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Skeptics

My main problem with the Leveretts is, like certain hawks, they project a false sense of certainty about the situation in Iran. No one knows exactly how the opposition movement will manifest [bold mine-DL]. The Leveretts assert arguable claims as fact without explaining how they are reaching their conclusions. ~Patrick Appel

The claims the Leveretts have made about the presidential election are substantially no different than those made by Stratfor analysts from the very beginning. All of them have made reasonable arguments that Mousavi voters in general and Green movement protesters in particular do not represent anything like a majority of the population, and they have made fairly common-sense observations that the Green movement has been losing strength as time goes on. Skeptics of the movement’s strength have also cast doubt on claims that the regime is widely seen as illegitimate by most Iranians. These claims have been central to the latest wave of regime change arguments, which have focused on helping the protest movement bring down the government, and the claims are probably wrong. The skeptics’ doubt is informed by what little apparently reliable evidence about Iranian public opinion we have. Compared with this admittedly sketchy and incomplete picture, the Leveretts’ critics cannot muster much more than anecdotal evidence whose importance they continually exaggerate.

No one has obsessively attacked George Friedman et al. as regime apologists or “intellectual defenders” of Ahmadinejad. It seems to me that the Leveretts aren’t being targeted with smears and insults principally because of their analysis, which Crowley does not really attempt to dispute, but because of the policy course they recommend, which is significant, sustained engagement with Iran. What Leveretts’ critics seem to want to do is identify this engagement approach with sympathy and collusion with the regime. This is the same thing that some of the Leveretts’ harshest critics were trying to do when they were attacking Trita Parsi as lobbyist for the regime.

Should skeptics of the Green movement be more careful to qualify our claims? Perhaps. It is true that it is difficult to know what is happening inside Iran, but given these limitations shouldn’t it count in favor of the skeptics that we seem to have understood the balance of political forces in Iran much better than Green movement sympathizers and most Iran hawks? If skeptics have seemed a little too sure about things, how ridiculously overconfident have many other observers been? Have the latter been right about much of anything so far? On balance, whose arguments seem to be more in accord with reality? Shouldn’t that be the relevant measure in gauging the merits of what the Leveretts have had to say?

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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