In an exclusive series of interviews with Raw Story Managing News Editor Larisa Alexandrovna, controversial Neoconservative scholar and Iran Contra figure Michael
Ledeen discusses his background, alleged controversies, and
offers remarkable revelations regarding the Bush
administration's "War on Terror."
Part one in this series of interviews focuses on
current US foreign policy and how it relates to the
neoconservative world view, as well as how such a policy
can be seen against the backdrop of history. Ledeen speaks out against
torture and calls for accountability at all levels, including
the White House, should an investigation lead in that
"Punish all the guilty parties, whoever they are, and do
everything possible to prevent anything of the sort
happening again," Ledeen says.
When asked about the failure of the media with regard to
reporting accurately and abundantly on such harsh
interrogation techniques, Ledeen says that he disagrees,
but also says that "If you're going to attack media for
insufficient coverage of Abu Ghraib, etc., then you should
also hammer them for failing to report the 'other side of
He describes his view of Paul Wolfowitz, former Deputy
Secretary of Defense and now head of the World Bank, in
terms of ability, stating that he does not "really know
what Wolfowitz thinks, and I have always looked at him as a
manager, not an intellectual."
Leedeen, who is best known for his involvement as a courier in the Iran-Contra scandal, describes himself as a democratic
revolutionary. He believes that mankind is inclined toward war and
has a dismal, Hobbesian view of history. Against that
context, he says, "I'm not sure Machiavelli
was wrong when he said that 'man is more inclined to do
evil than to do good.'"
Michael Ledeen currently holds the Freedom Chair at the
most influential think tank in the nation, the American
Enterprise Institute (AEI), considered
the nucleus of neoconservative and conservative thought. So
much so, that President Bush has said of AEI that "You do
such good work that my administration has borrowed 20 such
Ledeen is mostly known to the lay public, if he is known at
all, for his involvement in the Iran Contra scandal, in
which he acted as courier on behalf of
Robert McFarland, then National Security Advisor to
President Reagan, and the various members of Israel's
leadership and the CIA and vouched for Iranian arms dealer,
Ledeen currently serves as an associate editor for the
conservative publication, The National Review and was a
founding member of the Jewish Institution for National
Security Affairs (JINSA).
The Democratic revolutionary
Raw Story's Larisa Alexandrovna: Let's begin with the
basics. There has been a great deal of confusion in terms
of Israel and how it relates to neoconservatives and how
both relate to the Bush administration's foreign policy,
including the war in Iraq. Can you help clarify some of
this, not just by simple definitions, but how each relates
to one another? How is Zionism different or the same as
neoconservatism and how does it relate to the current
Michael Ledeen: You mean are all neoconservatives Jews? Or
is it some kind of Jewish thing? Clearly not, unless you
think that Bush and Cheney are closet Jews.
RS: No, I don't mean "are all Neoconservatives Jews" as I
know they are not; then again, not all Jews are Zionists
either. I am trying to get a clear sense of how you see
Zionism and how or rather, if, either of those philosophies
may be driving the Bush/Cheney foreign policy or if the
Bush/Cheney foreign policy is using Neoconservatism as a
shield against criticism (anyone who disagrees does not
support Israel type thing). Obviously, the Iraq war has
made Iran the winner, not Israel.
ML: I describe myself as a democratic revolutionary, I
don't think of myself as "conservative" at all. Indeed it
seems to me that most self-described leftists today are
reactionaries, and have lost the right to describe
themselves as people of the left.
RS: When you say you are not a "conservative," you are
addressing a false distinction because Neoconservatism has
its roots on the left, in socialist ideology, yet is
closely aligned to the conservatives in the US and the
rightist Likud party in Israel. Perhaps a better way to
ask this would be to ask if you are closer in your ideology
to Richard Perle, Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz or are you
closer to Francis Fukuyama, who recently announced
Neoconservatism as dead?
ML: Well I'm a democratic revolutionary, albeit not a
socialist. I haven't read Fukuyama's latest writings, but
I wasn't at all convinced by the "end of history" thesis.
I don't really know what Wolfowitz thinks, and I have
always looked at him as a manager, not an intellectual. He
hasn't ever had the time or inclination to write anything
serious, so who knows? He once suggested that Iraq was
like pre-World War I Germany, which I didn't agree with.
