Tuesday, September 25, 2007

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Open Ahmadinejad thread

So, did Mahmoud Ahmadinejad score a public relations coup by speaking at Columbia University?

He had to sit there while university president Lee Bollinger told him him, "you exhibit all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator." And that was one of the nicer things Bollinger said to him:

Frankly, and in all candor, Mr. President, I doubt that you will have the intellectual courage to answer these questions. But your avoiding them will in itself be meaningful to us. I do expect you to exhibit the fanatical mindset that characterizes so much of what you say and do. Fortunately, I am told by experts on your country, that this only further undermines your position in Iran with all the many good-hearted, intelligent citizens there.
According to the New York Times account, Ahmadinejad managed to parry back efforts to pin him down... but he also claimed that Iran has no gay people.

Ezra Klein's take is that Ahmadinejad is "outwitting us in the court of world opinion." My take is similar to what Bollinger said about Ahmadinejad's Council on Foreign Relations appearance last year:
A year ago, I am reliably told, your preposterous and belligerent statements in this country (as in your meeting at the Council on Foreign Relations) so embarrassed sensible Iranian citizens that this led to your party’s defeat in the December mayoral elections. May this do that and more.
What's your take?

posted by Dan on 09.25.07 at 12:44 AM


As one who has always thought that the best way to exterminate cockroaches -- including the two-legged variety -- is to bring them into the light, I have nothing at all against Columbia's decision to let him speak. He simply further confirmed himself as a lunatic laughingstock -- and, sure enough, he got laughed at, loudly. If this actually is "outwitting us in the court of world opinion", then God save this dishonorable court.

posted by: Bruce Moomaw on 09.25.07 at 12:44 AM [permalink]



I tend to think MA is popular for the same reasons Hugo Chavez is popular. He is a fiery demagogue in a region that has -- historically speaking -- borne the brunt of US foreign policy. For Arabs who don't have to deal with his destructive domestic policies he's a leader with backbone. That perception also plays nicely with Iran's desire to extend its influence into non-Persian communities.

posted by: Troll on 09.25.07 at 12:44 AM [permalink]

Frankly, I think Columbia University President Lee Bollinger's remarks were self-defeating. I recognize that Bollinger was probably under tremendous pressure from trustees, faculty members, students, and alumni to do or say something in light of his refusal to rescind the invitation to the Iranian president. However, by delivering such a blistering indictment by way of an introduction he played into Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's hands.

Ahmadinejad is a master of spin, sound bites, and provocations. (Take for example, Mike Wallace's interview with the Iranian president on "60 Minutes" last year. Wallace was frothing at the mouth, while Ahmadinejad came across as congenial. Scott Schaefer fell into the same rhetorical trap when he interviewed Ahmadinejad during last Sunday's episode of "60 Minutes.") Bollinger's righteous indignation came to naught. I think a better strategy would have been to refute and challenge Ahmadinejad's statements during the Q&A or at a separate event after his speech.

Should Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs have invited Ahmadinejad? It is not my place to judge. Certainly universities and colleges have an obligation to be a marketplace for ideas. And certainly opponents of highly controversial speakers have every right to stage peaceful protests. It would have been far worse for Columbia to have rescinded the invitation.

posted by: Jeff Taliaferro on 09.25.07 at 12:44 AM [permalink]

About Bollinger:
He is a political hack and a total idiot. Here is a good example:
“President Musharraf is a leader of global importance and his contribution to Pakistan’s economic turnaround and the international fight against terror remain remarkable - it is rare that we have a leader of his stature at campus,” said Lee C Bollinger, the President of Columbia University."

I am sure he would have also kissed the feet of Saudi or Egyptian or other pro-American dictators had they come to Columbia. Ones who are far more responsible for crimes than Ahmadinejad.

