Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Mr. Ahmadinejad’s Mindset: A Strategic Diagnosis

Reading Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s missive to President Bush is like popping several of those Alice- in- Wonderland pills, diving head first down the rabbit hole and emerging in world where words float like wispy clouds high above and beyond their ordinary meaning.

It’s not only that the letter is framed in large religious and political terms like “needs of humanity,” “rational behavior, logic, ethics, peace, fulfilling obligations, justice, service to the people, progress, property, service to the people, prosperity, progress and respect for human dignity,” and calls on Mr. Bush to “follow the teaching of divine prophets.” Words like peace; justice, progress and prosperity have many meanings of course. However, in Mr. Ahmadinejad’s view they all lead in one direction—that Mr. Bush and the United States have, by their behavior both at home and abroad strayed from the path of virtue as defined by Mr. Ahmadinejad and reaped the just rewards of world hated as a result.

The letter is long and rambling. And, along with the grand but vague terms noted above the letter is riddled with misinformation, misunderstanding and disingenuousness that makes it hard to follow much less fully understand.

Mr. Ahmadinejad asserts, “European investigators have confirmed the existence of secret prisons in Europe”. No, quite the contrary, in spite of a parliamentary inquiry they found no such evidence.

Mr. Ahmadinejad notes that after 9/11 Americans lived in fear of another attack and asks, incredibly, “Why did [American media] instead of conveying a sense of security and providing peace of mind, giving rise to a feeling of insecurity.” Most certainly they did so because they did and do have fears of another attack and those fears are, regrettably, very legitimate.

And lastly Mr. Ahmadinejad cites the historical importance of technological and scientific achievements and asks, disingenuously “at what point has scientific progress become a crime.” “Can," he continues,” the possibility of scientific achievements can be utlilised for military purposes be reason enough to oppose science and technology all together? If such a proposition is true, then all scientific disciplines, including physics, chemistry, mathematics, medicine, engineering, etc. must be opposed.” Well, not quite. The issue is not the virtue of scientific progress in history, but Iran’s apparent quest to develop nuclear weapons.

I take Mr. Ahmadinejad’s letter and views as sincere and that is precisely the problem. His list of grievances is laid at the door of a single villain—the United States. His motives and those of his country are pure, without guile, artifice, or self-interest. He speaks only in the service of the larger good, whose sole definition he abrogates to himself.

Thus is the rhetoric of altruism put in the service of the most fundamental certainly about the virtue of his views and the villainy of ours. What room is there for compromise with a country guilty of all the crimes against justice, peace, progress, respect for human dignity and so on that Mr. Ahmadinejad accuses Mr. Bush and the United States of instigating? His letter is an invitation to examine our behavior, see the error of our ways, and change accordingly.

No similar self-reflection is evident, or apparently seen as necessary, on Iran's part or his.

The letter is presumptuous and, because of its lecturing without any hint of real humility or perspective, insulting. But its real importance lies elsewhere.

The letter is a window into a mindset of a man whose piety easily slides into sanctimony. It is the mindset of a man who, in spite of the high-minded appeal to religious aspirations, treats the real world in decidedly black or white terms in which his word is the final judgment.

The question is not whether he is “crazy,” a word the Wall Street Journal used in the title of an editorial about him. In the clinical sense, he is a sane as the leadership he represents, and that is our problem.