Below are the video and transcript of Michael Ledeen’s speech which took place at the David Horowitz Freedom Center’s 2015 Restoration Weekend. The event was held November 5-8th at the Belmond Charleston Place Hotel in Charleston, South Carolina.
Iran – forgive me if I do not say “I-ran” but all those years of “I-ran” and “I-raq” drummed that out of me. Iran is on the one hand very easy to understand. On the other hand hardly anybody seems to get it. So here’s Iran, the short version. The Iranian regime hates us. They are committed enemies of the entire Western world, especially the United States. If a Shiite Muslim theocratic dictatorship calls you the “Great Satan” you should take is seriously. I often say to people, you’ve all seen these demonstrations in the streets of Iran, thousands of people chanting, “Death to America.” What do you think they mean? What is that all about anyway? Is that some local street festival? Is it something they do to amuse themselves? And the answer is no. That’s exactly what they have in mind. It’s exactly what they want to do. And it’s worthwhile to spend a little bit of time looking at the way they treat their own people because that is what they have in mind for us.
So that when you see that the Iranians oppress women, treat women according to the Iranian constitution as half a man – if a pregnant woman is killed in an automobile accident in Iran, the person who killed them has to pay a full share for a male fetus and half a share for the pregnant mother; they are formally, technically, legally in detail worth half a man. That’s what they want here for us. When they silence all manner of opposition, that’s what they will do here.
When they execute political dissidents that’s what they will do here. And their behavior in their region of sending terrorist forces all over the place – whether it’s to Lebanon or Iraq or Syria or Yemen or Somalia or all over Africa – they’re big supports of Boco Haram in Nigeria, they support Muslim terrorists in Congo and so forth. That’s what they do. So recently you may have noticed they arrested yet another American in Iran. This time a business man – put him in jail. People called me up – said why are they are they doing that? Why are they arresting this guy? And I keep saying to them that’s what they do. Arresting Americans, putting them in jail, torturing them – that’s what Iran does and they’re doing it on a small scale now. They only get to do it to Americans – usually Iranian-Americans who are stupid enough to go visit relatives back in Iran. But if they could come here and arrest lots of us they’d do it happily. I’m attacked all the time. Not a week goes by in Iran where I’m not attacked by name with my photograph and so forth in the Iranian press or on Iranian television. They would be delighted to be able to arrest me. I don’t travel in that part of the world.
So, that’s what they are about. They intend to do us in.
They have declared war against us. They declared war against us during the revolution of 1979 and they have waged war against us non‑stop, ever since, everywhere and anyhow they possibly could. You may have seen now that there’s a discussion of how many American soldiers did they kill in Iraq or in Afghanistan. Those numbers are very hard to come by because for some reason the American military did not really keep very good files on how soldiers were killed. So when the say, well 150 – 200 were killed by Iranian-made IEDs, roadside bombs. That’s a fairly approximate number. I mean they would have to go and do a lot of detailed research to come up with the precise numbers and so on. But it’s a lot, and the point is that we were not ready for them when we went into Iraq. We did not really anticipate that the Iranians were going to go all out against us even though we had decades of experience with Iranians murdering Americans, whether it was the Marine barracks in Lebanon in the early 1980s, or whether it was Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia or wherever it was. And their mysterious involvement in 9⁄11 still not revealed. We still don’t know.
If you go back and read the 9⁄11 commission report on 9⁄11 they say well, clearly there was some kind of Iranian involvement in 9⁄11 because the significant number of the 9⁄11 terrorists on their way to America to carry out the attacks transited in Iran, went to Iran for a while – what were they doing there? We don’t know to this day. My favorite 9⁄11 conspirator, Barbara, my wife, was just recently in Guantanamo for this so-called trial of 9⁄11 terrorists. My favorite 9⁄11 terrorist is a man named Ramsey Benelshib who was the logistics officer for 9⁄11. He was in charge of all the movements of the terrorists from where ever they were, into the United States, and then around the United States the days preceding the attacks. Ramsey Benelshib, by some miracle, was stopped trying to come into Kennedy Airport in New York and he was sent back to Europe – he was flying from Sweden. And then five days before 9⁄11 – logistics officer is the key figure in any attack – five days before 9⁄11 he went from Germany, where he was living, to Iran. And he was in Iran for 9⁄11, stayed there for a couple weeks afterwards, and then resurfaced in Pakistan afterwards where we arrested him and he’s been living miserably, I hope, at Guantanamo ever since. Why did he go to Iran? What did he do in Iran? We don’t know. And yet in the 9⁄11 commission report it says very clearly, well we got kind of late to this question about Iran – we don’t know exactly what happened, but we urge the intelligence community to examine this question and get to the bottom of this. If there’s any important element to 9⁄11 that we do not understand and that clearly requires more work, that’s it – please do it. They haven’t done it, or if they have done it, we don’t know the results. So Iran’s involvement in 9⁄11 remains somewhat mysterious and as far as I can tell Ramsey Benelshib has either gone completely nuts or is pretending to be completely nuts, but we’re not getting that story from him or, again, if we are, we’re not being told about it.
