Explaining Going to Tehran


We are pleased to share a couple of extended radio interviews we’ve done recently regarding our book, Going to Tehran.  One, click here, is a podcast that Flynt did with George Kenney for Electric Politics; it was just posted today.  Kenney is a former U.S. Foreign Service Officer who was the first American diplomat to resign (in 1992) in protest against U.S. policy toward the former Yugoslavia.  He became an articulate public critic of important aspects of America’s post-Cold War foreign policy; for the last several years, he has produced and hosted the Electric Politics podcasts.

The other interview, click here, is an hour-long conversation that both of us had with the stalwart Scott Horton a couple of weeks ago (and which has not lost its timeliness).

–Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett


18 Responses to “Explaining Going to Tehran”

  1. Smith says:

    “Fās est et ab hoste docērī”.

    Qui est inimicus?

  2. Smith says:

    For the article’s beautiful drawing:

    Sun Tzu on art of warfare;

    “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself,
    you will succumb in every battle”


    “Even the finest sword plunged into salt water will eventually rust”


    “If your enemy is secure at all points, be prepared for him. If he is in superior strength, evade him. If your opponent is temperamental, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant. If he is taking his ease, give him no rest. If his forces are united, separate them. If sovereign and subject are in accord, put division between them. Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected”


    “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat”


    “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat”

    And most importantly

    “Build your opponent a golden bridge to retreat across” And: “There is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare”

  3. nico says:


    The very same “sykes-picot” original colonial countries are explaining that throwing arms into Syria is necessary to bring democracy.

    You know the same countries which were trying to have their way in order tout keep control of the suez canal.

    The true reasons behind western policy I might understand.

    However KSA treasonous bwana policy is truly abject.


    KSA is in direct collision course with Iran.
    They do not even take pain to hide their enmity.
    One might even wonder if it is US spoiling KSA or the opposite… Most likely, it is true both ways.

    At some point Iran will need to deal with KSA in order tout secure her position and deal a blow to the US colonial structure.
    It cannot be otherwise. The alternate way is to deal with the US or Israel.

    The KSA regime is in league with the colonial structure from the very start and renewed her allegiance time and again.
    Turning the KSA regime against their master is a lost cause.
    The only option for Iran is regime change.

  4. nico says:

    Mister 20%,

    You confirmed that the Irak war way not for oil but you think It was due to far much darker motives.

    Well as usual you imply things but do not entirely speak your mind.

    Could you please let everybody know what could be the darker motives ?

    Knowing your limitless admiration for german efficiency and rigor as well as your usual rant about the jews being responsible of all the western policies in the ME, I guess I get what are the “darker motives” you are speaking about…

    Your posts truly smell bad.

  5. nico says:

    Repost from previous thread with additional questions to fyi, smith and ExposingNeocon

    Iran almost climbed the mountain to the top helped in that by US mismanagement.
    Now the US are pulling at Iran feet.
    What Iran needs is to jump over the tipping point and establish her position in a stable way.

    The US ME dominance rest upon their (unholy) Alliance with Israel and KSA.
    Other smaller countries like Kuwait, UAE or Qatar, do not count for much as for population or territorial area importance.
    The other historical pillars of US dominance are long gone with Iran and Irak.

    As long as the alliance is solid it seems difficult for the US regime to make the needed concessions to Iran. The US regime needs to be forced into making them, they are not here yet.

    It is difficult for Iran to directly influence Israel position.
    Left for Iran, to definitly win the battle and achieve her goals, the option of KSA switching her allegiance/alliance.

    Such shift would have seemed impossible years ago.
    KSA was stable and Iran would have been crushed would have she helped the shia population.
    KSA regime alliance with the US one will not change.
    KSA is the source of all wahabi extremism from USSR Taliban war up to now. They destabilize the entire region from Pak to Syria, Irak, Bahrein, Lybia… with their money and obnoxious and backward wahabi ideology.
    The current KSA regime is heinous toward shia and there is no way they will come to terms with Iran.

    With such background, not unknown from Iran leaders, what are the odds that KSA will be further destabilized with Iran money and covert operations ?
    Iran is not anymore in a weak position and could maybe afford the consequences.

