CNN Debate: Hillary Mann Leverett and Alan Dershowitz on an Iran Deal

In the lead-up to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech before the U.S. Congress this week, and the controversy it has engendered, CNN asked Hillary Mann Leverett to debate renowned Harvard Law School professor, celebrity defense attorney, and hawkish supporter of Israeli policies Alan Dershowitz, over two separate segments, on the merits of an Iran deal and the Obama Administration’s differences with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu on this subject.

Hillary has worked in the Middle East and in U.S. policy making institutions (the National Security Council and State Department) for twenty-five years.  From 2001-2003, she negotiated for the U.S. government directly with Iranian counterparts—including then Deputy Foreign Minister Javad Zarif—over Afghanistan, al-Qaida, and Iraq, in what were the most constructive and productive negotiations U.S. and Iranian officials had with each other since the 1979 revolution.  In 2003, she drafted a ground-breaking memo to then Secretary of State Colin Powell advocating that the United States further engage the Islamic Republic in a “grand bargain” to deal with their areas of disagreement.  In 2006, with her husband, Flynt Leverett, she again broke ground with an op-ed in the New York Times taking that case public: that, instead of targeting Iran as part of an “axis of evil,” America needed to strike a “grand bargain” with it.  In 2013, they published the book, Going To Tehran: Why America Must Accept the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Alan Dershowitz is a Harvard University emeritus professor of law, world-renowned celebrity attorney, and, according to his website, “Israel’s single most visible defender – the Jewish state’s lead attorney in the court of public opinion.”  His most recent book is Terror Tunnels, The Case for Israel’s Just War Against Hamas.

It is important to note that the debate was extremely time limited and that Hillary, at times, had to make her points over Mr. Dershowitz’ screaming interruptions.  Nevertheless, the debate aired over two days in America’s premier news network, in one of their most viewed and listened to time slots.

Here is an edited transcript of their debate:

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Secretary of State John Kerry says it is too soon to judge a deal that would restrict Iran’s nuclear activities for at least ten years. But it’s not too soon for him to say the bottom line is that Iran won’t get nukes, I guess, for ten years and that raises the issue of whether or not this is a good move at all.

There are two very different sides to this we have both represented. Hillary Mann Leverett, CEO of STRATEGA, Middle East analyst, and co-author of Going to Tehran: Why America Must Accept the Islamic Republic of Iran and Professor Alan Dershowitz, emeritus professor of Law at Harvard Law School and author of Terror Tunnels, The Case for Israel’s Just War Against Hamas.

We will start with the proposition that if the U.S. wants to make a deal, it should be a good thing. You represent that, Hillary, why as a citizen should I be happy about this deal?


First, the Islamic Republic of Iran is not going away—it is a critically important rising power, a huge hydrocarbon power, with a sophisticated, educated population—in some of the same ways the People’s Republic of China was a rising power in the early 1970s and just as then President Nixon came to understand that the United States, for its own interests, had to accept this rising power in Asia, the United States now needs to accept this pivotal and rising power in the Middle East.

It is imperative for the United States to do so now because, after a decade of counter-productive military adventures in the Middle East, our strategic position there is in free fall and we need a more constructive relationship with Iran to enable us to stop this strategically self-damaging pursuit of dominance in the region and instead pursue a balance of power approach that recognizes all of the important powers in the region and has constructive relationships with each of them.

CUOMO: So what is the counter, the basic theory there is that Iran is now like China was, do you agree, Professor?

ALAN DERSHOWITZ, Harvard Law School: Absolutely not, China is a rational calculating, secular government. Iran is a suicide nation. It’s sent thousands of its own children to die in the war against Iraq, with little tokens promising them paradise.

Rafsanjani, one of the former leaders, said if Iran gets nuclear weapons and bombs Israel, it will kill 3 million to 5 million Jews. Israel will retaliate to kill 10 million to 20 million Muslims, and the tradeoff would be worth it because it would destroy Israel and it would leave Islam untouched.

So the idea of comparing rational China to Iran, the greatest exporter of terrorism in the world is absurd. Iran is determined to get a nuclear weapon. There is no good resolution to this. We are talking about worse, worser and worsest.

This is a bad deal because it has a sunset provision. It allows Iran after ten years to develop nuclear weapons. Now if you believe The New York Times, in its editorial this morning, The New York Times says after the deal runs its course, Iran would be able to pursue nuclear enrichment for energy and medical purposes without constraints.

If you believe that, that Iran wants to simply pursue medical and energy purposes, you should favor this deal. But if you think Iran is going to cheat, if you think it already has cheated, for example the Iran resistance movement yesterday revealed there’s a secret hide-out facility called Laza Van 3.

They’re going to cheat their way into a nuclear bomb. It will be a game changer as President Obama acknowledged when he earlier said he would never allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons. He’s now that policy.

CUOMO: OK, so let’s leave the politics of flip-flopping aside and address the main point, which is you are giving the most dangerous weapon to someone who has proven again and again they want to do dangerous things, Hillary, how does that make sense?

