THOSE WHO marvel at George Bush’s undoubted intellectual incoherence – “please don’t misunderestimate me” – will now have to apply the same criterion to Iran’s new President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
President Ahmadinejad was elected last August. That one fact alone should be sufficient to repudiate the familiar Bush/Blair doctrine that all the Middle East needs is a little democracy. Since then, Ahmadinejad has unleashed a stream of pronouncements resembling a suicide note in instalments. His inflammatory language has had several immediate effects. It has boosted the agenda of neo-conservatives in Washington, who have always had their sights on Iran. It has also helped to lift Bush out of the doldrums of unpopularity amid the unfolding bloodbath in Iraq.
Ahmadinejad’s behaviour has also justified Bush’s description of Iran as a member of the axis of evil. More damagingly, it has also succeeded in diverting the West’s attention away from what should have been its absolute priority – a resolution to the poisonous Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Instead, as a result of his conduct, Ahmadinejad may have already handed the White House over to an even more conservative politician in 2009.
Ahmadinejad calls for Israel to be “wiped off the map”
Ahmadinejad was always a controversial figure, suspected of tacit involvement in the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979 and the assassination of Kurdish opposition figures in Austria. As mayor of Tehran, he invited Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, a serial violator of human rights, for an official visit. But, what we may call Ahmadinejad’s official suicide manual began when he assumed the presidency. Firstly, he called for Israel to be wiped off the map. Now, that is not an altogether surprising comment from an Iranian politician, but it nonetheless bolstered the credentials of hardliners in America and Israel. His comments also embarrassed those whose cause Ahmadinejad espouses – the Palestinians.
Next, almost as if to back those who maintain that the Middle East is rife with anti-Semitism, Ahmadinejad publicly described the Holocaust as a myth. He then added that, if the Holocaust did occur, Western leaders should relocate Israel to Europe, Canada, or the United States. More recently, he has called for a ‘conference’ to discuss the historical evidence for the Holocaust. This kind of Holocaust revisionism is already fertile territory throughout the Middle East, but it is usually (more cleverly) dressed up as anti-Zionism. Ahmnadinejad’s ‘mistake’ was to nail his colours firmly to the Holocaust-denial camp and so attract exactly the same anti-Semitic losers who would appear at an anti-Zionist conference, thereby proving that they are one and the same.
Nuclear dispute could
Hard-line rhetoric aside, none of this would really matter if Iran did not present a threat to its neighbours. But all the evidence suggests that it does. In 2003, the International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA) reported that Iran had hidden a uranium enrichment programme for 18 years. Western members of the IAEA called on Iran to cease all enrichment activities permanently. But Iran refused to do so, prompting these countries to press for Iran to be reported to the Security Council with the aim of imposing sanctions. Western powers fear that Iran secretly wants to develop either a nuclear bomb or the ability to make one, even if it has not yet decided to build one.
In another disastrous pronouncement, Ahmadinejad told the United Nations that Iran has an inalienable right to produce nuclear energy, triggering horror in the international community. As a result, there are press reports that Israel, which bombed an Iraqi reactor in 1981 in a pre-emptive strike, has started planning a possible raid.
Israel, like America, appears to be relying on diplomacy for the moment at least. But time could be running out for Iran. Senator John McCain, a likely presidential candidate in 2008, has said that it would be abominable for Russia and China (two countries seen as more friendly to Iran) to thwart sanctions at the UN. McCain has also described Iran as more of a threat than Iraq to the stability of the region and has not ruled out using military force. And if that were to happen, Ahmadinejad will only have himself to blame.