Michael Arthur Ledeen (born August 1, 1941) is an American historian, neoconservative foreign policy analyst, and author with a PhD in philosophy. He is a former consultant to the United States National Security Council, the United States Department of State, and the United States Department of Defense. He held the Freedom Scholar chair at the American Enterprise Institute where he was a scholar for twenty years and now holds the similarly named chair at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
Ledeen holds a Ph.D. in History and Philosophy from the University of Wisconsin–Madison where he studied under the Jewish German-born historian George Mosse. His doctoral dissertation eventually became Universal Fascism: The Theory and Practice of the Fascist International, 1928–1936, first published in 1972. The book was the first work to explore Italian leader Benito Mussolini's efforts to create a Fascist international in the late 1920s and early 1930s. After leaving the University of Wisconsin-Madison Ledeen taught at Washington University in St. Louis but left after being denied tenure. Some faculty indicated that questions about the "quality of his scholarship" and about whether or not Ledeen had "used the work of somebody else without proper credit" were issues, although some also noted that "the 'quasi-irregularity' at issue didn't warrant the negative vote on tenure."
Ledeen subsequently moved to Rome, where he was hired as the Rome correspondent for The New Republic and was named a visiting professor at the University of Rome for two years until 1977. In Rome, Ledeen worked with Italian historian Renzo De Felice, who greatly influenced Ledeen, drawing a distinction between "fascism-regime" and "fascism-movement." Ledeen's political views developed to stress "the urgency of combating centralized state power and the centrality of human freedom" Ledeen continued his studies in Italian fascism with a study of the takeover of Fiume by Italian irredentist forces under Gabriele d'Annunzio, who Ledeen argued was the prototype for Mussolini.
Ledeen has been a long time and active supporter of political dissidents, particularly Iranians, and co-founded The Coalition for Democracy in Iran.
In the 1980 lead up to the US presidential election, Ledeen, along with Arnaud de Borchgrave, wrote a series of articles published in The New Republic and elsewhere about Jimmy Carter's brother, Billy Carter's contacts with the Muammar al-Gaddafi regime in Libya. Ledeen testified before a Senate subcommittee that he believed that Billy Carter had met with and been paid off by Yasser Arafat of the Palestinian Liberation Organization.
Five years later, in 1985, a Wall Street Journal investigation suggested that the series of Billygate articles written by Ledeen were part of a larger disinformation campaign intended to influence the outcome of that year's presidential election. According to the reporting, Francesco Pazienza, an officer of the Italian intelligence agency SISMI, alleged that Ledeen was paid $120,000 for his work on Billygate and other projects. At SISMI, Pazienza stated, Ledeen warranted a coded identification: Z-3. Pazienza was later tried and convicted in absentia for using "extortion and fraud to obtain embarrassing facts about Billy Carter".
The Bulgarian connection
Ledeen worked for the Italian military intelligence agency SISMI in 1980 providing "risk assessment", and consulting on extradition matters between Italy and the US. It was during his time in Italy which Ledeen came out in his belief in the "Bulgarian connection" conspiracy theory concerning Grey Wolves member Mehmet Ali Ağca's 1981 attempt to assassinate Pope John Paul II. The theory has since been attacked by various authors and journalists, including Washington Post reporter Michael Dobbs, who initially believed the story as well. The theory was adopted in 2005 by the Italian Mitrokhin Commission. According to Craig Unger, "With Ronald Reagan newly installed in the White House, the so-called Bulgarian Connection made perfect Cold War propaganda. Michael Ledeen was one of its most vocal proponents, promoting it on TV and in newspapers all over the world."
Work in the United States
In the early 1980s, Ledeen appeared before the newly established Senate Subcommittee on Security and Terrorism, alongside former CIA director William Colby, author Claire Sterling and former Newsweek editor Arnaud de Borchgrave. Both Ledeen and de Borchgrave worked for the Center for Strategic and International Studies at Georgetown University at the time. All four testified that they believed the Soviet Union had provided for material support, training and inspiration for various terrorist groupings.
