Commentary Magazine


Topic: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Would You Trust Ahmadinejad with Unrestricted Nukes?

The Obama administration’s deal-making with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is based on two assumptions, both of which are false. The first is that the president matters in Iran. The reality is that, in the Islamic Republic, the supreme leader calls the shots, not the president. Simply put, the president is about style, the supreme leader is about substance. The second assumption underlying Obama’s diplomacy is that Hassan Rouhani is the Iranian incarnation of Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, someone with a hardline past but reform in his heart. At best, this is wishful thinking. It involves dismissing Rouhani’s record and all of his past statements.

Obama is undertaking a huge gamble: He is betting American national security and broader Middle Eastern security on the notion that somehow Rouhani is different than his record indicates and that he knows better than Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei what Rouhani’s true intentions are. That’s not a good bet to take, especially since it looks like Rouhani’s honeymoon is rapidly coming to an end, but Obama—like all second-term presidents—is willing to put on blinders in his quest for a legacy.

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The Obama administration’s deal-making with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is based on two assumptions, both of which are false. The first is that the president matters in Iran. The reality is that, in the Islamic Republic, the supreme leader calls the shots, not the president. Simply put, the president is about style, the supreme leader is about substance. The second assumption underlying Obama’s diplomacy is that Hassan Rouhani is the Iranian incarnation of Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, someone with a hardline past but reform in his heart. At best, this is wishful thinking. It involves dismissing Rouhani’s record and all of his past statements.

Obama is undertaking a huge gamble: He is betting American national security and broader Middle Eastern security on the notion that somehow Rouhani is different than his record indicates and that he knows better than Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei what Rouhani’s true intentions are. That’s not a good bet to take, especially since it looks like Rouhani’s honeymoon is rapidly coming to an end, but Obama—like all second-term presidents—is willing to put on blinders in his quest for a legacy.

Obama is putting all of his eggs in Rouhani’s basket, but what happens if Rouhani is removed from the picture? The purpose of a nuclear deal with Iran—at least from the Iranian perspective—is to normalize Iran’s nuclear program. Iran’s de facto lobbyists in the United States are already arguing that after a short period of Iranian compliance with the deal, Iran should be free and clear from restrictions and, in effect, be treated as it had never cheated, never experimented with nuclear-weapons triggers, and never constructed secret nuclear facilities.

Within the Islamic Republic, there is not an inexorable march to reform. The birthrate in Iran today is only half of what is was in the 1980s, and so Iranian leaders figure that there will be fewer hot-headed young people in coming decades. As students start families, they become less willing to rock the boat. Hardliners figure their moment is yet to come. To read Rouhani’s election as the permanent victory of reform or democracy is to misunderstand Iran: There are no free elections inside the Islamic Republic. The Guardian Council selects candidates, and so sets the parameters of debate.

The supreme leader keeps power by insuring a rotation of factions. When Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won the presidency in 2005, he cleaned house of reformist President Mohammad Khatami’s followers. Likewise, when Rouhani won the presidency, the press cheered as he began his purge of Ahmadinejad’s supporters (never mind he simply replaced the pro-Ahmadinejad Revolutionary Guards veterans with intelligence ministry veterans, hardly the sign of sincere reform). It is reasonable to assume that the supreme leader will try to keep Rouhani’s minions from growing too powerful by orchestrating the revival of the Ahmadinejadniks.

And, indeed, that is what is happening according to the Iranian press. The Open Source Center has compiled a number of Iranian press reporters discussing Ahmadinejad’s rehabilitation. On April 3, for example, the hardline website Shafaf spoke about Ahmadinejad fielding a candidate in a by-election this coming fall. Ten days later, Mosalas Online hinted that Ahmadinejad was crafting a strategy to retake the Majlis. This is no idle talk. After all, Ahmadinejad’s pre-presidency claim to fame was organizing the rise of the conservatives in local elections. Entekhab has speculated that Ahmadinejad has his sights set on the 2017 election. Most importantly, the state-controlled Iranian press has begun publishing photographs of the supreme leader with Ahmadinejad (scroll to the third photo from the left). There is no better indication that Ahmadinejad is not so down and out as perhaps many American diplomats hope.

Perhaps Obama has put great faith in Rouhani, and is willing to take risks for a nuclear deal because of him. The question Obama won’t consider—but Congress should—is whether they would trust Ahmadinejad to again take the reins of a nuclear-capable Iran, albeit one with sanctions and controls removed thanks to Obama’s naive faith and misreading of the Iranian political system. Alas, that appears to be the situation in which Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry are putting the United States.

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Rouhani’s Holocaust Weasel Words

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani may have snubbed President Obama yesterday but almost everyone is still giving him full credit for not being Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The West’s favorite “moderate” mullah met with a gaggle of liberal mainstream media types Wednesday morning for a mostly off-the-record gathering and, despite being unwilling to pander much to their sensibilities, still left them thinking, in the words of New Yorker editor David Remnick, “That at least on the surface this is somebody who above all is interested in reversing the really consequential damage to the economy that sanctions have wrought over time.”

I’ve no doubt that is true, as the conceit of Rouhani’s mission is apparently to persuade the West that because he isn’t a raving lunatic like his predecessor Ahmadinejad, that should be enough to earn Iran the world’s trust. And the chief proof of this is his willingness to say that it was a bad thing that the Nazis killed Jews. At Remnick’s prodding, Rouhani said as much today. As Politico reports:

Toward the end of the meeting, Remnick, who had sparred with Ahmadinejad in past meetings, demanded to know if Rouhani would unequivocally reject his predecessor’s denial of the Holocaust.

Through an interpreter, Rouhani told Remnick and the other journalists that he condemned the “massacre” of Jews that took place during World War II but would leave it to historians to decide how many Jews had been killed.

While stopping short of condemning the Holocaust outright, Rouhani left Remnick with the impression that he was serious about improving Iran’s relationship with the West.

That’s nice and no doubt Rouhani’s dignified manner and trademark white turban are a big improvement over Ahmadinejad’s MAD magazine style charm, but if we’re really interested in the question of repudiating Holocaust denial, Rouhani’s response doesn’t quite cut it. Nor does his equally cagey answer to a similar question posed by CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in which he segued from a pro-forma condemnation of the “taking of human life, whether that life is Jewish life, Christian or Muslim” into saying his non-support of Nazi genocide shouldn’t be interpreted as being willing to recognize living Jews have rights, since that “does not mean that on the other hand you can say Nazis committed crimes against a group, now, therefore, they must usurp the land of another group and occupy it.” The point is, if you are agnostic about the scale of the Holocaust, you are, in effect, a denier. If you are against killing Jews but unwilling to grant that they may have rights to a country or the right to defend it, your supposedly moderate good intentions are meaningless.

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Iranian President Hassan Rouhani may have snubbed President Obama yesterday but almost everyone is still giving him full credit for not being Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The West’s favorite “moderate” mullah met with a gaggle of liberal mainstream media types Wednesday morning for a mostly off-the-record gathering and, despite being unwilling to pander much to their sensibilities, still left them thinking, in the words of New Yorker editor David Remnick, “That at least on the surface this is somebody who above all is interested in reversing the really consequential damage to the economy that sanctions have wrought over time.”

I’ve no doubt that is true, as the conceit of Rouhani’s mission is apparently to persuade the West that because he isn’t a raving lunatic like his predecessor Ahmadinejad, that should be enough to earn Iran the world’s trust. And the chief proof of this is his willingness to say that it was a bad thing that the Nazis killed Jews. At Remnick’s prodding, Rouhani said as much today. As Politico reports:

Toward the end of the meeting, Remnick, who had sparred with Ahmadinejad in past meetings, demanded to know if Rouhani would unequivocally reject his predecessor’s denial of the Holocaust.

Through an interpreter, Rouhani told Remnick and the other journalists that he condemned the “massacre” of Jews that took place during World War II but would leave it to historians to decide how many Jews had been killed.

While stopping short of condemning the Holocaust outright, Rouhani left Remnick with the impression that he was serious about improving Iran’s relationship with the West.

That’s nice and no doubt Rouhani’s dignified manner and trademark white turban are a big improvement over Ahmadinejad’s MAD magazine style charm, but if we’re really interested in the question of repudiating Holocaust denial, Rouhani’s response doesn’t quite cut it. Nor does his equally cagey answer to a similar question posed by CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in which he segued from a pro-forma condemnation of the “taking of human life, whether that life is Jewish life, Christian or Muslim” into saying his non-support of Nazi genocide shouldn’t be interpreted as being willing to recognize living Jews have rights, since that “does not mean that on the other hand you can say Nazis committed crimes against a group, now, therefore, they must usurp the land of another group and occupy it.” The point is, if you are agnostic about the scale of the Holocaust, you are, in effect, a denier. If you are against killing Jews but unwilling to grant that they may have rights to a country or the right to defend it, your supposedly moderate good intentions are meaningless.

That these stands are calculated to convince Western elites that Rouhani is a decent person while still giving him cover at home is a tribute to the cleverness of the Iranian tactic. After all, contrary to some other statements uttered during the charm offensive, there is more to Iranian anti-Semitism than just Ahmadinejad’s personal obsessions. Iranian TV often broadcasts material that merges the two topics by claiming that Jews have exaggerated the extent of the Holocaust in order to “steal” Palestine from the Arabs and hoodwink the United States out of money. Rouhani’s mention of the doubts about how many Jews died is a signal to Iranians and other Islamists that he is very much on the same page as Ahmadinejad but knows how to talk to Westerners.

Seen in that context, far from Rouhani’s statements being a measure of his sanity or moderation, they are, in fact, an indicator that he is very much part of the same Islamist mentality that produced Ahmadinejad and his boss Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. What is going on here is a carefully calculated ruse that is, even after Rouhani’s snub of Obama, working well to disarm the West of any sense of outrage about Tehran’s pursuit of nuclear capability.

That the mainstream media is willing to go along with this game shows just how uncomfortable many of them are with the need to honestly confront the issue of Iran’s nuclear capability and the transparently dishonest manner in which it has negotiated with the West for over a decade. 

UPDATE:

It turns out that Rouhani’s so-called condemnation of the Holocaust is even flimsier than we thought. After CNN broadcast its interview with Rouhani conducted by Christiane Amanpour, the FARS News Agency condemned their translation of his remarks about the Holocaust as largely a fabrication. The official organ of the Iranian government provided an exact translation of what he said and matched it with what CNN broadcast and then published on their website. When the two are compared it is clear that the network expanded on what he said to help convey the impression that he was condemning Holocaust denial when it is clear that he did no such thing.

Here’s the CNN account:

CNN Question: “One of the things your predecessor (President Ahmadinejad) used to do from this very platform was deny(ing) the holocaust and pretend(ing) it was a myth, I want to know you, your position on the holocaust, do you accept what it was, and what was it?”