I think you're right to say that I have roots in the left,
which is the point I was trying to make when I said I
didn't think of myself as a "conservative." Leo Strauss
once said that it was hard to understand how the word
"virtue," which once meant the manliness of men, came to
mean the virginity of women. In like manner I am perplexed
at how revolutionaries are now called "conservatives."
It's very misleading, and very political. The left, which
has become reactionary and counterrevolutionary, wants to
stigmatize people who advocate democratic revolution, and
so they use the word "conservative," which for the left is
RS: And on Zionism?
ML: I really don't see it in those terms at all, and I doubt--although I really have no way of knowing--that either
[President George] Bush or [Vice President Dick] Cheney
does either. I don't view Israel in "Zionist" terms, I
don't have relatives there, I don't travel there very much
and on balance I have a dim view of most Israeli political
figures and Israeli intellectuals.
I think it was right to provide a sanctuary for the
European Jews after the Holocaust, and as I've said I think
it's right and automatic for Americans to support Israel
vis-a-vis the tyrannical regimes that want to destroy it.
And I feel much the same way about Iraq and Afghanistan,
both of whom have started down the road to freedom, and who
are now hated and under attack by the tyrants in the
RS: How does this translate to US foreign policy and
ML: Most Americans support free countries, and so it's only
logical for the United States to support democratic Israel. It's the right thing to do. We should always support
democratic countries that are threatened by antidemocratic
Freedom is on the march
RS: If it is logical for the United States to support
democratic nations, then why has the United States
regularly subverted the democratic process? This is not new
or theoretical of course, this is all well documented
history, even recent history clearly shows that. Consider
for example Chile's General Pinochet or Zaire's Mobutu.
Or closer to current events, the Saudi royal family, for
example, is only in power because the United States
protects them against their own citizens, who are largely
oppressed and exploited. Yet another example closer to home
and current events is Iraq. Saddam Hussein's dictatorship
existed for this long because the United States supported
that existence with funding, even by providing the chemical
weapons that were then used against the Kurds.
So this is not as simple as "we should always support
democratic countries." Most people would agree with that
sentiment, but the United States does not seem to be
adhering to it, as we know even from what we now know to be
true about the rise of the Nazi regime in Germany.
ML: You're quite right--and, at least recently, both
President Bush and Secretary Rice have explicitly agreed
with your point--to say that we have often supported
tyrannies. We, along with the whole Western world,
shamefully supported Saddam, and convinced ourselves that
he was a "new kind of Arab leader," by which was meant a
secular socialist, not some crazy religious fanatic as in
Iran and not some wild-eyed Arab nationalist as in the case
of [President Gamal Abdel] Nasser [of Egypt]. It was
obviously a terrible mistake.
RS: While I understand your enthusiasm for the removal of
Saddam Hussein, would it not be hypocritical to suggest
that the removal of a "tool" by its handler is a victory
ML: I don't think most Iraqis agree with that view. I think
any time a tyrant falls, it's good news. And the fact that
we previously supported the tyrant doesn't change the
nature of the event itself. We had a lousy policy for a
long time, but then we did something good. I criticize the
lousy policy and also celebrate the fall of Saddam.
Can I say something about how I view human nature? I think
it will help at least part of this conversation. I have a
pretty dim view of human nature, as I think any serious
historian must. Most human activities aren't very pretty,
most of the time we screw up, it's rare when you find an
exceptional person and even in such cases they often fall
And I'm not sure Machiavelli was wrong when he said that
"man is more inclined to do evil than to do good." So I
don't have high expectations, and I consider myself
fortunate to have lived and worked at a moment when there
were several really exceptional leaders in the world, from
Reagan and Thatcher to Pope John Paul II to Havel and
Walesa and Mandela and so forth. Those moments are rare,
and short-lived. You don't see many outstanding leaders
today, in my opinion.
So I'm not surprised when our leaders make mistakes, I'm
surprised and delighted when they do great things. I think
we should support free societies but I'm not surprised when
an American president makes a deal with a dictator. And
sometimes there isn't any better choice, by the way. I
hate Stalin, but I think the wartime alliance against
Hitler was the right thing to do, disgusting though it was.
However, I think that we should have been more vigorous
against Stalin and his successors once the war was over,
and in retrospect I think the Soviet Empire could have
I agree that our support for the Saudi Royal Family is a
mistake, and I've said that, and I have always included
them in my list of "terror masters," along with Saddam's
Iraq, the mullahs' Iran, and the Assads' Syria.