Ledeen was involved in the Iran–Contra affair as a consultant of National Security Advisor Robert C. McFarlane. Ledeen vouched for Iranian intermediary Manucher Ghorbanifar. In addition, he met with Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres, officials of the Israeli Foreign Ministry and the Central Intelligence Agency to arrange meetings with high-ranking Iranian officials, whereby U.S supported Iranians would be given weapons by Israel, and would proceed to negotiate with Hizbollah for the release of hostages in Lebanon. Ledeen's own version of the events is published in his book, Perilous Statecraft.
Yellowcake forgery allegations
According to a September 2004 article by Joshua Micah Marshall, Laura Rozen, and Paul Glastris in Washington Monthly: "The first meeting occurred in Rome in December, 2001. It included Franklin, Rhode, and another American, the neoconservative writer and operative Michael Ledeen, who organized the meeting. (According to UPI, Ledeen was then working for Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith as a consultant.) Also in attendance was Ghorbanifar and a number of other Iranians."
Colleagues Andrew McCarthy and Mark R. Levin have defended Ledeen, writing: "Up until now, the fiction recklessly spewed by disgruntled intelligence-community retirees and their media enablers—some of whom have conceded that the claim is based on zero evidence—has been that Michael had something to do with the forged Italian documents that, according to the Left's narrative, were the basis for President Bush's "lie" in the 2003 State of the Union Address that Saddam Hussein had obtained yellowcake uranium (for nuclear-weapons construction) in Africa."
Iraq War advocacy
Regarding the "pre-emptive" invasion of Iraq, in 2002 Ledeen criticized the views of former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, writing: "He fears that if we attack Iraq "I think we could have an explosion in the Middle East. It could turn the whole region into a cauldron and destroy the War on Terror." "One can only hope that we turn the region into a cauldron, and faster, please. If ever there were a region that richly deserved being cauldronized, it is the Middle East today. If we wage the war effectively, we will bring down the terror regimes in Iraq, Iran, and Syria, and either bring down the Saudi monarchy or force it to abandon its global assembly line to indoctrinate young terrorists." "That's our mission in the war against terror."
Ledeen specifically called for the deposition of Saddam Hussein's regime by force in 2002:
- So it's good news when Scowcroft comes out against the desperately needed and long overdue war against Saddam Hussein and the rest of the terror masters.
- Question #2: Okay, well if we are all so certain about the dire need to invade Iraq, then when do we do so?
- Ledeen: Yesterday.
Ledeen's statements prior to the start of the Iraq war such as "desperately needed and long overdue war against Saddam Hussein" and "dire need to invade Iraq" caused Glenn Greenwald to label his later statement that he "opposed the military invasion of Iraq before it took place" to be an "outright lie". However, Ledeen maintains these statements are consistent since: "I opposed the military invasion of Iraq before it took place and I advocated—as I still do—support for political revolution in Iran as the logical and necessary first step in the war against the terror masters."
Views on Iran
Ledeen is a long-time foe of Iran. He believed that invading the country should have been the first priority in the "war on terror" in 2003 rather than Iraq. He believes that “everything traces back to Tehran” and that Iran manipulates both sides of the Shi’ite-Sunni conflict, leading reviewer Peter Beinart to note that his “effort to lay virtually every attack by Muslims against Americans at Tehran’s feet takes him into rather bizarre territory.” The New York Times describes Ledeen's views as "everything traces back to Tehran". Ledeen's phrase, "faster, please" has become a signature meme in Ledeen's writings (it is currently the title of his blog on the Pajamas Media website) and is often referenced by neoconservative writers advocating a more forceful and broader "war on terror." In 1979, Ledeen was one of the first Western writers to argue that Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini was a "clerical fascist", and that while it was legitimate to criticize the Shah's regime, if Khomeini seized power in Iran the Iranian people would suffer an even greater loss of freedom and women would be deprived of political and social rights. He presently believes that "No one in the West has yet supported Iranian democratic organizations" and that "aggressive support for those Iranians who wish to be free" would most likely work in ending the clerical government.
According to Justin Raimondo, Ledeen "holds up Bill Clinton and Madeleine Albright as patsies for Khomeini—who supposedly believed that the Ayatollah overthrew Shah Reza Pahlavi because the Iranian government was 'excessively repressive and intolerant.' While it would not do to come right out and deny the savagery of the Shah's legendary SAVAK secret police, Ledeen informs us that, under the monarch's beneficent rule, 'Iran had become too modern, too tolerant—especially of women and of other religious faiths—and too self-indulgent. The shah had Westernized Iran'—except, perhaps, in his prisons, where the ancient methods of torture were routinely employed on dissidents of all sorts."
