Politics & Policy

The Iranian Challenge

Face to face with Ahmadinejad.

The Mahmoud Ahmadinejad interview in Der Spiegel has its moments, to be sure, but overall it’s about what you would expect. He’s an uncultured fanatic who will never admit error but simply reassert his lies. He’s not at all interested in what we call “the pursuit of the truth,” so there is no real interview or dialogue (the crowd calling for negotiations with this regime ought to study this text, because if they do it seriously they will realize that you cannot negotiate with these people). He constantly projects Iranian political culture onto the rest of the world, which is what you would expect from an uncultured ideologue. And it’s astonishing to watch the Spiegel interviewer fall into one rhetorical trap after another. In many ways, the interview is noteworthy for its exposure of the fecklessness of a German interviewer facing an Iranian bully. 

When Ahmadinejad says “I don’t know what all the excitement is about” concerning the possibility he would attend the World Cup in Germany this summer, he’s told that it’s because of his remarks about the Holocaust. “So you were surprised…?” the interviewer says. Uninterested in what he said a sentence before, Ahmadinejad tosses out a new version: “No, not at all, because the network of Zionism is very active…”

And that pretty much sets the tone for the rest of the interview. It’s always “heads I win, tails you lose.” Or rather, the Jews lose. Early on, he says “if (the Holocaust) did not occur, then the Jews have to go back to where they came from.” And a bit later he says “If there really had been a Holocaust, Israel ought to be located in Europe…” So he wants to ship the Jews to Europe, period. Talk about the Holocaust is neither here nor there.

When the Spiegel interviewer tries to suggest that there is abundant evidence for the Holocaust, Ahmadinejad first tosses off one of his great gag lines (“Normally, governments promote and support the work of researchers on historical events and do not put them in prison”), as if his regime had not arrested, tortured, and murdered thousands of Iranians who tried to tell the truth about the actions of the regime. Then he assaults the poor German: Why do you have to support the Zionists? Why do you Germans still feel guilty about the Holocaust? “Why must the German people be humiliated today because a group of people committed crimes in the name of the Germans during the course of history?” The Spiegel journalist doesn’t have the wit to ask Ahmadinejad why jihadis like him base their actions on events that took place centuries ago, and then have the chutzpah to condemn the Germans for feeling guilt about the actions of their parents.

The use of “humiliation” tells us a lot about the way the mullahs think about the world; they look at international events as a matter of domination or humiliation, and he hammers away at this theme: “Saying that we should accept the world as it is would mean that…the German people would be humiliated for another 1.000 years. Do you think that is the correct logic?”

You can be quite certain that the mullahs are not going to accept anything less than the humiliation of the West, and Ahmadinejad’s hatred for the Europeans oozes from every verbal exchange. When the Spiegel interviewer asks him whether he wants nuclear weapons, Ahmadinejad treats him with total contempt. If you know how to parse the language, you will see that he says “yes. Hell yes!” But instead of putting it in the context of the pursuit of Iranian national interests, he treats it as part of his hatred of the West:

In our view, the legal system whereby a handful of countries force their will on the rest of the world is discriminatory and unstable…there are a number of countries that possess both nuclear energy and nuclear weapons. They use their atomic weapons to threaten other peoples…What we say is that these countries themselves have long deviated from peaceful usage. These powers have no right to talk to us in this manner. This order is unjust and unsustainable.

That ought to be clear enough for anyone who cares to see it.

As for the rest, it ranges from outright lies (“we’re concerned about the American soldiers who die in Iraq. Why do they have to die there?” This from a regime that is doing much of the killing) to the usual denunciation of free societies:

It does not make sense that a phenomenon depends on the opinions of many individuals who are free to interpret the phenomenon as they wish. You can’t solve the problems of the world that way…we need sustainable principles that enjoy universal acceptance–such as justice. Iran and the West agree on this. They don’t, because the West believes, (at least I hope it still believes), that individuals must be free to think freely, while the Iranian regime demands subservience (anyone who thinks that the ayatollahs’ regime is based on justice should take a refresher course on basic legal principles).

And he ends with an open threat: If the Europeans continue to side with the Americans (would that it were so!), they will lose their position in the Middle East, and “ruin their reputation in other parts of the world. The others will think that the Europeans aren’t capable of solving problems.”

I wonder if there are many who believe the Europeans can solve any serious problems nowadays. They certainly can’t manage the Iranian challenge.

Can we?

Michael Ledeen, an NRO contributing editor, is most recently the author of The War Against the Terror Masters. He is resident scholar in the Freedom Chair at the American Enterprise Institute.

Michael LedeenMichael Ledeen is an American historian, philosopher, foreign-policy analyst, and writer. He is a former consultant to the National Security Council, the Department of State, and the Department of Defense. ...

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