LEVERETT: Iran is not pursuing nuclear weapons, the entire U.S. national security and intelligence establishment and the entire Israeli national security and intelligence establishment say Iran is not pursuing nuclear weapons and has not even taken a decision to do so—which is one reason why diplomacy is the most effective course here.

But Prime Minister Netanyahu, as Professor Dershowitz just repeated, has been telling us this canard—that Iran has or is pursuing nuclear weapons—for years.  Two years ago, Prime Minister Netanyahu stood in front of the American public at AIPAC and gave Professor Dershowitz’s fact-free argument verbatim, that if you believe the Iranians are pursuing nuclear energy or medicine, I have a bridge to sell you–

CUOMO: Do you think Israel is lying about the Iranian threat?

LEVERETT: That is basically what the United States government is now saying. The White House spokesman came out and specifically said we are no longer sharing information about the negotiations with the Israelis because they are distorting it and putting out not accurate information.

Prime Minister Netenyahu and his friends here are destroying the U.S./Israel relationship for a canard, for something that is not true.

CUOMO: Look, the idea that Israel feels threatened by Iran is not a canard. The basis on which they feel threatened is what you’re speaking to, Professor, your point on that?


CUOMO: Hold on, Hillary.

DERSHOWITZ: If you really think that Iran has no interest in developing nuclear weapons then you should, you don’t even need a deal. Just let them pursue their biological and medical facility. Everybody in the world, with any common sense, knows that Iran wants to develop nuclear weapons.

Whether they have made the ultimate theological decision or not, is how many angels on the head of a pin. If out there you think Iran is not interested in developing nuclear weapons at all, then you should be on the side of my –

CUOMO: Susan Rice –

DERSHOWITZ: If you believe that Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons, they have to be stopped. President Obama said that. John Kerry has said that. Everybody has said that—that Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons—except my distinguished opponent.

CUOMO: The thinking goes back and forth. The intel is soft about it, which makes it more confusing, let’s get where Susan Rice, the national security defense adviser, is on this. On this and as it relates to the Israeli prime minister. Let’s take a listen.

(Video Clip of) SUSAN RICE, National Security Advisor: What has happened over the last several weeks by virtue of the invitation that was issued, by the Speaker and the acceptance of it by Prime Minister Netenyahu two weeks in advance of his election is that on both sides, there has now been injected a degree of partisanship, which is not only unfortunate, I think it’s, it’s destructive of the fabric of the relationship.

CUOMO: All right, so that is obviously a segue way into how this is going to affect U.S./Israeli relations, which could not be more important and vital to everything that’s going on in the region and, obviously, to domestic interests as well. Final point, we have one minute. Hillary, one point on that?

LEVERETT: Prime Minister Netanyahu and his supporters are peddling a false case that could get us into yet another strategically damaging war—just as they did with Iraq and other places in the Middle East. What the Obama administration is now doing, in an unprecedented way, is calling a spade a spade by saying Netanyahu and his supporters here in the United States are putting out a false story, which will lead the U.S. to yet another war.

CUOMO: That’s your point. What’s your final point, Professor?

DERSHOWITZ: Well, that’s what Neville Chamberlin argued, that it was a false narrative that Hitler really meant what he said. I have to take very seriously what Iran has said, what they’ve threatened to destroy Israel. They’ve threatened to destroy the United States. We’ve discovered secret facilities for nuclear weapons.

You must believe that Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons, and if they are trying to develop nuclear weapons, there can’t be a sunset provision. They have to be permanently stopped from doing so. This is a bad deal.

CUOMO: Hillary Mann Leverett, Professor Alan Dershowitz, thank you very much, two very intelligent people who understand the situation laying it out for you. Now you decide. Let us know.

Part II:

Well, President Obama and dozens of fellow Democrats do not like it, but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is coming to Washington for a speech to Congress [tomorrow]. How will this affect U.S./Israeli relations? We’ll have a debate on that next.

(Video clip of) SUSAN RICE, National Security Advisor: There has now been injected a degree of partisanship, which is not only unfortunate; I think it’s destructive of the fabric of the relationship.

ALISYN CAMEROTA CNN ANCHOR: Well, that was National Security Adviser Susan Rice earlier this week, calling Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s upcoming speech before Congress, quote, “destructive.” Now the White House plans to send Rice and U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power to a pro-Israel lobbying conference. Will that ease the tensions?

Let’s debate this. Let’s bring in Hillary Mann Leverett. She’s a former National Security Council official under presidents Clinton and Bush. She’s also the co-author of Going to Tehran.  And Alan Dershowitz, emeritus professor of law at Harvard Law School and the author of Terror Tunnels: The Case for Israel’s Just War Against Hamas.

Hillary, let me start with you. Do you agree with Susan Rice’s assessment that Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit will be destructive to the relationship between U.S. and Israel?

HILLARY MANN LEVERETT, AUTHOR, GOING TO TEHRAN: U.S.-Israel relations are certainly at an historic low point. But in fact, it may be a clarifying moment, a very important moment. It may not be quite as destructive as the rhetoric out there portends it to be.