CNN’s Translation: “I’ve said before that I am not a historian and then, when it comes to speaking of the dimensions of the Holocaust, it is the historians that should reflect on it. But in general I can tell you that any crime that happens in history against humanity, including the crime that Nazis committed towards the Jews as well as non-Jews is reprehensible and condemnable. Whatever criminality they committed against the Jews, we condemn, the taking of human life is contemptible, it makes no difference whether that life is Jewish life, Christian or Muslim, for us it is the same, but taking the human life is something our religion rejects but this doesn’t mean that on the other hand you can say Nazis committed crime against a group now therefore, they must usurp the land of another group and occupy it. This too is an act that should be condemned. There should be an even-handed discussion”.

Here’s what Rouhani actually said:

“I have said before that I am not a historian and historians should specify, state and explain the aspects of historical events, but generally we fully condemn any kind of crime committed against humanity throughout the history, including the crime committed by the Nazis both against the Jews and non-Jews, the same way that if today any crime is committed against any nation or any religion or any people or any belief, we condemn that crime and genocide. Therefore, what the Nazis did is condemned, but the aspects that you talk about, clarification of these aspects is a duty of the historians and researchers, I am not a history scholar.”

While the two have similarities, there is no doubt that the news outlet airbrushed Rouhani’s comments to the point where they are far more acceptable for a Western audience. The actual remarks make it clear that Rouhani is as much of an agnostic about the extent of the Holocaust as Ahmadinejad. After all, Rouhani’s predecessor never said that no Jews were killed but said it was vastly exaggerated, the false argument that all Holocaust deniers try to make.

It is up to CNN to explain this attempt to falsify the content of the interview that goes beyond the usual discrepancies that often pop up in translations and crosses over into editorial malfeasance.

Added together with the other remarks uttered by Rouhani, this makes the claims of those who say Rouhani represents a genuine change in Iran even less credible than before.

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A Brief History of Iranian Holocaust Denial

Iranian Holocaust denial—while the stuff of international headlines—during the Mahmoud Ahmadinejad presidency neither began when Ahmadinejad took office nor did it end when Ahmadinejad’s term ended. Some journalists believe that the bedrock ideology of the Islamic Republic has changed since Hassan Rouhani’s election. Some American journalists appear to have given more credence to Rouhani’s alleged Rosh Hashanah tweet than they do the Islamic Republic’s record.

When it comes to Iranian Holocaust denial and revisionism, George Michael, author of The Enemy of my Enemy, had an informative article in the Middle East Quarterly several years back:

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Iranian Holocaust denial—while the stuff of international headlines—during the Mahmoud Ahmadinejad presidency neither began when Ahmadinejad took office nor did it end when Ahmadinejad’s term ended. Some journalists believe that the bedrock ideology of the Islamic Republic has changed since Hassan Rouhani’s election. Some American journalists appear to have given more credence to Rouhani’s alleged Rosh Hashanah tweet than they do the Islamic Republic’s record.

When it comes to Iranian Holocaust denial and revisionism, George Michael, author of The Enemy of my Enemy, had an informative article in the Middle East Quarterly several years back:

Holocaust denial was an outgrowth of Iranian anti-Semitism, propelled by the Islamic Republic’s antipathy toward Israel. Long before Ahmadinejad shocked the West with his blunt rhetoric, Supreme Leader ‘Ali Khamenei suggested the Holocaust to be an exaggeration. ‘Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, an Iranian figure often labeled a pragmatist by Western journalists, voiced morale support for Holocaust revisionists in the West, suggesting the West persecuted one prominent denier for “the doubt he cast on Zionist propaganda.” However, it was during the presidency of Mohammad Khatami, whose rhetorical calls for a dialogue of civilizations won European and U.N. plaudits, that the Islamic Republic became a sanctuary for revisionists. Tehran granted asylum not only to [Swiss Holocaust denier Jürgen] Graf but also to Wolfgang Fröhlick, an Austrian engineer who argued in court under oath that Zyklon-B could not be used to kill humans. Indeed, it was under Khatami that Iranian policy shifted from anti-Zionism to unabashed anti-Semitism.

In August 2003, the Iranian government invited Frederick Töben, a retired German school teacher living in Australia, to speak before the International Conference on the Palestinian Intifada held in Tehran in which he impugned the Holocaust by contending that Auschwitz concentration camp was physically too small for the mass killing of Jews….

Of course, this was at a time when Rouhani was a top regime official and when pundits now singing Rouhani’s praises in the New York Times and elsewhere actually worked in the Foreign Ministry’s “Institute for Political and International Studies,” a sponsor of the Holocaust revisionism.

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Why Forfeit Leverage on Iran?

If there’s one thing that hampers American policy, it is our general lack of strategy. As the National Security Council has transitioned into yet another bureaucracy, it has forfeited its main function to enforce policy discipline and shape interagency strategy. Too often, we forfeit leverage which, at any rate, too many in the State Department consider a dirty word.

Iran’s latest economic reports suggest that the United States should have much more leverage on Iran than many in the White House and State Department recognize. On Sunday, the Statistics Center of Iran released economic growth figures which confirm that the Iranian economy shrank 5.4 percent last year. Meanwhile, the Iranian Student News Agency has reported that liquidity has increased 670 percent during the administration of former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Meanwhile, the Statistics Center has also reported that the July-August 2013 inflation rate in rural areas was 42.6 percent, with the 12-month inflation rate at 41.4 percent. Both imports and exports are down according to the Iranian Customs Administration.

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If there’s one thing that hampers American policy, it is our general lack of strategy. As the National Security Council has transitioned into yet another bureaucracy, it has forfeited its main function to enforce policy discipline and shape interagency strategy. Too often, we forfeit leverage which, at any rate, too many in the State Department consider a dirty word.

Iran’s latest economic reports suggest that the United States should have much more leverage on Iran than many in the White House and State Department recognize. On Sunday, the Statistics Center of Iran released economic growth figures which confirm that the Iranian economy shrank 5.4 percent last year. Meanwhile, the Iranian Student News Agency has reported that liquidity has increased 670 percent during the administration of former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Meanwhile, the Statistics Center has also reported that the July-August 2013 inflation rate in rural areas was 42.6 percent, with the 12-month inflation rate at 41.4 percent. Both imports and exports are down according to the Iranian Customs Administration.

The Iranian economy is more than ever dependent upon oil exports. According to Majlis Research Center head Ahmad Tavakoli, per capita reliance on oil revenue under Ahmadinejad was $890. In contrast, the figure was $364 under Khatami, $384 under Rafsanjani, and $608 during the Iran-Iraq War. Subsidies payments are leading to a $40.4 billion deficit.

It would be wrong to blame sanctions for such a dire economic picture: Most of Iran’s economic woes stem from the incompetence of the Islamic Republic. However, it would be even more counterproductive to throw the Iranian regime a lifeline. If the Iranian economy is as bad as Iranian technocrats say it is, then now is the time for more pressure, not less.

Only twice in the Islamic Republic’s history has its leadership reversed course on core policies. The first was about what it would take to release the American hostages. It was not Carter-era persistent diplomacy which forced Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to change his mind, but rather Saddam Hussein: Iraq’s invasion had raised the cost of Iran’s isolation considerably. The second time was with regard to what it would take to end the Iran-Iraq War. After continuing the war six years after first considering an end in 1982, Khomeini finally accepted a ceasefire, likening it to drinking a chalice of poison.

The Iranian government has now filled its own cup; perhaps it’s time with even more robust sanctions to force the regime to take a sip.

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Rafsanjani Is No Moderate

Former Iranian President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani has declared his candidacy for the forthcoming Iranian election, subject to approval of his candidacy from the Guardian Council, a body that determines which candidates are loyal enough to the supreme leader to appear on the ballot. For example, when Mohammad Khatami won the presidency in 1997, he defeated three other candidates but only after the unelected Guardian Council disqualified 234 other candidates deemed too liberal or insufficiency loyal to the supreme leader. More than 680 candidates have registered to run for next month’s election; most will never have their names appear on a ballot.

The Western press appears both dangerously infatuated with and enthusiastic about Rafsanjani, falsely attributing moderation to the former leader:

Former Iranian President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani has declared his candidacy for the forthcoming Iranian election, subject to approval of his candidacy from the Guardian Council, a body that determines which candidates are loyal enough to the supreme leader to appear on the ballot. For example, when Mohammad Khatami won the presidency in 1997, he defeated three other candidates but only after the unelected Guardian Council disqualified 234 other candidates deemed too liberal or insufficiency loyal to the supreme leader. More than 680 candidates have registered to run for next month’s election; most will never have their names appear on a ballot.

The Western press appears both dangerously infatuated with and enthusiastic about Rafsanjani, falsely attributing moderation to the former leader:

  • Reuters, for example, called Rafsanjani “a relative moderate.”
  • The BBC declared the corrupt multibillionaire is “virtually assured the support of reformers.”
  • The Associated Press called Rafsanjani the “prime hopeful for reformists.”
  • Citing an activist—but failing to mention he operates out of an organization that lobbies for the Islamic Republic—the Washington Post concluded that Rafsanjani was a “pragmatic voice in the current political order who could help guide Iran out of its current problems and potentially mend relations with the United States.”
  • The New York Times reported “Mr. Rafsanjani…has cast himself as a pragmatist, calling for a more open society and better business relationships with the West.”

Among journalists, it seems, it’s déjà vu all over again. When Rafsanjani first won the presidency back in 1989, the West was optimistic: The Iran-Iraq War had ended the previous year and revolutionary leader Ayatollah Khomeini had died six weeks before the elections. In both Washington and European capitals—the Salman Rushdie death warrant notwithstanding—there was hope that Iran would turn a new page, and that the revolutionary ayatollahs would move to normalize relations with the international community.

It was not to be. Even though Rafsanjani suggested that “reasonable, prudent solutions” could free the American hostages that Iranian-backed groups continued to hold in Lebanon and despite the fact that the new Iranian president told Pakistani intermediaries that U.S. gestures could grease reconciliation, the Iranians failed to deliver. National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft sought UN mediation, and UN Secretary General Pérez de Cuéllar appointed Giandomenico Picco, an Italian career UN bureaucrat, to be his representative. Picco dutifully flew off to Tehran, where Rafsanjani dismissed outright reconciliation with Washington. To negotiate over the American hostages in Beirut would be to admit Iranian culpability. While Rafsanjani spoke publicly of pragmatism, privately he revived Iran’s covert nuclear program—of which he claims to be the father today—and played a crucial role in ordering the assassinations of Iranian dissidents abroad.

Some of the most spectacular Iranian terror attacks—such as the 1994 bombing of the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires—not only occurred under Rafsanjani’s watch but also with his direct authorization. And no one should forget that it was Rafsanjani who, on December 14, 2001, suggested that an Iranian nuclear strike on Israel might be foreseeable, since one nuclear weapon could annihilate Israel while Iran would be large enough to absorb any retaliation.

