Reality on Iran from Flynt Leverett (Updated)

In Spiegel Flynt Leverett throws cold water on the Iran election conspiracy theorists in the West:

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Mahmud Ahmadinedschad hat einen überwältigenden Wahlsieg errungen. Sind Sie überrascht?

Leverett: Nein. Ich wäre überrascht gewesen, wenn er verloren hätte. Die westlichen Medien haben die Begeisterung für seinen wichtigsten Herausforderer Hossein Mussawi grob überschätzt. Sie haben fast gar nicht mitbekommen, wie eindeutig Ahmadinedschad etwa als Sieger der TV-Debatte im Wahlkampf angesehen wurde. Bei amerikanischen und westlichen Politikern gab es viel Wunschdenken – und das hatte leider auch einen starken Einfluss auf die Medienberichterstattung.


SPIEGEL ONLINE: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has won an overwhelming electoral victory. Are you surprised?

Leverett: No. I would have been surprised if he had lost. The Western media overstated the surge of his main challenger Hossein Mousavi over the last couple of weeks. They missed almost entirely how Ahmadinejad was perceived to have been the victor in the TV debate, for instance. There was an extraordinary amount of wishful thinking among American and Western policymakers and that has had a marked impact on the media coverage.

Hat tip: Politico

For German speakers the rest of the interview is very interesting. Leverett goes on to emphasize that the Western media sold us all a bill of goods, that American politicians mistakenly assume that the Iranian political system works the way ours does, some observations about President Obama’s Cairo speech, etc.

Please note that Leverett’s comments are much in the same vein as were mine yesterday.


Andrew Sullivan needs to read a little more closely. I’m not defending the Iranian regime and in virtually every post I’ve written on this subject I’ve said as clear as clear can be that I don’t think the Iranian system is capable of producing a legitimate result.

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Dave Schuler
About Dave Schuler
Over the years Dave Schuler has worked as a martial arts instructor, a handyman, a musician, a cook, and a translator. He's owned his own company for the last thirty years and has a post-graduate degree in his field. He comes from a family of politicians, teachers, and vaudeville entertainers. All-in-all a pretty good preparation for blogging. He has contributed to OTB since November 2006 but mostly writes at his own blog, The Glittering Eye, which he started in March 2004.


  1. billindc says:

    Do you really think that Mousavi lost his own hometown or that the other reform candidate…a Lur….lost Luristan decisively? There’s nothing wrong with healthy skepticism but the results don’t make any demographic or historical sense.

  2. Well, the most obvious problem with this is that the claims the reporting didn’t match the outcome is because Western journalists don’t get out of Tehran (in fairness to said journalists, the regime really doesn’t let them move much outside of Tehran) are undercut pretty clearly by the fact that the official results include Ahmadinejad winning 50% of the vote, in a 4 way race, in Tehran.

  3. I have to disagree, Dave. There’s enough smoke here that I have to at least strongly suspect we have a fire. It’s not the western media’s enthusiasm, it’s:

    1) the pre-emptive speed of the “reaction.” Shutting down internet feeds isn’t how you react to a legitimate election. The regime seems to have guessed that a lot of Iranians wouldn’t buy this as legit. Why? Moussavi is a member of the club not some wild-eyed revolutionary. So why the paranoid reaction from the regime?


    2) the over-the top numbers. Ahmadinijad won in other candidate’s home towns? By crushing majorities? Nah.

  4. American Power tracked-back with, “Twitter Out of Iran: #CNNFail”.

  5. Dave Schuler says:

    1. I think the Iranian system is intrinically fraudulent by our standards.

    2. I don’t doubt that there were voting irregularities.

    3. I sincerely doubt that the voting irregularities were of a sufficient scale that they would have elected Mousavi.

    4. I have yet to see any evidence to the contrary but I have seen lots and lots of begging the question.

    Does it really make a difference? In Iran, I mean? I think that acknowledging that we get a woefully skewed version of events from our news media is the big news. As though it’s news.

  6. “I think that acknowledging that we get a woefully skewed version of events from our news media is the big news. As though it’s news.”

    The problem with that argument (and far be it from me to defend the media) is that there really isn’t any more hard evidence for it than there is in claiming that the election returns were made up. But there is an awful lot of circumstancial evidence to support the latter contention.

  7. And of course, it’s also quite possible that both points are true; that the Western media did a bad job of covering the election, but that Ahmadinejad didn’t get 62% of the vote.

  8. Steve says:

    “Please note that Leverett’s comments are much in the same vein as were mine yesterday.”

    So the current score is 2 vs. nearly everyone else?

  9. Moussavi through his wife has called for a big demonstration followed by a strike.

    Moussavi presumably has reasonably good ears to the ground. He has a fairly good idea of whether he won or lost. He surely knows whether he won or lost his home town. Even the least competent pol knows that much.

    If Moussavi really only took a third of the vote would he foment a national strike that could very easily turn very violent?

    Either Ahmadinejad has pulled off a coup or Moussavi is trying to.

    I still think we should keep an eye on the army. One source has claimed that the army has announced neutrality. That’s a very shaky position to be in and could change quickly if the military feels its position is in danger. So who has the loyalty of the army?

  10. Dero says:

    The election issue is sort of a red herring. The people of iran have the duty and right to protest the government no matter what the outcome of the elections the society isn’t free in the first place. Whether or not Ahmadinijad was going to really win doesn’t change the fact that the Iranian government’s authority doesn’t derive from the people in the first place.