There’s a notable lack of curiosity. And I’m heading here in a direction about American policy toward Iran. Because I don’t want to make this discussion solely a discussion about Obama, although I am going to talk about Obama. But the fact of the matter is that no American president from Jimmy Carter to the president – Democrat or Republican; right-wing or left-wing – no American president has come up with a strong, sustained, coherent and tough policy toward Iran. Even though Iran has been killing us all the time, all those years, no one has really managed to come to grips with it. And this suggests that it’s a national problem. And it carries over into the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan because in Iraq and Afghanistan our soldiers found very quickly and very easily that Iran was all over the battle field – they were everywhere. They were paying people, recruiting people, arming people, training people. It wasn’t just a matter of providing them with roadside bombs. They provide them with all kinds of weapons and training and intelligence and transportation. When we left Iraq there were 350 Iranian officers in our custody who we had captured in Iran – attacking Americans – 350. We turned them all over to the Iraqi government and the Iraqi government sent them all back home to Iran. And if you read carefully the stories today coming out of Syria and Iraq and that region in general, you will find spectacular surprising numbers of Iranians, including high-ranking Iranian military and intelligence officers, who are being killed. And they’re very busy and very active there.
When you read articles that say Hezbollah is supported by Iran – Hezbollah isn’t supported by Iran. Hezbollah is Iran. Hezbollah’s an Iranian creation, organized, funded and trained. Thank you, this is Barbara. Barbara brought me a great T‑shirt back from Guantanamo, a big red T‑shirt that says “Guantanamo Bay, Cuba – close but no cigar,” which is the perfect T‑shirt for me because cigars are very important to me. So Hezbollah is Iran. So it should count as Iran and should be described as Iran. Nasrallah, who’s the head of Hezbollah, has two big portraits on his wall. One is Ayatollah Khomeini, who created the Islamic Republic of Iran, and the other is Ayatollah Khamenei, who’s the current supreme leader. He takes orders from Iran. I worked on the first hostage go rounds in the 1980s under Reagan and we found that whenever a hostage was released in Lebanon it was preceded by a group of Hezbollanis who would pack up and go to Tehran and they’d spend three, four or five days in Tehran and come back to Beirut and then out came a hostage. Well what does that mean? It’s like operating a slot machine. You put in your silver dollar, go to the Iranians, what should we do?, pull the lever, the Iranians tell you what to do and then you go back and do it. It was all an Iranian thing always and this effort to absolve Iran from direct responsibility is a desperate effort by the western world and by every American president to avoid coming to grips with Iran. Because we have to do something, and once you grant this enemy status to Iran and say, yes, Iran’s behind all these killings and assassinations and plots and so on and so forth, logic grabs you by the throat and says, well, you’ve got to do something. What are you going to do? And there isn’t anything that any of them has wanted to do except Obama. Obama, let’s do it this way.