I think it will be important to clarify that Prime Minister Netanyahu holds a position that is essentially fact-free, that U.S. officials have described on background to the Washington Post as “fictional,” that Netanyahu is living in a “fantasyland.”

CAMEROTA: Meaning that you don’t believe that Iran is as close to getting nuclear weapons as he will say they are.

MANN LEVERETT: It’s not just me—it’s almost the entire Israeli national security establishment, 200 Israeli generals came out this week to say that Netanyahu’s claims are not accurate. It’s also the White House spokesman saying Netanyahu’s claims are not accurate. It’s the entire U.S. national security establishment, all 16 of our intelligence agencies saying Iran is not pursuing nuclear weapons…


MANN LEVERETT: … saying that Netanyahu is not accurate. What is critically important here is that the administration is saying that the Israelis and Netanyahu, in particular—and Kerry said this to Congress—cannot come here yet again, as Netanyahu did in 2002 on the eve of the Iraq war, to give us a false story that will help lead us into war. They’re saying we’re not going to do that again.

CAMEROTA: OK. Alan, do you agree with that assessment?

ALAN DERSHOWITZ, AUTHOR,TERROR TUNNELS: Absolutely not. This is, at bottom, not about the Israeli-American relation. It’s a great constitutional and foreign policy debate about whether we trust Iran, whether we are prepared to allow them to become a nuclear weapon power. This is the most extensive exporter of terrorism in the world today.

And it’s not between Israel and the United States. It’s between the Obama administration and Congress, Senator Menendez and other leading Democrats. The Washington Post editorialized against this deal. Today David Brooks has a brilliant article in the New York Times calling it a bad deal, saying it’s a bad bet, because it accepts my distinguished opponent’s view that Iran is not really trying to develop nuclear weapons, that it can be brought into the fold of the western world. It’s a very bad bet.

It’s the bet that Chamberlain made in 1938 when he said that he could deal with Hitler. All Hitler wanted was Sudetenland and if we give them that, there will be peace in our time.

CAMEROTA: But Alan, do you…

DERSHOWITZ: This is a great debate that shouldn’t be reduced to a personality dispute between Netanyahu and Obama.

CAMEROTA: Sure. But do you agree that it is possible that Prime Minister Netanyahu has overhyped some of his claims about what Iran is capable of?

DERSHOWITZ: Absolutely not. Iran is capable of and wants to develop nuclear weapons. Everybody knows that. There is a dispute among intelligence communities. All intelligence communities have disputes about how close they are.

If you’re Israel, and you’ve been told that Iran’s goal is to destroy the nation state of the Jewish people, you want to always err on the side of caution. And the worst you can say about the Israeli government is that it is erring on the side of caution. It cannot take a risk to its own survival—a risk that the United States seems to be prepared to take.

It’s a bad deal, particularly the sunset provision, which allows Iran to become a nuclear weapon power within ten years, which really means six years, which means the end of nuclear proliferation. Saudis will try to get nuclear weapons. This is bad deal. And…

CAMEROTA: OK. Hold on, Alan.

DERSHOWITZ: Everybody should be listening to Prime Minister Netanyahu and not walking out on his speech. That’s a terrible mistake.

CAMEROTA: OK, Hillary, Professor Dershowitz has just laid out the case for, you know, they want nuclear weapons at some point. So why not fight against that?

MANN LEVERETT: First of all because it’s a completely fact-free case. There is no dispute among the intelligence communities. The entire U.S. intelligence community and the entire Israeli intelligence community, all of them say, all of them hold that Iran has not even taken a decision to pursue nuclear weapons.

Now the problem with Professor Dershowitz’ case, which is critical…

DERSHOWITZ: That’s nonsense. That’s just false.

MANN LEVERETT: The critical problem with his case that is absolutely critical, is that he wants us to take his word for it. He wants us to take Prime Minister Netanyahu’s word for it, rather than neutral monitors and inspectors on the ground.

This is the perilous course people like this helped put us on with the invasion of Iraq. Instead of taking inspectors and monitors credible information…

DERSHOWITZ: Israel was against — Israel was against the invasion of Iraq.


MANN LEVERETT: What this means is that instead of having objective information that we can all evaluate, we have to take the word of one Israeli prime minister, over the facts and case of even his own intelligence community. This is very dangerous, and that’s why the Obama administration…

DERSHOWITZ: That’s just not true.

MANN LEVERETT: … is risking such a rift with Israel, with its erstwhile ally. That’s why they’re taking this big domestic political risk.

CAMEROTA: OK, hold on, Hillary.

DERSHOWITZ: That’s just not true.

CAMEROTA: Alan, is there a rift between Prime Minister Netanyahu and his intelligence community?

DERSHOWITZ: No. One of the people running against him who is campaigning against him is the former head of the Mossad, who has always been at odds with him. But everybody in the Israeli establishment, particularly those in the know, believe that Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons. And that they will get nuclear weapons under this deal.

