The Mideastwire Blog

Excerpts from the Arab and Iranian Media & Analysis of US Policy in the Region

Matthew Levitt’s polemics cloud good policy making and solid analysis

Below is an excerpt from a Cengiz Candar’s column in Turkey’s Radikal, published July 11…I read it in translation shortly after reading Matthew Levitt’s pieces in advance of his book in Foreign Affairs (do they ever tire of publishing these polemics…. so often from the same crowd, same voices?) etc.

First – As always – Levitt polemicizes on Hizbullah from the point of total moral superiority where the enemy is total evil – nay, criminal in the SUPREME…. which is both a counter productive approach and also false.

He makes this claim: “Despite being discovered in these several cases, Hezbollah operatives continue to run one of the largest and most sophisticated global criminal operations in the world.”

Despite the fact that Levitt apparently relies heavily on hizbullah’s worst enemy – Israel – for his “evidence” – a tactic long used which always needs/needed to be problemitized to get better policies and analysis of course – the point is that he needs to overstate Hizbullah’s global reach and criminality in order to push a key objective – getting the EU to criminalize Hizbullah as a terror group.

This has long been a primary aim of Israel and the Bush folks – Levitt’s point, as always, is that the EU are a bunch of weak kneeded sissy’s and they need to step up. One great way is via the criminality formula, he says.

Setting aside the fact that the EU ALSO has a more nuanced and productive reading of hizbullah – The central point is that Levitt is likely correct on SOME points of Hizbullah’s global operation and SOME points of involvement in criminality…. but he is forced to push these points to the extreme because he is groping after the political goal of getting the EU to “bad guy” Hizbullah.

This makes for a good NY Post piece and a NY Post style “book” but it’s unserious scholarship…. Which again raises the issue of why FA constantly churns out this kind of “analysis” which is really just talking points from the neo-con right without serious attribution, evidence and even common sense…. much less a critical reflection on whether pushing these silly binaries to the extreme is good for conducting foreign policy.

“ONE OF THE LARGEST AND MOST SOPHISTICATED global criminal operations in the world.”

But thankfully Levitt gets occasionally brought down to earth by academics, scholars and analysts who are not totally driven by their political euphoria and belief systems… as happened this week when the US criminalized and harped on the iran-bin ladin link. At least one Aussie based expert rejected the formulations that Levitt was touting all week as weakly sourced….

“The material made public for these designations is very, very carefully reviewed,” stressed Matthew Levitt, a former FBI terrorism intelligence analyst now with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (AIPAC),  in an interview with the Envoy. They “don’t go forward without policy concurrence, legal review, and intelligence concurrence,” meaning, “the inter-agency met and debated them and yelled and screamed.” That said, Levitt continued, “let’s not get hysterical.”… As to why the U.S. government would make the focus of today’s announcement Iran and not the al Qaeda financiers apparently able to operate from Qatar and Kuwait, Levitt said the U.S. government has long taken up the matter more quietly with those countries.”
… Leah Farrell, a leading al Qaeda expert based in Australia, tweeted that she was skeptical of the Treasury designation, and suggested it might be motivated by a U.S. desire to put pressure on Iran. “Past reports have been poorly sourced and containing serious inaccuracies,” she said. “I know about some of these people. They’re not new and the reality is far more complex.”

“This seems like a means of overcoming a lack of leverage against Iran releasing people.”


This is of course the key point which does not sit well with the polemical approach of Levitt (from another news report):

“Notable, however, is that three of the men designated today are based in Qatar and Kuwait, which were not similarly accused by the Treasury Department with harboring al Qaeda. Indeed, only one of the six new designees, Ezedin Abdel Aziz Khalil, appears to be based in Iran….

Though the United States announced two previous rounds of designations of al Qaeda members based in Iran in 2009, prior to today’s announcement it had not so definitively accused Iran of actively permitting the country to be used by al Qaeda money men.

Incoming CIA Director Gen. David Petraeus, in testimony to Congress last year, highlighted al Qaeda’s use of Iran as a “facilitations hub,” but described Iran’s behavior towards the group as “unpredictable,” noting it “periodically disrupted” the network.


But I thought it was CLEAR Iran was in bed with the bad sunni jihadists???

When thinking about Levitt and how to respond, I found Cengiz’s formula the best….. from the Turkey context – sub in Hizbullah etc.:

“…there is no practical use in condemning night and day the PKK, the BDP, and the DTK [Democratic Society Congress], and calling on them to remove their fingers from the trigger. We must approach the PKK, its armed forces, and the acts of violence as a “given” no matter how distressing they are.

It is much more efficient to take the necessary political steps and conduct politics that would compel the armed forces to cease fire, than demanding that they remove their fingers from the trigger, or issuing condemnations left and right. Good intentions, anger, or wishes can never be a substitute for politics.

This is the government’s job, and it cannot be done with the same perspective and terminology that were used in the first years of the 1980’s, the 1990’s, or the 2000’s.

Everybody in their right mind has already understood that there is no “military solution” to this problem. At the end of the day, the matter is up to the government’s intelligence, its acumen, its capacity to “think out of the box,” and most important of all its “political courage.”

Now more than ever, it is time for the government to meet with the BDP, provide it with a “role,” and engage in systematic negotiations…



Written by nickbiddlenoe

July 31, 2011 at 11:49 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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