Every American president before Obama came in with a basically tough line toward Iran and he was going to come to grips with Iran and do something about it, and with the passage of time every one of those presidents, from Carter through Bush, came to the conclusion that they had to talk to Iran, make a deal with Iran and that it was possible to do this. When I say Bush made a deal with Iran, nobody knows that. You don’t know that. Nobody ever told you that because everything you will read about George W. Bush and Iran says, well, Bush wouldn’t talk to them, wouldn’t negotiate with them, wouldn’t deal with them and so forth. It’s not true. Bush made a deal with Iran which is the deal we have today. Iran promises to stop being bad and we unblock Iranian resources and that deal was all made. It was negotiated by Condoleezza Rice and Nicholas Burns with Ali Rafsanjani and it was all written out, and there was a date on which it was supposed to be signed and Larijani was supposed to come to the United Nations 2006 September. They were going to sign it and then there was going to be kumbaya, party, dancing, nice food, all of that except Larijani’s plane never took off. Rice and Burns went to New York, went to the United Nations and waited. Even to the extent of the weekend before Larijani was supposed to come, which was a Monday, the Iranians suddenly came up with their usual last minute impossible request. They wanted 300 visas for the Iranian delegation that was supposed to come to the celebration and she, Condoleezza Rice, compelled these poor people in the State Department to work around the clock all weekend to negotiate those visas. I don’t know what happened to those 300 people. Do they still have their visas? Have they used them? Have they come here? Have they done things? I can’t tell you, but anyway, she didn’t want to give them any excuse not to show up and sign the thing. They didn’t need an excuse. They didn’t come and sign up anyway.
Now you’re very fortunate because you’re looking at the only person in the Western world who said in the middle of these last negotiations the Iranians aren’t going to sign any deal with us. Khamenei has told Zarif and Rouhani don’t sign anything, don’t come back to Iran with any signed document because I don’t want to make a deal with the Americans. He does not want to go down in history as the first leader of Iran to make a deal with the Great Satan and to this day he hasn’t signed. In fact no element of the Iranian government has approved it. We have this kind of pseudo approval from Congress and we have a President who says well now the deadline’s passed, now we’re going to enforce it, and so you’ve heard from several speakers so far that we’re going to start giving them all this money, 100 billion dollars, 150 billion dollars, whatever it is. Do you know that we are giving Iran already today, and have been for the last more than two years, 700 million dollars every month? That was part of the so‑called interim agreement that preceded the negotiations for this big deal. So we’ve been doing it all along so why should the Iranians sign a document which obliges them to do some things that they don’t want to do? Why should they agree to any such thing? When what they want from all of this, money, they’re already getting. So they’re getting all the benefits right now without paying any price for it. So they’ve got it made.
So the question is: Why? And this brings us to the mystery of Iraq, Obama and Iran. As I said, every preceding President from 1979 to the present, Jimmy Carter to George W. Bush, every one of them came to the conclusion that a deal with Iran was possible and that they should try to do it and they all tried to do it. Well like Obama didn’t need to learn that. He came to office with that conviction. Indeed already during the Presidential campaign of 2008 before he was ever elected he sent a personal representative to Tehran, Ambassador William Miller – the perfect person by the way, very well chosen – to Tehran to tell the Iranians number one, Obama was going to win the election and number two, when that happened it was going to be a miracle for them because he liked them and he wanted an alliance with them and he was going to work with them and that he agreed with them that America treated Iran very badly in the past and he was going to make amends for that. Things were going to work out. Things were going to be very much better.
So he came into office wanting that and he has pursued that passionately for seven years. My question is: Why? This is one of the many things about the issue of the United States and Iran that I don’t know and that I don’t understand and believe me I’ve spent more time studying the United States and Iran than almost anybody else I know. I don’t get it. I can understand and I’ll give you the standard explanation. I could understand a person like Obama, a left-wing American President, educated in our miserable higher education system, coming into office with the conviction that most of what’s wrong with the world is America’s fault. That’s what he believes. That’s what he said and he acts on it and so on and therefore the way to fix the world is to make America weaker so that we can do fewer evil things and to undo the various mistakes that we’ve made in the past, turn allies into enemies and enemies into allies. The whole pattern of Obama is amend international affairs.
Well I can understand such a person trying to make a strategic alliance with say Putin and I have no trouble understanding his normalization with Cuba perfectly. I mean the only surprise there in my opinion is that it took as long as it took. He could have done it right away. He was always going to do it. He always wanted to do it. The Castros have long been heroes of the American left. We obviously have behaved terribly towards Cuba in their view – Bay of Pigs, embargo, all these things that they think are our fault and so normalization with Cuba is a good thing. That doesn’t surprise me – predictable, normal, expected and so on. And indeed Obama, with a mentality like this, is a commonplace in America today.