About Ahmadinejad:
I do not at all believe what Bollinger said and Ezra Klein reported. I do think there is an elite class in Iran who despises Ahmadinejad as Bollinger said, but they are a tiny minority. The reason their views get reported is because they are the ones with connections to western academic institutions. But also, they are so elite that they have no connection to Iranian society. Similarly, maybe, to the argument that is made about Harvard professors having no clue about the views of the "folk" in middle America.

And I think the Iranian people overall would be very proud of their president's appearance at Columbia, and would feel very vindicated in their support for him by the stupidity of Bollinger's introduction. I am sure he proved to the average Iranian that they really are under threat and that
their defensive position is justified.

To add, Ahmadinejad ended his speech by inviting all Columbia students and faculty to come to Iran, and offered them nothing but respect. Viewed in contrast to the speech of Bollinger, I am sure this was a source of great pride in Iran.

posted by: Joe M. on 09.25.07 at 12:44 AM [permalink]

oh, I don't think Ahmadinejad is particularly popular in Iran though I think the average Iranian probably has mixed feelings on him. The average Iranian is not effected by elite "reformist" newspapers closing or by putting an American scholar in jail. And his economic policies have not been particularly good, but they have not been that bad for the poor either. I am sure they see them as trying, see him as having gone to the people more than Rafsanjani or Khatami did... But they also don't see him as successful and and building tension in the region and such...

posted by: Joe M. on 09.25.07 at 12:44 AM [permalink]

Ahmadinejad rocked the Charlie Rose interview. I don't think those words have ever been expressed to illustrate a Charlie Rose interview, but alas. Opposed to Bollinger's blistering introduction, Rose conducted the interview in a firm but fair manner.

posted by: James on 09.25.07 at 12:44 AM [permalink]

here is my case in point:

Iranians decry harsh words for president

By NASSER KARIMI, Associated Press Writer 55 minutes ago

TEHRAN, Iran - Iranians expressed dismay Tuesday at the tough reception given to their president in New York, saying his host was rude and only fueled the image of the United States as a bully.

The scenes at Monday's question-and-answer session at Columbia University and the outpouring of venom toward President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad by protesters during his U.S. visit could bolster the hard-line leader at a time of high tensions with Washington.

read on....

posted by: Joe M. on 09.25.07 at 12:44 AM [permalink]

Ahmadinejad has TV tape that, with others, will be edited to show a small, courageous guest of a major university in the US reing treated with disrespect. He is being sandbagged by the very person who inbited him. The tape will show hisn courteous and reasoned response and, somewhere in a tape there will be a shot of Bollinger realizing that he has acted in a dishonorable manner. There wil be shots of standing ovations, of students awestruck by the fact that there are no homosexuals in Iran, of students laughing and clapping in response to a comment made (somewhere else in the speech) by Ahmadinejad.

The appearance of Ahmadinejad will be shown as a triumph of Muslin rationality and reasonableness over the kafirs of the US. A reason, among others, to treat non-believers as dhimmi.

If Bollinger, his supporters and critics, were not able to predict this BEFORE his appearance,(and they did not) God help us all.

Supposedly A German chancellor reported a particularly egregious act by one of the Kaisers representives. The Kaiser gasped and said "Why, that's criminal." "Even worse, sire" replied the chancellor, "it was stupid."

posted by: Ben Sands on 09.25.07 at 12:44 AM [permalink]

He is such a polarizing figure that it is unlikely that anything he is saying or doing has much impact. Those within his country that supported him previously support him now. Those who supported him outside of his country before, support him now.

With Bush on one side and Ahmadinejad on the other it is likely to play out as one big bungle of power politics.

Your other Blogginhead friends seem to think Bush is going to bomb and miss: sounds plausible.

posted by: Russell120 on 09.25.07 at 12:44 AM [permalink]

"So, did Mahmoud Ahmadinejad score a public relations coup by speaking at Columbia University?"

The question is not if but with whom.

posted by: Alan K. Henderson on 09.25.07 at 12:44 AM [permalink]

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