply given a platform, the program can become little more than an "infomercial" for people to promote themselves, their books, views, agendas, etc.

I share much of the criticism expressed by the Leveretts with regard to U.S. policy and attitudes toward Iran. Nonetheless, I _also_ share the reaction that others have expressed of finding the guests to appear as if they were apologists for the Iranian regime. The guests repeatedly dodged and dismissed the very legitimate questions that were presented to them regarding the treatment of political dissidents in Iran and other human rights issues. Particularly disturbing was Ms. Leverett's response, to being asked about the plight of women in Iran, of saying that women everywhere face struggles and citing her personal experience of being denied maternity leave here in the U.S.. Absolutely preposterous and downright disturbing.

[1]The short-shrift that this segment got was indeed frustrating (A segment that was billed as the main one, no less). This was apparently a result of WNYC carrying the President's speech on gun control live. I would have preferred that rather than shortening this main segment on Iran, the station would have canceled one of the other planned segments instead, rescheduling it for another time. Adding to the disappointment, the segment was not re-broadcast at midnight on 93.9 FM when the Leonard Lopate show is normally rebroadcast. For some reason, only the _second_ hour was rebroadcast, from midnight to 1:00 a.m., after which the BBC feed was begun an hour earlier than normal.

Jan. 18 2013 04:43 PM
Noach from Brooklyn

*****! CORRECTION and APOLOGY !*****

I have just realized that I made a grave error in my post dated Jan. 16 2013 04:36 PM in which I strenuously criticized guest host Julie Burstein for an interview she conducted while guest hosting this show back in 2010. Having now gone back and re-listened to that interview, I realized that it was not the one which was actually the subject of my critique! The actual interview that I had in mind, while very similar in topic, was nonetheless a completely different one that did not involve Ms. Burstein at all.

I ask Ms. Burstein, as well as the viewers of this page, to please forgive me. I have contacted WNYC and requested that they remove the offending post of mine.

The interview that I described and criticized in my post was actually one that was conducted by /Lisa Birnbach/ while she was filling-in for Leonard Lopate back in January of 2008:

The part that I described in detail in my post begins at 16:05 in the recording, with the most important part occuring between 16:50 and 17:53

I must note that in looking through the comments that were posted for the segment, I found at least five from different people that echoed my reaction to and criticism of it. The author of at least one of these explicitly identified herself as _agreeing_ with the views that were being expressed in the interview (but nonetheless finding the author's "interviewing style" "irritatingly subjective").

Jan. 17 2013 05:08 PM

@Noach (Non-Zionist, Pro-Peace Orthodox Jew, Independent, Who Does Not Listen to The Show But Posts Volumes of Unrelated Material and is obviously obsessed with Israel ) from Brooklyn

If you can't walk and chew gum, you are either going to fall, choke or both.

In the future, please stick to the subject at hand.

Jan. 17 2013 11:29 AM
Noach from Brooklyn


"The problem is, they are ruled over by a horrible Islamofascist regime that is hell bent on taking over the Middle East, eliminating Israel, and bringing down the West."

I harbor no illusions of benignity or enlightenment about the Iranian regime but I challenge your assertions that Iran is "hell bent on taking over the Middle East" or "bringing down the West"? What evidence do you have for either claim?

(Regarding "eliminating Israel", you will almost certainly cite the much-repeated claim that Iranian president Ahmajinidad said he wants to "wipe Israel off the face of the map". The accuracy of this translation is disputed, however, by people fluent in the Farsi language that Ahmajinidad used.)

"It took a hard nosed Reagan to finally bring the Soviet system to a halt."

Even if I were to accept this assertion (which, by the way, is disputed even by some conservatives[1]), I'm not at all sure that we wouldn't be better off today having the Soviet Union instead of what we do have.

Wasn't it Reagan's active support for the "brave Mujahadeen" in their "noble struggle" to triumph over "Soviet expansionism" in Afghanistan that led directly to the Taliban? (Surely "brave Mujahadeen" could quite easily be replaced with "Islamofascist" or "jihadist", no? )

Can you imagine the _Soviets_ ever perpetrating anything like 9-11, for example?

