Ledeen, Michael A. 1941–

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Ledeen, Michael A. 1941–

(Michael Arthur Ledeen)


Born August 1, 1941, in Los Angeles, CA; son of J. Louis (an engineer) and Martha (a teacher) Ledeen; married Barbara Schlacter (a government official), July 16, 1973; children: three. Education: Pomona College, B.A., 1962; University of Wisconsin, M.S., Ph.D., 1969.


E-mail—[email protected]


Washington University, St. Louis, MO, began as instructor, became assistant professor of history, 1967-73; University of Rome, Rome, Italy, visiting professor, 1973-77; U.S. State Department, Washington, DC, special advisor to the secretary of state, 1981-82, consultant to the Office of the Secretary of Defense, 1982-86, consultant to under-secretary of political affairs, 1982-86, consultant to national security advisor to the president, 1982-86; American Enterprise Institute, resident Scholar in the Freedom Chair. Speaker on foreign policy at universities and other organizations. Associated with television and radio programs, including Public Broadcasting Service's News Hour, CNN's Larry King Live and Newsmaker, and C-Span's Bradley Lecture Machiavelli for Moderns.


Received fellowships from Foreign Area Fellowship Program, 1965, and Social Science Research Council, 1973; voted one of the 100 most popular speakers, Young Presidents Organization.



Universal Fascism: The Theory and Practice of the Fascist International, 1928-1936, Howard Fertig (New York, NY), 1971.

The First Duce: D'Annunzio at Fiume, Johns Hopkins University Press (Baltimore, MD), 1977, published as D'Annunzio: The First Duce, Transaction (New Brunswick, NJ), 2002.

(With William Lewis) Debacle: The American Failure in Iran, Knopf (New York, NY), 1981.

Grave New World: The Superpower Crisis of the 1980s, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1985.

Western European Communism and American Foreign Policy, Transaction (New Brunswick, NJ), 1987.

Perilous Statecraft: An Insider's Account of the Iran-Contra Affair, Scribner (New York, NY), 1988.

Superpower Dilemmas: The United States and the U.S. S.R. at Century's End, Transaction (New Brunswick, NJ), 1992.

Freedom Betrayed: How America Led a Global Democratic Revolution, Won the Cold War, and Walked Away, AEI (Washington, DC), 1996.

Machiavelli on Modern Leadership: Why Machiavelli's Iron Rules Are as Timely and Important Today as Five Centuries Ago, Truman Talley (New York, NY), 1999.

Tocqueville on American Character: Why Tocqueville's Brilliant Exploration of the American Spirit Is as Vital and Important Today as It Was Nearly Two Hundred Years Ago, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 2000.

The War Against the Terror Masters: Why It Happened, Where We Are Now, How We'll Win, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 2002.

The Iranian Time Bomb: The Mullah Zealots' Quest for Destruction, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 2007.

Executive editor, Washington Quarterly, 1977-81; foreign editor, American Spectator. Contributor to Wall Street Journal, Washington Times, National Review, International Economy, Commentary, National Interest, and New Republic.


Writer and political advisor Michael A. Ledeen has had a political career long plagued by controversy. As an academic, Ledeen originally specialized in modern Italian history but later switched to a more global sphere with his theories on international relations. He left academia to become a foreign policy advisor in the administration of President Ronald Reagan and also edited the Washington Quarterly, a conservative journal published under the auspices of Georgetown University. Ledeen often came under fire for the neo-conservative views presented in both his books and magazine articles, but his role in the Iran-Contra scandal of the late 1980s was his most controversial. He later wrote one of the first published volumes about the political debacle, 1988's Perilous Statecraft: An Insider's Account of the Iran-Contra Affair.

Ledeen exposes some of his political and social ideology in works revisiting the thoughts of two figures from centuries past—Niccolo Machiavelli, who lived in Italy from 1469 to 1527; and Alexis de Tocqueville, a French aristocrat who analyzed American life in the 1830s. Ledeen's Tocqueville on American Character: Why Tocqueville's Brilliant Exploration of the American Spirit Is as Vital and Important Today as It Was Nearly Two Hundred Years Ago was first published in 2000. The work recounts what Tocqueville observed while visiting America, and his philosophical opinions about what he saw. Tocqueville discussed, in part, religious, socially mobile people who were living in a democratic society and maintaining voluntary associations. A Publishers Weekly reviewer, who was disappointed in what he judged as an "unconvincing" work, remarked of Tocqueville on American Character: "There is far more summary of Tocqueville than analysis of contemporary America, and what analysis Ledeen does offer isn't compelling." A Kirkus Reviews contributor judged Tocqueville on American Character to be a "simplistic polemic that reduces de Tocqueville to jingoistic sloganeering." The "subtleties of de Tocqueville's analysis get short shrift here," continued the Kirkus Reviews critic. "Instead, Ledeen links arbitrary snippets to long, vacuous rants on a range of topical issues."

