Michael Ledeen

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Michael Arthur Ledeen (Ph.D.) is considered to be a neo-conservative. Ledeen was a Ronald Reagan appointee and is outspoken on U.S. foreign policy. He worked as a consultant to the National Security Council, Department of State (81-82), and Department of Defense (82-86).

Other Affiliations

"Total War" Advocate

Although many Americans had not heard of Michael Ledeen, a May 9, 2003, Pacific News Service article reported that Ledeen is one of President George W. Bush's "most agressive foreign policymakers."

Ledeen is "a former employee of the Pentagon, the State Department and the National Security Council. As a consultant working with NSC head Robert McFarlane, he was involved in the transfer of arms to Iran during the Iran-Contra affair -- an adventure that he documented in the book Perilous Statecraft: An Insider's Account of the Iran-Contra Affair. His most influential book is last year's [2002] The War Against the Terror Masters: Why It Happened. Where We Are Now. How We'll Win.

"Ledeen's ideas are repeated daily by such figures as Richard Cheney, Donald H. Rumsfeld and Paul Dundes Wolfowitz. His views virtually define the stark departure from American foreign policy philosophy that existed before the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001. He basically believes that violence in the service of the spread of democracy is America's manifest destiny. Consequently, he has become the philosophical legitimator of the American occupation of Iraq."

Ledeen also has called for "regime change beyond Iraq" and believes that it is also "time for a free Iran, free Syria and free Lebanon.'

"With a group of other conservatives, Ledeen recently [2003] set up the Coalition for Democracy in Iran (CDI), an action group focusing on producing regime change in Iran.

"Quotes from Ledeen's works reveal a peculiar set of beliefs about American attitudes toward violence. 'Change -- above all violent change -- is the essence of human history,' he proclaims in his book, Machiavelli on Modern Leadership: Why Machiavelli's Iron Rules Are as Timely and Important Today as Five Centuries Ago. In an influential essay in the National Review Online [4] he asserts, 'Creative destruction is our middle name. We do it automatically ... it is time once again to export the democratic revolution.'

"Ledeen has become the driving philosophical force behind the neoconservative movement and the military actions it has spawned. His 1996 book, Freedom Betrayed; How the United States Led a Global Domocratic Revolution, Won the Cold War, and Walked Away, reveals the basic neoconservative obsession: the United States never 'won' the Cold War; the Soviet Union collapsed of its own weight without a shot being fired. Had the United States truly won, democratic institutions would be sprouting everywhere the threat of Communism had been rife.

"Consequently, Ledeen has excoriated both the State Department and the United Nations for their preference for diplomatic solutions to conflict; and the CIA for equivocating on evidence that would condemn 'America's enemies' and justify militant action.

"'No one I know wants to wage war on Iran and Syria, but I believe there is now a clear recognition that we must defend ourselves against them,' Ledeen wrote on May 6 in the Toronto Globe and Mail.

"Though he appears on conservative outlets like the Fox television network, Ledeen has not been singled out for much media attention by the Bush administration, despite his extensive influence in Washington. His views may be perceived as too extreme for most Americans, who prefer to think of the United States as pursuing violence only when attacked and manifesting primarily altruistic goals toward other nations."


Quote from Foundation for Democracy in Iran web site: 31 Oct. 2001: "American Enterprise Institute scholar Michael Ledeen, writing in the Wall Street Journal on Oct. 31, believes the ongoing anti-regime demonstrations in Iran, which have been widely ignored by the Western press, constitute 'an event of world-historical potential' that are 'unprecedented in the history of the Islamic Republic.'"

Michael Ledeen's role in the Reagan administration

In the book Reagan Presidency, Michael Ledeen described his role in the Reagan administration thus: "I was a kind of intelligence courier for the White House: I would go and talk to various people in Europe. There are certain kinds of conversations that an American president will want to carry on outside of official channels. I carried some of those private messages. My other responsibility was that I worked with [Oliver] North on counter-terrorism. I read all the intelligence on terrorism, and North and I would discuss it." [5] [6] (ISBN 1574885839 page 83)