    Obviously there is a risk to accentuate the sectarian and ethnic conflicts in the whole region.
    In addition KSA is an important oil supplier at world stage and pressure could be put on Iran by other players such as China.
    Iran up to now refrained of such actions or at least remained discreet.
    There is also Iran ideology with the Ummah.
    However I am not sure there is a choice for the Iran regime as in order to achieve peace under the IR terms (even minimum) it would be necessary to weaken, break or at least threaten the Alliance.
    It seems KSA is the weak one in the Alliance and the most likely target.
    And it seems the next logical move as far as geostrategy is concerned.

    Smith, Fyi, ExposingNeocon, I would be interested to have your opinion about that.

    Do you think Iran is for something in the Arabian Peninsula (Yemen, KSA) instabibility ?
    What is your take concerning Iran official and unofficial policy regarding KSA ?

  6. Irshad says:

    nico – with the developments in the region so far, it seems the losers in the region are members of the axis of resistance. Hezbollah and Lebanon got smashed to pieces in 06, Hamas in 08 /09 and in 2012, and hell has been unleashed on Syria where Turkey, Saudi, Qatar, Uk, France, Isreal and France are financing and supporting the terrorists to destroy that country where either it leads to Assads downfall and regim change or another failed state ala-Somalia which will not be a strategic threat to Isreal (which they can live with even with Assad in power). Iran is constantly threathened with war, sanctioned and is accused by the Arabs of stoking sectarianism (this is rich considering the founders and stokers of sectarianism are Saudi).

    The message seems to be to all, you want to be independent and join the Axis of resistance then you will pay a heavy price for this: look at Hezbollah, Syria, Gaza and the noose is tightening around Iran as economic sanctions are piled on.

    Unfortunately, Iran been the champion of this resistance and of the world view that this axis represents has not been forceful and ruthless enough to protect the members of this alliance. She should have made it clear forecfully to the Turks, Qataris and Saudis that if they try to destablizie Syria then that will be seen as an direct intervention in the affairs of Iran and a direct threat to its national security (something that Erdagon has been saying, but to remove Assad) – this would have made these countries think long and hard before embarking on this catastrophe. Iran should have helped the Bahrainis and the Shia in the eastern region of Saudi, it should have warned Qatar that it shares a gigantic gas field with Iran and this could be put in jeapordy if Irans national interest and security is threathened. Turkey could have been dealt with in tandem with the Russians.

    So far Turkey has benefitted the most from the Syria conflict along with Isreal , US and Saudi:
    – Turkey is getting much needed green miney from the GCC nations
    – increased its influence amongst the US/UK and France
    – Got mobile patriot missles on its territtory (which benefits Isreal and US as it can be used sgainst Iranian missles – see how the media are silent about anything along the borders)
    – nato stations radar system in central Turkey
    – increases its stake in the future of Syria
    – Aleppo – Syrias main industrial hub is destroyed allowing Turkey to increase its economic clout
    – increases its image as a supporter of the aspirations of the arab street as opposed to Iran which is supporting dictatorship in Syria

    The Saudis hurt Iran by destroying, allow all their crazy takfiris go blow themselves up in Syria, trumpets Iran being against the wishes of the Arab people, salafi takfirism is reorientated to take on the Shia instead of America (ala Bandars 2007 plan), further cement their ties with US and Isreal which will allow them to buy more expensive weapons with congress approval and Use all that to get western silence on human rights abuses in Saudi.

    I was rather suprised that Ay. Khameni warned Isreal that Tel Aviv and Haifa woll be destroyed if isreal attacks Iran. This was the first time – I heard – him state something like that explicitedly. On top of that you got the same countries playing the same tune against Iraq.

    So why would Saudi/Turkey/Qatar/UK/Fr/Us /Isreal want to end the tragedy in Syria when they are getting so much benefit out of it? Iran is the short term loser and meanwhile countless people are killed in Syria. (I purposefully kep out Russia in this analysis).

    Iran needs to be explictedly forceful in protecting her interest and her allies or the axis of resistance will be a dangerous axis to be part of.

    Sadly the Arabs are too busy wallowing in self defeat and hatred of Iran to turn a blind eye that Obama visited the grave of Herzl calling him a “visionary”. Shame on them!

  7. Fiorangela says:

    nico says:
    March 23, 2013 at 9:48 am

    “The only option for Iran is regime change.”

    Changing WHOSE regime?

