The State of the Opposition is Strong

A response to the most infuriating op-ed of the new year


The State of the Opposition is Strong
by Abbas Milani

A couple of days after June’s stolen election in Iran, Flynt Leverett and I were both guests on “The Charlie Rose Show.” Mr. Leverett was waxing eloquent about how Ahmadinejad could have actually won the election. His supposed evidence was a May poll, conducted by phone from Turkey, before the presidential campaign had even begun. Apparently he did not read the entire report of the poll, merely a summary, published in a Washington Post editorial. Much of the full report contradicted his conclusions. Moreover, anyone who believes that Iranians today will reveal their real electoral preferences to a pollster calling from Turkey probably responds to emails from Nigerian princes.

In Wednesday’s New York Times, the Leveretts—Flynt and his wife Hillary Mann—were at it again. As the title of the piece suggests, they take on the mantle of prophets and predict: “Another Iranian Revolution? Not Likely.” They claim that they know that “much of Iranian society was upset by protesters using a sacred day to make a political statement.” They seem to have forgotten that the 1979 revolution was made precisely by using sacred days for political ends. They claim to know that the opposition in Iran “do[es] not represent anything close to a majority.” Yet even if we take the regime’s own figures, 14 million people voted for the opposition. They dismiss this opposition as articulating nothing but “inchoate discontent.”

Crucially, they also suggest that the Obama administration should forget about the Green Movement and conduct business with the clerical regime as usual—the same regime that just declared that anyone who participates in a peaceful demonstration is an “enemy of God,” and will be dealt with accordingly, i.e. killed. In fact, pro-regime members of the parliament think that executing an “enemy of God” within ten days is too long to wait; they are rushing through a new law that mandates execution within five. This is hardly the behavior of a regime secure on its perch of power. To conduct “business as usual” with such a frightened and brutal government is no less egregious than overlooking the infamy of apartheid and continuing to do business with the South African regime.

To demonstrate the alleged weakness of the opposition, as opposed to the regime’s vigor, the Leveretts rely on images that they have gleaned from regime websites. Based on these highly partisan sources, they claim that the recent pro-regime demonstration was not only larger than recent opposition demonstrations, but also the largest since 1989. On so many levels this appears to be false. The regime brought out all government employees and school children, all Basij and IRGC families, and all who could be bused in from around the country. But instead of congregating in Azadi Square, where they have traditionally organized mass rallies to intimidate the opposition and the world, this time they chose a much smaller square in the middle of Tehran. There are satellite pictures of the regime demonstration having far, far fewer people there than at recent opposition rallies, which numbered in the millions. Even if the Leveretts' numbers are accurate, comparisons between these demonstrations are absurd. Opposition demonstrations take place under the threat of beatings, imprisonment, and death—threats that are constantly broadcast on government-controlled media. One is tempted to adapt a Jack Nicholson's quote from Prizzi’s Honor: “If they are so fucking popular, why are they so fucking frightened?”

The Leveretts play as fast and loose with the “facts” of the past as they do with those of today. Their portrayal of Khomeini as leader of the 1979 revolution is a good example. They claim that, in 1979, everyone knew where Khomeini stood, since he had written out his ideas before. But hundreds of documents from the U.S. and British government archives, as well as thousands of pages of scholarly writing, show that in fact Khomeini donned a democratic façade in 1978, which was far different from anything he had written in the past or would do in future.

In Paris, he promised democracy; in his writings, he advocated Velayat-e-Fagih, or the absolute rule of the jurist. In Paris, he promised that neither he nor any member of the clergy would have anything to do with power. Today, only the clergy, their relatives, and allies can assume any position of power. In Paris, he promised women would be free, and not forced to follow any new strictures; in practice, he not only forced the veil on all women, but also changed marriage laws so that a nine-year-old girl could be sent off to her “husband.” Today, after much struggle by the women’s movement, the marriage age for girls is 14. What is statutory rape here in America is the law of the land in Iran. In other words, Khomeini reneged on virtually every deal he made with the people. And that is why the regime he created has not seen a day’s peace for 30 years.

