When tens of thousands of Iranians took to the streets last spring and braved the most brutal repression the regime could inflict, Michael Ledeen was the least surprised man in Washington. In season and out, Ledeen has chronicled the profound weakness of the mullahocracy and its deep unpopularity with the Iranian people. Impatiently, year after year, he has identified opportunities for the United States to help the people of Iran replace their sinister and menacing rulers. After each new post on the subject, Ledeen signed off with "Faster please."
In "Accomplice to Evil," Ledeen seems almost out of patience. The failure to grapple with the challenge of Iran is more than a strategic failure, he argues; it's a moral failure. Just as few in the democratic countries took Adolf Hitler at his word when he repeatedly promised to dominate the world and kill all the Jews, and few could squarely acknowledge the genocidal lengths to which the communists would go, so today the threat from the radical Islamists is minimized, whitewashed, or wished away.
Of the Carter administration, Ledeen writes, "The failure to comprehend what Khomeini was all about contributed mightily to the American debacle in Iran, and to subsequent failure of American policy, for the policy makers -- from Carter down -- did not take seriously the possibility that Khomeini might be worse than the shah." Incomparably worse as it turned out. During the war with Iraq, Iran sent tens of thousands of children to their deaths "clearing" minefields. Before departure, they were issued plastic keys -- to open the gates of paradise.
But Americans have doggedly refused to recognize the nature of the regime or the Islamist movement it spearheads. Ledeen writes of the Carter State Department: "In what was to become a great leitmotif of the next 30 years, American diplomats desperately worked for an agreement at all costs." When the Iranians presented brutal demands that the U.S. turn over all Iranian "criminals" who had taken refuge in America, an assistant secretary of state -- in words that could have been ghostwritten by the current occupant of the Oval Office -- explained "... the Iranian suspicions of us were only natural in the post-revolutionary situation ... but after a transition period common interests could provide a basis for future cooperation."