This week’s Economist, in a long and intelligent piece about Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his political fortunes, offers up a rather inflammatory comparison (and an instant retraction):
Yet in both America and Iran, currents of dissent are growing, even inside their administrations. In neither case do the dissenters differ much from their leader’s stated objective: for Iran it is to claim a perceived right to nuclear technology; for America it is to perform an assumed duty to stop Iran making atomic bombs. In both cases, critics lambast their leaders for tactics that may take their countries to war.
In some respects, those leaders are oddly similar. George Bush and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are both deeply religious, referring frequently to God’s guiding hand. Both are idealists rather than pragmatists, and skilled at folksy populism. Both have replaced dozens of competent officials with like-minded conservatives. And both are now considered, by a large slice of their countrymen, to be bungling and dangerous. The difference is that it has taken Mr Ahmadinejad just two years in power to achieve the unpopularity Mr Bush has gained after six.
There are differences, of course. Mr Bush may be accused of curtailing civil liberties in pursuit of his war on terror. But his government does not drag women off the streets for maladjusting hijabs, the obligatory covering of head and shoulders, or jail student activists as dangers to national security or smear political opponents as traitors or muzzle their speech.
The second and third paragraphs quoted are a bit mind-boggling. The wording suggests (at least to me) that dissent in America and Iran is identical in form, nature, and inherent risk; that “like-minded conservative” means the same thing in the context of Iranian politics that it does in American politics; that Bush’s populism is indistinguishable from Ahmadinejad’s. Isn’t it reasonable to say that the essential differences—the fact that George W. Bush, whatever his critics may say, does not preside over a theocratic, totalitarian regime—make the similarities purely superficial? Or even negligible? Puzzling . . .