Western diplomats and journalists should avoid three mistakes when considering Rafsanjani’s run:

1)       Do not consider Iran a democracy. The supreme leader is substance; the presidency is only about style. Yes, Iran has elections, but they would be akin to elections in the Soviet Union if only Communist Party Central Committee members were allowed to run. Most electoral democracies do not disqualify 90-plus percent of candidates before election day.

2)       Do not exaggerate factions. Factions exist in any government—even North Korea—but the presence of factions does not translate into their relevance or ability to influence outcome. The supreme leader remains in control and has leverage over Rafsanjani in three ways: First, he can expose if not confiscate Rafsanjani’s ill-gotten wealth; Second, he can imprison–or worse–Rafsanjani’s children; and, third, he can use vigilante groups if not the Basij directly to physically constrain Rafsanjani.

3)       Do not confuse reformists with opposition. The reformists are as committed to the system of Islamist democracy as hardliners are. The problem for most Iranians isn’t simply whether the police harass women who show too much hair. Rather, it’s the fact that the supreme leader considers himself the deputy of the messiah on earth. This is why muddle-through reform cannot work in Iran: Sovereignty comes not from the people, but from God himself through the mahdi and the supreme leader. What 95 percent of the people might think is without meaning to Supreme Leader Khamenei. Indeed, protecting the theocracy from the people is why the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps exists in the first place.

Make no mistake: The problem in the Islamic Republic today is not one personality or another, but rather the system of government and the ideology to which it subscribes. There will be no effective difference in the goals of Iranian policy between the Ahmadinejad years and a Rafsanjani redux.

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Should We Be Rooting for Ahmadinejad?

The New York Times devotes considerable space on its front page this morning to a fascinating rundown on the contest to replace Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president of Iran. Though this will involve voting and attempts to gain popular support, as Ahmadinejad’s re-election proved in 2009, the Iranian electoral system should not be confused with democracy. Just as the Iranian president is actually subordinate to the grand ayatollah who functions as a permanent supreme leader in terms of governing, the choices and the outcome of the Iranian election are also subject to the dictates of the ruling cleric and his fellow ayatollahs. That doesn’t mean that the infighting within the regime is not significant or that it shouldn’t be monitored closely. The differences between Ahmadinejad and Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei are, no doubt, quite real. But they ought not to be interpreted as a sign that the regime is in danger of falling or there is any significant divergence between them and their followers about keeping an Islamist government or maintaining the country’s dangerous nuclear ambitions.

But unfortunately that is probably the conclusion that many of the Times’s liberal readers will jump to after reading the piece since it brands Ahmadinejad and his faction as the “opposition” to the supreme leader. That may be true in the literal sense but, as even the article points out, that is the result of the fact that Ahmadinejad and Khamenei worked together to wipe out any real opposition to Islamist hegemony in 2009 as the United States stood silent. Like the Kremlinologists who spent decades trying to interpret the factions among the rulers of the Soviet Union before its fall, the point of much of the speculation about dissension among the ruling class in Iran is to try to throw cold water on policies intended to pressure the Islamist government. There is nothing wrong with keeping up on which of the tyrants of Tehran is gaining the upper hand on his colleagues. But the problem is that such discussions inevitably tempt Westerners to imagine that outreach to the supposed doves or liberals inside the regime will ameliorate its differences with the rest of the world. A sober look at the nature of this “opposition” and its goals ought to put an end to such foolishness.

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The New York Times devotes considerable space on its front page this morning to a fascinating rundown on the contest to replace Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president of Iran. Though this will involve voting and attempts to gain popular support, as Ahmadinejad’s re-election proved in 2009, the Iranian electoral system should not be confused with democracy. Just as the Iranian president is actually subordinate to the grand ayatollah who functions as a permanent supreme leader in terms of governing, the choices and the outcome of the Iranian election are also subject to the dictates of the ruling cleric and his fellow ayatollahs. That doesn’t mean that the infighting within the regime is not significant or that it shouldn’t be monitored closely. The differences between Ahmadinejad and Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei are, no doubt, quite real. But they ought not to be interpreted as a sign that the regime is in danger of falling or there is any significant divergence between them and their followers about keeping an Islamist government or maintaining the country’s dangerous nuclear ambitions.

But unfortunately that is probably the conclusion that many of the Times’s liberal readers will jump to after reading the piece since it brands Ahmadinejad and his faction as the “opposition” to the supreme leader. That may be true in the literal sense but, as even the article points out, that is the result of the fact that Ahmadinejad and Khamenei worked together to wipe out any real opposition to Islamist hegemony in 2009 as the United States stood silent. Like the Kremlinologists who spent decades trying to interpret the factions among the rulers of the Soviet Union before its fall, the point of much of the speculation about dissension among the ruling class in Iran is to try to throw cold water on policies intended to pressure the Islamist government. There is nothing wrong with keeping up on which of the tyrants of Tehran is gaining the upper hand on his colleagues. But the problem is that such discussions inevitably tempt Westerners to imagine that outreach to the supposed doves or liberals inside the regime will ameliorate its differences with the rest of the world. A sober look at the nature of this “opposition” and its goals ought to put an end to such foolishness.

Though, as the Times rightly notes, Ahmadinejad has not budged from the offensive positions that have made him an apt symbol of the aggressively anti-Semitic nature of the Iranian government, he has made a few small gestures that are being interpreted as shifts away from the regime’s Islamist fundamentalism. His public embrace of Hugo Chavez’s mother at the Venezuelan strongman’s funeral was seen as an astonishing break from the rigid separation of the sexes advocated by Iran.

The Times also reports that:

Despite his early advocacy of Islam’s role in daily affairs, the president is now positioning himself as a champion of citizens’ rights. …

In speeches, he favors the “nation” and the “people” over the “ummah,” or community of believers, a term preferred by Iran’s clerics, who constantly guard against any revival of pre-Islamic nationalism. He has also said he is ready for talks with the United States, something other Iranian leaders strongly oppose under current circumstances.

But all this probably has a lot more to do with his maneuverings to gain some leverage against Khamenei than any interest in democracy or even in fighting corruption, another theme he has sounded recently.

It is tempting to imagine that this dissension within the ranks of Tehran’s rulers can serve to loosen up a tyrannical regime or to make a deal with Iran over its nuclear program more likely. But it is important to remind those who succumb to such fantasies that this is, after all, the same Ahmadinejad who is the leading proponent of Holocaust denial in the world as well as the same man who has regularly threatened Israel with extinction and treated the country’s nuclear program as a personal cause to be defended at all costs.

The outcome of any struggle between Ahmadinejad and Khamenei cannot produce a more moderate Iran because both are radical Islamists for whom hatred of the West and of Jews is so integral to their worldview that it is inconceivable that either has the capacity to lead the country to a more rational approach. While it is arguable whether division inside Tehran helps increase Western leverage over the regime, the idea that America and its allies have any rooting interest in Ahmadinejad prevailing in this struggle is absurd.

The true danger here is not the likelihood that Khamenei will suppress any opposition so much as it is the possibility that Western governments, and in particular the United States, will be deceived into believing that strengthening Ahmadinejad will make Iran more democratic or less dangerous to its neighbors, Israel and the West. If President Obama is to make good on his repeated pledges never to allow Iran to gain a nuclear weapon, now is the time for greater pressure, not easing up on Iran in the hopes of helping Ahmadinejad’s “opposition.”

In past generations, there have always been those who clung to myths about missed U.S. opportunities to make friends with tyrants like Ho Chi Minh or Fidel Castro when in fact no such options were ever available. Just because some murderous tyrants sometimes quarrel with rivals for power doesn’t mean there is an opening for rapprochement with the West. That’s a lesson that some people never seem to learn.

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When Tyrants and Hatemongers Embrace

Some foreign policy realists are urging caution when assessing the impact of the visit of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Egypt. The visit, the first by an Iranian leader since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, is an indication of the way the Muslim Brotherhood government of Egypt has warmed up toward a country that Hosni Mubarak spurned as a threat to stability.

But, as the New York Times reports, analysts believe Egypt’s continuing need for aid from both the United States and moderate Arab regimes that fear Iran as much as the Americans, will prevent a full restoration of diplomatic relations. But whether or not the two countries go that far or not, the symbolism of the embrace of Ahmadinejad by Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi (who visited Tehran last August) illustrates the way the Brotherhood’s ascendancy has fractured American foreign policy objectives in the region. The willingness of Egypt to embrace Iran in this manner undermines U.S. efforts to isolate Tehran and sends the world the message not to take President Obama’s threats about stopping Iran’s nuclear program seriously. It is also a reminder that the two countries have something in common besides Islam: leaders who engage in anti-Semitic hate speech.

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Some foreign policy realists are urging caution when assessing the impact of the visit of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Egypt. The visit, the first by an Iranian leader since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, is an indication of the way the Muslim Brotherhood government of Egypt has warmed up toward a country that Hosni Mubarak spurned as a threat to stability.

But, as the New York Times reports, analysts believe Egypt’s continuing need for aid from both the United States and moderate Arab regimes that fear Iran as much as the Americans, will prevent a full restoration of diplomatic relations. But whether or not the two countries go that far or not, the symbolism of the embrace of Ahmadinejad by Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi (who visited Tehran last August) illustrates the way the Brotherhood’s ascendancy has fractured American foreign policy objectives in the region. The willingness of Egypt to embrace Iran in this manner undermines U.S. efforts to isolate Tehran and sends the world the message not to take President Obama’s threats about stopping Iran’s nuclear program seriously. It is also a reminder that the two countries have something in common besides Islam: leaders who engage in anti-Semitic hate speech.

Coming as it did on the eve of the resumption of the West’s latest negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program, the Ahmadinejad visit brings home the fact that despite all the tough talk heard in Washington, Iran has not been isolated by the diplomatic strategy pursued by President Obama and recently departed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The assumption that the Iranians have been brought to their knees by sanctions and deprived of allies is given the lie by Ahmadinejad’s warm reception in Cairo.

Egypt and Iran have strongly disagreed about Syria since Morsi has supported the efforts by other Arab countries to oust the Assad regime. But the factors that unite the two governments — hostility to Israel and support for Hamas — are greater than those that divide them. The Iranians may be looking to use their new friends in Cairo to help float their latest attempt to divert the West from pressing them on nuclear issues. As I wrote yesterday, the Iranians may be seeking to link Assad’s fate with that of their nuclear program. They may be hoping the Brotherhood, which retains the ear of the State Department as well as billions in annual aid from the United States, could serve to further muddy the diplomatic waters via this stratagem without committing themselves to anything.

