« Healthcare Starr | Main | Trend Pieces »

September 24, 2007


To state what's implicit in my earlier commentary on the Amedinejad interview a bit more clearly, we're letting Ahmadinejad win this game. America's dodging his invitations to talk, growing hysterical over his requests to lay a wreath at Ground Zero, and interviewing him in a way that makes our press look like White House puppets. This makes us look bad, not him.

It's not often mentioned, but the rest of the world does not evaluate all international interactions from a starting premise that America is right and its motivations pure. We actually have to convince them of that, particularly in the post-Iraq era. And we're failing. We're abetting Ahmadinejad's attempts to project a hugely disingenuous version of himself through our megaphone. Without us, he's in trouble: He's domestically unpopular, and fundamentally without a platform. With our opposition and apparent hatred for Tehran, he's Iran's champion against America, and he's outwitting us in the court of world opinion.

The fight, after all, is over who here is actually interested in peace. Ahmadinejad's argument is that Iran doesn't want nuclear weapons, doesn't want war, doesn't want international friction. Our argument is that we don't want Iran to have nukes, and won't talk to them. Most of the world -- and in particular, his people -- don't have a very good way of evaluating who's sincere. One good way for them to make a judgment would be to watch a high-level summit between America and Iran, wherein we offer all manner of inducements and security guarantees in return for a verifiable end to their atomic ambitions.

But we're not forcing him to refuse that offer. Indeed, we're not upping the stakes at all. Instead, we're letting him project the most basic and meaningless levels of "good faith" and refusing to set up any traps to expose its absence. Presumably, this is because we actually don't care about a weaponized Iran, as if we did, we'd do the things that would make such a future less likely, like talking to them, and offering incentives for behavior we'd prefer. But whatever our ultimate goals here, whatever the explanation for our odd stubborness on the nuclear issue even as we hold meetings with Iran on the future of Iraq (meetings we stomach despite our belief that they're killing our soldiers), we're letting Ahmadinejad easily lope past us in the propaganda war which strengthens his hand and weakens ours.

September 24, 2007 | Permalink


It seems to me that Ahmadinejad's purpose is to gain allies in America itself, particularly those on the left, hence the his reliance on left leaning talking points such as worry over domestic phone interecepts, when clearly that is not a principle he has shown to care about in his own country.

That of course doesn't invalidate those left leaning positions, but it should perhaps give pause to those who think that Ahmadinejad is a useful ally.

Posted by: Dave Justus | Sep 24, 2007 1:03:10 PM

Gee, Dave, maybe Ahmadinejad's "purpose" was simply to respond to the questions with the most obvious answers, points that are blindingly obvious to the rest of the world.

Posted by: chowchowchow | Sep 24, 2007 1:09:19 PM

It only counts as "weakening our hand" if our goal is to find a diplomatic solution that works for everybody. But the goal is to start a war, and the administration strategy of taking a "hard line" with Iran is succeeding at stirring up hawkish sentiment at home. As far as I can tell, the strategy is working perfectly. We have to remember that Iran was on the hitlist from the getgo (the "Axis of Evil" comes directly from "Rebuilding America's Defenses," after all) and that Iraq is about establishing bases from which to threaten Iran.

Posted by: Galen | Sep 24, 2007 1:10:13 PM

How did this become "us"?

Just because the Bush Administration, with its record of war crimes and lies, has decided that Ahmadinejad is Hitler, and Iran is Nazi Germany, does not mean that the rest of us should just go along.

In a world of sensible U.S. foreign policy, Iran would be wooed by the U.S. as a potential ally. Iranian democratic institutions and committment to modernization would attract us in exact proportion as Saudi medievalism and tyranny repelled.

In a world of sensible U.S. foreign policy, the Administration would actively support the President of Iran laying a wreath at Ground Zero, as well as speaking at Columbia University, because those gestures, and American hospitality toward them, reinforces the values "our" foreign policy is meant to promote.

Posted by: Bruce Wilder | Sep 24, 2007 1:13:55 PM

I don't think I've ever commented here, but Dave's comment pushed me over the edge. Ahmadinejad is delusional and definitely not an "ally" to the left. However, as the leader of a nation, he has very specific interests. His position, relative to the U.S. is pretty weak and as Wes Clark keeps pointing out we have a lot we can use to leverage him to satisfy our interests. But this dog-and-pony show we're undergoing (epitomized by Romney) weakens our hand in Iran (where Ahmadinejad isn't Mr. Popular) and the rest of the world, as Ezra points out.

