Magazine article The American Conservative

Ahmadinejad's Transfer Credits

Magazine article The American Conservative

Ahmadinejad's Transfer Credits

Article excerpt

Rarely has such an irrelevant foreign politician generated so many headlines. And Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would never have received all the attention he did during his visit to New York, where he was invited to speak at Columbia University, had both sides of the Iran policy debate not decided to make him a symbol of their respective positions. This has raised his profile and invested him with a significance he could never have achieved on his own, since his official, constitutionally weak position gives him no real control over his country's foreign policy or military apparatus.

In trying to "engage" a demagogic figurehead, some faculty members at Columbia apparently wanted to defuse anti-Iranian jingoistic sentiment. One of the instructors instrumental in inviting Ahmadinejad, Professor Richard Bulliet, wrote in the Washington Post: "it was my hope that through listening to and observing the new bogeyman of American politics firsthand, the slide toward war that has been building in certain precincts of our executive branch and the media might be slowed." Rather, the visit played right into the hands of the Cheneys and Podhoretzes and undermined opponents of confrontation with Iran.

The entire episode and the arguments advanced in defense of the invitation have tied the legitimate idea of dialogue and, by extension, negotiation with Iran, to a widely detested figure. Ahmadinejad is so universally loathed in Western elite opinion that the host of the Columbia forum, university President Lee Bollinger, felt compelled to denounce his putative guest as a "petty and cruel dictator." Clearly, there was to be no dialogue. Propaganda was the order of the day for both participants. Ahmadinejad easily evaded or turned around every hostile question, just as he always does, all the while striking the pose of the aggrieved seeker after truth and lover of science. Asked about Holocaust denial, he spoke of his love of the Jewish people and the need for more extensive research into the historical question. Asked about the subjection of women in Iran, he referred to the superior respect shown to women.

Reinforcing the false image of Ahmadinejad as Hitler redivivus ruling Iran with an iron fist, Bollinger managed to appease slightly the warmongers who had been baying for his blood, but not without destructive result. For the exchange gave Ahmadinejad the platform and prestige he craves, which is bad enough for those who would like to see his brand of politics in Iran weakened. …

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