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I'm admittedly somewhat puzzled by Michael Crowley's TNR piece on Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett. It's not so much that I disagree with all of his points, just that I wonder about the article's purpose and eventual conclusions.

I've never met the Leveretts, nor have I ever spoken with them about Iran. I have at times found their analysis on the post-June 12 upheaval a bit exaggerated, biased and even downright peculiar. That said, I think Crowley undermines his own article with this acknowledgment of their work:

Itâ??s not obvious that this analysis is wrong--especially in the wake of disappointing Green turnout last week on the anniversary of the 1979 Iranian revolution--although, in a state willing to beat, arrest, and even kill protesters, gauging the popular mood is never simple.

OK, fair enough. But flip this around on those who have been cheer leading for the so-called Green Movement, and the same criticism applies. Analysts and experts - clearly wearing their green hearts on their sleeves - have been repeatedly proven wrong about the size and capabilities of the Green Movement, yet no one suspects these well-intentioned partisans of nefarious, or even treasonous ties to agents or officials inside Iran (and if you think the Green Movement is somehow operating outside of Iran's inner-circle you simply haven't been paying attention). While I reserve my own criticisms of the Leveretts, I find the very personal and often malicious attacks on them to be really uncalled for, not to mention a distraction from the debate at hand. (incidentally, the Leveretts have written a brief and fair response to some of the nastier charges levied against them.)

I believe Tim Fernholz basically gets it right:

To me, it seems the reason that the Leveretts are so keen to engage the Ahmadinejad regime is that they are realists. They have made the calculation that the Green movement is not likely to overthrow the government soon and that America's near-term interests are more important than supporting human rights abroad. That's not a liberal foreign policy, but it also doesn't require some malign affection for a dangerous theocrat.

Indeed, but I'd take it a step further: understanding the nature of Ahmadinejad's very real base of support doesn't make one a traitorous Ahmadinejad supporter, it makes them balanced. Other Iran analysts, such as Hooman Majd, have made essentially the same argument.

For my money, if you can't properly answer the three very reasonable questions posed by the Leveretts last month - yet still you resort to repeated character assassination - then you do so from a position of intellectual weakness, and I have to question your own motives and intentions regarding Iran.

UPDATE: Just to be clear, I am not accusing Crowley of unfair character assassination here, but I suspect those I am alluding to will take his piece and run with it.

UPDATE II: Case in point.