A year before Tocqueville on American Character, readers were given Ledeen's Machiavelli on Modern Leadership: Why Machiavelli's Iron Rules Are as Timely and Important Today as Five Centuries Ago. The 1999 publication profiles a man whose analysis of leadership is, in Ledeen's opinion, still a valid guide for judging leaders in the business, religious, government, and athletic sectors of the modern world. Machiavelli's standards for great leaders—which include solid strength in religious, legal, and military arenas—were used by Ledeen to analyze a variety of great figures of the late twentieth century, among them Pope John Paul II, U.S. president Bill Clinton, U.S. military leader Colin Powell, Microsoft's Bill Gates, and professional basketball player Michael Jordan. "To Machiavelli—and to Ledeen—strength is the true bedrock of leadership, the bringer of order and liberty, peace and stability. Strength can be badly misused by evil individuals; but the best intentions in the world will be meaningless in its absence," related Noemie Emery in a National Review assessment. "To Ledeen, one must strike an enemy with all the force needed to obtain the objective; to do less than that is immoral." An "impotent leader" in the opinion of "Ledeen-Machiavellian" is, indicated Emery, someone "who wants to be loved, not feared." "Ledeen's opinions of Machiavelli's philosophy sometimes overshadow the principles themselves," faulted Black Enterprise contributor Kirk Charles, who also claimed that at times Ledeen's individual assessments "lack depth." However, Charles felt Machiavelli on Modern Leadership is a worthwhile read.

Ledeen first achieved recognition for his 1971 study of 1920s and 1930s fascism in Italy while he was an assistant professor at Washington University in St. Louis. This first book, Universal Fascism: The Theory and Practice of the Fascist International, 1928-1936, is a volume chronicling the push in Italy to create an international network of fascist political organizations. The ideals of the movement, which advocated strong right-wing leadership and the merging of business and government interests combined with nationalist fervor, were common to Europe at the time (as evidenced by the rise of Adolf Hitler's National Socialist Party in Germany). In the book, Ledeen examines the origins and development of fascist groups and theorizes about their support among the Italian people. A Times Literary Supplement critic questioned the validity of Ledeen's emphasis on the importance of young Italian intellectuals in creating a universal fascism, but noted that "there is much of interest and curiosity" in the volume.

Ledeen left his position at Washington University after unsubstantiated charges of plagiarism were directed against him. He moved to Italy and taught at the University of Rome while writing another book, The First Duce: D'Annunzio at Fiume, a 1977 work that examines the roots of Italian fascism. The volume analyzes the 1919 Italian occupation of Fiume, an Adriatic seaport in what is now Croatia, under the leadership of Italian poet and playwright Gabriele D'Annunzio. Ledeen labels D'Annunzio as the first Duce, referring to the 1922 through 1943 Fascist regime of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, who proclaimed himself "Il Duce," or "The Chief." Ledeen dissects D'Annunzio's role in Fiume and notes that D'Annunzio's use of symbolic language and gesture were later adopted successfully by Mussolini. Ledeen proposes that D'Annunzio's winning oratorical style helped smooth over class divisions to win initial support of the regime; he then analyzes the early success, but ultimate failure, of the occupation. Critics of The First Duce noted that the book's title is a misnomer, since Ledeen primarily concentrates on demonstrating the differences—not the similarities—between D'Annunzio and Mussolini, as well as the divergent outcome of their regimes. Paul Corner in the Times Literary Supplement pointed to what he perceived as Ledeen's factual errors and general lack of serious scholarship, concluding that "Ledeen relies too often on assertion rather than on reasoned argument…. The First Duce is very much under-researched."

The conservative periodical for which Ledeen was executive editor, Washington Quarterly, published in the spring of 1980 an article written by Ledeen with former State Department Middle-East expert William Lewis. The article, which was on the mishandling of the Iranian political crisis in the late 1970s, grew into the 1981 volume Debacle: The American Failure in Iran. The book is a comprehensive examination of the failure of President Jimmy Carter's administration to successfully manage relations with Iran during the political strife. The crisis culminated in 1979 with Iran's seizure of American government employees; the hostages were held inside the U.S. Embassy until early 1981 by revolutionary forces that had taken over the country.

