Top 10 reasons to welcome departure of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: Only the Neocons will miss Him

Since he won the Iranian presidential election in 2005, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been an object of fear, vilification and ridicule in Washington DC. I said from the beginning that there was no evidence Iran had a nuclear weapons program under his presidency, and 8 years later he went out of office without one. I was upbraided 7 years ago and told that Iran was five years away from the bomb. There’s still no evidence that the country even has a weapons program.

Both American rightwing and Jewish-nationalist hawks who want the US to go to war with the Islamic Republic of Iran nearly wet their pants in delight at having the quirky yet somehow menacing figure of Ahmadinejad with which to frighten the public into the war they yearn for. When I pointed out to them that Ahmadinejad did not control the Iranian army or intelligence and that therefore nothing he said mattered very much, they ignored that point. Now that Iran has a new and more presentable president, Hasan Rouhani, the hawks are saying with no trace of shame that the president doesn’t matter for security issues, and these matters are in the hands of the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei. I.e., in case Rouhani turns out to be personable and pragmatic, the hawks want to be able to dismiss him as powerless, even though they spent the last 8 years stridently shouting at us that Ahmadinejad was in charge.

So here are the reasons to be glad to see Ahmadinejad gone:

1. Without Mahmoud putting his foot in his mouth at every opportunity, it will be harder to demonize Iran, thus impeding if not forestalling war.

2. We won’t have to have the annual wingnut hysteria when Ahmadinejad came to New York for the United Nations General Assembly meeting in September. That hysteria was so frenetic that it pushed an otherwise honorable intellectual like Lee Bollinger, president of Columbia University, to utter a string of demonstrable falsehoods and act like a jerk when ‘interviewing’ the then Iranian president. The annual hysteria was because the hawks wanted to configure Iran as a country with which we have been at war since the 1980s (wasn’t that when their leader Ronald Reagan stole TOW missiles from the Pentagon warehouse and sold them to Khomeini?)

3. Every time Ahmadinejad said things like that Iran was going to try to produce isotopes for treating cancer at its medical reactor, Western politicians alleged that it was another Nagasaki (without mentioning that Nagasaki was ordered by. . . Western politicians.)

4. We won’t have to point out ad infinitum that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is in charge of nuclear policy and that he forbids nukes as illicit in Islamic law, and that Ahmadinejad is not Hitler, since he cannot, like, give an effective order to a single regular army troop.

5. Ahmadinejad continually said Iran has a policy of no first strike, and that he believed an aggressive attack on Israel would be wrong and that he did not want to kill a single Israeli, and that nuclear “Weapons research is in no way part of Iran’s program. Even with regard to the Zionist regime, our path to a solution is elections.” But apparently that odd light in his eyes when he said it made Western journalists hear him threaten genocide.

6. Ahmadinejad’s odd version of the one-state solution, in which he called for Palestinians to have the vote in Israel but for Israelis who immigrated after a certain date to be excluded as foreigners, leant itself to anti-Iran war propaganda.

7. I won’t have to analyze Ahmadinejad’s creepy anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and Holocaust denial any more. Ahmadinejad’s predecessor, former president Mohammad Khatami, upbraided him for denying the Holocaust, and it is not a universally held view among Iran’s political class. Since Ahmadinejad was not commander in chief of the armed forces and since Iran has a no first strike policy, his objectionable views in any case were no guide to national defense policy.

8. Ahmadinejad went back on his populist promises to allow a more open culture. He did an about-face and backed puritan norms. At one point Ahmadinejad’s morals police went into department stores and cut the breasts off storefront mannequins because they filled out the clothes too suggestively. His successor seems to seek a cultural opening.

9. I will never again have to hear some uninformed pundit or politician drone on about how Ahmadinejad threatened to wipe Israel off the face of the map, which he did not. This stupid debate was only possible because the journalists in Washington and New York apparently do not trust me (I’m looking at you, Ethan Bronner) to know the difference between a transitive and intransitive verb or accurately to translate Persian into English. The late Christopher Hitchens even managed to convince himself that he knew Persian better than I. It is a profound mark of contemporary America’s anti-intellectualism that a professor of Middle Eastern history with numerous refereed works to his name on Iran and Shiite Islam at prominent academic presses should be assumed not to know the grammar every Iranian schoolchild does. This whole ‘wiped off the face of the map’ mania among Western journalists was just war propaganda, in which they seem unashamed to join, and which causes them to vilify anyone who stands in their way.