The Egyptians may stop just short of full recognition of Ahmadinejad’s government in order to keep U.S. taxpayer dollars flowing to Cairo. But the notion that it is in any conceivable sense an ally is out the window. This incident calls into question the decision to keep that aid flowing without condition as well as the continued sale of sophisticated weapons to Egypt that their forces don’t need for self-defense. The closer Egypt draws to Iran, the more it seems as if the peace treaty with Egypt, into which both Israelis and Americans are so heavily, is heading for the scrapheap.

Just as important in many respects is the symbolism of the embrace of two men who have done much to help keep the flames of Jew hatred burning hot recently. Morsi and Ahmadinejad are both on record insulting Jews and Israelis and pledging their destruction as well as for trying to suppress domestic dissent. Far from an innocuous event that shouldn’t worry us, when tyrants embrace, decent people everywhere should tremble.

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Chavez’s Shady Dealings

As indecent as it seems to find humor in the world’s tyrannies, it’s hard not to, especially when it comes to Venezuela and Iran.

On January 21, Tahmasb Mazaheri, the former governor of Iran’s Central Bank, was arrested by German police at Dusseldorf Airport after he was found carrying a check worth 300 million Venezuelan Bolivars–the equivalent of $70 million–in his hand luggage. Mazaheri, who flew into the German city from Turkey, is suspected of involvement in money laundering. His own explanation is that the check “was designed to finance the Venezuelan government’s construction of 10,000 homes.”

Given Mazaheri’s staggering incompetence in transporting this enormous sum of money, it’s tempting to ask where, exactly, these “homes” he referred to are being built. In Caracas? Or perhaps in Havana, where the Castro brothers have set themselves up as Cuba’s de facto rulers? Maybe in Tehran, where the ruling mullahs have engaged in a love-in with the regime of Hugo Chavez for more than a decade?

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As indecent as it seems to find humor in the world’s tyrannies, it’s hard not to, especially when it comes to Venezuela and Iran.

On January 21, Tahmasb Mazaheri, the former governor of Iran’s Central Bank, was arrested by German police at Dusseldorf Airport after he was found carrying a check worth 300 million Venezuelan Bolivars–the equivalent of $70 million–in his hand luggage. Mazaheri, who flew into the German city from Turkey, is suspected of involvement in money laundering. His own explanation is that the check “was designed to finance the Venezuelan government’s construction of 10,000 homes.”

Given Mazaheri’s staggering incompetence in transporting this enormous sum of money, it’s tempting to ask where, exactly, these “homes” he referred to are being built. In Caracas? Or perhaps in Havana, where the Castro brothers have set themselves up as Cuba’s de facto rulers? Maybe in Tehran, where the ruling mullahs have engaged in a love-in with the regime of Hugo Chavez for more than a decade?

So far, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua–appointed after he was resoundingly defeated by opposition leader Henrique Capriles in last December’s election for the governorship of Miranda state–has issued no statement on Mazaheri’s arrest. Nothing, it appears, can stop the constant stream of bulletins from Caracas about the “improving” health of the ailing Chavez, who hasn’t been seen or heard from since he returned to Cuba for cancer treatment more than two months ago. Last Saturday, Fidel Castro himself reassured Venezuelans that their leader was “much better, recovering.” Today, Nicolas Maduro, Chavez’s appointed successor, read what he claimed was a letter from Chavez to a rally in Caracas commemorating the failed coup of 1992 against then-President Carlos Andres Perez. “My spirit and my heart are among you all on this day,” Chavez is supposed to have written, “I’m with you all, wearing my red beret.” Needless to say, visual evidence that Chavez is even still alive has not been forthcoming.

The silence on the part of the Venezuelans, as well as the Iranians, over Mazaheri is understandable. The Chavez pantomime has robbed the Chavistas of any credibility when it comes to telling the truth. Recent polling from Caracas shows that Maduro, a former bus driver and orthodox Chavista ideologue, is both disliked and distrusted by the electorate. One theme that the Venezuelan opposition has capitalized upon is the network of murky relationships Chavez and his cronies have forged with rogue regimes around the world, Cuba and Iran being the most notable, which involve lucrative government contracts as well as oil subsidies that have further sapped the Venezuelan economy.

Indeed, one of the ironies of the Mazaheri affair is that it comes at a time when both countries are undergoing a massive currency crisis. Over the last year, the value of the Venezuelan Bolivar has weakened against the dollar by 53 percent; the Venezuelan journalist Juan Cristobal Nagel has compared Chavez’s economic policies to a “Ponzi Scheme” whose sources of cash are rapidly drying up. As for the Iranians, the value of the rial against the dollar tumbled by 21 percent last week to a record low.

It isn’t yet clear where Mazaheri himself fits into all this. A shady character, he was governor of Iran’s Central Bank for just one year, until President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad canned him in September 2008. A few months later, Mazaheri correctly predicted that Ahmadinejad’s economic reforms would send inflation skyrocketing, an outcome that would hit government employees on fixed incomes particularly hard.

Nevertheless, what is abundantly clear is that the cooperation between Venezuela and Iran remains as strong as ever. Public housing for poor Venezuelans has featured among the myriad collaborative economic schemes between the two countries, but it is the energy and military sectors that are truly significant. Given Iran’s lack of oil refining capacity, Venezuela has stepped into the breach, providing Tehran’s rulers with more than 20,000 barrels of oil per day. In June of last year, Chavez announced that he was building unmanned drones with Iranian assistance. An unnamed Venezuelan military officer said at the time that the drones “are made in this country with military engineers who went to do a course in the sister Republic of Iran.”

Should Maduro formally take the reins in Venezuela, business with Iran is certain to continue as usual, even if Ahmadinejad’s hated rival, Ali Larijani, wins the June 14 presidential election in Iran. Larijani–who is also, like Ahmadinejad, a Holocaust denier–is a true believer in the Chavista view of international relations as a conspiracy masterminded by “Zionism” and the United States. In these circumstances, the only means by which the Venezuela-Iran relationship could be transformed is if one, or both, of these regimes finally collapses.

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Lee Bollinger’s Free-Speech Hypocrisy

Although the famous liberal intolerance for opposing ideas is often at its most stifling on American college campuses, there is one school with a free-speech track record so poor it outraged New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. That school is Columbia University, and its president, Lee Bollinger, has made a name for himself by fostering an atmosphere of censorship on campus in which speech is often suppressed by the faculty and student groups, sometimes violently. One such incident took place in 2006, when speakers from the Minuteman Project were rushed by protesters storming the stage.

Bollinger wasn’t bothered by it, but for many it was the last straw, and Bloomberg unloaded. “Bollinger’s just got to get his hands around this,” Bloomberg told the New York Times. “There are too many incidents at the same school where people get censored.” It wasn’t just conservative groups or others that transgress the university’s idea of political correctness. Jewish groups were the target of intimidation by faculty, and there are ideological litmus tests for university programs. Additionally, Bollinger famously brought one of the world’s leading censors, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to campus while still banning the ROTC. No one in his right mind would consider Bollinger a friend of free speech except … Lee Bollinger. Here he is writing in Foreign Policy magazine advocating for free speech around the world.

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Although the famous liberal intolerance for opposing ideas is often at its most stifling on American college campuses, there is one school with a free-speech track record so poor it outraged New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. That school is Columbia University, and its president, Lee Bollinger, has made a name for himself by fostering an atmosphere of censorship on campus in which speech is often suppressed by the faculty and student groups, sometimes violently. One such incident took place in 2006, when speakers from the Minuteman Project were rushed by protesters storming the stage.

Bollinger wasn’t bothered by it, but for many it was the last straw, and Bloomberg unloaded. “Bollinger’s just got to get his hands around this,” Bloomberg told the New York Times. “There are too many incidents at the same school where people get censored.” It wasn’t just conservative groups or others that transgress the university’s idea of political correctness. Jewish groups were the target of intimidation by faculty, and there are ideological litmus tests for university programs. Additionally, Bollinger famously brought one of the world’s leading censors, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to campus while still banning the ROTC. No one in his right mind would consider Bollinger a friend of free speech except … Lee Bollinger. Here he is writing in Foreign Policy magazine advocating for free speech around the world.

It’s not that Bollinger’s article is offensive–it’s standard but welcome boilerplate about the assault on free speech and the need to understand how a changing media landscape affects both the threats to, and opportunities for, freedom of expression and thought in a globalized world. But the choice of author is indefensible. There was no one with a better record than Bollinger to tout free speech? In fact, in American higher education there are few with worse records than Bollinger. And it is just plainly insulting to read Bollinger hypocritically and sanctimoniously pat himself on the back in paragraphs like this:

Second, the very essence of modern life is the opportunity for people everywhere to speak, hear, persuade, change their minds, know what others are thinking, and think for themselves. Our great institutions of higher education, including the one I lead, bear a special social responsibility for educating people to possess a nimble cast of mind, able to grasp multiple perspectives and the full complexity of a subject. And for centuries, great societies of all types have understood that this kind of intellectual capacity is essential to progress. But never have critical thinking and tolerance been more important for individual well-being and for our collective prosperity.

Indeed, Bollinger is right that he has a “special social responsibility”–and it is one he has abdicated in the decade he’s been at Columbia.

It’s not that Bollinger allows no offensive speech at Columbia; I was there to cover Ahmadinejad’s speech and saw plenty of anti-Jewish conspiracy theorists flaunting their pathological suspicions of Jews and countless portrayals of then-President George W. Bush as–who else?–Hitler.

In 2005, after pro-Israel students at the school tried to get the university to address the intimidation they were getting from pro-Palestinian teachers, Bollinger tried to avoid dealing with it. When the New York Times asked him why he didn’t get involved sooner, he explained that he’s just a man who contains multitudes. “I tried to walk a very, very fine line,” he said. “I have a problem because I like to see complexity.”

Lee Bollinger may be a complex man, but his record on free speech is simple and unambiguous. He is an expert on free speech only to the extent that he has clearly studied how to keep it off his campus.

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Ahmadinejad Fulfills His Role

I’m going to miss Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. It will be a sad day for Iran’s avowed enemies when he steps down from the presidency, which he is scheduled to do in nine months.

Admittedly, his post is mostly symbolic; the real decisions are made by the supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei. But Ahmadinejad performs an important, albeit inadvertent, role: He reminds Americans every year just how deranged and dangerous the regime in Tehran remains. Ahmadinejad has used his annual pilgrimages to New York for the UN General Assembly to opine on a host of topics–and almost everything he says offends some substantial American constituency.

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I’m going to miss Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. It will be a sad day for Iran’s avowed enemies when he steps down from the presidency, which he is scheduled to do in nine months.

Admittedly, his post is mostly symbolic; the real decisions are made by the supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei. But Ahmadinejad performs an important, albeit inadvertent, role: He reminds Americans every year just how deranged and dangerous the regime in Tehran remains. Ahmadinejad has used his annual pilgrimages to New York for the UN General Assembly to opine on a host of topics–and almost everything he says offends some substantial American constituency.