Debacle sketches a history of U.S. relations with the oil-rich Middle Eastern monarchy over three decades. According to the book, the United States' goal in establishing friendly ties to Iran was to maintain an ally whose borders touched those of the Soviet Union. Through generous aid bestowed on the regime of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, favorable arms deals, and American advisors to train the Iranian army and police force, the United States hoped to fortify its relationship with Iran's leader. Ledeen and Lewis, however, point to the deterioration of the Shah's power, which began in the 1970s, and provide examples of his missteps and political blunders that ultimately led to the rise of a revolutionary movement in Iran. In a quest to modernize Iran, the Shah had initiated numerous large-scale projects that displaced thousands of his people, thereby creating general discontent in Iranian society, which coupled with a hostility to any foreign presence. The Shah's near-dictatorship and the regime's general disregard for human rights estranged both Iranian intellectuals and the middle classes, paving the way for an overthrow of the Shah by revolutionary forces headed by religious leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

The authors culled their research from government documents and anonymous interviews with State Department employees that provide insight into the foreign policy-making establishment in Washington, DC. Debacle divulges the failure of United States intelligence services to ascertain that the Shah was terminally ill, a factor which played a key role in his indifferent conduct during the last months of his leadership. A final chapter in the book offers suggestions and guidelines for avoiding such a disastrous turn of events in the future. The authors point out why an absence of policy and an indecisive administration is a potential time bomb where both American allies and enemies are concerned.

The main thesis of Debacle asserts that U.S. foreign policy failed to realize the potential danger in Iran during the 1970s. Ledeen and Lewis's research shows that while the Shah awaited orders from the Carter administration to launch a full-scale military assault on Khomeini and his revolutionaries, the State Department did not see the situation as particularly grave or requiring any type of outside intervention; this error, the authors assert, was compounded by a lack of formal policy guidelines. "Ledeen and Lewis are able to show vividly how a consistent policy was at every turn aborted by internal division and an inability to agree on an analysis of the Iranian crisis," declared Shaul Bakhash in a New York Review of Books article. Bakhash suggested, however, that the authors "do not perhaps sufficiently appreciate the difficulties that must have confronted officials in Washington attempting to work out a coherent American policy against the background of the increasingly anarchic situation in Iran." The waffling and paralysis that plagued the White House and Pentagon advisors, as well as the fractiousness that had split them into opposing camps, was, according to Bakhash, "between those who believed the Shah should crush the opposition and those who argued he should be encouraged to compromise with it; between those who felt the Shah should be supported at all costs, and those who felt nothing could be done to save him."

Other reviews of Debacle were similarly mixed. Gaddis Smith, writing in the New York Times Book Review, maintained that the critical "analysis lacks historical depth," yet still admitted that Ledeen and Lewis factually "summarize the fatal flaws in the late Shah's policies and character, accurately depicting his simultaneous alienation of almost every segment of Iranian society." Smith concluded that the authors' "indictment of procedural bungling and intellectual confusion is persuasive…. Here was a sorry chapter in the history of American diplomacy." In his lengthy article on Debacle for the New York Review of Books, Bakhash found fault with minor factual errors and with "recommendations that ignore the depth and seriousness of the problems" but praised the sections on the Shah's years as "informed, stringent—and devastating…. On the whole, it is a story that Ledeen and Lewis … tell with clarity and generally with concision."

Grave New World: The Superpower Crisis of the 1980s is Ledeen's 1985 examination of geopolitical strife and his prescription for change. At the time of the book's publication, the economically deprived Soviet Union remained firmly entrenched in a Communist-based opposition to the United States. Grave New World contains a brief analysis of the former Soviet Union, its leadership crisis, and the fiscal strategies that influenced its foreign policy. Ledeen presents a more comprehensive assessment of America's foreign policy inadequacies. He disparages the lack of an elite policymaking class, as pointed out by a Publishers Weekly critic, finding U.S. officials "often underprepared, unrealistic and too easily swayed by distorted coverage of events." Ledeen cites the "disruptive influence" of the media, of public opinion, and even of the judicial system. As quoted by William E. Griffith in the New York Times Book Review, Ledeen proposes "two main remedies" consisting of "some sort of ‘watch-dog’ body for the media … with authority to require prominently placed corrections and apologies," and an "institution … for foreign policy and overall strategy, including (although not limited to) distinguished figures from other allied countries" to advise the State Department. In the New Republic, Timothy Garton Ash pointed out that some of Ledeen's proposals are far astray from the very principles of democracy. Ash stated moreover that "most of his specific arguments … seem confused and inadequate," and that Ledeen's discussion is inconsistent, presenting "two views [that] are diametrically opposed."

Ledeen next wrote Western European Communism and American Foreign Policy, a 1987 volume that discusses the influence of communist parties, particularly in Italy, in shaping U.S. strategy. He argues that a hostile stance to all forms of communism is imperative in crafting foreign policy. This volume appeared in the midst of the publicity surrounding Ledeen's involvement in the Iran-Contra affair. A Choice critic called the book "forceful, and often disarmingly charming."

