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Picking a fight
Ahmadinejad goes to New York


September 21, 2005

President Ahmadinejad’s visit to the United Nations was closely watched for clues to Iran’s next move in the standoff over uranium enrichment with the IAEA.  Ahmadinejad won, the presidential elections this summer, in a surprise victory, with allegedly, sixty percent of the vote, on a radical platform of anti-Western and anti-American rhetoric that promised a better life for the people in a more Islamic Iran.

The disgruntled poor voted for him.  Because he spoke, in classic Marxist terminology, of the redistribution of wealth and the direct conversion of oil revenue to food on people’s tables.  He spoke, like Khomeini used to, with contempt for the West and revulsion towards compromise.  He advocated a cleansings of the fiscal and moral corruption that the Khatami era Presetroika manqué had encouraged.  He promised to get rid of the sexy hejab of the new youth and to put the government on a regime of austerity.  But delivering the economy from the shambles that it is in is not going to be easy.  Promises of more food on the tables are hard to keep.

The economic promise being hard to meet, Ahmadinejad, and the regime as a whole, have to keep their anti-Western rhetoric and keep face by appearing bold before the West. More importantly, the regime has to avert attention from its own shortcomings by blaming a war or series of sanctions as the culprit for the government’s lack of ability to deliver its promises.

It is in this context then that we should try to understand Ahmadinejad’s speech and behavior at the U.N.

His speech was like a schoolteacher’s lecture.  It took the moral high ground, starting with a verse from the Koran, and spoke of the importance of human rights and the need for international cooperation. He told the world that Iran is an Islamic nation that seeks peace and harmony in fact wants to share its newly found nuclear expertise BUT without losing its pride and independence.  In a most bullying way he claimed that Iran would not be bullied! 

His CNN interview with Christiane Amanpour was the most interesting and revealed best the intentions of this regime.   When asked why Iran refuses to buy enriched uranium just to calm suspicions, he answered with a carpet-dealer smirk, “We will sell to you thirty percent cheaper the Uranium, why not let us make it.”

Amanpour asked him four or five times if he really meant it when he said that Iran would not stop enriching Uranium, which would surely have the case end up in the U.N Security Council and lead to some UN sanctions or even war with the U.S and Europe.  He looked back with a smirk and repeatedly answered yes.  She even told him that his tone was rather confrontational and would give a bellicose signal but he kept his, I know what I am saying but I am saying it anyway -- look.  It reminded me of a schoolboy picking a fight.  That is the attitude of Ahmadinejad and the regime.  They are like children sticking their tongue out at the whole world. 

The carelessness of their dress and their unkempt hair and beard, their proud inability to speak another language and the deliberately familiar style of Farsi that they use are all meant to say, “we are proud of the way we look and who we are and we wont dress like you or talk like you or listen to you.”  It is a deliberately anti-diplomatic style.  It is anti-suave.  It seems to say, “we unlike the westernized colonial puppets before us, will not imitate you, the West, because we are proud of who we are. We are not afraid.” If the UN summit were a music festival Ahmadinejad and crew would be its punk rockers.   

But there is nothing childish in their intentions.  Ahmadinejad knows that he cannot deliver his promise of a better life for the masses that voted for him.  So he and the theocratic regime know that the best way to avoid the unrest at home that their failure to do something for the economy would surely cause, is to have a confrontation with the almighty and all-powerful Americans.  They need a scapegoat.  The regime is once again hiding behind the Islamic Revolution‘s legacy of anti-Americanism and isolationism.  Cast yourself as the proud underdog who is a victim of international conspiracy and avoid blame for the sorry state of the economy.

If they cast Iran as a victim of international injustice like they did in the Iran-Iraq war then they can ask the people to put their needs aside in order to defend Iran and Islam.

Like the martyrs of Karbela, Iranians will be asked to follow their Imam Hussein in the person of Ahmadinejad and fight the Americans to save their national pride in the form of the right to produce enriched uranium.  Time and again the story of Karbela, a battle fought and badly lost many centuries ago, so imbedded in Shiite hearts, comes to the aid of this regime who by making itself a martyr and a victim manages to shun responsibility for the economic failure of Iran and, more importantly to them, stays in power.  Failing as managers, only in their role as anti-American revolutionaries, do the Islamist rulers of Iran feel comfortable. 

Ahmadinejad was elected to pick a fight.  He went to the U.N to pick a fight.  The regime in Iran needs a war to stay alive.  The international community should be careful how it goes about handling Iran.  Sometimes sanctions and punishments are exactly what the adversary wants. 

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