As the New York Times notes in a tour de force summary of his latest remarks: “President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran stoked the anger of Israel, the United States, Syrian insurgents and gay rights advocates on Monday, using the first full day of his final visit to the United Nations as Iran’s leader to assert that he has no fear of an Israeli attack on his country’s nuclear facilities, regards the Israelis as fleeting aberrations in Middle East history, is neutral in the Syria conflict, and considers homosexuality an ugly crime.”

Such remarks do not serve Iran’s purposes, since the Iranian government wants to project a false air of moderation. Rather, they serve to unmask the ugliness lurking not so far beneath the surface. They also serve as an implicit challenge to the U.S. and the West: Whatcha gonna do about it? Insofar as we have done precious little, beyond imposing sanctions, his annual mockery of the West is also a reminder of how much remains to be done to stop the Iranian nuclear program and to help the Iranian people rid themselves of their unelected rulers.

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U.S. Officials Stay Seated While Ahmadinejad Blasts Israel

The AP is reporting that the U.S. delegation stayed seated while Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad waxed philosophical about the historical accuracy of the Holocaust and the illegitimacy of the “Zionist regime” yesterday, even as Israel’s ambassador to the UN walked out in protest. I don’t see Susan Rice on the Fox News video, but at least three U.S. officials remained in their chairs (one of whom seemed to be diligently taking notes).

A UN walkout can be an important symbol of rejection when done effectively, but the fact that Israel left alone, while the U.S. stayed to listen to Ahmadinejad’s eliminationist musings, sent another message. Taken with Obama’s refusal to meet with Netanyahu, and the recent dismissal of Israeli “noise,” there’s a growing sense that the administration is distancing itself from Israel because it wants nothing to do with a potential attack on Iran:

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The AP is reporting that the U.S. delegation stayed seated while Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad waxed philosophical about the historical accuracy of the Holocaust and the illegitimacy of the “Zionist regime” yesterday, even as Israel’s ambassador to the UN walked out in protest. I don’t see Susan Rice on the Fox News video, but at least three U.S. officials remained in their chairs (one of whom seemed to be diligently taking notes).

A UN walkout can be an important symbol of rejection when done effectively, but the fact that Israel left alone, while the U.S. stayed to listen to Ahmadinejad’s eliminationist musings, sent another message. Taken with Obama’s refusal to meet with Netanyahu, and the recent dismissal of Israeli “noise,” there’s a growing sense that the administration is distancing itself from Israel because it wants nothing to do with a potential attack on Iran:

Iran’s president called Israel a nuclear-armed “fake regime” shielded by the United States, prompting Israel’s U.N. ambassador to walk out of a high-level U.N. meeting Monday promoting the rule of law.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also accused the U.S. and others of misusing freedom of speech and failing to speak out against the defamation of people’s beliefs and “divine prophets,” an apparent reference to the recently circulated amateur video made in the U.S. which attacks Islam and denigrates the Prophet Muhammad. ….

The U.S. delegation did not walk out of Monday’s meeting, as it has in the past when Iran attacked Israel directly.

Ahmadinejad did not name either Israel or the U.S. in his speech but his targets were clear when he said: “We have witnessed that some members of the Security Council with veto right have chosen silence with regard to the nuclear warheads of a fake regime while at the same time they impede scientific progress of other nations.”

This paragraph (via Breitbart) is also a clear allusion to Iran’s Holocaust denial conferences:

[Ahmadinejad] also bore down on those who have revolted at Holocaust revisionism. He did this by calling attention to those who “infringe upon other’s freedom and allow sacrilege to people’s beliefs and sanctities, while they criticize posing questions or investigating into historical issues.”

Keep in mind that yesterday’s speech was just a warmup for Ahmadinejad — he’s set to give his big UN address on Yom Kippur tomorrow. Unless he somehow manages to steal another term (not permitted under the Iranian constitution), this is his last hurrah at Turtle Bay. So we can expect plenty of insanity on Wednesday.

At the Washington Times, Kerry Picket flags a USA Today report that President Obama’s UN speech today will denounce, yet again, the anti-Islam film the administration has repeatedly blamed for provoking riots across the Middle East. The Obama administration gave a perfunctory condemnation of Ahmadinejad’s speech yesterday, but the big question is, will Obama’s speech address Ahmadinejad’s anti-Semitic vitriol, as well?

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Ahmadinejad’s Circus Act Is No Joke

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s annual United Nations freak show has commenced, and the press is eating it up. The Iranian leader held forth for a group of journalists this morning and didn’t disappoint. He claimed Jews have no historical roots in the Middle East and said Israel would disappear. He attacked Western freedom of speech and alluded to his past practice of denying the Holocaust while bragging that Western opposition to its nuclear program wouldn’t intimidate Iran. He will, no doubt, repeat and embellish these insults and threats as he has in the past when he addresses the General Assembly on Wednesday, which just happens to be Yom Kippur. But the problem with Ahmadinejad is not just that he says terrible things and revels in the attention he gets like any other foreign enfant terrible who shows up to speak at the circus-like atmosphere of the world body’s annual jamboree. It’s that not enough people take him seriously.

It’s true that, as Seth wrote earlier, Ahmadinejad has been subjected to probing questions by some of our top foreign policy writers such as David Ignatius, but even those efforts are more focused on the chimera of outreach to Iran than on a clear-headed exploration of the nature of the regime. But on the whole, the main reaction to him is to act as if what he says is meaningless. Granted, it’s not easy for the sophisticated national press corps and the rest of our chattering classes to take seriously a person who looks, sounds and acts as if he is performing a satire on tyrants in the style of Charlie Chaplin or Sacha Baron Cohen. Indeed, the nastier and the crazier he gets, the harder it is for the journalistic world to treat him as anything other than a clown act. But he isn’t. His threats and insults must be listened to and taken seriously. The fact that they are not is no small measure why it has been so difficult to get much of the American foreign policy establishment, as well as the Obama administration, to treat Iran’s nuclear threat as something that requires urgent action rather than just more talk.

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Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s annual United Nations freak show has commenced, and the press is eating it up. The Iranian leader held forth for a group of journalists this morning and didn’t disappoint. He claimed Jews have no historical roots in the Middle East and said Israel would disappear. He attacked Western freedom of speech and alluded to his past practice of denying the Holocaust while bragging that Western opposition to its nuclear program wouldn’t intimidate Iran. He will, no doubt, repeat and embellish these insults and threats as he has in the past when he addresses the General Assembly on Wednesday, which just happens to be Yom Kippur. But the problem with Ahmadinejad is not just that he says terrible things and revels in the attention he gets like any other foreign enfant terrible who shows up to speak at the circus-like atmosphere of the world body’s annual jamboree. It’s that not enough people take him seriously.

It’s true that, as Seth wrote earlier, Ahmadinejad has been subjected to probing questions by some of our top foreign policy writers such as David Ignatius, but even those efforts are more focused on the chimera of outreach to Iran than on a clear-headed exploration of the nature of the regime. But on the whole, the main reaction to him is to act as if what he says is meaningless. Granted, it’s not easy for the sophisticated national press corps and the rest of our chattering classes to take seriously a person who looks, sounds and acts as if he is performing a satire on tyrants in the style of Charlie Chaplin or Sacha Baron Cohen. Indeed, the nastier and the crazier he gets, the harder it is for the journalistic world to treat him as anything other than a clown act. But he isn’t. His threats and insults must be listened to and taken seriously. The fact that they are not is no small measure why it has been so difficult to get much of the American foreign policy establishment, as well as the Obama administration, to treat Iran’s nuclear threat as something that requires urgent action rather than just more talk.

It is true, as we hear from those who often urge us not to bother listening to what Ahmadinejad says, that he is not the supreme leader of his country. That is Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who holds his post for life. but he is an important enough player in Iran that the regime felt it necessary to ensure his re-election in 2009 by cooking the books and then violently suppressing the protests that ensued.

Ahmadinejad will, we are told, leave his office at the end of his second term. But while he has become the poster child for Islamist extremism, those journalists who will mourn what is supposed to be the end of his international career need to understand that far from being exceptional, his views perfectly reflect the political culture of the regime.

The inciting of hatred against Jews and other religious minorities in Iran is, after all, not the work of one individual. It is the product of the ayatollah’s religious and political philosophy. The vast terrorist network that starts in Tehran and stretches to Damascus, Beirut, Gaza and anywhere else where Iran’s terrorist auxiliaries can reach (such as Bulgaria, where Israeli tourists were murdered this past summer) is not a figment of Ahmadinejad’s rhetorical flights of fancy. It is a real and deadly threat to the world.

It is natural for even those who are genuinely outraged by Ahmadinejad to make a joke of his New York visit. We can all get a good laugh from the New York Post’s stunt in which they sent a Jewish-themed gift basket to his hotel including gefilte fish, bagels, and a brochure from a Holocaust museum and a free ticket to the show “Old Jews Telling Jokes.”

But the day Iran gets its bomb because the United States spent years pretending that diplomacy would work, instead of setting red lines that might convince the regime the administration meant business, won’t be very funny. Perhaps then those Americans who treated Iran as merely an extension of Ahmadinejad’s comedy act will realize that his anti-Semitism and bluster was no joke.

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Ahmadinejad’s Stale Script

Though the annual United Nations General Assembly speech from Iranian genocidal anti-Semite Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is always offensive yet never truly interesting, his occasional interaction with the press can be worth watching. The delicate dance dictators do with their interviewers in the West often offers a cheat sheet in how the murderous maniacs code their hateful messages to give them a sheen of respectability.

Sometimes the press performs a valuable service in such cases by at least allowing monstrous men to display their monstrousness for all to see, though few fall into this trap. Other times, just asking a tough question or two can have the benefit of making the dictator and his audience painfully aware of the freedom enjoyed by the press and the public outside his country. So I can’t help but be puzzled by veteran foreign affairs editor David Ignatius’s interview with Ahmadinejad for the Washington Post, which seems to indicate that interviewing Ahmadinejad has nothing left to offer. Partway through the interview, the two have the following exchange:

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Though the annual United Nations General Assembly speech from Iranian genocidal anti-Semite Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is always offensive yet never truly interesting, his occasional interaction with the press can be worth watching. The delicate dance dictators do with their interviewers in the West often offers a cheat sheet in how the murderous maniacs code their hateful messages to give them a sheen of respectability.

Sometimes the press performs a valuable service in such cases by at least allowing monstrous men to display their monstrousness for all to see, though few fall into this trap. Other times, just asking a tough question or two can have the benefit of making the dictator and his audience painfully aware of the freedom enjoyed by the press and the public outside his country. So I can’t help but be puzzled by veteran foreign affairs editor David Ignatius’s interview with Ahmadinejad for the Washington Post, which seems to indicate that interviewing Ahmadinejad has nothing left to offer. Partway through the interview, the two have the following exchange:

Ignatius: Mr. President, can I ask you to turn to the P5+1 negotiations.