Posted by: gqmartinez | Sep 24, 2007 1:17:53 PM


If 4th Amendment concerns are a "left leaning talking point," then this country is in worse shape than I thought.

Further, how do you really know what his concerns are in Iran? The American government is at least as unreliable as Ahmadinejad's when it comes to disseminating information about enemy nations. How many times must we find out that what we've been told about [USSR, Vietnam, China, various Latin American nations, Iraq, etc] is, at best, seriously twisted to serve the interests of the current Administration before we start to express serious skepticism? And this is a problem no matter what party controls the White House, even if Bush brings the practice to new lows.

those who think that Ahmadinejad is a useful ally.

I'd be really interested to see evidence of anyone in the USA that views Ahmadinejad as a "useful ally." That's certainly not Ezra's point in these posts.

Posted by: Stephen | Sep 24, 2007 1:20:20 PM

It's not often mentioned, but the rest of the world does not evaluate all international interactions from a starting premise that America is right and its motivations pure. We actually have to convince them of that, particularly in the post-Iraq era.

We would need to convince them of that if it were the case that Americans actually cared about such things. They don't and the press knows that. The press may appear to be blind to the realities of the rest of the world, but it's actually very important for their ratings that they start from the standpoint that America is right.

As liberals, we know (or at least we try to know) which policies would best serve the goal of peace. But Americans fundamentally aren't interested in something so grandiose. They just want to feel good about themselves and they certainly don't care to know the details of how policy works.

Posted by: Cody | Sep 24, 2007 1:26:53 PM

"Iranian democratic institutions ... In a world of sensible U.S. foreign policy, Iran would be wooed by the U.S. as a potential ally."

What? Iran is a theocracy, a mock-democracy headed by a lying madman; it founded and directly supports Hezbollah, a notorious international terrorist organization. As an added bonus, they are committed to the destruction of the only true democracy in the Middle East right now, Israel. Why would we possibly want them as our allies?

Posted by: HFS | Sep 24, 2007 1:27:24 PM

Dave, you're not saying anything any different than the people claiming liberals were "on Saddam Hussein's side" because they thought invading Iran was a bad idea.

There are two possibilities-- Ahmadinejad is acting like he would act under any circumstances as a leader of his country trying to deflect Bush's attacks. Or (b), he knows that the US has been engaged in a propaganda effort to make him look like an irrational loon in the model of what Kim Jong Il actually _is_, and he's using a Bushian "misunderestimate" strategy-- come across as semi-rational, putting lie to the administration's claim.

I don't think there's anyone who thinks Ahmadinejad is a "useful ally" (reference please, mr. justus? is this just a "some people say," thing?). Rather, the dispute is going to be over those who want to invade Iran and those who realize that some form of detente is going to be the most feasible policy here.

Posted by: Tyro | Sep 24, 2007 1:32:40 PM

In fairness to Ahmedinejad, at least some of his alleged beliefs seem misrepresented in the US. I don't pretend to know his mind, or even to have exhaustively researched his positions, but if you look at something like the claim that Ahmedinejad has called for the destruction of Israel you find that it's not what it sounds like. The standard interpretation of things like the "wiped off the map" line involve genocide, but Ahmedinejad and his people have made clear many times that he's really talking only about a change in government: for instance, in Time Magazine he is quoted as saying "Our suggestion is that the 5 million Palestinian refugees come back to their homes, and then the entire people on those lands hold a referendum and choose their own system of government. This is a democratic and popular way."

Of course I don't know if he's telling the truth--maybe he's really the dangerous nutcase he's protrayed as--but my great worry about the Iran situation is that Ahmedinejad is, in a way which Americans are having trouble understanding, actually proprosing genuine raprochment and that the US could actually end up with Iran as an ally, and the Bush administration is blowing the opportunity of the century.

Posted by: Galen | Sep 24, 2007 1:41:15 PM

The central "legitimate" issue with regard to Iran is nuclear proliferation. I put "legitimate" in quotes only to emphasize that it is a legitimate issue, while not conceding that every complaint of the Bush Administration is.