Ledeen's Role in "Billygate" Affair

In articles in The New Republic (1979 and 1980) and others reprinted in the Atlantic Constitution and Now (a UK magazine), Ledeen, then opinion editor for Washington Quarterly, accused the President's brother, Billy Carter, of having met with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and George Habash, a PLO military leader, in Libya in Oct. 1978. Ledeen's article also accused Carter of having accepted loans and expense money from the Libyans. "More Adventures of Billy Carter," TNR, Feb. 10, 1979; "Preposterous Emissaries," TNR, Aug. 2, 1980

In an "unusal public deposition" to counsel of a Senate subcommittee investigating Billy Carter's ties to with Libya, Ledeen testified that he believed the president's brother was "one pawn in an ambitious influence-peddling scheme." Ledeen told Senate investigators that his sole source for the information was Michele Papa, a Sicilian lawyer who Ledeen claimed was a Libyan agent. Billy Carter denied meeting Arafat and having received a $50,000 payment from the Libyans. "Billy Source Described," The Washington Post, Oct. 29, 1980, p. A-4

Various sources have repeated charges that far from merely reporting on Billy Carter's meetings in Libya, Ledeen collaborated with Italian intelligence sources to use Billy Carter's ill-conceived trip to Libya to create an "influence peddling scandle."

  • "With the illicit support of the SISMI [Italian Defense Secret Service] and in collaboration with the well-known American 'Italianist' Michael Ledeen, Pazienza succeeded in extorting, also using fraudulent means, information -- then published with great evidence in the international press -- on the Libyan business of Billy Carter, the brother of the then-president of the United States." [ From the indictment of Francesco Pazienza as reported in "Tale of Intrigue: How an Italian Ex-Spy Who Also Helped U.S. Landed in Prison Here," Jonathan Kwitny, The Wall Street Journal, Aug 7, 1985 ]

Ties to Italian Intelligence

Testimony in the trial of Francesco Pazienza and statements by top intelligence officials before the Italian parliament revealed that Ledeen performed work for SISME, the Italian Intelligence Service, and had dealings with Pazienza in addition to their collaboration on the Billygate affair.

Federico Umberto D'Amato, a top Italian security official known as "the J. Edgar Hoover of Italy," testified before parliament in 1982 that "Ledeen had collaborated with the Italian services" and that Ledeen and two former CIA agents taught Italian agents. Gen. Giuseppe Santovito, the head of SISMI and Mr. Pazienza's superior at the time, gave similar testimony. Mr. Pazienza said Ledeen received at least $120,000, at least some of which was paid into a Bermuda bank account. Ledeen denied providing training to SISMI.

Ledeen said he had performed a "risk analysis" project for SISMI and may have received $100,000 and travel expenses. He said he believed he had a personal account in Bermuda for a period of months.

Mr. Pazienza said that he and Ledeen in 1980 and 1981 also were involved in creating a direct link between some U.S. supporters of Ronald Reagan and the right wing of the then-ruling Christian Democratic Party in Italy. Ledeen and Pazienza worked as a middleman between Italian leaders and the incoming Reagan administration, bypassing normal Italian-American diplomatic channels. D'Amato provided a similar account in his testimony to parliament. Richard Gardner, the America Ambassador to Rome at the time said that Pazienza and Ledeen were "freelancers with questionable credentials" who "substituted" for the embassy and caused "great problems."

[ Tale of Intrigue: Why an Italian Spy Got Closely Involved In the Billygate Affair," Jonathan Kwitny, The Wall Street Journal, Aug 8, 1985 ]

Dewey Clarridge On Michael Ledeen and "The Terror Network"

In 1980, Ledeen used his connections with the newly elected Reagan administration to promote author Claire Sterling's claims of a vast Soviet-controlled terror network.