[1] See, for example, 'How Right Was Reagan?' by Richard Gamble, May 2009

"He [conservative historian John Lukacs] also credited the collapse of the Soviet Union to the Russian people’s own loss of faith in Communism and to the political skills of Mikhail Gorbachev, not to Reagan’s military build up."

Jan. 16 2013 11:36 PM
Noach from Brooklyn

Correction to my previous post:

The "End Quoted Text" line is in the wrong place. It should have gone just above the sentence that begins, "First, how do threats,[...]"

All of the text from that point through the end of the post was _my response_ to the words I had quoted above from sanych.
@Maria from Brooklyn:
Excellent posts.
Robert from NYC wrote,

"You are pretty stupid to not understand that there are steps to getting to where we are. You don't just go in and reverse 180 a culture/society. First you engage and then you talk. I can't believe you argue this stupid argument you present against engagement."

_Who_ were you are addressing?

I agree with the point you made but please consider that calling people "stupid" only makes people less likely to take seriously what you write.

Jan. 16 2013 09:06 PM
Noach (Independent) from Brooklyn


Re: "Neturei Karta Noach":

While I can hardly _blame_ you for _thinking_ I must be a member of Neturei Karta, naming me as such in this way was at least poor-form on your part. I never identified as NK (and even made a point of identifying myself as _independent_).

For the record, I am not a member of NK and have some considerable differences with them, despite the obvious commonalities and overlap.


____________Begin Quoted Text____________

"Iran is located near strategic resources that are needed by this country and its European allies.


This explains this country's actions.

Israel has nothing to do with our need for oil"

First, how do threats, sanctions, etc. advance the interest of securing oil resources?

Or are you suggesting that all of these are just for the sake of creating a pretext to impose regime change on Iran again? Or even invade and occupy?

Also, the clear implication of your words is that a need for strategic resources by "this country [the U.S.] and its European allies." justifies aggression (even just sanctions, let alone a military attack) toward another country, in this case Iran. Is this what you actually believe? If so, please explain that.

Since you mention oil and "strategic resources", I wonder what you think of the claim that the _actual_ motive for the whole Iraq adventure was to gain strategic control of the oil resources (and _never_ had anything to do with "WMD", "liberating [sic] the Iraqi people", or "fighting the terrorists over there before they have a chance to come here" [sic]).
______________End Quoted Text_____________________

Jan. 16 2013 08:00 PM
Noach (Independent) from Brooklyn

I must note that I unfortunately missed this segment (as well as today's entire show). I hope to listen to the recording before long.

(Yet again, I began working-on my first comment with the intention of posting it no later than early in the segment...had hoped to suggest points to be raised during the interview. Then, I saw the comments regarding Ms. Burstein that had been posted and they inspired me to write my previous post on that 2010 interview by Julie Burstein-- which I have remained outraged over since and thus could not pass-up this opportunity to point-out how applicable to that past segment several of today's comments were.)

The comments page creates a conflicting, even paradoxical situation: It is simply not possible to write or read with any concentration_while_ at the same time _listening_ to an interview, conversation or monologue with any concentration. Try to do both at once and, inevitably, at least one, and more likely, _both_ will suffer.

(I was appalled when I first learned that the hosts look at computer screens to follow comments and email _while_ interviewing guests and speaking with callers. It would be interesting to compare pre- and post- internet archived shows to see if any discernible decline in quality can be corrleated.)

I have even thought that it might be best for the comments page for a segment to remain locked until _after_ the segment has aired. But how then to allow direct suggestions or feedback regarding a segment to be made _while_ it could still affect the course of the segment?

One idea: Create a separate _forum_ for actual _discussion_ and debate among listeners about specific shows/segments and the topics they raise. At the same time, try to narrow/ re-brand/ steer the _comments_ pages more as _immediate feedback_ pages for those brief, specific type of questions, suggestions or comments that require/ are suited-to being submitted _while_ a show is in progress.

Jan. 16 2013 06:45 PM


I have to disagree with you even after re-reading your first paragraph.

Burstein was not effective in countering specific points made by her "expert" guest.

For example, Hillary Leverett claimed that Islamic revolution opened doors for women in higher education and labor. I am not an expert on Iran, but even cursory read of contradicts this statement. And, of course, there were news not long ago that women are prohibited from some college majors in Iran - google "Iran limits female education".

There were other issues as well. These people are clever propagandists and it is not enough to just have your heart in the right place to expose them.

