National Commentary

Nicholas F. Benton: Can You Spell Ahmadinejad?


Here we go again! The hysteria being pumped up across the U.S. over Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s speeches in New York this week follows the exact same script as the run-up to Bush’s horrendous invasion of Iraq in 2003. 

The “demonization” of Ahmadinejad in every quarter of American society, from supporters of Bush’s current military aggression to peace activists, human rights advocates, gays and religious minorities, is underscored by cheap shot insults and foul-mouthed taunts from influential quarters. Depictions and invective that would be considered baldly racist in other circumstances are fair game for the national orgy of piling on against this man.

As with the president of Columbia University’s classless remarks prior to Ahmadinejad’s speech there Monday, there is a form of virtual hysteria adrift in the land of commentators and lawmakers eager to outdo one another in their vile denunciations of this man. In fairness to him, while I disagree with him, he’s certainly not the first Islamic head of state to be less than enamored of Israel.   

I am no fan, but Ahmadinejad was elected by his people and, at minimum, out of respect for the people of Iran, if for no other reason, he should be afforded a modicum of basic etiquette. It is, frankly, astonishing to see how many petty pundits in this land feel complete license to dump on him as hard as they can.

Do they have no sense that they’re repeating the same national lemming run that was used to justify the regrettable Iraq invasion? Is everyone really this gullible and willing to be herded into such a fiasco again?   

As Virginia Senator Jim Webb said this week, concerning the Lieberman-Kyl Amendment endorsing the U.S. right to “combat and constrain” Iran, “Those who regret their vote five years ago to authorize military action in Iraq should think hard before supporting this approach, because, in my view, it has the same potential to do harm.”

Of the amendment, Webb said, “It could be read as a backdoor method of gaining Congressional validation for military action without one hearing and without serious debate.”

Yes, it seems that profound mistakes of even very recent history seem to be ignored by those condemned to repeat them.

With all the loud drumbeats pounding around Ahmadinejad, it has been hard for the American people to get any clear sense of what he actually said at Columbia or at the United Nations, unless one actually heard the speeches live.

For example, while the Washington Post couched his remarks about nuclear power as “defiant” and made no mention of his argument that Iran is a participating member of the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency committed to non-proliferation of nuclear weapons.

“All our nuclear activities are transparent, peaceful and under the watchful eyes of IAEA inspectors. Why then are there objections to our legally recognized rights? Which governments object to these rights? Governments that themselves benefit from nuclear energy and the fuel cycle. Some of them have abused nuclear technology for non-peaceful ends including the production of nuclear bombs, and some even have a bleak record of using them against humanity,” Ahmadinejad said.

No one has reported, either, that he’s said Iran has nothing to gain from adding to the instability inside Iraq, since it is not in Iran’s national interest to do so.

The point of his speech was to denounce the fact that when powerful aggressor nations of the world are brutally subjugating the weaker and poorer nations, the United Nations’ Security Council has been incapable of coming to the defense of the victimized nations because its membership is dominated by the aggressors.

Is he really such a monster for saying this? That focus, of course, did not come through in any reporting, and he’s simply characterized by everyone is little better than a terrorist. Of course, then leading U.S. officials tell us not to pay any attention to his words, because it’s only his “actions” that matter.

It is not a question of being for or against Ahmadinejad. It is a question of squaring reality with fierce attempts to skew and smokescreen. This is especially important when there are those in our nation’s leadership eager to send us into an even deadlier and far more ominous war.