“There are differences, of course.”

This week’s Economist, in a long and intelligent piece about Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his political fortunes, offers up a rather inflammatory comparison (and an instant retraction):

Yet in both America and Iran, currents of dissent are growing, even inside their administrations. In neither case do the dissenters differ much from their leader’s stated objective: for Iran it is to claim a perceived right to nuclear technology; for America it is to perform an assumed duty to stop Iran making atomic bombs. In both cases, critics lambast their leaders for tactics that may take their countries to war.

The second and third paragraphs quoted are a bit mind-boggling. The wording suggests (at least to me) that dissent in America and Iran is identical in form, nature, and inherent risk; that “like-minded conservative” means the same thing in the context of Iranian politics that it does in American politics; that Bush’s populism is indistinguishable from Ahmadinejad’s. Isn’t it reasonable to say that the essential differences—the fact that George W. Bush, whatever his critics may say, does not preside over a theocratic, totalitarian regime—make the similarities purely superficial? Or even negligible? Puzzling . . .