Ledeen is currently against both an invasion of Iran or air-strikes within the country. He has argued that the latter may eventually become necessary if negotiations with the Iranian government fail, but it would only be the least bad option of many options and it would lead to many negative unforeseen consequences. The New York Times has called Ledeen's skepticism towards military action against Iran surprising given his opposition to the regime. In October 2007, Ledeen argued that:
- "Those who believe that I am part of some "hawkish gang" just haven't noticed that I am opposed to invasion or bombing the nuclear facilities. My fear is that, by failing to promote a non-violent democratization of Iran, we make large-scale violence much more likely."
- "In any event, time will tell, and I share the fear of most commenters [sic] that we will indeed arrive at a horrible choice between Iran with the bomb, or bomb Iran, as Sarkozy and Kouchner have put it. And if that happens, it will demonstrate a terrible failure on the part of the West, including the United States, to craft a serious Iran policy lo these many years."
In July 2016 Ledeen co-authored with Lt. General Michael T. Flynn, at the time Donald Trump’s national-security adviser, The Field of Fight: How We Can Win the Global War Against Radical Islam and Its Allies. Flynn and Ledeen constructed a narrative in which the world is at war with a "great evil" and Iran is the central player on the enemy side.
Ledeen also believed that Iran is the main backer of the insurgency in Iraq and even supported the al-Qaida network formerly led by al-Zarqawi despite its declaration of jihad against Shi'ite Muslims. He claimed that German and Italian court documents showed Zarqawi created a European terrorist network while based in Tehran.
Ledeen was a board member of the "Coalition for Democracy in Iran" (CDI), founded by Morris Amitay, a former Executive Director of American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Ledeen had also been part of the board of the U.S. Committee for a Free Lebanon. According to the Washington Post, quoted by Asia Times, he was the only full-time international affairs analyst regularly consulted by Karl Rove, George W. Bush's closest advisor.
Following the February 2003 speech by French Minister for Foreign Affairs Dominique de Villepin at the United Nations General Assembly against the intervention in Iraq, Ledeen outlined, in a column entitled "A Theory," a possibility that France and Germany, both NATO allies of the United States, "struck a deal with radical Islam and with radical Arabs" to use "extremism and terrorism as the weapon of choice" to weaken the United States. He stated, "It sounds fanciful, to be sure," but that, "If this is correct, we will have to pursue the war against terror far beyond the boundaries of the Middle East, into the heart of Western Europe. And there, as in the Middle East, our greatest weapons are political: the demonstrated desire for freedom of the peoples of the countries that oppose us." See also: Eurabia
Jonah Goldberg, Ledeen's colleague at National Review, coined the term "Ledeen Doctrine" in a 2002 column. This tongue-in-cheek "doctrine" is usually summarized as "Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business," which Goldberg remembered Ledeen saying in an early 1990s speech.
Ledeen has also advocated that U.S. leaders take a stronger rhetorical stance in wars on Islamic regimes and militant groups. For instance he has recommended in public talks that U.S. leaders question or challenge defeated Islamic militaries or forces regarding the apparent failure of Allah to assure their victory.
Ledeen was born in Los Angeles, California. He is married to his second wife, Barbara. His first wife was Jenny Ledeen of St. Louis, Mo. Ledeen has three children: Simone, Gabriel, and Daniel. Simone has worked both in Iraq and Afghanistan for the Department of Defense; Gabriel is currently a Lieutenant in the United States Marines Corps serving his second tour in Iraq; Daniel too is currently a Lieutenant in the USMC.
Ledeen is an accomplished contract bridge player. He has won one American Contract Bridge League national-level tournament, the 2009 Senior Swiss Teams, on a team-of-four with Karen Allison, Lea Dupont and Benito Garozzo. He has also partnered Jimmy Cayne, who was the oldest CEO on Wall Street when he oversaw the collapse of Bear Stearns firm in 2007 and 2008. Consulted by a New York Times journalist early in the episode, Ledeen suggested that his book on the leadership lessons of Machiavelli had influenced Cayne, and observed that "Jimmy saw himself in Machiavelli ... you have to get rid of failure and you have to punish lack of virtue ruthlessly and all the time."