    If the goal if to change KSA regime, isn’t that what Flynt and Hillary argue Iran is doing — by using soft power to appeal to the Saudi PEOPLE (not leaders)?

    In a sense, US/Israel and Iran pursue the same strategy: appeal to the masses to demand change, aka overthrow their leadership.

    US/Israel attempt to influence Iranian people by killing them, destroying their economy, demonizing them to the world.

    Iran attempts to influence people of the region by empowering them to demand their own rights & sovereignty, by exposing hypocrisy of US/Israel, and example of sustaining, nonviolently, the blows US/Israel rains on Iran, while still resisting their illegitimate demands.

  8. fy says:

    Irshad says:

    March 23, 2013 at 10:17 am

    Resistance was forced on Iran, Syria, Lebanon by the Axis Powers.

    For Lebanon, it started in 1982.

    For Iran, in 1992 and the Presidency of Mr. Clinton.

    And for Syria from 2003 by Mr. Bush’s government.

    The 2006 war a strategic victory for the Axis of Resistance.

    The incorporation of Iraq into the Shia Crescent was another.

    And the incorporation of Hezbollah into Lebanon’s government yet another.

    These were all victories, gained at enormous cost, that has changed the relative balance of power in the Middle East.

    Now Axis Powers are pursuing the War-to-Wound-Iran-in-Syria game.

    That war will also come to an end with Axis of Resistance victory – this I am now certain.

    And then there is the continuing economic war against Iran by US-EU; I imagine it will peter out in the coming years.

    [Korea, India, and Japan have to import oil from Angola – at additional costs; they are not happy.

    And then there is the coming rise in demand starting later this year.]

    Mr. Khamenei’s statement must be understood as a serious warning to US and Israel – that Iran will fight back.

    Their call (in the languages of the game of cards called Poker.)

  9. nico says:


    I agree that IRI should have used or need to use more hard power. It is the time to do it now.

    However, I am not sure that the IRI is the loser.
    Maybe it is what it seems on a short term basis.
    But on medium or long term outlook, the situation has not never been so much advantageous.

    My feeling is that the IRI is cultivating a reasonable and responsible stance, contrary to other regional players.
    They maybe think it will be beneficial in the long run and that it is necessary posture to get a ceasefire or some kind of agreement with the unholy alliance ?
    Maybe it is out of fear ? (Maybe the IRI was alreday threatened with nuke on diplomatic channels)
    Maybe it is out of prudence ?

    The attacks are harsh for the moment, and some hard power could be needed.
    The IRI never was in better position than now to use it.
    Would it be that the next Almaty talks not a success, some hard power would be deployed ?

    The interesting point is to try to guess why IRI has this current posture and when and why it could change.
    Have you got an idea ?

  10. James Canning says:


    I think you overlook the considerable influence wielded by Qatar due to its great wealth.

    Having too many people actually makes countries weaker, not stronger.

  11. fy says:

    nico says:

    March 23, 2013 at 9:48 am

    I doubt that Iran is involved in any substantial and material way in the political crisis of Yemen.

    Houthis are not influenced by Iran – they are not Twelver Shias any way and I do not see any reference to them in Persian language literature and news.

    The crisis with Yemen South – the desire for becoming independent again expressed by some political formations there – is not instigated by Iranians or supported by them.

    But Yemen, is a very good example, in my opinion, of how the Axis Powers and their local allies, failed to build and develop a positive program in the Middle East in the years between 1991 and 2001.

    In Palestine and with Oslo Accords and in Yemen when the North and South Yemen reunified – Axis Powers had a good foundation to for executing further positive policies.

    Iran was weak and isolated at that time and was facing a long period of austerity.

    [I suppose many graduate students of international relations and foreign policy will produce tens of Ph.D. theses in the coming years investigating how the Unilateral Moment led to the destruction of the global order that had been predicated on the Peace of Yalta.]

    But now Iranians stand for the only positive program in the Middle East and Central Asia while Americans, Europeans, (Sunni ) Arabs, and Turks stand for instability, religious war etc.

    This is the greatest positive victory of Iranians – that is, they stand for Peace, Development, Comity etc.

  12. fy says:

    Fiorangela says:

    March 23, 2013 at 12:11 pm

    In his New Year speech in the Shrine of Imam Reza 2 days ago, Mr. Khamenei noted the US-EU regime change policy and stated that they (the Iranians) do not care since Axis Powers do not have that power.