10. And the top reason we should be happy to see the back of Ahmadinejad [lit. scion of the Ahmadi clan] is that his name is unpronounceable for American politicians and pundits, who embarrass themselves tripping over it, creating a shame-rage cycle that turns into war fever. Just changing the president to a Rouhani (literally, “spiritual”) may forestall a ruinous war all by itself.

Posted in Iran | 22 Responses | Print |

22 Responses

  1. You cannot blame the truculence and departure from decency of Columbia president Lee Bollinger on Columbia’s guest speaker, President Ahmadinejad. Mr Bollinger’s rudeness toward a guest speaker of Columbia, my Alma Mata, demeaned this great institution. Mr Bollinger is an adult and his departure from the dignified tradition of this institution is his own doing.

    His referring to President Ahmadinejad as a ‘dictator’ when he knew very well that Ahmadinejad was an elected president with limited powers was a departure from intellectual integrity which is one of the great values I took from this institution.

    • Excellent point William James Martin.
      Lee Bollinger’s departure from professionalism and trading the dignity of the institution he presided over to embrace 5 minutes of fame backfired on him.

  2. [I will never again have to hear some uninformed pundit or politician drone on about how Ahmadinejad threatened to wipe Israel off the face of the map, which he did not. ]

    Unfortunately, there will be some equivalent of this. Such absurd accusations are symptoms of hate, and hate always finds one way to manifest itself or another.

    Another example of such absurdity is obamophobic story about the birth certificate.

    And there is an absurd cult of Pussy Riot, Pussies are only as good as they are putinophobic.

  3. Just for the sake of accuracy, the correct pronunciation of Ahmadinejad’s name is more like Ahmadi-nejad, than the 5 syllable Amma-dinny-jod, right?

    If I remember correctly, the Amma-dinny-jod pronunciation was a flustered ad-lib by an American anchorman, and then everyone else just fell in line so they wouldn’t look stupid.

    I also seem to remember that president Bush insisted on using the correct pronunciation, but was lambasted for being stupid and not knowing he was supposed to say Amma-dinny-jod.

    It is an interesting state of affairs when a U.S. president is assumed to be so stupid that, even when he gets something right, no one can believe it, and everyone just assumes he’s an idiot.

  4. I said from the beginning that there was no evidence Iran had a nuclear weapons program under his presidency, and 8 years later he went out of office without one. I was upbraided 7 years ago and told that Iran was five years away from the bomb. There’s still no evidence that the country even has a weapons program.

    I guess the little soft-shoe number, moving from “a purely civilian energy program” to “the achievement of breakout capacity to provide a military deterrent,” isn’t worth mentioning.

    • that’s not a soft shoe number, it is a Washington-Tel Aviv shell game. Closing the fuel cycle is a right guaranteed by the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. But closing the fuel cycle is also always an inevitably a break out capacity.

      There is no evidence of weaponization or diversion of uranium to weapons use, which is what is important. Iranians have the *capacity* to walk into Caspian sea en masse; the question is whether that’s what they want to do and if there are actually any people on the road toward the north. Answer: No.

      • Actually, Juan, I was talking about your description of the program, and its drift over the years.

        I was one of the people who “upbraided” you for insisting that there was no military aspect to the program whatsoever, and was pleased when you started allowing the breakout capacity/nuclear deterrent motive to enter into your commentary.

        • ‘Break out capacity’ is not a well defined concept with clear boundaries. Clearly Netanyahu thinks any capability at all involving nuclear power, including just 4% enrichment for producing light water reactor power generation, is near break out capacity.

          To produce a nuclear bomb, you not only need 90% enrichment, but you need design and fabrication of the bomb along with actual testing of the component mechanisms and also simulated tests of the actual bomb.

