How to do justice to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, president of Iran? That so contradictory and malevolent a character should have pushed his way to the front of the world stage is truly bizarre. Who, or what, is the real self? If he chooses, he can deal rationally with journalists at a press conference in New York while indulging in mystical reveries at the United Nations. It is rational to have a policy of evicting the United States from the Middle East, and setting up Iran in its place as the power controlling the region and beyond as far as possible. It is rational to build a nuclear weapon and delivery system as the instrument to cement future power.
But to enlarge the quest for regional power into a clash of civilizations between so-called “Crusaders” and Islam serves no useful purpose; it is simply false, as well as counter-productive because it warns his enemies that they have no way of becoming friends. He’s able to combine belief that the Hidden Imam of the Shias is on the point of reappearing with a conspiracy theory about 9/11. Bin Laden and other Muslims take the greatest pride in it, but the Iranian president tells everyone that the United States actually destroyed its own monuments. This is on a par with his nonsense about the Nazi Holocaust, which he thinks never took place — but meanwhile he’s going to wipe Israel off the map.
Ahmadinejad is now in Lebanon, and the contrast between the rational and the irrational in his conduct comes into play. Iran has financed and armed Hezbollah to the point where it is now the decisive factor in the country’s political existence. Institutions representing other national or religious elements are effectively at the mercy of Hezbollah and Iran. By means of this proxy, Ahmadinejad is in a position to launch war or civil war, or simply to take over the country in partnership with his sidekick Syria at a moment of his choice.
And what is on the program of this shah on his imperial tour of a conquered province? He intends to go to the border with Israel, and throw a stone across the fence. Edward Said, the foremost Palestinian propagandist of his day, once made the front page when he was photographed doing just that. In fact, the stone-throwing made Said appear childish and ridiculous, and that will also be the reaction if Ahmadinejad really follows his example. It may even be more destructive just to laugh at the man and his preposterous fantasies than to send some F-15s over at ground level.