The Leveretts refer to “half-hearted efforts” by the Obama administration to establish ties with Iran. But the president of the United States has reportedly written two unsolicited and still unanswered letters to Khamenei; he has gone out of his way not to offer full support to the regime’s opponents; he has asked Congress to delay the passage of a bill authorizing new sanctions on the regime. All of this only to be rebuffed openly by Khamenei and ridiculed by his cohorts. In the meantime, the regime has continued its work on the nuclear program, increased its involvement in Yemen by supporting the Shia insurgency that weakens the central government and creates a vacuum for Al Qaeda, and increased its support to Afghan rebels through its proxies. For years, regime apologists in America have suggested that U.S. efforts to negotiate with Iran are half-hearted, or that all the clerics in Iran want is some respect. Events of the last seven months show the problem is not in Washington, but in Tehran, and with the nature of the regime. Khamenei knows that anti-Americanism is his raison d’etre.

After dozens of people have been executed and dozens more tortured to death, after thousands have been arrested by the regime and hundreds more exiled, and after millions have stepped into the street to shout their opposition to the regime, the Leveretts write of those who “talk so confidently about an ‘opposition,’” putting “opposition” in sardonic quotation marks. They then go on to ask, “What does this opposition want … who leads it … and through what process will this opposition displace the government in Tehran?”

Well, only a few days ago, Mousavi, the clear leader of the opposition, wrote a five-point proposal for ending the impasse, and no credible voice in the opposition has quarreled with his proposed approach. Thousands of students organized in virtual cells and in a non-hierarchical fashion constitute the vanguard of the movement. Mousavi and the opposition ask for the rule of law, for ending the police state, and for the legislature to do its job of holding Ahmadinejad accountable. The regime’s only response, aside from hurling insults and threats, has been to arrest more and more opposition figures and threaten demonstrators with execution.

As recently declassified documents from the British and American archives clearly indicate, even as late as December 1978, neither government knew whether the revolution would bring about a democratic government, a military coup, or even a communist take over. All they knew was that the status quo was untenable, so they began to distance themselves from the Shah and establish contacts with the opposition. Today, the status quo is equally untenable, but to demand an exact blueprint from the Iranian opposition is not only to demand the impossible, but to fall into the fallacy of historicism—the belief that History has iron laws that are predictable. When the U.S. supported dissidents in Russia, was there a blueprint? Is there one for Darfur? Policy is invariably made based not on an exact blueprint of the future but on a prudent assessment of ascending and descending forces in a situation, and hopefully, on moral values. The U.S. can either stand with the people of Iran, and support their quest for democracy—a democracy, incidentally, that offers the only solution to the nuclear problem as well—or it can side with those who defend the moribund regime. In the past, every time the United States has listened to the Leveretts of the day, it has reaped nothing but the wrath of the people and a loss of influence. The same would happen this time.

Originally published in The New Republic.

Abbas Milani is a contributing editor of
The New Republic and the Hamid and Christina Moghadam Director of Iranian Studies at Stanford, where he is the co-director of the Iran Democracy Project. His latest book is Eminent Persians: The Men and Women who Made Modern Iran, 1941-1979.


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Darius Kadivar

Latest Debate By Khanoum Leverette ...

by Darius Kadivar on

Soraya  Sepahpour-Ulrich and Hillary  Mann-Leverett confront Azadeh  Moaveni  on Al Jazeera with host Riz Khan - How will Iran deal with protesters? 5th Jan 2009.



the Leveretts have to shut up

by statira on

And many Islamic Rapist agents here that everybody knows them by now!


Red Wine


by Red Wine on

صمد آقا جان.قربان خودت را خسته نکن عزیز، این امید طالبی و امثالهم،حقوق بگیران شیوخ اسلامیند ! اینها معمولاً فارغ التحصیل دانشگاه شریف یا تهران هستند که با پول خون ایرانیها به بریتانیای کبیر رفته و در آنجا خدا داند چه کثافت کاریها انجام میدهند.اگر در اینترنت جستجو کنی‌،از این‌ها زیاد بینی‌.

مرگ بر نوکران جمهوری اسلامی.

به زودی به دست ایرانیان جمهوری خواه محاکمه و مجازات خواهید شد.



Research this

by Cost-of-Progress on

The Reality you say? The reality is that you support a criminal regime bent on the destruction of my motherland.

To many of us, this regime, you and your likes on this site are enemies of Iran. You are considred occupiers?






Sargord: all these guys have is wishful thinking

by Researcher on

Don't be so cruel as to take it away from them - hehe. They are not listening to logic. They just want to die with their wishful thoughts. They prefer that over facing truth and reality.


Sargord: It's interesting

by vildemose on

Sargord: It's interesting that you support ex-neocon hawks..Very telling!