But, non-proliferation is never going to be a policy area where bullying and shunning are productive strategies. The point of a global non-proliferation regime is that it benefits the very countries, which choose to forego nuclear weapons. There are better ways than bullying and shunning to induce a country to adopt a policy of enlightened self-interest.

Again, though, Americans, with our broken discourse and inept MSM, don't see non-proliferation issues in a realistic context. "We" certainly don't see non-proliferation in the context of Bush Administration policies aimed at accelerating and rewarding proliferation, while neutering monitoring and enforcement. Bush is (objectively) pro-proliferation, in policy toward India or toward the next round of treaties.

I don't think you can look at U.S. policy in a clear-eyed way, unless you first concede that Bush is not a good guy, not a patriot.

Posted by: Bruce Wilder | Sep 24, 2007 1:52:25 PM

I don't Ahmadinejad is winning any sort of game, nor is he losing it, because this is a whole pile of nothing. Who cares if he puts a wreath on Ground Zero or not? The so-called "propaganda war" isn't going to be decided like that...

Posted by: Korha | Sep 24, 2007 1:54:57 PM

One clarification on what I just said: I don't in any way mean to say that if we just sit down with Ahmedinejad everything will be all hearts and puppy dogs by next Thursday--there is an _enormous_ gulf, politically, culturally, ideologically, and in terms of national interest, between our countries, and any raprochment would be a long and arduous process. What I'm wondering is if Ahmedinejad might just be willing to try to go the distance with us, and we should probably try to find out.

Posted by: Galen | Sep 24, 2007 1:56:42 PM

The payoff in the "propaganda war" with Ahmadinejad isn't international, it is domestic. Republicans are under a lot of pressure from their base to stay in Iraq and beat the wardrums for an attack on Iran. Refusal to publicly condemn Ahmadinejad and throw a fit over any potential ground zero visits would result in outrage from Republican primary voters, putting the career prospects of various republican politicians in jeopardy.

Politicians are expressing their outrage about Ahmadinejad's visit because they have to. If they don't do it, some other primary opponent will. And you can't try to claim "Democrats are on Ahmadinejad's side" if you don't make the appropriate amount of noise about him in the first place.

It's a bunch of kabuki theater for domestic consumption. Ahmadinejad himself will no longer be president of Iran in some years time, and he's not the main power broker in the country. For domestic purposes, however, a focus of our "toughness towards iran" is required.

People conflate an attack on Bush with hatred for America. These are the same people who conflate our foreign policy tensions with Iran with Ahmadinejad himself.

Posted by: Tyro | Sep 24, 2007 2:12:26 PM

In addition to assisting in Afghanistan after 9/11, the Iranian regime has in fact reached out for rapprochement with the US:



Here is the actual outline sent to the Swiss Ambassador from Tehran:


They have serious problems. Problems which we are uniquely qualified to help them with, particularly in the economic area.

If Bush had been even the man Nixon was when he visited a nation that had murdered 50 million citizens, the world, particularly the Middle East, might have better prospects now.

But all of those possibilities were subverted for domestic political gain, because as Kristol-meth reminded us, Republicans need for the US to have evil enemies. It was going to be China before 9/11 became the gift that keeps on giving for the neocons.

Posted by: H.L. Mencken | Sep 24, 2007 2:15:00 PM

It seems to me that Ahmadinejad's purpose is to gain allies in America itself, particularly those on the left, hence the his reliance on left leaning talking points - Dave Justis

A paranoid person, like myself, might make the arguement that Bush & CO's and the media's purpose in making Ahmadinejad "look good" is to allow "left leaning talking points" to be dismissed as "just the kind of thing an America-hater like Ahmadinejad would say".

Of course, you never know who is "our" real "enemy" anyway ... speaking of paranoid ramblings of mine ... does anybody remember how the Team B leftovers populating our current admin used to support covertly selling arms to Iran to raise money for Central American terrorists? And now, we've deposed Saddam Hussein and enabled Iran to gain a foothold in Iraq (so the admin itself claims)?

Something's up here. Whatever it is, I'm not sure if "make Ahmadinejad look good" is not a bug, but a feature ...