I can introduce you to, I don’t know, 10,000 Obamas. Come with me to any good university dormitory around 11:00 at night. We’ll go downstairs, we’ll have a beer with the kids and we’ll talk to them and they will say all these things. It’s what they believe. It’s what they’re taught. It’s what their textbooks say. It’s the world of Obama and it’s theirs too and we’re going to have more of this, not less. I mean it’s a big fight. It took a generation or two for us to wreck the schools and for us to turn them into indoctrination centers with exactly this mentality: America’s bad, America’s enemies good; got to reverse all of that, got to do apology tours, all of those things.
But Iran is different. Iran, first of all, they hate us whereas some of these other countries, I mean Putin doesn’t hate us. Putin despises us, yes. He has contempt for us and he thinks we’re behaving badly and he has suggestions for things we ought to do, but Putin didn’t become President of Russia in order to wage war against the United States. He’s involved in a war against the United States, but he got to them. Okay, but Iran is an evil country. Iran treats its people atrociously. Iran kills all over the world. We have Iranians running around from the Middle East to South America. Iran has an intimate relationship with countries like Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua and so forth. They have military manufacturing facilities in those places and in the tri‑state area of South America you will find to your great amazement the sudden proliferation of Shiite mosques. Not traditional. You don’t find Shiite mosques normally all around South America. The Iranians have built them, and Shiite mosques, when you find them cropping up in odd places nine times out of ten they’re fronts for terrorist organizations. So they’re busy down there.
We have scores of Iranians, let’s call them immigrants, coming across the southern border into Texas and Arizona and so forth and they’re treated with our capture and release program whereas we arrest them briefly and ask them some questions and then send them back to where they came from. How many have we failed to catch? Where are they now? What are they doing? We don’t exactly know, but we do know for example that ISIS is busy in all 50 states or if you’re Obama in all 57 states. So they’re busy, they’re here, they’re after us and a lot of people say it’s only a matter of time before they attack us here at home, but it’s not a matter of time. It’s on, it’s happening now. Remember the guys that we arrested and have convicted for planning to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in a restaurant in Washington, DC by blowing up an automobile in front of the plate glass windows of this pretty good Italian restaurant in Georgetown? That was an Iranian operation. Remember the people in New York who were arrested and convicted of planning to blow up Kennedy Airport? That was an Iranian operation. They’re at it all the time. They’re doing it.
Now one of the blessings of Iran, as in so many of the places in that region – and this is a blessing for us – they are enormous screw ups. They make endless mistakes and I’ll just give you an easy way to think about Iran and how terrible they are at doing anything. Iran on paper should be one of the most successful countries in the world. They’ve got everything. They have location. They have a big population, 75 million people. They have enormous natural resources, natural and oil and other things, great pistachio nuts, etc. They have an educated population way above normal levels of the Middle East. They have even a substantial female part of the population that works, that’s trained and that works. So they have unique advantages, but the country’s a basket case. The country’s a catastrophe. They have run away levels of suicide, prostitution, drug addiction, all the indicators, all the major social indicators of failure. It’s a failed state. Therefore the population of Iran by and large hates the regime.
When we brought down the Soviet Union, we had to work with maybe 5 to 10 percent of the population; people willing to come out, demonstrate, protest, fight the regime. In Iran we’ve got 70 to 80 percent of the population that would support an uprising against Iran. In 2009 when the big demonstrations took place against the Iranian regime, there were more people in the streets than there were at the time of the Shah, when the Shah was overturned. It was a monster demonstration in every major city in the country. Now as you know Obama supported the regime in that showdown and I keep coming back to the question: Why? I don’t think it’s enough, at least for me it’s not enough, to say well he’s one of those lefties, blames America, wants to make amends, wants to turn enemies into allies and so forth. That doesn’t do it for me because he has a real passion for it. I mean if you follow Iran the way I do and you read the things that the regime says about him, himself personally, the racist things, the ugly, nasty, mean things they say about him. It’s incredible. It’s just unbelievable and yet he pursues them. He runs after them all the time. He wants this embrace and he wants it passionately. My question is: Why? I don’t have an answer and yes I’ve heard people say well he’s a closet Muslim. I don’t believe that. I just don’t believe it. As far as I can tell there’s no real evidence for it and everybody that has ever said to me they have that evidence, then I say, okay, give me the footnote, give the link. I’ve never had it. I’ve never seen it. They say, well, it’s Valerie Jarrett. She was born in Iran and it’s true. Valerie Jarrett was born in Iran. She was born in Iran of American Communist party member parents who ran a healthcare facility in the country and she left Iran when she was 5 or 6 years old. I don’t believe that spending your first five years in a place stamps you for life.