Sargord Pirouz

the Leveretts

by Sargord Pirouz on

The Leveretts are a couple of the very few analysts that have a clear head on the subject matter, and are not fatally biased by the wishful thinking of subversion.


Hey did you read Dilip Hiro's latest? Another valid analysis. 


Leverettes on assassination

by vildemose on

Leverettes on assassination of Dr M Ali mohammad:

This man is either a neocon or in the pocket of IRI: He is up to no good.



Must Read!

by vildemose on

Jan 13

The Greening of Islam NEW REPUBLIC | Abbas Milani (Posted by: Free Iran)

IND:  Another excellent piece by Dr. Milani.  This essay highlights a split within Shiism that could have profound positive ramifications.

The Green Movement is a revolt against theocracy. Most of its adherents are young Iranians with little or no religious motivation. Yet, an iconic figure of the revolt was the nation’s highest-ranking cleric, Grand Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri; and, last month, Ashura, a holy day celebrating martyrdom, occasioned some of the movement’s most massive protests



Leveretts are 6 months behind in time

by MM on

Ms. Azadeh Moaveni, along with Hillary Mann Leverett and Ms. Soraya Sepahpour-Ulrich were on Riz Khan show on Aljazeera on Jan 5th, 2010. 

Ms. Moaveni, along with many in this blog, in this youtube video had a good comment: people like the Leveretts are about 6 months behind, i.e., after the elections the call of the people was "where is my vote", whereas, now, the call has evolved to "death to the dictator", "freedom", "jomhoori-e Irani", etc.

See it at:

Riz Khan - How will Iran deal with protesters? - 5 Jan - Part 1



جناب آقای طالبی گلابی دامت برکات


گمانم شما میرین ایران تو آخور بهتون چش بند میزنن که چیزی میزی نبینی.  تو ایرانی‌ که ما توش میچرخیم ریدمانه.  ما به جای اینکه به امید طالبی بمانیم میریم خربزه را به نرخ روز می‌خوریم.

Omid Talebi

You haven't been to Iran

by Omid Talebi on

I came back from Iran Jan 3. From everyone I spoke, they are sick and tired of the rioters. Most members on this website seem to be so disconnected from Iran. When I see some of the posts here I really wonder where they get these stories from, because they're not from Iran. I was there from 13 dec.... blah... just don't waste your life and go visit Iran yourself and see how disconnected you are. It will not even cost you much with IranAir.

Ali9 Akbar

Gee Thanks Saragord.... I didn't know I had the talent

by Ali9 Akbar on

I wonder if Jay Leno will accept my application....


 BTW Saragord  you might want to start shopping for a burka... you'll need that to escape the WRATH OF IRANIAN PEOPLE

Sargord Pirouz

You're trying to be funny, Ali

by Sargord Pirouz on

But really, it's a sad day for the Iranian scientific community, no matter what your political persuasion.

Ali9 Akbar

Saragoud HUSH I just herd that the IRI...

by Ali9 Akbar on

is now blaming the USA and Israel for a remoter controlled bomb that exploded KILLING your TOP Nuclear scientist....



Maryam Hojjat

Leveretts Obviously are being fed by IRR/IRI

by Maryam Hojjat on

Shame on such antellectuals! who sell themselves & humanity.


Another excellent analysis! So many valid points.

by Anonymouse on

Today, the status quo is equally untenable, but to demand an exact blueprint from the Iranian opposition is not only to demand the impossible, but to fall into the fallacy of historicism—the belief that History has iron laws that are predictable.

There are many good points throughout this article, I chose just one.

One outcome of this movement and the situation in Iran is that people are becoming more and more polarized.  People now simply dismiss one person over another just because they don't see the situation as black and white as they see.

So anything is possible.  Leverette will probably say something in response and these points will become OBE and newer points will be analyzed.  There is a point that all sides agree that there are massive protests in Iran (not just Tehran anymore) and protesters are risking their lives and livelihoods.  It is a major milestone when people in such large numbers risk everything.

Everything is sacred.


Opposition is Strong and Diverse

by seannewyork on

The movement here on the ground is strong and diverese from all spectrums of life.

This regime will collapse within 12 months.

 See you 22 bahman at your favorite st or square.

Darius Kadivar

actually "Leverett" means "Doggy Style" in French ;0))

by Darius Kadivar on

Known as "Doggy Style" ...

see definition here

And what it looks like :


Another Good Reason not to trust them.


areyo barzan

Leverett is Irrelevant

by areyo barzan on

Well guys and girls

Let me give you an insider point of view from streets of Iran.