    So trying to get into technicalities about expectations of western reporters is missing the point.

  11. billindc says:

    Another obvious point is that you don’t block text messaging and phone service to your capitol when you’ve easily won a presidential election. You don’t bring out the paramilitaries and pre-position concrete barriers around the Interior ministry. You don’t call the election before most of the votes have even been counted. You don’t put the opposing candidates under house arrest.

    You don’t do any of that because you have over 2 out of 3 voters on your side, you don’t have to.

    And here are some numbers claimed to have been leaked from the Interior ministry via a Khatami website:

    Ballots cast – 37.4 million (81%)
    Spoilt ballets – 600,000 (1.6%)
    Mir Hossein Mousavi – 21.3 million (57.2%)
    Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – 10.5 million (28%)
    Mohsen Rezaei – 2.7 million (7.2%)
    Mehdi Karrubi – 2.2 million (6%)

  12. Frankly, Schuler is a tool of a facist regime, please move there and see if you can prosper, but just keep ignoring reality in the meantime and think that you somehow have any logical shred of decency.

  13. That last comment is offensive and stupid. I disagree with Dave on this particular topic, but he is a man of the highest integrity and intellectual rigor.

  14. John says:


    You’re doing it wrong.

  15. Babak Khoram says:

    what a stupid stupid person

  16. PD Shaw says:

    It’s my understanding that the fascists are the one’s that compile enemy’s list.

  17. PD Shaw says:

    History: The 2005 elections were full of ballot tampering and irregulatories that drove the “moderate” element to boycott the run-off.

    Today: There seems to be an assumption (Prof. Cole) that because there was no such boycott this time, the election had to have been stolen for the moderates to lose. The “moderates” might have lost both times, the election might have been stolen both times. This is a farcical dance of the theocratic dictators. If you don’t enjoy the tune, don’t listen.

  18. PD:

    I think that’s wrong.

    The students are in the streets of Tehran shaking the foundations of that government precisely because they didn’t succumb to facile cynicism. They believed their votes mattered, they hoped the mattered, they are now furious, and we have this result. Cynicism is the (unintentional) ally of authoritarianism.

  19. Kup says:

    Dave- you say you haven’t seen proof eh? Look there’s no proof that Amerlia Earhart crashed into the Pacific but it is a reasonable assumption.

    I have no idea how many votes were cast for each candidate and theoretically it is possible that Ahmadenijad received more votes but it appears from MOI officers that the ballots weren’t even counted.

    But I guess my credibility (since I’m just an average citizen) really isn’t at stake here is it? Meanwhile, for you credibility, you may want to reassess your continued support for saying Mahmoud won the election (such as it was).

  20. billindc says:

    The Times reporter devotes most of the rest of the article to challenging the legitimacy of the election without a great deal of concrete evidence other than the claims of the loser and that the Times has been pitching the possibility of an upset.

    This is Dave’s observation linked to above…interesting that he gives absolutely zero factual evidence to back his assertion up. Meanwhile there’s a welter of actual reporting and eyewitness accounts that clearly point to an electoral splashdown with all hands lost.

  21. Rob says:

    Despite the German article presenting it’s usual smug disdain for US ignorance and miscalculation in foreign affairs, Herr Leverett is right in stating that empty rhetoric carries little weight with the Iranians.


    Andrew Sullivan has the above quote as coming from Moussavi by way of Farsi BBC.

    If this is accurate then I think we have a prima facie case that the election was in fact stolen.

    Here is my logic:

    1) Moussavi is a career pol. He knows whether he only won a third of the vote or some larger number. He knows whether he carried certain precincts. He’s a well-connected insider not a naif.

    2) So either Moussavi is pressing a legitimate claim, or he is attempting the overthrow of the Iranian government.

    3) If the above are valid assumptions then one of two things is true: either Ahmadinejad or Moussavi is attempting to seize power by illicit means.

    4) Do we have reason to believe Moussavi is the coup-plotter? No. Do we have good reason to suspect Ahmadinejad? Yes.

    Conclusion: logic and available facts point strongly to a fraudulent election.

  23. Ray Mason says:

    Never mind for now that this kind of dismissive hand-waving is irresponsible journalistically and ethically. You’re arguing a point that you don’t even support in your quoted post, and a point that wasn’t even at stake to begin with.

    It turns out that you and Mr. Leverett agree with the Iranian people: their system is broken and incapable of producing a legitimate result. Why are you so eager then to dismiss this result? Do you just not care about this story? Why write about it in the first place, then?

    Furthermore, Mr. Sullivan was stating that he was “taken aback” that you and Mr. Leverett would present this election as legitimate. He said nothing about your support of the regime, and is making a valid argument. By downplaying the opposition’s response on the streets of Iran, you are giving Ahmadinejad and Khameini all the legitimacy they need.

    All thoughtful readers should contend opinions that state that this result should be accepted because the country has an unacceptable system. The real story here is the perseverance of the Iranian people. They are rising up to challenge not just Ahmadinejad, but the whole theocracy. Articles like this are useless exercises in cognitive dissonance, or examples of plain old laziness.

    P.S. The news is so dodgy coming out of Iran that I don’t think anyone can come to a reasonable conclusion about to what extent the election was rigged; however, unless someone can explain how Masouvi would lose in the Azeri region, I see no reason to assume that the election has and semblance of legitimacy.