I don’t believe that she feels herself to be Iranian, passionately Iranian. I don’t see it. I don’t get it, and so I keep looking forward and I would be most grateful every time I talk about this subject I say I don’t get it. I find it baffling. I find it very disturbing and I’m still looking for an explanation and maybe someday we will finally get it and understand it.
What it means is clear enough. We’ve got a President and a whole administration that have convinced themselves that his greatest legacy is the embrace of Iran. It’s not just making a nuclear deal. It’s not about nukes. It’s about embrace. It’s about strategic alliance. Whenever we do something in the Middle East and you find it surprising, just ask yourself: What do the Iranians want? And a huge percentage of the time what we have done is what the Iranians want done. Look, for Iran the most important person in the Middle East is Bashar Assad. Syria and the Assad regime are life and death to Iran. Hezbollah is based there. Hezbollah runs Syria. What would happen to Hezbollah if Assad fell and Hezedibes took over? People who don’t like Shiites. People who don’t like Iran. It would be a catastrophe for Iran, and so they have been in there for years buttressing Assad.
So when Obama came out and said redline, redline Assad’s got to go. If Assad uses chemical weapons one more time against his opponents that will change the whole situation and we will act. He didn’t. And he didn’t. I’m convinced. I’d never thought he’d act. He didn’t act because the Iranians said you want to deal with us lay off Assad because that’s their big deal and that’s what he does. And so he’s carrying out Iranian foreign policy and he’s paying them $700 million a month now for doing all the horrible things that they do and here we are.
Last point, then it’s your turn. What can be done? Well, what can be done is what we did to the Soviet empire. We brought down the Soviet empire by exercising all elements of national power against them. We thwarted them militarily in places like Angola, and we threw their proxies out of Granada, which turns out to have been a really important historical event, oddly enough, because there was the thing called the Brezhnev doctrine according to which there are very big laws of history. According to which once a country went communist it could never go back. It was going to be communist forever. Grenada went communist and they signed up their part of the empire, and when we went into Granada and threw the Cubans out and Grenada became a free country again it was devastating to them. I mean it was a real ideological blow.
Well the Iranians have the Shiite version of the Brezhnev doctrine. They, too, believe that once a country joins the Jihad that it’s never going back and that you can’t undo it. So any defeat that we deal to the Iranians counts double, counts for whatever victory we had wherever we had it, and it has political, ideological, religious consequences. We are fighting a global war right now against an international alliance at which Iran is at the center and it includes North Korea, Russia, China, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Venezuela, Nicaragua, etc. Right? It’s global. It’s partially radical Muslim and it’s partially something that’s not radical Muslim because whatever Putin is he’s not a radical Muslim, and believe me the North Koreans don’t have 10 seconds for Jihad, and I’m talking about they don’t think about it. Yet they work in close cahoots, very close cahoots with the Iranians, on nuclear things, on missiles and on tunnels, which is one of the great skills of North Korea.
So we’re facing a global alliance that’s coming after us. It’s a messianic mass movement. They all believe that God or the forces of history, Allah, are on their side. We have a lot of experience in fighting messianic mass movements. We fought them all through the 20th century, fought communism, fascism, Nazism all were messianic mass movements. They thought that they were destined to rule the world just as the Iranians do today and just as the Russians, North Koreans, Cubans, etc. do today.
When a messianic mass movement suffers a defeat it’s devastating to them because we are then entitled to turn around and say to them: So what happened? They all say all the time, when we win on the battlefield, we win because Allah has blessed our efforts or history has blessed our efforts or whatever. So when they lose and you say to them, well, what happened here? Did Allah change sides? Did we win in Iraq because Allah decided that we were more worthy than you? What’s going on? And this is a kind of ideological war that we are entitled to wage.