Don’t try to pose this as the Israeli intelligence against Netanyahu. The vast majority of Israeli intelligence is against this deal. They’re against Iran developing nuclear weapons. Almost everybody except my distinguished opponent here believes that Iran has already decided to develop nuclear weapons.

And here’s my offer to you out there. If you believe her and believe that Iran has peaceful intentions and wants to develop nuclear energy for energy and medical purposes, then accept the deal. But if you believe as I do and almost everybody in the intelligence community that Iran is determined to get nuclear weapons, then reject this deal…


DERSHOWITZ: … which has a sunset provision and will allow the greatest exporter of terrorism to become a nuclear weapon exporter of terrorism…


DERSHOWITZ: … with ICBMs that can reach the shores of the United States.

CAMEROTA: Alan, Hillary, thank you for the debate. Obviously, we will be watching what happens in Congress with Benjamin Netanyahu next week. Thanks so much for being on CNN’s NEW DAY.

Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett


Hillary Mann Leverett on America’s War with the Islamic State, the Iran Nuclear Talks and U.S.-Israeli Relations, and U.S.-Russian Proxy War in Ukraine

Hillary went on MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Parry  yesterday to discuss the Obama administration’s ongoing war against the Islamic State (IS), see here and here, the public split between the administration and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu over Iran policy, see here, and the continuing crisis in and over Ukraine, see here.  On IS, Hillary takes on the all-too-frequent claim that the movement reflects pathological aspects of Islam and/or Middle Eastern culture, noting:

There was no Islamic State before [the United States] invaded Iraq, before we destroyed the political order there and upturned the political order in the Middle East.  The precursor to the Islamic State was Al-Qa’ida in Iraq, which—in contrast to Vice President Cheney’s claims—did not exist in Iraq and which was created as a response to the U.S. invasion.  What we minimize in looking at the Islamic State, because we hate their tactics, is that it has emerged as the strongest, most formidable Sunni organization to protect Sunnis and resist the West and other governments that align with the West.”

Underscoring how much Western discourse on IS’ “brutality” (exemplified in the recent execution of a captured Jordanian pilot) and “fanaticism” misses the movement’s highly strategic approach, Hillary points out:

“The strategy of IS has been very clear, instrumental, and extraordinarily effective.  Keep in mind—when IS first took Mosul, back in June, they had about 6,000 foot soldiers; today, they have over 50,000.

Although Jordanians want revenge for now, support for IS within Jordan is still deep.  It’s not every Jordanian, but it’s deep.  There are over 2,000 Jordanians fighting with IS.

So, IS’ strategy is twofold:  One is for IS to show would-be attackers as weak, because their response is going to be meaningless in the in the face of IS  hostage-killing.  The other is to get attackers to overreach:  for the United States to be seen as the cruel, inhumane bomber-murderer, and for Jordan, too, to get it to overreach and for this King to been seen as just an American lackey taking orders from the United States…The concern in Jordan for American foreign policy—what it does in Libya, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine—is a tool IS uses to surge recruitment very effectively.”

Regarding the controversy over Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s scheduled address to a joint session of Congress about Iran on March 3, Hillary explains:

“It shows how close we are to peace with Iran, which would be as revolutionary and beneficial to the United States as when we recognized and normalized relations with China in the 1970s.  Because Obama has taken a page from our book, Going to Tehran, has shown the courage, gone forward, and actually gotten us close to a deal, that has gotten key people in Congress to come out.

The Congressional Black Caucus started it.  They had the courage to come out first, when nobody else would come out and back the President, they came out and backed the President.  And they said, what’s going on here is the President is doing something right, and we need to defend him against a clear, blatant, partisan attack.  And the Israelis fed right into it.  They thought they could manipulate Congress, and they went right to the Republicans and tried to make it a partisan game.  And I think they’re really going to suffer when this goes down.

We’re looking at fundamental change in the Middle East.  U.S. policy cannot sustain itself the way it is, and if President Obama can see this through, he will have a legacy of peace and stability that will be quite remarkable…I think we saw a very smart move by President Obama, by the Democratic Party—frankly, that I hadn’t seen for six years—to lead the agenda, to take charge, to actually lead.  They came out hitting after the loss in the midterm elections.  From January 20, with the State of the Union speech, what they’ve done on immigration, on a range of things—the Iran issue has become part and parcel of that:  ‘let the president lead on foreign policy, let him succeed.’  And then the chips will fall where they may in 2016.  And I think that the Democrats are now quite confident, as they haven’t been in a few years, that this will come to fruition on a range of issues for Obama and help surge the Democrats to victory in 2016.”

Finally, as continuing tensions between Washington and Moscow prompt mounting calls for the United States and the West to provide “defensive” weapons to Ukraine, Hillary counters that the only real solution to the crisis is for Washington and its partners to “rebuild the relationship [with Russia and President Vladimir Putin]”—to “talk to them,” to “take their interests seriously,” and to “look at a serious way to go about having a neutral Ukraine.”

–Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett


Sami Al-Arian and the Defining Moral and Political Challenge of Our Time

Earlier this week, the U.S. government deported our friend and colleague, Dr. Sami Al-Arian, from the United States.  Turkey has granted him sanctuary.

