How I Left the Left and Got Here

Launching my Frontpage contributions with a bit of autobiography.

Editors’ note: Frontpage is excited and honored to announce that Michael Ledeen has joined our roster of writers as a Shillman Journalism Fellow. Below is his first contribution to our publication. Welcome aboard, Michael!

So I thought I’d start my contributions for Frontpage with a bit of autobiography. I’m an old guy—will be 77 in a few months—with 38 books written, and hundreds of articles, some scholarly, some political.  Like my old friends Peter Collier and David Horowitz, I used to be a Lefty (well, not like Peter and David, rather more like a Scoop Jackson Democrat), but I don’t do that anymore. 

I stopped being “progressive” in the mid-sixties, while living in Rome.  At that time, the big cause was abortion, which of course I favored, but the most intense opposition to it came from the Communist Party, as would opposition to divorce, which came next.  The Communists assaulted pro-abortion demonstrators in the streets.  No First Amendment for them!  And so it became clear that they were a violent, intolerant, reactionary party.

That’s what made me a convinced anti-Communist.  I had plenty of leftist friends who shared my views, many of whom were students of mine at the University of Rome, where I taught a course in American history.  Footnote:  I always taught in the wrong language;  I taught American history in Italian, and Italian history in English. So I learned a lesson about both countries:  we’re pretty ignorant of each other’s history.  Most Americans think Italy’s a lovely place with great food, not realizing that Italian unification largely failed, and we have a stereotype of Italians—you know, sweet people—that totally ignores the significant fact that Italy probably has the oldest ongoing tradition of political assassination in the Western world.

My students were in open revolt against the Establishment—we’re now talking early to mid-seventies—and some were members of the Red Brigades and even more radical (!) groups.  I advised them to emigrate, but very few did.  Today, young Italians learn English and leave.  Sometimes you just have to cut your losses.

For a couple of years I worked with Claire Sterling, a great reporter who had evolved as I had.  We wrote for The New Republic, at the time a maverick magazine with a terrific lineup.  Our most famous article was about the financing of the Communist Party, which mostly came from the Soviet Union.  It was a big story, and it made me a target of Soviet disinformation, as when, years later, I was accused of falsifying the story of the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II.  That false accusation (Marvin Kalb, at NBC, wrote and broadcast the actual story) came via Bulgarian media, and in the same period I was declared an “enemy of the Soviet people.”  High praise, I suppose.

We moved to Washington in 1977, where I’ve lived ever since.  During the Reagan years, I was special advisor to Secretary of State Alexander Haig, and then worked as a consultant to the national security advisor.  As those years culminated in Iran-Contra, I had plenty of free time.  There aren’t many jobs available to someone under investigation.  One of the benefits of being the target of a special prosecutor (Judge Walsh in my case) is that you discover who your friends aren’t.  It’s a lot harder to fool us in 2018 than it was in 1987. The investigation lasted about six years, and I spent a lot of time in Africa, especially in Brazzaville.

In 2001 we became a military family. Our older son signed up for the Marines officer training program, and our younger boy did the same a few years later.  Our daughter (who had earned an MBA) went to Iraq after the invasion to work with the new government there on financial matters.  She served, as a civilian, in both Iraq and Afghanistan, while the boys each served, in combat, in one of the two.  All three are now in the business world.  And there are two grandchildren!

I was at the American Enterprise Institute for twenty years, and then moved to the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, where I still hang my boots.  My most recent book is The Field of Fight, which I coauthored with Gen. Michael Flynn, and which was a New York Times best seller.  Current work includes blogging at PJMedia and sometimes for the Wall Street Journal.  God willing, I will soon finish a book on the revival of Judaism in contemporary Italy.