When we defeated Al Qaeda in Iraq, which we did twice: first in Anbar Province with Sunnis and secondly with the surge with Shiites. That was a terrible blow to Al Qaeda. Recruitment dropped dramatically. People join these movements because they think they’re winners and they want to be on the winning side, quite aside from their lust for beheading and torture and rape and all the other things that Al Qaeda and ISIS and so forth specialize in.
So we have to wage war against them on all levels, on various battlefields, ideologically, financially and we have to go at them full force. That is the kind of President that we need. Somebody who understands this kind of warfare, who is willing to wage this kind of warfare and who is smart enough and experienced enough in these matters and has thought these things through so that from the first minute after election night in November of 2016 he or she will get at it and put together a team that will carry out this program.
That’s where we are today. It is not going to happen with this President. This President is working in the opposite direction. We can only hope that the Iranians won’t get too much money and too many advantages in the meantime and that may even make such a mess of the whole thing that they’ll end up blowing themselves up, as so many of their terrorists do. I mean one of the nice things about their terrorists is that they set their own sneakers on fire and their own underwear on fire and they blow themselves up before they get to their target and so forth. I mean this is encouraging. A choice of enemies is very important.
I will end with my favorite Moshe Dayan anecdote. After the 6-day war Moshe Dayan held a press conference and all the journalists were there and saying, wow, the IDF, what a fantastic army. How does it compare with the great armies in history, with Cesar, with Alexander, with Patton, with Napoleon? How does it compare? And Dayan said, “Who knows we only fight Arabs.“
All right, there’s a hand in the air.
[Question and Answer Session]
I mean there’s no question that Obama supported the Muslim brotherhood in Egypt. Right? And the notion of making Egypt into a center of radical Sunni power through the brothers is perfectly coherent. I buy it entirely. I’m not so convinced that he thinks in terms of Sunnis and Shiites, but maybe. I mean it’s plausible, and I’m going to think about that and so forth, but no question that he loves radical Muslims all over the world. No question, but I still find Iran very hard. I find it very hard for an American President even with such a father who we never really knew. I mean, my guess one of the reasons why I am one of those who’s interested in his college transcripts is that I want to see who he studied with. I want to see who is – I mean, we did know about Khalil who’s the prince and close and he buys into this kind of doctrine absolutely. But it’s very hard for me to understand somebody who today can go gung-ho for such – I mean, Rouhani, the blessed moderate, has killed many, many more Iranians than the horrible evil Ahmadinejad ever did. Executions are up 50 percent. Iran is today the world leader in per capita executions of its own population. Number 1 in the world. Is that – I mean, to embrace a regime like that, boy, that really takes some doing. And maybe he’s got a myth of his father and what that was all about and so on, but his father was secular. His father wasn’t religious. So then I find the whole religious dimension of the thing baffling.
Michael Ledeen: But what he did he was 20 years with Reverend Wright and the Islam in which he was educated in Indonesia was a kind of quietistic Sufi-style Islam. Now, Islam is not monolithic. I know lots of people believe that Islam is monolithic, but there’s such a variety of Muslims in the world who believe so many different things and behave in so many different ways.
Michael Ledeen: Okay let me answer that first. There is no doubt that – and I’ve written this several times – that Obama wants his Nixon-goes-to-China moment. He dreams of flying to Tehran, coming down the steps, walking across a red or green carpet and embracing this green leader, and there it is. Right? You think Nixon was something? Look at me. All right, no question he wants that. He will never have it. Never. There is no chance. And the other question was: Are Americans taken hostage as part of an internal power struggle within Iran of three major components? Well, it’s more like a hundred major components than three. The Supreme Leader is sick. Most Iranians are amazed that he’s still alive and there’s a huge power struggle going on for the succession. Who will be the next Supreme Leader? And in this game it’s Hobbesian. It’s war of all against all. Everybody’s fighting everybody and they’re constantly shifting alliances and conflicts and so forth. Taking American hostages is just a good thing to do. And they’re getting all their money without it. They didn’t have to arrest this poor man Namanzi. And I’ve seen people say, look, Namanzi did the deal that cost the Iranian Revolutionary Guards $18 billion in a court judgment and so on and so forth, and they don’t like him. And so they ratcheted it up, and maybe it’s no more than that. But in any case, no one should be surprised when an American is taken hostage in Iran. Happens all the time.