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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Juan Cole: Demonisation of Ahmadinejad

Americans seem to forget what they have done to Iran.. Bollinger hardly represents any stirling qualities of US American University Presidents. Although he resisted calls to cancel the speech he used it as an opportunity to show his patriotic credentials by insulting his guest even before he spoke. As my next post illustrates Ahmadinejad's reception should be contrasted with that of an actual dictator Musharaff. He was welcomed with open arms, as was Hitler's ambassador many years ago.

Turning Ahmadinejad into public enemy No. 1
Demonizing the Iranian president and making his visit to New York seem controversial are all part of the neoconservative push for yet another war.

By Juan Cole



Sept. 24, 2007 | Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's visit to New York to address the United Nations General Assembly has become a media circus. But the controversy does not stem from the reasons usually cited.

The media has focused on debating whether he should be allowed to speak at Columbia University on Monday, or whether his request to visit Ground Zero, the site of the Sept. 11 attack in lower Manhattan, should have been honored. His request was rejected, even though Iran expressed sympathy with the United States in the aftermath of those attacks and Iranians held candlelight vigils for the victims. Iran felt that it and other Shiite populations had also suffered at the hands of al-Qaida, and that there might now be an opportunity for a new opening to the United States.

Instead, the U.S. State Department denounced Ahmadinejad as himself little more than a terrorist. Critics have also cited his statements about the Holocaust or his hopes that the Israeli state will collapse. He has been depicted as a Hitler figure intent on killing Israeli Jews, even though he is not commander in chief of the Iranian armed forces, has never invaded any other country, denies he is an anti-Semite, has never called for any Israeli civilians to be killed, and allows Iran's 20,000 Jews to have representation in Parliament.

There is, in fact, remarkably little substance to the debates now raging in the United States about Ahmadinejad. His quirky personality, penchant for outrageous one-liners, and combative populism are hardly serious concerns for foreign policy. Taking potshots at a bantam cock of a populist like Ahmadinejad is actually a way of expressing another, deeper anxiety: fear of Iran's rising position as a regional power and its challenge to the American and Israeli status quo. The real reason his visit is controversial is that the American right has decided the United States needs to go to war against Iran. Ahmadinejad is therefore being configured as an enemy head of state.

The neoconservatives are even claiming that the United States has been at war with Iran since 1979. As Glenn Greenwald points out, this assertion is absurd. In the '80s, the Reagan administration sold substantial numbers of arms to Iran. Some of those beating the war drums most loudly now, like think-tank rat Michael Ledeen, were middlemen in the Reagan administration's unconstitutional weapons sales to Tehran. The sales would have been a form of treason if in fact the United States had been at war with Iran at that time, so Ledeen is apparently accusing himself of treason.

But the right has decided it is at war with Iran, so a routine visit by Iran's ceremonial president to the U.N. General Assembly has generated sparks. The foremost cheerleader for such a view in Congress is Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., who recently pressed Gen. David Petraeus on the desirability of bombing Iran in order to forestall weapons smuggling into Iraq from that country (thus cleverly using one war of choice to foment another).

American hawks are beating the war drums loudly because they are increasingly frustrated with the course of events. They are unsatisfied with the lack of enthusiasm among the Europeans and at the United Nations for impeding Tehran's nuclear energy research program. While the Bush administration insists that the program aims at producing a bomb, the Iranian state maintains that it is for peaceful energy purposes. Washington wants tighter sanctions on Iran at the United Nations but is unlikely to get them in the short term because of Russian and Chinese reluctance. The Bush administration may attempt to create a "coalition of the willing" of Iran boycotters outside the U.N. framework.

Washington is also unhappy with Mohammad ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency. He has been unable to find credible evidence that Iran has a weapons program, and he told Italian television this week, "Iran does not constitute a certain and immediate threat for the international community." He stressed that no evidence had been found for underground production sites or hidden radioactive substances, and he urged a three-month waiting period before the U.N. Security Council drew negative conclusions.

ElBaradei intervened to call for calm after French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said last week that if the negotiations over Iran's nuclear research program were unsuccessful, it could lead to war. Kouchner later clarified that he was not calling for an attack on Iran, but his remarks appear to have been taken seriously in Tehran.

Kouchner made the remarks after there had already been substantial speculation in the U.S. press that impatient hawks around U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney were seeking a pretext for a U.S. attack on Iran. Steven Clemons of the New America Foundation probably correctly concluded in Salon last week that President Bush himself has for now decided against launching a war on Iran. But Clemons worries that Cheney and the neoconservatives, with their Israeli allies, are perfectly capable of setting up a provocation that would lead willy-nilly to war.

David Wurmser, until recently a key Cheney advisor on Middle East affairs and the coauthor of the infamous 1996 white paper that urged an Iraq war, revealed to his circle that Cheney had contemplated having Israel strike at Iranian nuclear research facilities and then using the Iranian reaction as a pretext for a U.S. war on that country. Prominent and well-connected Afghanistan specialist Barnett Rubin also revealed that he was told by an administration insider that there would be an "Iran war rollout" by the Cheneyites this fall.

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