Just because a fact is not convenient to the argument at hand does not mean you can disregard said fact. Ignoring the strongest evidence against a position opens one to charges of intellectual dishonesty and does not move the debate forward. It’s intellectually lazy and it damages the discourse. ~Patrick Appel

What is this “strongest evidence” that the Leveretts have ignored? Initially, the Leveretts questioned the extremely easy assumption that massive fraud must have taken place. So did the analysts at Stratfor. Since then, they have not disputed that there was fraud, but have argued that it was not enough to change the outcome. In the last month, PIPA released a report at WorldPublicOpinion.org that provided evidence that helped explain how Ahmadinejad could have won the first round outright while also believing before the election that he would need to resort to fraud to secure victory. Oddly enough, the report has more than a few similarities with Jonathan Bernstein’s latest post on Watergate.

One can raise objections to the WPO report, but for the most part its release has been greeted with silence. Appel does not address this evidence, which one might call the “strongest evidence” against his belief that Ahmadinejad did not win outright, so I could say that he was ignoring the “strongest evidence” against his position. I could say that he was committing the same error he condemns. That would be the most uncharitable interpretation possible, and it would get us nowhere, but it would be a useful rhetorical trick. I don’t think Appel is actually ignoring contrary evidence. My guess is that he has already taken contrary evidence into account and he has decided for any of a number of reasons to focus on something else.

The other problem Appel has with the Leveretts is that he says that they have ignored Iranian regime crimes. One might ask what they are supposed to say about them that would satisfy their critics. When they have attempted to provide perspective and compare them with larger, more brutal crackdowns, as analysts should, they have been accused of being heartless pro-regime shills. As Kevin Sullivan says:

I’m not sure what would sufficiently qualify as recognizing the crimes of the Iranian regime here; the Leveretts have absolutely acknowledged the regime’s brutality [bold mine-DL]. Their point is not that violence hasn’t occurred, but that the government has yet to crack down with the full capacity and brutality at its disposal.

Advocates of engagement have recognized the crimes of the Iranian regime, but some of us still believe engagement is the most realistic and correct course despite these crimes. If advocates of engagement do not devote a large amount of space to denouncing regime crimes, which everyone finds atrocious and wrong, perhaps it is because we realize that our outrage will do nothing for the regime’s victims. Perhaps it is because we have seen how stoking moral outrage against another government has been used many times in the past to justify destructive policies that will intensify the suffering and difficulties of the people. How many thousands of Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqis would still be alive and how many millions of Iraqis would never have been displaced had we been more concerned with getting our policy towards Iraq right and less concerned with denouncing Hussein’s atrocities (and using them as fodder for war propaganda)? Appel may not agree with this approach, but he should bear it in mind before he concludes that advocates of engagement such as the Leveretts have not recognized and acknowledged regime crimes.