Jan. 16 2013 04:38 PM

I just heard the recording... I though Ms. Burstein provided competent, and needed, counterpoint to the agenda presented by the guests. The job of the host is to help connect the guests with the audience. I suspect much of what Andrea said was on the minds of many listeners and that the counterpoint helped listeners to better understand the guests perspective.

And for those that suggest that Burstein knows less about Iranian culture than her guests, I ask you to re-read my first paragraph.

Jan. 16 2013 02:12 PM

I actually felt bad for Ms. Burstein. It was Hillary Leverett who was rigid, closed-minded and not willing to accept a viewpoint different than hers. Iran is governed by a totalitarian regime, plain and simple. The authors came across as apologists for a regime that has little tolerance for dissent. It was right for Burstein to challenge them. When we sugarcoat oppression, it only allows it to flourish.

Like with Cuba, US policy toward Iran is outdated and should change. But don’t forget that 40 years after Nixon went to China, the communist government there still limits dissent and individual freedoms. I am not sure that Leveretts’ have learned that lesson or have an approach that will ensure a free Iran in 40 years.

Jan. 16 2013 01:33 PM

@ Neturei Karta Noach

You are missing "geography".

Iran is located near strategic resources that are needed by this country and its European allies.


This explains this country's actions.

Israel has nothing to do with our need for oil.

Jan. 16 2013 01:03 PM
Jay Stein from Brooklyn

The tone of Burstein was so bad. She sounded like a bad Fox News anchor. Missed Leonard today. I felt bad for the authors.

Jan. 16 2013 01:00 PM

That was pretty strange! Normally I love listening to Julie Burstein - great interviewer. But I think the guests have a point. We can fall for our USA reporting hook, line and sinker - there should be a requirement for Americans to live in any country not in North America and be required to operate in another language, well enough to appreciate its logic and understand their point of view. I don't know if it's fear for Israel that makes people stiffen when asked to consider a "new" thought - but it's absolutely true that we screwed iran royally - they had a revolution for a reason! Our colonialist actions and attitudes brought chickens home to roost. this is not just US- Iran or just US Israel Iran. So what I think would be a great discussion would be an array of valid viewpoints. Nobody is "right" and nobody today sounded very well informed. It'd be great to have Irani artists for example.

Jan. 16 2013 01:00 PM
Noach (Non-Zionist, Pro-Peace Orthodox Jew) from Brooklyn

I'm not sure what could be accomplished by engaging with Iran, at least as long as U.S. policy remains so completely, defiantly one-sided in favor of Israel.

But I cannot see how anything at all good could possibly come out of an _attack_ on Iran (whether by the U.S., Israel or both).

I also fail to see how the U.S.-Israeli position on Iran can be considered anything other than incredibly inconsistent and downright hypocritical.

Let us compare Iran and Israel here:


-is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which explicitly grants them the right to develop and maintain nuclear ability for peaceful purposes (such as energy, medicine, research)

-is _accused_ of actively working toward the ability to produce nuclear _weaponry_, in direct violation of the NTP.

-There does not appear to be any credible, conclusive evidence that Iran is actually doing this, however (see, among others, Seymour Hersh's writing on the topic) and they strenuously deny that they are.

-Nonetheless, Iran is censured, chastised and threatened based on this accusation.


- has consistently refused to sign the NTP

- To say that Israel is widely believed to have considerable nuclear weapon capability would be an understatement. Even Israel themselves, while not confirming this, does not deny it either.

- Nonetheless, Israel is continually, consistently and overwhelmingly _rewarded_ , _supported_, _enabled_, and _protected_ by the United States: financially, militarily and diplomatically.

What am I missing here?

Jan. 16 2013 12:52 PM
Josh from Brooklyn

Is Miss Burstein a neo-con? Her antagonistic tone is frankly, disgusting. She smacks of someone who has never interacted with people of Iranian descent, and who is ignorant of Iranian culture, politics, history. Iran is remarkable for its similarity to the USA; but political elites in both nations have a vested interest in maintaining a myth to contradict that. Try and listen to your guests next time.

Jan. 16 2013 12:50 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

To Maria,

In 1946 Stalin was setting up Kurdish republics in Northern Iran. If not for Britain, much of Iran might have ended up under Soviet rule.