Ahmadinejad; “We are sincerely and truly ready. We have given many sound proposals as well. Fundamentally, we have no concerns about moving forward with the dialogue, we have always wanted a dialogue. We have a very clear logic: We do believe that if everyone adheres to the rule of law and everyone respects all parties, that there will be no problems.”

Of course the Iranians want to talk. Their strategy is to buy time, and prolonging failed negotiations that the Iranians conduct in bad faith is forever at the top of the Iranian wish list. But I suppose one question about negotiations is standard. So why does Ignatius take the interview in that direction and rarely veer back onto more concrete items?

The two talk about the P5+1 issue for a bit, but then just as soon as the two have moved on, they come right back to it and have this exchange:

Ignatius: So you wouldn’t expect significant progress until our election is over?

Ahmadinejad: “About the nuclear issue, you mean?”

Ignatius: Yes, dialogue between our two countries, significant progress in any of these negotiations.

Why would there be significant progress after a theoretical Obama re-election? Is Obama the problem? Has Obama been too tough in negotiations with the Iranians? Has the president shown insufficient “flexibility”–the new watchword for Obama’s diplomacy? Isn’t the answer to these questions an obvious “no”? Here is what comes next in the interview:

Ahmadinejad: “I firmly believe that the best type of government is the government that firmly pursues the wishes of her people. We have always been ready and we are ready. But experience has shown that important and key decisions are not made in the U.S. leading up to national elections. Am I right?”

Ignatius: You are correct. …So let me ask you about two issues where everyone wants to make peace and the interests of the United States and Iran might be similar. And the first is Syria. There’s a terrible war eating Syria alive, and I wonder if you, as head of your government, have any proposals that might lead to a just ceasefire. Not the status quo, but something different.

Yes, Mr. Ahmadinejad, you’ve wisely diagnosed the malady afflicting American democracy; now let us negotiate about the Syrian slaughter you’re aiding and abetting: any ideas?

When they finish solving Syria, they come around to this exchange:

Ignatius: What I’m hearing is that perhaps after the U.S. election, if the U.S. is interested in dialogue with Iran about Afghanistan, direct discussions might be welcome.

Ahmadinejad: Yes, as I stated we have been the main architects of several regional meetings, three of which have already taken place. And we are very willing to give them green light for their involvement in these gatherings, as well. But the condition is any country’s respect for self-governance and self-rule of Afghanistan, and the independence of Afghanistan.”

More negotiations, this time on Afghanistan.

I’m not suggesting Iran would not, in a more perfect world, have a serious role to play in the stability of the Mideast. But under current conditions, Iran’s concept of a stable Middle East is very different from ours, and its leaders have given us no indication that they take negotiations seriously or mean what they say. The conversation now goes around in circles: Ahmadinejad is asked for his help, he says sure, let’s talk, and then goes back to brutally suppressing his people, executing gays, working toward the annihilation of the Jewish people, and ordering terrorist attacks on Western targets across the globe. Then we ask for his help again.

Do the U.S. and Iran have anything left to say to each other? If they do, you won’t find it in Ahmadinejad’s interviews.

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Friends and Foes Dismiss Israeli Concerns

Both President Obama and Iranian election thief Mahmoud Ahmadinejad were asked about the Iranian nuclear situation in separate interviews yesterday. And, as Algemeiner’s Dovid Efune points out, both compared Israel’s concern over the nuclear program to “noise.” First, here is Obama’s comment during an interview that aired on 60 Minutes last night:

 “When it comes to our national security decisions—any pressure that I feel is simply to do what’s right for the American people. And I am going to block out—any noise that’s out there. Now I feel an obligation, not pressure but obligation, to make sure that we’re in close consultation with the Israelis—on these issues. Because it affects them deeply. They’re one of our closest allies in the region. And we’ve got an Iranian regime that has said horrible things that directly threaten Israel’s existence.”

And here’s Ahmadinejad, in an interview with the Washington Post’s David Ignatius:

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Both President Obama and Iranian election thief Mahmoud Ahmadinejad were asked about the Iranian nuclear situation in separate interviews yesterday. And, as Algemeiner’s Dovid Efune points out, both compared Israel’s concern over the nuclear program to “noise.” First, here is Obama’s comment during an interview that aired on 60 Minutes last night:

 “When it comes to our national security decisions—any pressure that I feel is simply to do what’s right for the American people. And I am going to block out—any noise that’s out there. Now I feel an obligation, not pressure but obligation, to make sure that we’re in close consultation with the Israelis—on these issues. Because it affects them deeply. They’re one of our closest allies in the region. And we’ve got an Iranian regime that has said horrible things that directly threaten Israel’s existence.”

And here’s Ahmadinejad, in an interview with the Washington Post’s David Ignatius:

AHMADINEJAD: “I have spoken about this topic at length, previously. We generally speaking do not take very seriously the issue of the Zionists and the possible dangers emanating from them. Of course they would love to find a way for their own salvation by making a lot of noise and to raise stakes in order to save themselves. But I do not believe they will succeed. Iran is also a very well recognized country and her defensive powers are very clear.”

Notice that Obama also appears to have “downgraded” Israel’s ally status with the U.S. in his interview, as the Washington Free Beacon reports. Israel, said Obama, is “one of our closest allies in the Middle East.” Just one of them? Israel’s status as our closest ally in the region was, up until now, a given. Was this an off-handed error, or is Obama trying to suggest that some recent events in the region put that status into question?

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Ban Didn’t Redeem Himself in Tehran

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has rightly been subjected to some tough criticism for going to Tehran this week to attend the meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement. Much like the meeting of the 120-member nation group itself, Ban’s presence in Iran shows how ineffective American efforts to isolate the Islamist regime have been. His presence there is an implicit stamp of approval for Tehran’s defiance of efforts to halt their drive for nuclear weapons as well as for the recent spate of anti-Semitic statements made by Iran’s leaders. But Ban’s defenders have claimed he would make up for it by making strong statements in Iran.

Ban has apparently made good on that promise by using a meeting with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to stop making offensive and inflammatory comments about Israel being eliminated. He also used a separate meeting with Ayatollah Ali Khaminei to tell him that Iran needs to take “concrete steps” to prove to the world that its nuclear program is not a threat to world peace. Those are good statements, but the idea that this redeems Ban’s decision to travel to the rogue regime is dead wrong. The Iranians have already been told these things numerous times by people more important than Ban. With the clock ticking down to the day when the ayatollahs can announce they have a nuclear weapon, the Iranians need to understand that they will be subjected to complete isolation if they don’t reverse course. More scolding won’t do the trick.

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United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has rightly been subjected to some tough criticism for going to Tehran this week to attend the meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement. Much like the meeting of the 120-member nation group itself, Ban’s presence in Iran shows how ineffective American efforts to isolate the Islamist regime have been. His presence there is an implicit stamp of approval for Tehran’s defiance of efforts to halt their drive for nuclear weapons as well as for the recent spate of anti-Semitic statements made by Iran’s leaders. But Ban’s defenders have claimed he would make up for it by making strong statements in Iran.

Ban has apparently made good on that promise by using a meeting with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to stop making offensive and inflammatory comments about Israel being eliminated. He also used a separate meeting with Ayatollah Ali Khaminei to tell him that Iran needs to take “concrete steps” to prove to the world that its nuclear program is not a threat to world peace. Those are good statements, but the idea that this redeems Ban’s decision to travel to the rogue regime is dead wrong. The Iranians have already been told these things numerous times by people more important than Ban. With the clock ticking down to the day when the ayatollahs can announce they have a nuclear weapon, the Iranians need to understand that they will be subjected to complete isolation if they don’t reverse course. More scolding won’t do the trick.

When compared to the feckless behavior of the members of the Non-Aligned Movement such as Egypt, whose new President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood also journeyed to Tehran, Ban’s behavior looks good. Those other countries were happy to accept the hospitality of Khamenei and Ahmadinejad and to say nothing about their vicious anti-Semitism and threats to wipe out a fellow member state of the United Nations, let alone condemn Iran’s nuclear program. That this conclave would occur at a time when Iran is actively supplying its ally Syrian dictator Bashar Assad with weapons to kill his own people is equally outrageous. Ban at least put himself on record as opposing these things.

But the Iranians were happy to accept Ban’s remonstrations in exchange for being able to play host to the NAM as well as the head of the UN. Just by being there, Ban made it clear that the West’s sanctions were not a serious impediment to normal intercourse between Iran and the rest of the world. At this point, it matters less what people say to the Iranians than what they do with them. Going to Tehran was a gift that exposed the unimportance of the international coalition that Secretary of State Clinton has bragged about organizing. Ban’s statements, however praiseworthy, don’t change the fact that this has been a very good week for the Iranian regime and a bad one for those who still insist against all the evidence that diplomacy and sanctions are enough to stop them.

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Ahmadinejad Brags, U.S. Rationalizes

The day after the terror attack on Israeli tourists in Bulgaria, a senior U.S. official admitted to the New York Times that what Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said publicly yesterday was true: Hezbollah did it at the behest of its Iranian sugar daddy. This was, according to the Times, confirmed by two other U.S. government figures who also declined to speak on the record. But if you don’t want to take the word of these anonymous Americans, all you have to do is listen to what Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said about it on Iranian television yesterday.

As the Times of Israel reports, when speaking of the bombing in Bulgaria, Ahmadinejad said the following:

“The bitter enemies of the Iranian people and the Islamic Revolution have recruited most of their forces in order to harm us,” he said in a speech reported by Israel’s Channel 2 TV. “They have indeed succeeded in inflicting blows upon us more than once, but have been rewarded with a far stronger response.”

He added: “The enemy believes it can achieve its aims in a long, persistent struggle against the Iranian people, but in the end it will not. We are working to ensure that.”

His bragging about the slaughter of five Israeli tourists (including a pregnant woman) and a Bulgarian bus driver contradicted the indignant official denials that were issued yesterday by the Iranian government in the wake of Netanyahu’s accusations. Yet one thing said by the senior U.S. official was almost as bad as Ahmadinejad’s appalling candor. The official described the atrocity as a case of “tit for tat,” meaning that the United States merely considered the slaughter as merely retaliation for Western and/or Israeli efforts to halt Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons. By rationalizing the terrorist attack in this manner, the official, who was clearly speaking on behalf of the administration (and to the newspaper which has served as the primary outlet for a series of leaks about policy and secret operations concerning Iran), demonstrated President Obama and his foreign and defense policy team don’t really understand the nature of the Iranian regime. Just as dangerously, the statement betrays a certain annoyance with Israel’s concerns about a genocidal terror-sponsor obtaining nuclear weapons.

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The day after the terror attack on Israeli tourists in Bulgaria, a senior U.S. official admitted to the New York Times that what Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said publicly yesterday was true: Hezbollah did it at the behest of its Iranian sugar daddy. This was, according to the Times, confirmed by two other U.S. government figures who also declined to speak on the record. But if you don’t want to take the word of these anonymous Americans, all you have to do is listen to what Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said about it on Iranian television yesterday.

