Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Engagement with a "known enemy."

The bustle surrounding Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad obliterated the opportunity to engage in a tentative partnership in the Middle East and potential for a degree of stability in the region.

Protesters of Ahmadinejad's audience at Columbia University and attempted visit to Ground Zero laid out a litany of reasons why the Iranian head of state had no reason to be here. Among them...
- Ahmadinejad is the head of a "terrorist state," igniting instability with his regime's support of Shia militant group, Hezbollah.
- Such collaboration with terrorists makes Ahmadinejad an ill-suited figure to pay respects to the victims of 9/11.
- Ahmadinejad's presence here is a national security risk.
- The U.S. should not allow a forum for Ahmadinejad's hate speech.

The third reason makes sense. Ahmadinejad, himself, not being the security risk. But the fact that Americans, by and large, hate him leaves Ahmadinejad open to assassination attemps, angry mobs and injury, which would be for Iran a de facto act of war.

Regular readers of this blog (wherever they are) know I'm the opposite of an Ahmadinejad sympathizer. But as Columbia University Lee Bollinger said in his bungled introduction, nations have to engage their adversaries.

President Bush actually surprised me in his statement that Ahmadinejad should be allowed to speak to show that America is an open society that embraces free speech. Wow, if only he felt that way all the time...

But Bush should have met with Ahmadinejad to discuss ways forward in the current conflict and Iraq.

Though it is true that Iran's regime largely supports Hezbollah, its Shia leadership's unfriendliness with Sunni Al Queda could be a large asset. Consider Iran's previous jailing and deportation en mass of Al Qaeda operatives. Remember that in regards to 9/11, Iran openly condemned the Al Queda hijackers.

The lost opportunity was noted by New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd.

New York’s hot blast of nastiness, jingoism and xenophobia toward its guest, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, only served to pump him up for his domestic audience. Iranians felt that their president had tied everyone in knots, including the “Zionist Jews,” as Iranian state television said.

While Bush condemned Ahmadinejad's thuggery through journalists, why not have had a one-on-one debate about Iranian government's penchant for locking up dissidents, homosexuals, and Iranian-Americans?

Congress is looking for reconciliation in Iraq between Shia, Sunni, Kurdish groups to coincide with a troop pullout. Wouldn't bargaining with the leader of a large, influential, neighboring, predominantly Shia nation be an asset? Access to nuclear energy could be a bargaining chip.

Dowd was perhaps overly optimistic in comparing Reagan's courting of Gorbachev to bring down the "Evil Empire" to the potential of Bush's engagement of Ahmadinejad to dissolve the "Axis of Evil." Gorbachev is decidedly more reasonable than Ahmadinejad and even becoming an influential, respected thinker on the world stage.

But more could and should have come out of Ahmadinejad's visit than an enriched anti-U.S. sentiment in Iran and a heavy show of disapproval here of Iran's regime. Bitch-slapping feels good, but diplomacy helps solve problems.

Back in Iraq, Sunni militants are threatening and carrying out a renewed wave of suicide bombings and other terrorism in a perverse celebration of the holy month of Ramadan...

Shia Iraqi President and Bush met today, saying the "The task before us is gigantic."

No kidding...

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