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.