- Universal Fascism; the Theory and Practice of the Fascist International, 1928–1936, New York, H. Fertig, 1972
- co-written with Renzo De Felice Fascism: An Informal Introduction To Its Theory And Practice, New Brunswick, N.J. : Transaction Books, 1976 ISBN 0-87855-190-5.
- "Renzo De Felice and the Controversy over Italian Fascism" pages 269–283 from Journal of Contemporary History, Volume 11, 1976.
- The First Duce: D'Annunzio at Fiume, Baltimore; London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1977 ISBN 0-8018-1860-5.
- Italy In Crisis, Beverly Hills [Calif.]: Sage publications, 1977 ISBN 0-8039-0792-3.
- co-written with George Mosse "Intervista sul Nazismo", Rome-Bari, Laterza, 1977
- co-written with William Lewis Debacle, The American Failure in Iran, Vintage Books; 1st Vintage Books ed edition (1982) ISBN 0-394-75182-5
- Grave New World, New York: Oxford University Press, 1985 ISBN 0-19-503491-0.
- West European Communism and American Foreign Policy, New Brunswick, N.J., U.S.A.: Transaction Books, 1987 ISBN 0-88738-140-5.
- Perilous Statecraft: An Insider's Account of the Iran-Contra Affair, New York: Scribner, 1988 ISBN 0-684-18994-1.
- Superpower Dilemmas: the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. at Century's End, New Brunswick, U.S.A.: Transaction Publishers, 1992 ISBN 0-88738-891-4.
- Freedom Betrayed: How America Led a Global Democratic Revolution, Won the Cold War, and Walked Away, Washington, D.C.: AEI Press, 1996 ISBN 0-8447-3992-8.
- Machiavelli on Modern Leadership: Why Machiavelli's Iron Rules Are As Timely and Important Today as Five Centuries Ago, New York: Truman Talley Books/St. Martin's Press, 1999 ISBN 0-312-20471-X.
- The War against The Terror Masters: Why It Happened, Where We Are Now, How We'll Win, New York: St. Martin's Press, 2002 ISBN 0-312-30644-X.
- The Iranian Time Bomb: The Mullah Zealots' Quest for Destruction. Truman Talley Books, 2007. ISBN 0-312-37655-3. ISBN 978-0-312-37655-0.
- Obama's Betrayal of Israel, New York: Encounter Broadsides, 2010 ISBN 978-1594034626
- The Field of Fight: How We Can Win the Global War Against Radical Islam and Its Allies co-written with Lt. General Michael T. Flynn, New York: St. Martin's Press, 2016 ISBN 978-1-25010-622-3.
- Baum, David (2011). "Race, Antisemitism and the Renaissance in Racist Italy". In Zinguer, Llana. Hebraic Aspects of the Renaissance: Sources and Encounters. BRILL. p. 236. ISBN 978-9004212558.
- A. Danchev 'Ed.), The Irak war and Democratic politics, Routledge, 2004, p.38.
- "Ledeen Seems To Relish Iran Insider's Role," Charles R. Babcock. The Washington Post. Washington, D.C.: February 2, 1987. p. A1.
- "Flirting with Fascism", John Laughland, The American Conservative, 30 June 2003.
- A Theory, Michael Ledeen, National Review Online, March 10, 2003.
- Michael Ledeen; Arnaud de Borchgrave (1980-11-01). "Qaddafi, Arafat, and Billy Carter". The New Republic. pp. 19–21.
- Unger, Craig (July 2006). "The War They Wanted, the Lies They Needed". Vanity Fair. Retrieved 5 August 2013.