As the Times of Israel reports, when speaking of the bombing in Bulgaria, Ahmadinejad said the following:

“The bitter enemies of the Iranian people and the Islamic Revolution have recruited most of their forces in order to harm us,” he said in a speech reported by Israel’s Channel 2 TV. “They have indeed succeeded in inflicting blows upon us more than once, but have been rewarded with a far stronger response.”

He added: “The enemy believes it can achieve its aims in a long, persistent struggle against the Iranian people, but in the end it will not. We are working to ensure that.”

His bragging about the slaughter of five Israeli tourists (including a pregnant woman) and a Bulgarian bus driver contradicted the indignant official denials that were issued yesterday by the Iranian government in the wake of Netanyahu’s accusations. Yet one thing said by the senior U.S. official was almost as bad as Ahmadinejad’s appalling candor. The official described the atrocity as a case of “tit for tat,” meaning that the United States merely considered the slaughter as merely retaliation for Western and/or Israeli efforts to halt Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons. By rationalizing the terrorist attack in this manner, the official, who was clearly speaking on behalf of the administration (and to the newspaper which has served as the primary outlet for a series of leaks about policy and secret operations concerning Iran), demonstrated President Obama and his foreign and defense policy team don’t really understand the nature of the Iranian regime. Just as dangerously, the statement betrays a certain annoyance with Israel’s concerns about a genocidal terror-sponsor obtaining nuclear weapons.

This “tit for tat” comment will help feed the mainstream media narrative that the Jews murdered by Iran/Hezbollah had it coming, because Israel has been accused of assassinating Iranian nuclear scientists. But it ignores the fact that Iran and its loyal Lebanese Hezbollah auxiliaries have been in the business of killing Jews — and Americans — for decades whenever they had the opportunity. Does the Obama administration think Israel’s concerns about Iranian nuclear weapons inspired Iran to commission terrorists to blow up a Jewish community building in Buenos Aires, Argentina, 18 years ago this week? Tehran makes no secret of the official embrace of vile anti-Semitism of the Islamist regime that has ruled there for 33 years. Iran has also been listed a state sponsor of terror for decades and with good reason, as it has targeted Americans as well as Israelis.

Just as bad is the way the comment reflects a certain degree of American impatience with the sense of urgency about the Iranian nuclear threat that is clearly not shared by the Obama administration. Though the president has often pledged to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, the administration waited three years to enact tough sanctions on the regime. Today, it continues to insist diplomacy is the only way to approach the problem even though the P5+1 talks it sponsored have failed. The Iranians have taken the measure of President Obama and believe he isn’t serious about stopping them but is, instead, more concerned — as are they — with averting an Israeli attack on their nuclear facilities.

Far from being a responsible actor that merely strikes out in retaliation for Israeli attacks and which can be trusted to keep its word about confining nuclear research to civilian purposes, Iran is a terrorist state, infused with Jew-hatred and determined to achieve its nuclear goal. Until the administration starts talking — and acting — as if it understands this, its Iran policy will remain a muddle of half-hearted and ineffective measures.

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Ignoring Ahmadinejad’s Calls for Jewish Genocide is a Grave Mistake

The run-up to International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Friday has produced some excellent articles drawing parallels between the Holocaust and the threat posed by an Iranian nuclear bomb. But there’s another parallel that’s equally disturbing: the world’s indifference to the relentless incitement to genocide of both Hitler and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The Holocaust-denying Ahmadinejad never misses an opportunity to call for “wiping Israel off the map.” Since there’s no way to eradicate Israel without also slaughtering a large number of its 7.8 million inhabitants, that is a blatant call for mass murder. Yet he has never, for instance, been declared persona non grata by the EU or investigated for incitement to genocide by the International Criminal Court; indeed, he has been feted in many parts of the “enlightened” West, from lecture invitations at Columbia University to joint press conferences with a fawning Swiss foreign minister, Micheline Calmy-Rey.

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The run-up to International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Friday has produced some excellent articles drawing parallels between the Holocaust and the threat posed by an Iranian nuclear bomb. But there’s another parallel that’s equally disturbing: the world’s indifference to the relentless incitement to genocide of both Hitler and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The Holocaust-denying Ahmadinejad never misses an opportunity to call for “wiping Israel off the map.” Since there’s no way to eradicate Israel without also slaughtering a large number of its 7.8 million inhabitants, that is a blatant call for mass murder. Yet he has never, for instance, been declared persona non grata by the EU or investigated for incitement to genocide by the International Criminal Court; indeed, he has been feted in many parts of the “enlightened” West, from lecture invitations at Columbia University to joint press conferences with a fawning Swiss foreign minister, Micheline Calmy-Rey.

But as Prof. Shlomo Avineri pointed out this month, even more troubling is the silence of world Jewry on this issue – a stark contrast to its activism over, say, Soviet Jews.

“Through demonstrations outside Soviet embassies, embarrassing questions about freedom of emigration at all news conferences of Soviet leaders in the West, and in dozens of other ways,” Avineri noted, Jewish activists turned the Soviets’ refusal to let Jews emigrate into a burden on the regime. But they haven’t done the same with Iran, even though there’s “no reason why demonstrations should not be held outside Iranian embassies in any place in the world, why Iranian ambassadors should not be accompanied at every appearance or trip by demonstrators carrying placards with ‘Holocaust deniers – out!’”

Partly, this may be due to a widespread sentiment that words matter less than deeds – which explains why Jewish groups have been active in trying to persuade Western governments to take stronger steps against Iran’s nuclear program. Yet ignoring Ahmadinejad’s calls for genocide is a grave mistake, for two reasons.

First, history amply proves that when tyrants declare their intention to slaughter the Jews, they often mean exactly what they say. Hitler, who made his intentions crystal clear in Mein Kampf 14 years before World War II began, is only the most famous example. Nor is this unique to Jews: Most genocides begin with incitement; that’s precisely why incitement to genocide is a prosecutable international crime that has already produced several convictions, especially in connection with the 1994 Rwanda genocide.

But beyond that, Jews worldwide should be concerned with the desensitization effect: By consistently advocating genocide without eliciting any serious condemnatory response, Ahmadinejad is gradually turning “kill the Jews” into acceptable public discourse.

Last week, Adam Kirsch wrote a chilling analysis for Tablet of how “Jews control America” rhetoric has moved from the fringes to the respectable mainstream of American discourse in just a few short years. It takes longer to mainstream calls for mass murder. But if left unchallenged, Ahmadinejad’s calls for genocide will eventually become mainstream as well.

Judging by the degree to which he has not become a pariah, his rhetoric is already acceptable to far too many “enlightened” Westerners.

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Israel: 1991-2011

Twenty years ago, Saddam Hussein’s Scud rockets began to rain down on Tel Aviv. The specter of a chemical attack was Israel’s nightmare, because anthrax was a reality in Saddam’s Iraq. Thirty-nine missiles fell on Israel. On those cold nights, the Israelis wore gas masks, because Saddam had revived the idea in the Israeli unconscious that the Jews could be gassed again. The Israelis checked the shelters, sealing doors and windows, they stood in line for gas masks in the hallways of neighborhood elementary schools, and watched chemical-warfare defense videos. Food cans quickly disappeared from the supermarkets. “Drink a lot of water” was the army’s advice against the effects of a possible biochemical attack. Saddam’s Scuds damaged 4,393 buildings, 3,991 apartments, and 331 public institutions. This accounting does not include the incalculable costs of equipping every Israeli with a gas mask, of the need for every Israeli family to prepare sealed rooms, of the national disruption caused by multiple alerts, and of lost business and tourism.

Twenty years ago, Saddam Hussein threatened to “burn half of Israel.” Today Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has promised to wipe out the “dead rats,” as he called the Israelis. Tehran is the biggest strategic threat to Israel’s existence, especially by the terror satellites of Hezbollah and Hamas. According to the new Israeli intelligence reports, Iran would now be able to launch 400 “lethal” missiles on Tel Aviv. Hezbollah could launch up to 600 rockets per day. From Teheran to Tel Aviv, an Iranian Shihab-3 rocket would take 12 minutes to hit the Jewish state. The Dan area of Tel Aviv, where live a quarter of the entire Israeli population, is the target of the next war, about which nobody knows if and when it will burst, but everyone knows that it will have emblazoned within it the eyes of the ayatollahs.

Israel is investing in its own survival. Both Tel Aviv and the port city of Haifa were severely hit by the rockets of 1991. But, for the first time since the birth of Israel, tomorrow these cities could be reached by devastating bombs. The power of death in the region has risen dramatically. It has been estimated that four years ago, Syria had 300 missiles that could reach Tel Aviv, a dozen for Hezbollah, 50 for Iran, and nothing for Hamas. Two years later, Syria had 1,300, Hezbollah 800, Hamas a dozen, and Iran 300. Today it’s 2,300 for Syria, 1,200 for Hezbollah, 400 for Teheran, and a good arsenal of Fajr-5 for Hamas. Jerusalem could be hit with a precision that would leave intact the Al-Aqsa Mosque. So Tel Aviv today is not extending only to the sky with its beautiful skyscrapers but also sinks into the ground because it’s a new target for Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas. Read More

Twenty years ago, Saddam Hussein’s Scud rockets began to rain down on Tel Aviv. The specter of a chemical attack was Israel’s nightmare, because anthrax was a reality in Saddam’s Iraq. Thirty-nine missiles fell on Israel. On those cold nights, the Israelis wore gas masks, because Saddam had revived the idea in the Israeli unconscious that the Jews could be gassed again. The Israelis checked the shelters, sealing doors and windows, they stood in line for gas masks in the hallways of neighborhood elementary schools, and watched chemical-warfare defense videos. Food cans quickly disappeared from the supermarkets. “Drink a lot of water” was the army’s advice against the effects of a possible biochemical attack. Saddam’s Scuds damaged 4,393 buildings, 3,991 apartments, and 331 public institutions. This accounting does not include the incalculable costs of equipping every Israeli with a gas mask, of the need for every Israeli family to prepare sealed rooms, of the national disruption caused by multiple alerts, and of lost business and tourism.

Twenty years ago, Saddam Hussein threatened to “burn half of Israel.” Today Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has promised to wipe out the “dead rats,” as he called the Israelis. Tehran is the biggest strategic threat to Israel’s existence, especially by the terror satellites of Hezbollah and Hamas. According to the new Israeli intelligence reports, Iran would now be able to launch 400 “lethal” missiles on Tel Aviv. Hezbollah could launch up to 600 rockets per day. From Teheran to Tel Aviv, an Iranian Shihab-3 rocket would take 12 minutes to hit the Jewish state. The Dan area of Tel Aviv, where live a quarter of the entire Israeli population, is the target of the next war, about which nobody knows if and when it will burst, but everyone knows that it will have emblazoned within it the eyes of the ayatollahs.