Jan. 16 2013 12:47 PM
tom from astoria

I agree with those who have criticized the temporary host of taking a defensive tone against the guests. Why does the host react this way -- let the guests express fully their view and balance it with intelligent questions & observations, not hostility.

Jan. 16 2013 12:46 PM
Maria from Brooklyn

P.S., Which is not to say I'm a fan of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but we need to understand the level of US interference in Iran and its devastating, long-term repercussions. We are severely misinformed and fed a lot of propaganda, ourselves.

Jan. 16 2013 12:44 PM

Would an openly athesistic or homosexual person be able to travel in Iran? I doubt it. I see the authors' points, perhaps some "good" may have been done but its it time the Iran people DID have a choice to choose there future not clouded by stone age traditions and warlords.

Jan. 16 2013 12:43 PM
Anthony from Brooklyn

Why is Julie Burstein an advocate here? Isn't her role to solicit the views of her guests, not advocate on behalf of her own.

I want to hear what the guests have to say and then I'll make my own judgment. Vociferously arguing with experts who obviously know a lot of things she doesn't isn't what I listen to Leonard Lopate for. Absolutely appalling.

Jan. 16 2013 12:41 PM
Maria from Brooklyn

Please mention Mohammad Mosaddegh, the democratically-elected P.M., whom the CIA and British MI6 overthrew. How would Americans feel toward a nation that had done that to our democratically-elected officials. I really appreciate the guests viewpoints and perseverance. (The host is coming from the same uninformed, cliched angle.)

Jan. 16 2013 12:40 PM
Jennifer L. from Greenwich Village

The guest host today seems to have a very argumentative tone with her guests who are talking about Iran. She is interrupting a lot and seems to have her own agenda.

Jan. 16 2013 12:40 PM
Robert from NYC

You are pretty stupid to not understand that there are steps to getting to where we are. You don't just go in and reverse 180 a culture/society. First you engage and then you talk. I can't believe you argue this stupid argument you present against engagement.

Jan. 16 2013 12:39 PM

This format of inviting an "expert" with one-sided view does not work.

The station need to counterbalance such experts with someone who can contradict or confirm their statements.

Jan. 16 2013 12:38 PM
foodaggro from Brooklyn

* correction - Iranian!

Jan. 16 2013 12:36 PM
Ed from Larchmont

How about freedom of religion?

Jan. 16 2013 12:36 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

The USSR gave more equal rights to women than any other country in its time. It ruled antisemitism to be equal. It had the nicest sounding constitution of any in the world. But it was all a sham.

Jan. 16 2013 12:35 PM
foodaggro from Brooklyn

Women are treated "better" than those in other middle eastern countries?? Better compared to what, rape? Torture??
I can't believe my ears. These two are delusional, and disrespectful toward the memory of all those who have suffered and died in the wake of Iraqi regimes over the years.

Jan. 16 2013 12:35 PM

Nixon was playing China against the Soviet Union.

Should the US play Iran vs. Saudi Arabia?

Jan. 16 2013 12:33 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

I watch Iran's PRESS TV every day. I love the Iranian people, their culture, their movies, and everything Iranian. They are a brilliant and lovely people in every way. The problem is, they are ruled over by a horrible Islamofascist regime that is hell bent on taking over the Middle East, eliminating Israel, and bringing down the West. Anyone who doesn't understand this doesn't know which way is up, or down.

Your guests have drunk the Kool Aid. They are like those who were trying to have detente with the Soviet Union in the '60s and '70s. It didn't work. It took a hard nosed Reagan to finally bring the Soviet system to a halt.

What the Islamofascist regime wants is what the USSR wanted, what the Third Reich wanted, that is, to become the hegemon. They see us getting weaker; they are getting stronger. And that is all that matters.

Jan. 16 2013 12:32 PM
tom from astoria

Ques. for the Guest: You make excellent points. How much of our harshly biased attitude towards Iran is due to the extreme influence of Iraeli interests in our foreign policy?

Jan. 16 2013 12:31 PM
foodaggro from Brooklyn

Get this nutjob woman off the air.

Jan. 16 2013 12:30 PM


Let's start by calling them the "Great Satan". Maybe adding an f-word would be a nice touch...

Jan. 16 2013 12:29 PM

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