Anyway -- one of my labmates is now wondering if we'll have an December surprise next year: that the US will be allowed in Pakistan so that GWB will get credit for capturing OBL, meanwhile the next (Dem) president will be stuck with American troops surrounding an increasingly worried Iran, sucking us into a disastrous war with Iran for which the Dem. Pres. will be blamed. And with Ahmadinejad "looking good", that'll ensure that whoever gets us into war with Iran looks even worse.

Something bizarre is happening and we better be careful. Call me paranoid, but don't say I didn't warn y'all!

Posted by: DAS | Sep 24, 2007 2:54:29 PM

I'm in your choir, singing: "Go, Tell it On the Mountain".

I point out that Ahmedinejad has a constitutionally weak role in the Iranian government. He has no control over the Army/Navy and nuclear development. There is an ongoing conflict between the religious moderates and conservatives in the Islamic hierarchy which actually controls the levers of power. Ahmedinejad appears to be losing actual power in Iran, not gaining it. But we seem intent on unifying the government and people by our constant attacks and threats on Ahmedinejad and Iran. This is not in our interest.

I have no brief for Ahmedinejad or Iran, but I do have a brief for rational, national interest (without ideological blinders), US policy.

It is in our interest to reduce tensions in the mideast and south asia, not increase them.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Sep 24, 2007 2:54:46 PM

Ezra, it's not great politics for liberals to tell Americans that Ahmedinejad is "right". If you don't understand that, talk with someone who does to get the details about why that is the case. Instead, try saying the Americans are the sort of people who are big enough that a visit by him to Ground Zero could never do anything but demonstrate how the bravery and sacrifice of those on that day can never, ever be diminished by anyone.

Then, invite Ahmedinejad to visit the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. It's an invitation he couldn't refuse, especially after a trip to Ground Zero.

Posted by: al-Anon | Sep 24, 2007 3:20:43 PM

The BBC has a graphic and explanation of the various structures in the Iranian government that makes clear how checks and balances work in their context. [Click on the boxes in the chart to see an explanation]

Former President Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, has been elected chairman of the Council of Experts since the chart was prepared. He defeated Ayatollah Janatti who is chairman of the Expediency Council. Rafsanjani is also chairman of the Expediency Council.

Rafsanjani was defeated by Ahmedinejad for President in 2005 and claimed that Janatti was behind his defeat. This Janatti/Rafsanjani conflict is the heart of the conservative/moderate split in the leadership. Janatti was dominant a few years ago, but Rafsanjani is ascending rapidly and appears to have the support of Ayatollah Khomeini, the Supreme Leader.

Rafsanjani now controls two of the three powerful control bodies of the country. More here on governance.

This is NOT a single-thinking government pursuing a consistently hard line. There are fissures here that are subject to diplomatic negotiations - primarily of the carrot variety, since 'stick' threats tend to unite the disparate parties. There is room for the US and Iran to reach detente.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Sep 24, 2007 3:25:54 PM

Jim, you mean Khamenei, of course, not Khomeini.

Posted by: KCinDC | Sep 24, 2007 3:54:20 PM

Thx KC, too many Kh's in their leadership....

Khamenei is clearly the better of the two, and not just because he's actually alive. LOL

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Sep 24, 2007 4:17:35 PM

Are you always this obtuse? Do you really have any idea how Iran is run?

Posted by: Joe Klein's conscience | Sep 24, 2007 6:21:51 PM

Wow, Dave Justus really hit a nerve, didn't he.

Posted by: slickdpdx | Sep 24, 2007 8:24:45 PM

No, slickie boy, your alter ego/tag team buddy Davie Justie hit only himself with those tiny marbles rolling around in his empty skull. And this pathetic, sad game you're playing of "bait the liberals" with moronically and deliberately mendacious comments, and then attempting to characterize perfectly rational, thoughtful, and reasonable responses as somehow, well, NOT rational, thoughtful, and reasonable resembles your boytoy in the White House: stupid and tired. If Davie did hit a nerve it was a direct hit on the funny bone, as in "ha ha isn't the braindead troll amusing." You and your 'pal' are out of your league here; I propose you read Ezra and the comments carefully. You might learn something, even if you disagree with it. Good luck.

Posted by: Conrad's Ghost | Sep 24, 2007 9:15:50 PM

Conraid Bain I presume? Your thoughtful comments are appreciated. Different Strokes, I guess.

Posted by: slickdpdx | Sep 24, 2007 10:07:00 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.