Since we first met Dr. Al-Arian a few years ago, he and his family have set standards for faithfulness, moral steadfastness, and commitment to truth to which we can only aspire.  More broadly, the U.S. government’s treatment of Dr. al Arian underscores an urgent reality: how the West treats Muslims—in the Middle East, where they are the overwhelming majority, and in diaspora communities in the West itself—is the defining moral and political challenge of our time.  The U.S. government’s actions against Sami Al-Arian and his family should remind all of us how badly the United States is failing that challenge.

Sami Al-Arian was targeted by the U.S. government because, during the 1990s, he emerged as one of the most prominent and effective advocates for Palestinian rights that U.S. officials had ever faced.  To offer some insight into his case and what it means, we highlight here two pieces.  One, by Glenn Greenwald and his colleague at The Intercept, Murtaza Hussain, see here, assesses the U.S. government’s case against Dr. Al-Arian as a glaring example of post-9/11 “America’s eroding democratic values.”  This article explains how, as “part of a broader post-9/11 campaign by the U.S. government to criminalize aid and support to Palestinians,” Dr. Al-Arian was “indicated on multiple counts of providing ‘material support’ to [Palestinian Islamic Jihad] and fundraising on their behalf in the United States.”  As the article recounts,

“For most of the three years after his arrest, Al-Arian was kept in solitary confinement awaiting trial.  During this time, he was regularly subjected to strip-searches, denied normal visitation rights with his family, and allegedly abused by prison staff…When Al-Arian’s case did finally reach trail after years of harsh imprisonment, prosecutors failed to convict Al-Arian on even one charge brought against him.  Jurors voted to acquit him on the most serious counts he faced and deadlocked on the remainder of the indictments.

The outcome was hugely embarrassing for the U.S. government.  Despite having amassed over 20,000 hours of phone conversations and hundreds of fax messages from over a decade of surveilling Al-Arian, the [Justice Department]—even with all the advantages they enjoyed in terrorism cases in 2003 (and continue to enjoy today)—was unable to convince a jury Al-Arian was the arch-terrorist they had very publicly proclaimed him to be.

Indeed, instead of producing evidence that Al-Arian was involved in actual ‘terrorism,’ the government attempted to use as evidence copies of books and magazines Al-Arian had owned in a failed effort to convince the jury to convict him of apparent thought crimes.  This effort failed and a jury ruled to acquit Al-Arian on 8 out of 17 charges while failing to come to a verdict on the remainder.”

The article goes on to describe how, after his trial, “Al-Arian agreed to a plea bargain on the remaining charges by pleading guilty to one count of providing ‘contributions, goods or services’ to [Palestinian Islamic Jihad], a decision he says he undertook out of a desire to end the government’s ongoing persecution of him and win his release from prison.  Still, “despite this plea, Al-Arian was not released from prison”; instead, the U.S. government plunged him into a legally Kafkaesque series of additional imprisonments on “civil contempt” charges.  Finally, in 2014—after years of relentlessly persecuting Dr. Al-Arian, “the Federal government quietly and unceremoniously dropped all of their charges against [him].”

The second piece we want to highlight is a statement by Sami Al-Arian, released after his departure from the United States.  We append it below.

“To my dear friends and supporters,

After 40 years, my time in the U.S. has come to an end.  Like many immigrants of my generation, I came to the U.S. in 1975 to seek a higher education and greater opportunities.  But I also wanted to live in a free society where freedom of speech, association and religion are not only tolerated but guaranteed and protected under the law.  That’s why I decided to stay and raise my family here, after earning my doctorate in 1986.  Simply put, to me, freedom of speech and thought represented the cornerstone of a dignified life.

Today, freedom of expression has become a defining feature in the struggle to realize our humanity and liberty.  The forces of intolerance, hegemony, and exclusionary politics tend to favor the stifling of free speech and the suppression of dissent.  But nothing is more dangerous than when such suppression is perpetrated and sanctioned by government.  As one early American once observed, “When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty.”  Because government has enormous power and authority over its people, such control must be checked, and people, especially those advocating unpopular opinions, must have absolute protections from governmental overreach and abuse of power.  A case in point of course is the issue of Palestinian self-determination.  In the United States, as well as in many other western countries, those who support the Palestinian struggle for justice, and criticize Israel’s occupation and brutal policies, have often experienced an assault on their freedom of speech in academia, media, politics and society at large.  After the tragic events of September 11th, such actions by the government intensified, in the name of security.  Far too many people have been targeted and punished because of their unpopular opinions or beliefs.