All of the factors about people's protest and the direction that the opposition is moving towards points toward an INEVITABLE regime change very soon, and you can mark my words on it.

Now you can either prepare yourself for this reality and at least not to take the loosing side in this confilist or you can burry your heads in the sand and draw comfort from this Leverett guy and his one sided phonny and irrelevant article.

Your choice!

We inside Iran know very well what we want and how we are going about to achive it. Furthermore you can rest assured that all the articles from all lobysts in the world can not change beliefe or shake our conviction. Yoy should also undrestant that this movement has now pased way beyond Karoobi and Mosavi and setteles for notting lest that a regime change towards a secular domocracy

In fact we do not expect anything else from such authers who get paid to present a certain agenda  for acertail lobby group whose only motive is financial and short term

As far as The US government is concerned we know very well that they have always been after their own national interests and rightly so. We do not expect any help from them. However they should realise that when it comes to their long term interest, they have not always got it right. Also they need to take into consideration that our future relation
with them would be defined by how they behave today and the next pupular government in Iran will engage with them in accourdance to their current behaviur.

So as you see, we inside Iran know exactly what we want and where we are standing. Now the question is "do you????" 


Sargord Pirouz

Same old stuff from Milani

by Sargord Pirouz on

The Leveretts have it right. 

Azarin Sadegh

Thank you Dr. Milani!

by Azarin Sadegh on

Sharp and to the point! I think The New York Times should also publish your excellent reply to Leverettes.

Thank you, Dr. Milani!

Darius Kadivar

Well Said Dr. Milani !

by Darius Kadivar on

Finally a genuine Iranian intellectual who doesn't make me feel ashamed.

Keep Up the Good Work !


Disgusting how Iranians put their own nation down

by Mehdi on

Disgusting how Iranians put their own nation down and side with the most oppressive regimes on this plant, lie, exaggerate, misrepresent and do the most dispicable in order to get some popularity - in order to get some attention. Sad. Very Sad. Basijis seem like by far more decent people. And that's quite a statement!


Hova jan: Rast migi. In

by vildemose on

Hova jan: Rast migi. In aghayeh mohtarm shadidan confuse hastand.


Multiple Personality Disorder

Excellent article Mr. Milani. Thank you.

by Multiple Personality Disorder on

Based on my own estimate, based on the aerial photographs of the regime sponsored demonstration in question, between 100,000 to 200,000 people were in that demonstration, assuming fitting between 4 to 8 people in one square meter.  In comparison, under the threat of death, more than one million people have demonstrated against the regime already.


You can’t denounce

by vildemose on

You can’t denounce capitalism and imperialism from the point of view of a religious or idealogical tyranny… Each just fuel the other…. So on the purest and highest moral ground, IRI apologists always fall at the final fence by gaining capital out of a tyranny!


Do you think the teabaggers

by vildemose on

Do you think the teabaggers or the likes of Palin, Rush Limbaugh, Cheney, Bush, even in today's America are ready for democracy or will they ever be ready for democracy? There are always going to be fundamentalist, uneducated, redneckish people in every society.  Do you think the US was ready for democracy when they fought the Brits for Independence? What percentage of the people do you think were ready for Jeffersonian democracy back then??? A very small educated minority. Did you know that only landowners and homeowners could vote in the early days of American revolution. You know why???Precisely because the uneducated were not ready for democracy, they will never be ready.

Your solution calls for permanent dictatorship across the globe. 





re:vildromese Why do you think Iranians need a custodian??

by mannya2001 on

because iranians are not ready for a democracratic and free soceity.  Only anarchy, chaos and no decision making will be the result.

Do you want me to go and fetch scholars who will argue Iran is not ready for a democratic soceity?

Take a very close look at our society-- they are not ready!!



Hillary Mann Leverett: From

by vildemose on

Hillary Mann Leverett: From Iran Critic to Iran Apologist

08 Jan 2010 09:03 am

Hilary Mann Leverett, and her husband Flynt Leverett, both former American national security officials of some repute, have recently turned themselves into the Salahis of foreign policy punditry. (Not my joke, alas, I heard it from a friend). In their recent op-ed in the Times, they argue that Iran is not about to implode, that the recent anti-government demonstrations amounted to very little, if anything, and that the best policy for the Obama Administration to pursue would be one of full-on engagement with the current regime: