Let Ahmadinejad Twist in the Wind
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
President Ahmadinejad of Iran recently raised the prospect of attending Iran’s World Cup game next Sunday against Mexico at Nuremberg. That’s a thought. Perhaps Interpol will keep him at Nuremberg to be tried – in the city where Nazi criminals were sentenced for the Holocaust he strenuously denies – for his repeated vows to wipe out 5.5 million Jews living in Israel.
The news of this possible visit to the West was reported in Der Spiegel, and as always, Mr. Ahmadinejad displayed an infantile logic that calls to mind the diatribes of that other Energizer bunny-style leader, Libya’s Muammar Gadhafi.
Both Colonel Gadhafi and Mr. Ahmadinejad show a notable immaturity that may offer clues about how best to handle crude revolutionary outbursts. After years of railing against the West and inventing his own theories of government, Colonel Gadhafi has folded like a tent in the hope of ending isolating sanctions, and has become a docile informant for Western intelligence systems, disgorging tips on terror groups once sponsored by Libya.
Mr. Ahmadinejad is at the beginning of the same process of juvenile defiance of the West that first brings total isolation and then, sometime in the future, repentance.
Mr. Ahmadinejad now hints at making an atomic bomb he knows full well could bring a swift end to Iran as we know it. He drops dark threats about using oil as a weapon against the West, knowing it will hurt Iran’s economy and those of poor nations far more than it will damage Western economies. And he insinuates that Iran can still sponsor terrorism at will, which can only invite crippling economic sanctions to a country already suffering from chronic problems.
If anything, Mr. Ahmadinejad’s statements these days confirm the widespread impression, inside as well as outside Iran, that when it comes to handling weighty matters, he is a lightweight – a mere front man for the serious senior mullahs who will use him he is until properly barbecued, and then, as they did with the reformist President Khatemi, discard him and settle down to some serious bargaining with the West.
When asked by Der Spiegel about his rambling 16-page letter to President Bush, in which he hinted at a part played by American intelligence in planning and executing the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Mr. Ahmadinejad resorted to coyness. Asked about his declaration that Western democracy is dead, he meandered into a half-baked Third World theory about a new world justice system to be arbitrated somehow with “universal acceptance.”
Sounds a lot like the old Gadhafi “Green Book,” which advocated the Third World theory as a substitute to communism and capitalism. And it’s just as vacuous.
Mr. Ahmadinejad summed up the American position toward Iran and his concept of world balance with beatific simplicity: “We understand the Americans’ logic. They suffered damage as a result of the victory of the Islamic Revolution. But we’re puzzled why some European countries are opposed to us. … By siding with Iran, the Europeans would serve their own and our interests. But they will suffer only damage if they oppose us.”
Why does the West bother to listen to this nonsense? Iran is a country under sanctions. If it refuses to park its ambition to own nuclear weaponry, it will suffer harsher sanctions.
Just as with Libya, sanctions do work in the end. Libya was totally isolated. Flights to and from the country were banned and travelers had to reach it by land. Officials, too, were banned from traveling. Their money was confiscated. Libya’s ability to exploit its oil wealth was crippled, as Iran’s is right now. All this weighs a regime down.
Indeed, Mr. Ahmadinejad’s letter to Mr. Bush, with its sycophantic character, is a confession of those burdens by a child to an adult.
Iran needs to break out of its economic, political, and strategic isolation. Mr. Ahmadinejad’s bosses know that. Why not just let him, like Colonel Gadhafi before him, twist in the wind? Iran will come around, just as Libya did.