During their opening statement in my trial in June 2005, my lawyers showed the jury two poster-sized photographs of items that government agents took during searches of my home many years earlier.  In one photo, there were several stacks of books taken from my home library.  The other photo showed a small gun I owned at the time.  The attorney looked the jury in the eyes and said:  “This is what this case is about.  When the government raided my client’s house, this is what they seized,” he said, pointing to the books, “and this is what they left,” he added, pointing to the gun in the other picture.  “This case is not about terrorism but about my client’s right to freedom of speech,” he continued.  Indeed, much of the evidence the government presented to the jury during the six-month trial were speeches I delivered, lectures I presented, articles I wrote, magazines I edited, books I owned, conferences I convened, rallies I attended, interviews I gave, news I heard, and websites I never even accessed.  But the most disturbing part of the trial was not that the government offered my speeches, opinions, books, writings, and dreams into evidence, but that an intimidated judicial system allowed them to be admitted into evidence.  That’s why we applauded the jury’s verdict.  Our jurors represented the best society had to offer.  Despite all of the fear-mongering and scare tactics used by the authorities, the jury acted as free people, people of conscience, able to see through Big Brother’s tactics.   One hard lesson that must be learned from the trial is that political cases should have no place in a free and democratic society.

But despite the long and arduous ordeal and hardships suffered by my family, I leave with no bitterness or resentment in my heart whatsoever.  In fact, I’m very grateful for the opportunities and experiences afforded to me and my family in this country, and for the friendships we’ve cultivated over the decades.  These are lifelong connections that could never be affected by distance.

I would like to thank God for all the blessings in my life.  My faith sustained me during my many months in solitary confinement and gave me comfort that justice would ultimately prevail.

Our deep thanks go to the friends and supporters across the U.S., from university professors to grassroots activists, individuals and organizations, who have stood alongside us in the struggle for justice.

My trial attorneys, Linda Moreno and the late Bill Moffitt, were the best advocates anyone could ask for, both inside and outside of the courtroom.  Their spirit, intelligence, passion and principle were inspirational to so many.

I am also grateful to Jonathan Turley and his legal team, whose tireless efforts saw the case to its conclusion.  Jonathan’s commitment to justice and brilliant legal representation resulted in the government finally dropping the case.

Our gratitude also goes to my immigration lawyers, Ira Kurzban and John Pratt, for the tremendous work they did in smoothing the way for this next phase of our lives.

Thanks also to my children for their patience, perseverance and support during the challenges of the last decade.  I am so proud of them.

Finally, my wife Nahla h​as been a pillar of love, strength and resilience.  She kept our family together during the most difficult times.  There are no words to convey the extent of my gratitude.

We look forward to the journey ahead and take with us the countless happy memories we formed during our life in the United States.”


The “New Silk Road” and the Development of Sino-Iranian Relations


The World Financial Review has published our latest piece, “China Looks West:  What Is at Stake in Beijing’s ‘New Silk Road’ Project,” which we co-authored with our colleague at Peking University, Wu Bingbing.  To read the article, click here  (World Financial Review’s layout includes a really good map); we’ve also appended the text (with links) below:

China Looks West:  What Is at Stake in Beijing’s ‘New Silk Road’ Project    

by Flynt Leverett, Hillary Mann Leverett, and Wu Bingbing

Not even two years into what will almost certainly be a ten-year tenure as China’s president, Xi Jinping has already had an impact on China’s foreign policy:  standing up for what many Chinese see as their nation’s territorial sovereignty in maritime boundary disputes in the East China Sea and the South China Sea, proposing a “new model of great power relations” to guide relations with the United States, and presiding over the consolidation of what Xi himself calls a “comprehensive strategic partnership” with Russia.  But the most consequential diplomatic initiative of Xi’s presidency may turn out to be his calls to create a “New Silk Road Economic Belt” and a “Maritime Silk Road of the 21st Century”:  vast infrastructure and investment schemes aimed at expanding China’s economic connections to—and its political influence across—much of Eurasia.   

Successful implementation of Xi’s “one belt, one road” initiative is likely to be essential for China to meet some of its most pressing economic challenges.  It is also likely to be critical to realizing the interest of many Chinese elites in a more “balanced” foreign policy—that is, in a diplomatic approach less reflexively accommodating of U.S. preferences—and in fostering a more genuinely multipolar international order. 

Over 2,100 years ago, China’s Han dynasty launched what would become the original “Silk Road,” dispatching emissaries from the ancient capital of Xian in 138 BC to establish economic and political relations with societies to China’s west.  For more than a millennium, the Silk Road of yore opened markets for silk and other Chinese goods as far afield as Persia—in the process extending Chinese influence across Central Asia into what Westerners would eventually come to call “the Middle East.”

In September 2013—just six months after becoming China’s president—Xi Jinping evoked this history in a speech at Kazakhstan’s Nazarbayev University by proposing the creation of a “New Silk Road Economic Belt” running from western China across Central Asia.  The following month, addressing Indonesia’s parliament, Xi suggested developing a complementary “Maritime Silk Road” to expand maritime connections and cooperation between China and Southeast Asia.

Xi’s proposals sparked a torrent of expert deliberations, policy planning exercises across China’s ministerial apparatus, and public discussion.  Through these efforts, the initial concepts of the “New Silk Road Economic Belt” and the “Maritime Silk Road” have been elaborated into an integrated vision for expanding China’s economic connections not just to Central and Southeast Asia, but across South Asia, the Persian Gulf, and the Middle East as well.