          Mastery of he complete fuel cycle means you can produce uranium hexafluoride (conversion) from uranium ore. That does not get you any closer to a bomb than does purchasing uranium already processed and ready for conversion.

      • There is an argument that a nuclear Iran would safeguard that country from implementation of the second round of wars called for in the neocon brainchild known as the Project for a New American Century. Israel has developed nuclear weapons to protect itself from being intimidated and did so in complete secrecy. The double standard is sickening.

        I know our mainstream press has stifled all middle east experts, such as Dr. Cole, from appearing on MTP or Face the Nation because that person might ask…Why are we placing sanctions on a country that is NOT building a nuclear weapon? Or…This is the same bogus rhetoric we heard about Iraq 10 years ago, and look where that got us! or even…Tell us what happens to oil prices the day after we bomb Iran? Goodbye recovery.

        • “There is an argument that…”

          Do you buy the argument that more nuclear proliferation means more peace? I never have – I’m an old-fashioned anti-nuke guy.

    • I guess somebody else’s mother told them, like mine told me, that “persistence is rewarded.” The problem with ordinary people, without “Realist” axes to grind, usually want to just persist in ordinary lives. It takes another kind of persistence, by the kind of people that (on all sides, of course) carried forward all the BS and framing and institutionalization of the Great Game idiocy that grew into our idiot “Forever War” and the incipient heat death of our species, grew like some toxic fungus out of the wastes of the apparently inevitable industrialistization and nationalistization of a world that was blessed, or cursed, with that incredible gift of extractable and rentable resources, a thing of a kind of beauty that we were given to work from. Persistence like that among the neo-liberals and PNAC and the boys and girls too at the Heritage Foundation and in our War Colleges and Service Academies, and their “enemy” analogues, in whispering and shouting and sniping with all those little message-bullets that found their marks in the amygdalas and other unfortunate bits of our limbic systems.

      Persist, Joe: It’s worked just great for our (and “our enemies'”) militarists and Birchers and the Koch_uckers and the Party hacks in the former Soviet Union and the Irrationalist Nationalists in so many places, and of course in our great religious enterprises. Keep sniping and whispering and being smug that a few humans get to be vastly pleasured and immeasurably comfortable and ego-stroked, at the cost of the kind of misery and instability and unsurvivability that I keep directing folks to here: link to

      Yep, be smugly satisfied that the tapeworms and tumors will be happily ensconced and thriving, right up to the point that we, the exhausted, cachexic host critters, start that Cheyne-Stokes breathing and our eyes sag half open and our lips turn blue and our skin turns that gray-green and our bowels and bladders release their final contents. And there will be no loving family and Hospice care to ease our passing.

      But what a ride the Warlords and Captains of Industry and Vampire Squid Financialists will have had, right? And with lots of scraps for the remoras and jackals and hyenas that follow in their wake…

      • UH, JT? Nothing I have ever written has the slightest connection to realist foreign policy. I frequently denounce realist foreign policy, including when you took up the mantle to argue against he Libyan intervention. Oil wars are an example of a foreign policy that puts national interest above values.

        I think you’re using big words you don’t understand again.

        I’m really not interested in chasing your nonsensical babble around. I just wanted to clear up that one point.

  5. It does not matter weather it is Ahmadenejad or Rouhani, or Rfsanjani, or Erdogan or Mahatheer, or Mursi. Any one who tries to follow an independent line is condemned. To stay in the good books they have to be a Hosni Mubarak, Assisi, Abdullah, Reza Pahlavi, Saadaat, Pinochet ….

  6. Professor,

    I was wondering if you could provide a bit more color on Ali Khamenei “[forbidding] nukes as illicit in Islamic law”?


  7. I love reference to transitive/intransitive verbs. Really, if you’re trying to pontificate about a country and you don’t speak the language — most of the time, you’re just making a fool out of yourself. This is what I’ve learn from studying language. All these guys who only read western sources are idiots and they don’t even realize it.

  8. Besides the neocons that you mentioned sarcastically, Mr. Ahmadinejad would be missed by some of us.
    I think the history will show in due time that he was an effective president albeit grave shortcomings of the leadership to whom he was expected to pay allegiance to.

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