Duane R. Clarridge, a longtime CIA field agent (NE & SE Asia) and administrator who was pardoned by George H.W. Bush for his role in the Iran-Contra affair, describes Michael Ledeen as a "fine journalist," "a scholar," and a friend. However, he comments that their friendship had a "rocky start." Clarridge wrote that Ledeen made "life difficult for us [the CIA]". He noted that the CIA took a "dim view" of individuals such Ledeen and retired CIA officer Theodore Shackley who freelanced with foreign intelligence services. In 1980, Ledeen and Shackley teamed up to provide "war games-type training" for European intelligence services, including Italy's intelligence service.
Clarridge explains that Ledeen's damage to Jimmy Carter's presidential campaign by "trumpeting of the Billy/Qaddifi relationship" earned the appreciation of Alexander Haig and other prominent Republicans. Clarridge wrote that Ledeen further aggravated the CIA by becoming an unofficial conduit between Haig and General Giuseppe Santovito, head of the Italian Military Service (SISMI).
Clarridge noted that Ledeen shared the views of Claire Sterling. Sterling contended in his 1980 book "The Terror Network" that the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc "extensively sponsored and trained the Red Brigades and other terrorist organizations." Clarridge commented that the book "implied (without documentation) that the Italian intelligence services -- people such as Santovito -- knew this and were sitting on the information."
When Santovito was in Washington on a trip organized by Ledeen, Clarridge describes going uninvited to the Watergate Hotel intercept Santovito in the lobby before Santovito left for the State Department to meet with Haig. Clarridge believed Haig was looking to Santovito for "evidence of Soviet or Eastern Bloc collusion in the activities of the Red Brigades." Clarridge recalls saying "Look, General, you know as well as I do that you have absolutely no evidence of any Soviet or Eastern Bloc involvement in training or guiding the Red Brigades. Isn't that true?" Santovito replied "Yes, that's true." [ "A Spy For All Seasons: My Life in the CIA," Duane R. Clarridge, Scribner, 1997, pgs. 187-189. ]
Clarridge notes that in 1987, as he was retiring from the agency after being formally reprimanded, it was his friend Ledeen who used connections with a prominent General Dynamics shareholder to introduce Clarridge to the General Dynamic executives who offered him a position at the company. [ pg. 395 ]

Ledeen and the 'total war' misattributed quote

The following quotation has been widely misattributed to Ledeen: "If we are going to win a total victory in the war on terrorism while deterring other major wars around the globe, we will first have to rid ourselves of our aversion to total war. By 'total' war, I mean the kind of warfare that not only destroys the enemy's military forces, but also brings the enemy society to an extremely personal point of decision, so that they are willing to accept a reversal of the cultural trends that spawned the war in the first place. A total-war strategy does not have to include the intentional targeting of civilians, but the sparing of civilian lives cannot be its first priority... The purpose of 'total' war is to permanently force your will onto another people group... [T]otal war pits nation against nation, even culture against culture."

In fact, the quotation is from another National Review columnist, Adam G. Mersereau [7]. Ledeen is justifiably angry about the misattribution, and blamed a Brown University professor, William Beeman, for it [8]. Brown has admitted the error and apologized [9]. The misattribution has been widely repeated on the Internet [10].

However, Ledeen has advocated total war, although not in such offensive terms. In a 2003 essay for the American Enterprise Institute, he wrote: "There is every reason to believe we will succeed in revolutionizing the Middle East, for we have always excelled at destroying tyrannies.... We wage total war, because we fight in the name of an idea -- freedom -- and ideas either triumph or fail." [11]

Ledeen on the importance of America being able to "efficiently dominate subject peoples"

Michael Ledeen wrote the introduction to "From Caesar to the Mafia - Persons, Places and Problems in Italian life" by Luigi Barzini. Ledeen admiringly quotes a passage from the book:

This... is the problem of many successful republics, whose simple virtues make them strong enough, at one point, to conquer other people and assume imperial responsibilities. How can men, who are dedicated to liberty and the defense of their own independence, efficiently dominate subject peoples, without damning their own soul?. [12]

Ledeen then makes this comment on Barzini's question:

And there, in two lovely sentences, is the conundrum the United States must solve if we are to have a second successive American Century. Luigi knew that. It's why he took the time to craft those lines. [13]

Memorable quotes

Michael Ledeen has complained:

"Most journalists these days consider it beneath their dignity to simply report the words of government officials – and let it go at that."

Edward Herman's comment about this statement was:

"Ledeen is wrong: most are quite content to serve as a conduit, but his statement illuminates the neo-conservative view of the role of the press in a free society!"

Both quotes from Edward Herman, Beyond Hypocrisy: Decoding the News in an Age of Propaganda, South End Press, 1992, p. 13.

SourceWatch resources

External links




Ledeen's books include Universal Fascism, which speaks favorably of fascism as a "revolutionary movement," and Gabrielle D'Annunzio, a glowing biography of the eccentric Italian fascist. [14]

By Michael Ledeen

Articles & Commentary