In recent months, Xi himself has laid out at least five major elements of this “one belt, one road” vision:

–A key aspect is the development of connective infrastructure—high-speed rail lines, roads and highways, even Internet networks—linking western China with central Asia and, ultimately, with points beyond such as Iran and Turkey, even going as far as Europe.  In parallel, construction of ports and related facilities will extend China’s maritime reach across the Indian Ocean and, via the Suez Canal, into the Mediterranean basin.  Over time, the New Silk Road Economic Belt and the Maritime Silk Road will be interwoven through channels like the projected China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Economic Corridor.

–This multifaceted development of connective infrastructure is meant to enable a second aspect of the “one belt, one road” strategy—expanding trade volumes between China and the vast Eurasian reaches to its West.

–Trade expansion will also be facilitated by a third aspect of the strategy—greater use of local currencies in cross-border exchange, facilitated by the growing number of currency swap arrangements between the People’s Bank of China and other national central banks.  (In this regard, “one belt, one road” should reinforce Beijing’s ongoing campaign to promote renminbi as an international transactional and reserve currency.)

–Beyond these economic measures, a fourth aspect of the strategy emphasizes increased cultural exchange and people-to-people contact among countries involved in the “one belt, one road” project.

–Finally, the growth of cross-border exchange along the “New Silk Road Economic Belt” and “Maritime Silk Road” should be encouraged by intensified policy coordination among governments of participating states.

Economic Motives…

The drivers of China’s “one belt, one road” initiative are, first of all, economic.  As a prominent Chinese academic economist puts it, the project is “a long-term macroscopic program of strategic development for the entire state.”

More specifically, a critical mass of political, policy, and business elites in China see the “one belt, one road” idea as critical to promoting more geographically balanced growth across all of China.  Through thirty-five years of economic reform, development has been concentrated in the country’s eastern half.  The New Silk Road Economic Belt, especially, is designed with a goal of jump-starting economic modernization in western China.

Beyond its impact inside China, the “one belt, one road” vision seeks to cultivate new export markets for Chinese goods and capital.  For thirty-five years, advanced economies to China’s east—e.g., the United States and Japan—have been its most important economic partners and the most crucial outlets for its exports.  Looking ahead, though, Chinese policymakers recognize that the potential for further growth in these markets is considerably smaller than in earlier phases of reform; they believe that, to compensate, China must nurture new export markets to its west.

Chinese analysts say that the territory encompassed by the New Silk Road Economic Belt and the Maritime Silk Road contains 4.4 billion people (63 percent of the world’s population), with an aggregate GDP of $2.1 trillion (29 percent of the world’s aggregate wealth).  But, for this zone to play the economic role envisioned by Chinese leaders, it is necessary to encourage development not only in western China, but in economies across Eurasia—another major goal of both the New Silk Road Economic Belt and the Maritime Silk Road.  It also means that, to be economically sustaining, these initiatives cannot be limited to areas contiguous to China.  They must extend further westward, to include already more developed markets in eastern and southern Europe.

…and Strategic Rationales

Alongside these economic motives, Chinese interlocutors acknowledge that there are powerful strategic rationales for the “one belt, one road” approach.  Certainly, the approach reflects Chinese leaders’ awareness of their country’s growing political as well as economic power; it also reflects the deepening of Chinese interests in strategically important regions to its west (e.g., the Persian Gulf).

In a regional context, the New Silk Road Economic Belt and Maritime Silk Road—like China’s recent championing of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building in Asia in the security sphere and its leadership on creating an Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank—reflect Beijing’s increasingly evident assessment that Asian affairs should be managed more decisively by Asians themselves, not by extra-regional actors like the United States.  More particularly, Chinese policymakers have framed their “one belt, one road” initiative as a response to the Obama administration’s much-hyped “pivot to Asia.”

Besides specific redeployments of U.S. military forces associated with American strategic rebalancing, Chinese elites increasingly see the United States engaged in economic, political, and military initiatives aimed at containing China’s rise as a legitimately influential player, in the Asia-Pacific region and globally.  Sino-American rapprochement in the 1970s required Washington to abandon a failed quest for Asian hegemony, to realign relations with Beijing based on mutual accommodation of each side’s core interests, and to accept a more balanced distribution of power in Asia.  Now, the United States appears to be backing away from these commitments and looking for ways to reassert a more traditionally hegemonic stance in Asia.

In the face of these trends, China is seeking to meet U.S. efforts to contain it to its east by expanding its diplomatic and political engagement to its west—including to areas like the Persian Gulf that Washington has long considered vital to America’s global position.  To be sure, Beijing continues to rule out the possibility of military confrontation with the United States as in no way a rational prospect.  But it also continues to seek a long-term transformation in the character of contemporary international relations—from an international system still shaped in large measure by unipolar American dominance to a more genuinely multipolar international order.  To this end, the “one belt, one road” project could—if handled adroitly—prove a non-military catalyst that accelerates the relative decline of U.S. hegemony over the Persian Gulf and engenders a more balanced distribution of geopolitical influence in this strategically vital region.