A 1985 investigation by Jonathan Kwitny in The Wall Street Journal reported that the New Republic article was part of a larger disinformation scam run by Ledeen and SISMI to tilt the election, and that “Billy Carter wasn’t the only one allegedly getting money from a foreign government.” According to Pazienza, Kwitny reported, Michael Ledeen had received at least $120,000 from SISMI in 1980 or 1981 for his work on Billygate and other projects. Ledeen even had a coded identity, Z-3, and had money sent to him in a Bermuda bank account, Pazienza said. Ledeen told the Journal that a consulting firm he owned, I.S.I., worked for SISMI and may have received the money. He said he did not recall whether he had a coded identity. Pazienza was subsequently convicted in absentia on multiple charges, including having used extortion and fraud to obtain embarrassing facts about Billy Carter. Ledeen was never charged with any crime, but he was cited in Pazienza’s indictment, which read, “With the illicit support of the SISMI and in collaboration with the well-known American ‘Italianist’ Michael Ledeen, Pazienza succeeded in extorting, also using fraudulent means, information … on the Libyan business of Billy Carter, the brother of the then President of the United States.”
- The War They Wanted, The Lies They Needed, Craig Unger, Vanity Fair, July 2006.
- U.S. Senate. Hearing before the Subcommittee on Security and Terrorism. Terrorism: Origins, Direction and Support. 97th Congress, 1st session. April 24, 1981.
- Mohr, C (1981-04-25). "Hearing on terror opens with warning on Soviet". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-12-17.
- Walsh, LE (1993-08-04). "Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters; volume I: "Investigations and Prosecution"". Washington, D.C.
- Ledeen, Michael Arthur (1988). Perilous statecraft: an insider's account of the Iran-Contra affair. New York: Scribner. ISBN 0-684-18994-1.
- Joshua Micah Marshall, Laura Rozen & Paul Glastris (September 2004). "'Iran-Contra II?,". Washington Monthly. Archived from the original on 2004-08-30.
- Andrew McCarthy and Mark R. Levin (28 July 2006). "Rolling Smear". National Review Online. Archived from the original on 19 August 2006.
- "Snowcroft Strikes Out". Archived from the original on September 15, 2009. Retrieved 2005-06-13., Michael Ledeen, National Review Online, August 6, 2002.
- To Invade Iraq or Not; That is the Question. Jamie Glazov, FrontPageMagazine.com, August 12, 2002.
- Glenn Greenwald: What do National Review, Rich Lowry, and the AEI have to say about Michael Ledeen's lie, Unclaimed Territory, November 5, 2006
- The Latest Disinformation from Vanity Fair Michael Ledeen, National Review Online, November 4, 2006
- Books on the Mideast. By Peter Beinart. The New York Times. Published September 9, 2007.
- Iran with the Bomb, or Bomb Iran: The Need for Regime Change. Michael A. Ledeen. Encyclopædia Britannica Blog. Published October 9th, 2007.
- Raimondo, Justin (2002-11-18) The War Against the World, The American Conservative
- United States Policy toward Iran. Michael A. Ledeen. American Enterprise Institute. Posted March 8, 2006
- Philip Giraldi: Iran Hawks Take the White House | The American Conservative, 9 February 2017
- Iran Connects the Dots, Michael Ledeen, National Review Online, June 9, 2006
- "Veteran neo-con advisor moves on Iran". Asia Times. June 26, 2003. Retrieved 2006-05-02.
- A Theory, Michael Ledeen, National Review Online, March 10, 2003
- Goldberg, Jonah (April 23, 2002). "Baghdad Delenda Est, Part Two". National Review.
-  Archived July 12, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
- Manley, Brent, Editor; Horton, Mark, Co-Editor; Greenberg-Yarbro, Tracey, Co-Editor; Rigal, Barry, Co-Editor (2011). The Official Encyclopedia of Bridge - Biographies and Results (compact disk) (7th ed.). Horn Lake, MS: American Contract Bridge League. p. 313. ISBN 978-0-939460-99-1.
- "Salvaging a Prudent Name". Landon Thomas, Jr. The New York Times. June 29, 2007. Retrieved 2014-05-20.
- Profile at International Analyst Network
- Interview with Ledeen, Front Page Magazine, conducted by Jamie Glazov, 30 December 2003.
- Appearances on C-SPAN
- A film clip "The Open Mind – An Insiders Account of the Iran-Contra Affair (1988)" is available at the Internet Archive
- Michael Arthur Ledeen at Library of Congress Authorities, with 23 catalog records