Perilous Statecraft is Ledeen's 1988 chronicle of his role in the Iran-Contra affair. He recounts his initial contact with Iranian businessman Manucher Ghorbanifar in late 1985, a meeting that set in motion an arms shipment and the subsequent release of a hostage. The book levels charges of poor judgment by many of those involved, including then-President Ronald Reagan, whom Ledeen portrays as obsessed with getting American hostages released at any cost. Ledeen recites the errors made by several departments—from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to the National Security Council—and asserts the entire maneuver was ultimately a mistake.

Reviewers pointed out that some of Ledeen's assertions contrast dramatically with his sworn Senate testimony. For example, in Perilous Statecraft, Ledeen maintains that when he first briefed CIA officials, he cautioned them in dealing with Iran; the country's lust for arms, Ledeen told them, coupled with its unlikely willingness to assist in getting hostages released, should be met with wariness. Yet Ledeen testified to the Senate committee that he suggested to CIA officials that Iran's appetite for arms should be exploited to maximum advantage. Walter Pincus of the Washington Post Book World granted that although the book and Ledeen's testimony "provide some interesting pieces in a far from completed puzzle," the author "never quite describes just what he did during those years." New York Times Book Review critic Fox Butterfield observed that while the tome "is an often self-serving account" that "should be read with caution," Perilous Statecraft offers "some important historical nuggets," and provides "bizarre new details, as well as haunting confirmation of why the episode will go down as one of the most futile in American diplomatic history."

In his 2007 book, The Iranian Time Bomb: The Mullah Zealots' Quest for Destruction, Ledeen makes his case for a different, much bolder approach to America's policy toward the Islamic republic. In the first part of the book, he presents data to support this position, including evidence that the Shiite regime in Iran has been in cahoots with al-Qaeda and other Sunni terrorist organizations. Ledeen believes that the Iranian government is responsible for the training of al-Qaeda operatives, funded the 1998 embassy bombings in Africa, sheltered terrorists after the invasion of Afghanistan, and is now responsible for placing al-Qaeda operatives in Iraq. The last third of the book addresses ways to strengthen America's policy toward Iran. "While he may overestimate the potential for regime change in the near future, Ledeen's suggestions merit further discussion," observed a critic in a review of The Iranian Time Bomb for Publishers Weekly. A reviewer for Kirkus Reviews observed of the book that it is "debatable, to be sure—but an urgent, interesting take on current geopolitics."

Ledeen once told CA: "It will be impossible for anyone who does not know me well to reconstruct my career, since so much has been written about me. I have striven in recent years to outline the requirements for a serious American foreign policy."



Ledeen, Michael, Grave New World: The Superpower Crisis of the 1980s, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1985.


Black Enterprise, February, 2000, Kirk Charles, "Wise Old Words," p. 80.

Choice, September, 1988, review of Western European Communism and American Foreign Policy, p. 214.

International Wire, July 19, 2004, "Interview with Michael Ledeen."

Kirkus Reviews, June 1, 2000, review of Tocqueville on American Character: Why Tocqueville's Brilliant Exploration of the American Spirit Is as Vital and Important Today as It Was Nearly Two Hundred Years Ago, p. 771; July 15, 2007, review of The Iranian Time Bomb: The Mullah Zealots' Quest for Destruction.

National Review, July 26, 1999, Noemie Emery, "Prince or Pollster?," p. 54.

New Republic, May 6, 1985, Timothy Garton Ash, review of Grave New World: The Superpower Crisis of the 1980s, pp. 31-34.

New Yorker, October 21, 1985, review of Grave New World, pp. 150-151.

New York Review of Books, May 14, 1981, Shaul Bakhash, review of Debacle: The American Failure in Iran, pp. 17-22.

New York Times Book Review, April 26, 1981, Gaddis Smith, review of Debacle, p. 13; January 10, 1982, review of Debacle, p. 35; May 19, 1985, William E. Griffith, review of Grave New World, p. 24; November 27, 1988, Fox Butterfield, Perilous Statecraft: An Insider's Account of the Iran-Contra Affair, p. 10.

Perspectives on Political Science, winter, 2000, Mark P. Lagon, review of Tocqueville on American Character, p. 45.

Publishers Weekly, January 18, 1985, review of Grave New World, p. 68; June 5, 2000, review of Tocqueville on American Character, p. 84; July 30, 2007, review of The Iranian Time Bomb, p. 72.

Times Literary Supplement, March 2, 1973, review of Universal Fascism: The Theory and Practice of the Fascist International, 1928-1936, p. 226; September 29, 1978, Paul Corner, review of The First Duce: D'Annunzio at Fiume, p. 1098.

Washington Post Book World, October 16, 1988, Walter Pincus, review of Perilous Statecraft, pp. 5-6.


American Enterprise Institute,http://www.aei.org/ (August 2, 2000), profile of author.