Looking Ahead

Realizing the “one belt, one road” vision will pose serious and sustained tests for Chinese policymaking and diplomatic capabilities.  Three such tests stand out as especially significant.

First, while one of the main motives for the New Silk Road Economic Belt is to encourage the development of western China—including the country’s Muslim-majority Xinjiang province—the Chinese government is increasingly concerned about the rising incidence of radicalization among some elements of Xinjiang’s Uighur Muslim population.  Will Beijing be able to balance such concern against the imperatives of deepening China’s engagement with states in Central Asia, the Middle East, and other parts of the Muslim world?

Second, while “comprehensive strategic partnership” with Russia continues to be a prominent element in Chinese foreign policy, Moscow remains wary about any prospective increase in Chinese influence in former Soviet states whose participation is essential to implementing the “one belt, one road” approach.  Will Beijing be able to maintain economically and strategically productive relations with Russia as it pursues this approach?

Third, while successful implementation of the New Silk Road and Maritime Silk Road initiatives can potentially contribute over the long term to a more balanced Sino-American relationship, getting them off the drawing board in anything more than preliminary fashion will almost certainly require Beijing to ignore U.S. displeasure on multiple fronts in the near-to-medium term.

A good example of this dynamic is how Chinese policymakers will engage Iran in the elaboration of the New Silk Road Belt and the Maritime Silk Road.  Iran is comparatively unique among China’s prospective partners in that geography makes it important to the realization of both initiatives.  Over the next few years, will Beijing continue to hold back from expanding economic and strategic cooperation with Tehran, in deference to U.S. preferences and (largely rhetorical) pressure?  Or, to advance its “one belt, one road” vision, will China move more forthrightly to deepen relations with the Islamic Republic?

Trade-offs like these mean that how Beijing pursues this vision will almost certainly have a major bearing on the trajectory of Sino-American relations over the next decade and beyond.  They also mean that Beijing’s relative success in forging a new Silk Road will do much to determine the extent to which China’s rise actually correlates with the emergence of a more truly multipolar international order in the 21st century.


“The Middle East’s Way Forward”: The Leveretts on CCTV’s Dialogue

While in Beijing earlier this month, we sat for an interview with Yang Rui for Dialogue, CCTV’s flagship interview program (which, according to CCTV, “reaches viewers across China and over 80 million subscribers around the world”).  CCTV has now broadcast and posted our interview, click on the video above or here .  Hillary’s segment begins at 2:50, after a brief introduction and set-up piece; Flynt’s segment starts at 18:50.

–Hillary discusses how, in contrast to Cold War competition between the United States and the Soviet Union for influence in the Middle East, strategic competition in the region today plays out between the United States and American-backed governments, on one side, and political Islam, on the other.  She argues that the Islamic State and other destructively violent forms of political Islam rise when the kind of political Islam embodied in the Islamic Republic—with a focus on building independent, indigenously rooted political order—is suppressed.

–Regarding the “Obama doctrine,” Hillary underscores that, while the Obama administration is perceived as less inclined than its immediate predecessor to commit U.S. ground forces in the Middle East, it has hardly retreated “from interfering in the internal politics of the Middle Eastern states.”  She goes on to describe the profound “mutual dependency” between the United States and Saudi Arabia, and how this has warped U.S. Middle East policy in significant ways.  She analyzes as well the drivers for the U.S.-Israel “special relationship.”

–Finally, Hillary evaluates the U.S. response to former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s downfall and to the July 2013 military coup against Egypt’s elected Muslim Brotherhood government.  More broadly, she warns that “so long as the United States thinks it can buy political leaders, particularly these military leaders, it is a fundamentally unstable situation and, in the end, will be very bad for the United States.  In the immediate term, it is going to be bad for the peoples of the Middle East and for other countries that need to have a stable Middle East—for other countries that have interests in energy security, that have interests in a stable Middle East, this is bad for them right away.  In the long term, it will be bad for the United States, too, because it builds resentment among these populations…The resentment of the United States and of Americans today is so much more significant than it was twenty years ago.”

Flynt then discusses prospects for the P5+1 nuclear talks with Iran and how Washington’s continued determination to assert “hegemonic prerogative” over Iran’s nuclear development makes it difficult for the parties to reach a comprehensive agreement.

–Turning to the Islamic State’s transnational character, Flynt explains that “Muslim resentment of American occupation of Muslim lands is not limited to the Middle East.  It is a shared concern across the Islamic world…It is fundamentally a question of resentment over what many, many, many Muslims around the world perceive as occupation by the United States.  And as long as the United States pursues policies that lead to it being perceived as an occupying power, it is going to lose however it defines the ‘war on terror.’”

–More generally, Flynt argues that “the Obama administration and other parts of the American political class still fundamentally look at the world in terms of how to preserve American hegemony.”  As for Obama’s pivot to Asia, Flynt suggests that the United States needs to go back to the explicit rejection of hegemony in Asia undergirding the Shanghai Communique, which reopened U.S.-China relations in the early 1970s.

–Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett