Wealthy Frenchman

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Hostage to Iran Again?


It was galling to be lectured on ethics, truth, justice, virtue and respect for human rights by a Holocaust-denying, Iraq-meddling, American-hating pipsqueak. A guy who showed up to address the United Nations without bothering to wear a tie, so casual in a disco-looking cream suit and open-necked pink shirt he looked like he would kick back later in Chelsea.

If President Bush was bland, oblique and condescending in his U.N. remarks, bypassing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak directly to the people of Iran, the Iranian leader was more blunt — referring to America and Britain disdainfully as “the occupiers.” “Not a day goes by without hundreds of people getting killed in cold blood,” he said.

Iranian leaders love nothing more than taunting American presidents, as we learned when Jimmy Carter was emasculated during the hostage crisis. And so it was with Mr. Ahmadinejad, who took W. and Dick Cheney’s refrain about how Republicans are needed to stiffen America’s will and threw it back at them.

“There is no indication,’’ he needled, “that the occupiers have the necessary political will to eliminate the sources of instability.”

All day the White House team went through gyrations not to run into the Iranian leader, fearful to be caught in the same frame, perhaps haunted by memories of that picture of a smiling Rummy shaking Saddam’s hand in 1983. It seemed a little silly, given what a tough guy W. acts like. If he ran into the punk, he could have just told him to quit processing uranium, and moved on. Bush aides assured reporters with asperity that they were not studying the Iranian president’s route or bathroom schedule, that such a fixation would only build up a foe they were trying to cut down to size.

But it’s a little late for that, with Mr. Ahmadinejad staring from the cover of Time with a story on “What War With Iran Would Look Like,” and with Senator George Voinovich calling him “Ah-mad-in-a-head’’ and “a Hitler type of person’’ at a Senate committee hearing yesterday. (Can’t pols just have little Post-its on their microphones reminding them not to compare anything to the Nazis?)

Mr. Bush played down Osama for five years, while he focused on Iraq. But his ill-fated detour into Baghdad just ended up magnifying another enemy and giving Mr. Ahmadinejad a huge strategic opportunity to stoke the growing fundamentalist and radical Shiite surge unleashed by the bungled occupation. Because W. blew off diplomacy with Iraq, he is now hostage to diplomacy with Iran.

The Iranian president sounded more scornful of the U.N. than Mr. Cheney does. “If the governments of the United States or the United Kingdom, who are permanent members of the Security Council, commit aggression, occupation and violation of international law, which of the organs of the U.N. can take them to account?’’ he said, complaining that they “arrogate to themselves simultaneously the roles of prosecutor, judge and executioner.”

With their usual cultural tone-deafness, W. and Vice failed to appreciate the shrewdness of the nemesis they won’t talk to, and continued to arrogantly act as though everything were going along great in their clash of civilizations.

W. went through a gauzy litany of progress on democratizing the Middle East, and speaking to auto dealers yesterday morning, Vice applied a Harry Truman phrase about the cold war, calling the war against terrorists a “war of nerves.”

Vice said this is “a test of our character,’’ and then went on to defend all the administration’s attempts to put itself above the law on the wiretapping, torture and detention programs that have undermined America’s moral repute in the world.

John McCain seems untroubled with those who say that his stand on torture might hurt him with the Republican base in 2008. After making nice with his former rival, W., for so long, the war hero probably enjoys getting in National Guard boy’s face a little on an issue of principle.

W. has now put so many bad actors in the terror stew — some of whom hate each other — and has justified so many sketchy programs under the war-on-terror rubric, that the word “terror” is losing all meaning and just becoming a marketing slogan. Even the Republican columnist Peggy Noonan says that W. can be “a historical drama queen.”

If our pursuit of terrorists who harmed us and want to hurt us again gets too diffuse, it’s pointless, counterproductive and endless. The president’s refusal to understand what’s at stake in the torture debate is itself a kind of torture for Americans who don’t want our moral power — and our pursuit of Al Qaeda — diluted.


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