    What that means is that any offer of “taking regime change off the table” by Axis Powers is devoid of bargaining power.

  13. Nasser says:


    What do you make of recent developments in Turkey’s relations with the Kurds and the Israelis?

  14. fy says:

    Nasser says:

    March 23, 2013 at 3:30 pm

    American Block – a.k.a. Axis Powers – are reducing their internal points of friction.

    In Turkey, Mr. Erdogan is trying to remove the Kurdish issue lest Iran or Russia or Syria use it against Turkey. He is also aiming to remove a point of friction with Iraqi Kurds in anticipation of future inroads into Iraq.

    These developments are both useful for Turkey and for Axis Powers.

    In the event of war with Iran, the American Block will have a more organized front.

    On the other hand, a one-hundred-year-old problem cannot be resolved by a single directive from Mr. Ocalan. A cease-fire has been declared, that is all.

    But there is a limit to which Turkey can be pushed: she is dependent on Russia and Iran for energy.

  15. Nasser says:


    Thank you for your response.

    You write: “He is also aiming to remove a point of friction with Iraqi Kurds in anticipation of future inroads into Iraq.” – In your opinion will this have the effect of making the Shia Iraqis even more fearful of the Turks and become more reliant on Iran?

    Also, I asked in a previous thread that might have escaped your notice: “Can Iran realistically come up with a way to hurt the Saudis as long as the Americans are backing them?”

  16. fy says:

    Nasser says:

    March 23, 2013 at 6:16 pm

    In regards to Kurds – Mr. Erdogan might have a concern that the 3 Kurdish regions in Syria, Eastern Anatolia, and Northeastern Iraq join up together.

    On the other hand, note that the Iraqi Kurds will not share their oil with Kurds in Turkey and Syria even if there is an independent Kurdistan in any equitable manner. The Talibanistan and Barzanistan will not spend their patrimony on the Kurdish riff-raff of Iraq and Syria in any substantial manner.

    It is not in them.

    In regards to your last question – I suppose so.

  17. James Canning says:

    Nasser, fyi,

    Wouldn’t it generally be a good thing for Iran if Turkey can resolve its problem with its dissident Kurds?

  18. fyi says:

    James Canning says:

    March 25, 2013 at 2:57 pm

    Turkey cannot – in principle – resolve her problem with dissident Kurds. The existence of Kurds, a non-Turkic people, in the Turkish Republic is an inconvenient fact and an indigestible one for Turks.

    Analogous situations obtain in Israel versus Arabs and Caucasians and in Azerbaijan Republic with regards to Taleshis and assorted other non-Turkic people.

    In all 3 states the answer has been suppression and oppression since the conceptualization of nationality has been too rigid to accommodate these diversities.

    The European Union and the United States cannot provide any credible way of resolving these issue – their historical experience has been – over many centuries – one of ethnic cleansing the last of which occurred at the end of World War II.

    This issue in the above-mentioned countries cannot be resolved – it can only be managed – until new state formations replace the current ones.

    The Kurds in Iran are an Iranian people whose culture and language is closer to Persians which fits them within the conceptualization of Iran-ness; should they wish to do so. But many of them do not and I think it is a combination of being largely Sunnis that prevents them from joining the other inhabitants of the Iran in mutual cordiality and sincerity. It is a choice that they have made, in my opinion.

    As for the issue of Kurds in Iran – the real issue is between Azeri Turks and Kurds and not between the State and Kurdish tribes of Western Iran or between Kurds and native speakers of Persian language. It is the Iranian state that has, for the past few centuries, enforced the peace between Azeri Turks and Kurds.

    In my view, the dissident Kurds in Iran could attempt to see if they can get a better deal in Iraqi Kurdistan – see for themselves if their “Kurdish Brothers” there will share any of the oil revenue with them.

    I expect them to be disappointed as their Azeri counterparts were disappointed by the way they were treated in Turkey and in Azerbaijan.

    In my view, an independent Kurdish state, however un-working that might be, is not a threat to Iran. Just like Azerbaijan Republic is not – the dissident intellectuals can pursue their mono-cultural fantasy life there while those who value a multi-cultural society will remain in Iran.