Israel is investing in its own survival. Both Tel Aviv and the port city of Haifa were severely hit by the rockets of 1991. But, for the first time since the birth of Israel, tomorrow these cities could be reached by devastating bombs. The power of death in the region has risen dramatically. It has been estimated that four years ago, Syria had 300 missiles that could reach Tel Aviv, a dozen for Hezbollah, 50 for Iran, and nothing for Hamas. Two years later, Syria had 1,300, Hezbollah 800, Hamas a dozen, and Iran 300. Today it’s 2,300 for Syria, 1,200 for Hezbollah, 400 for Teheran, and a good arsenal of Fajr-5 for Hamas. Jerusalem could be hit with a precision that would leave intact the Al-Aqsa Mosque. So Tel Aviv today is not extending only to the sky with its beautiful skyscrapers but also sinks into the ground because it’s a new target for Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas.

The Habima Theater, for example, will have four underground floors, with entrances on each side. Jerusalem should see the opening of the largest nuclear bunker across the country: 80 feet underground to accommodate 5,000 people. Haifa, the third-largest city in Israel, is building “the largest underground hospital in the world.” And the state is continuing the distribution of gas masks. These first appeared in 1991, when Benjamin Netanyahu, then the Israeli deputy foreign minister, appeared on CNN with a mask. Today thousands of private Israeli homes have been equipped with nuclear-proof shelters ranging from air filters to water-decontamination systems.

Drills have become a routine all over the country. Hospitals and emergency facilities have to be ready in case of necessity, and the municipalities have evacuation protocols. A postcard of the Home Front Command, delivered to Israeli citizens, divide the country into six regions, from the Negev to the Golan. Each region has different times of reaction in case of attack. If you live along the Gaza Strip, you have 20 seconds to shelter. In Jerusalem, it’s three minutes. But if you live close to Lebanon or Syria, the color red means that, unless you are already in a bunker, you just have to wait for the rocket. The Knesset, Israel’s parliament, is building a labyrinth of underground tunnels and rooms where the Jewish leadership would guide the country in case of attacks.

Twenty years after the first Gulf War, Israel remains the only “bunkered” democracy in the world and is now even more relentlessly demonized and ghettoized. But if in 1991 Israel responded with understatement and quiet civil courage, it will probably react differently to Iran’s nuclearization. Because, as Joe McCain wrote few years ago, “the Jews will not go quietly again.”

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The Beginning of the End of Swiss ‘Active Neutrality’?

Since the introduction of global sanctions against Iran last year, encompassing 33 countries, Switzerland has defied the West, including the Obama administration and the EU, by touting its “active neutrality” position, whatever that means.

Today, however, the Swiss government relented and announced that it will fall into line with EU sanctions targeting Iran’s energy sector.

WikiLeaks cables have documented the tensions between the U.S. government and the Swiss government over the latter’s overly cordial relations with Iran. Yet WikiLeaks did not ambush any of the seasoned observers of Swiss-U.S. and Swiss-Israeli relations. The Swiss Foreign Ministry has gone to great lengths to maximize their gas and other economic deals with the mullah regime. One need only recall Micheline Calmy-Rey, the Swiss foreign minister who in 2008 enthusiastically embraced Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran.

The purpose of her Tehran visit was to sign off on the estimated 18-22 billion euro EGL gas deal with the National Iranian Gas Export Company (NIGEC). The gas revenues from the deal with NIGEC, whose parent company, National Iranian Gas Company, was placed on Britain’s Proliferation Concerns List in February 2009, would end up funding Iran’s nuclear-weapons program as well as its wholly owned subsidiaries, Hamas and Hezbollah.

EGL is a Swiss state-owned gas giant, and the Bush administration and Israel protested vehemently and publicly against the deal back in 2008. WikiLeaks simply reiterated the U.S. anger that was already out there. Israel summoned the new Swiss ambassador at the time to bitterly complain about the Swiss jeopardizing the security of the Mideast region.

Calmy-Rey, a leader of the Social Democratic Party, has a troubling record on Iran. In 2006, while meeting with an Iranian delegation on the nuclear crisis, she proposed seminars on different perspectives of the Holocaust. That helps to explain why Roger Köppel, the owner and editor-in-chief of the Swiss weekly Die Weltwoche, wrote a Wall Street Journal Europe piece entitled, “Somebody Stop Calmy-Rey.”

Roger Köppel neatly captured the alliance of the loony Swiss left and fanatical Iranian Holocaust deniers. “One must understand the enormity of this: Ms. Calmy-Rey suggested a debate in Switzerland with Iranian Holocaust deniers on whether the murder of 6 million Jews actually happened. Fortunately, nothing came of this idea. It would not only have been outrageous, but also illegal, since genocide denial is a crime in Switzerland.”

While the statement that Switzerland’s “active neutrality” on the Iranian nuclear threat is welcome, the true test of its intentions will be the termination of the EGL-Iran gas deal.

Since the introduction of global sanctions against Iran last year, encompassing 33 countries, Switzerland has defied the West, including the Obama administration and the EU, by touting its “active neutrality” position, whatever that means.

Today, however, the Swiss government relented and announced that it will fall into line with EU sanctions targeting Iran’s energy sector.

WikiLeaks cables have documented the tensions between the U.S. government and the Swiss government over the latter’s overly cordial relations with Iran. Yet WikiLeaks did not ambush any of the seasoned observers of Swiss-U.S. and Swiss-Israeli relations. The Swiss Foreign Ministry has gone to great lengths to maximize their gas and other economic deals with the mullah regime. One need only recall Micheline Calmy-Rey, the Swiss foreign minister who in 2008 enthusiastically embraced Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran.

The purpose of her Tehran visit was to sign off on the estimated 18-22 billion euro EGL gas deal with the National Iranian Gas Export Company (NIGEC). The gas revenues from the deal with NIGEC, whose parent company, National Iranian Gas Company, was placed on Britain’s Proliferation Concerns List in February 2009, would end up funding Iran’s nuclear-weapons program as well as its wholly owned subsidiaries, Hamas and Hezbollah.

EGL is a Swiss state-owned gas giant, and the Bush administration and Israel protested vehemently and publicly against the deal back in 2008. WikiLeaks simply reiterated the U.S. anger that was already out there. Israel summoned the new Swiss ambassador at the time to bitterly complain about the Swiss jeopardizing the security of the Mideast region.

Calmy-Rey, a leader of the Social Democratic Party, has a troubling record on Iran. In 2006, while meeting with an Iranian delegation on the nuclear crisis, she proposed seminars on different perspectives of the Holocaust. That helps to explain why Roger Köppel, the owner and editor-in-chief of the Swiss weekly Die Weltwoche, wrote a Wall Street Journal Europe piece entitled, “Somebody Stop Calmy-Rey.”

Roger Köppel neatly captured the alliance of the loony Swiss left and fanatical Iranian Holocaust deniers. “One must understand the enormity of this: Ms. Calmy-Rey suggested a debate in Switzerland with Iranian Holocaust deniers on whether the murder of 6 million Jews actually happened. Fortunately, nothing came of this idea. It would not only have been outrageous, but also illegal, since genocide denial is a crime in Switzerland.”

While the statement that Switzerland’s “active neutrality” on the Iranian nuclear threat is welcome, the true test of its intentions will be the termination of the EGL-Iran gas deal.

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Iranian Woman Not Stoned for Alleged Adultery

Iran’s pariah regime said today that it plans to drop the death-by-stoning penalty against Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, a woman who was sentenced to death for alleged adultery. All this means is that the global anti-stoning human rights campaign to influence a change in the behavior of the mullah regime has forced Iran’s rulers to temporarily backpedal from their medieval practices in the case of Ms. Ashtiani.

According to the New York Times, “Apparently contradicting previous court documents, Zahra Elahian, head of the Majles Human Rights Committee, said that the stoning sentence against the woman, Sakineh Mohammadi-Ashtiani, had never been confirmed.“

Given Iran’s deceptive behavior with respect to its illicit nuclear weapons program, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad might be flirting with a cooling-off period in order to reimpose the stoning penalty at a later stage. The trial proceeding against Ms. Ashtiani was nothing short of a sham. She now faces a 10-year incarceration period.

The Islamic Republic of Iran remains vulnerable to human rights sanctions. President Barack Obama was wishy-washy and aloof about human rights when Iran’s regime viciously cracked down on its civilian population during the fraudulent 2009 Iran election.

Last September, however, the Obama administration imposed mild human rights sanctions against eight top-level Iranian government officials for inflicting unlawful detention, torture, rape, and violent beatings on Iranians who protested the doctored 2009 election results.

While the European Union claims to have cornered the market on advancing human rights, there is an eerie silence and passivity emanating from the EU about sanctioning Iran for human rights violations. The EU remains Iran’s second-largest trading partner after China. Italy and Germany have a combined €10 billion trade relationship with the Islamic Republic.

The tragic case of Ms. Ashtiani shows that if the Western democracies decide to fill its human rights rhetoric with meaning and content, they can influence a change in Iran’s incorrigibly reactionary domestic policies.

Iran’s pariah regime said today that it plans to drop the death-by-stoning penalty against Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, a woman who was sentenced to death for alleged adultery. All this means is that the global anti-stoning human rights campaign to influence a change in the behavior of the mullah regime has forced Iran’s rulers to temporarily backpedal from their medieval practices in the case of Ms. Ashtiani.

According to the New York Times, “Apparently contradicting previous court documents, Zahra Elahian, head of the Majles Human Rights Committee, said that the stoning sentence against the woman, Sakineh Mohammadi-Ashtiani, had never been confirmed.“

Given Iran’s deceptive behavior with respect to its illicit nuclear weapons program, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad might be flirting with a cooling-off period in order to reimpose the stoning penalty at a later stage. The trial proceeding against Ms. Ashtiani was nothing short of a sham. She now faces a 10-year incarceration period.

The Islamic Republic of Iran remains vulnerable to human rights sanctions. President Barack Obama was wishy-washy and aloof about human rights when Iran’s regime viciously cracked down on its civilian population during the fraudulent 2009 Iran election.

Last September, however, the Obama administration imposed mild human rights sanctions against eight top-level Iranian government officials for inflicting unlawful detention, torture, rape, and violent beatings on Iranians who protested the doctored 2009 election results.

While the European Union claims to have cornered the market on advancing human rights, there is an eerie silence and passivity emanating from the EU about sanctioning Iran for human rights violations. The EU remains Iran’s second-largest trading partner after China. Italy and Germany have a combined €10 billion trade relationship with the Islamic Republic.

The tragic case of Ms. Ashtiani shows that if the Western democracies decide to fill its human rights rhetoric with meaning and content, they can influence a change in Iran’s incorrigibly reactionary domestic policies.

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