OpinionIran in the World PressIran's Ahmadinejad, information pariah

Iran’s Ahmadinejad, information pariah


Wall Street Journal: When a dictator’s lies are so easily unmasked, can his threats be ignored?

The Wall Street Journal

When a dictator’s lies are so easily unmasked, can his threats be ignored?



There have been rogue leaders on the world stage before. In cases such as Hitler, Stalin and Mao, people were shocked to learn they actually meant what they said. What is new today is that we no longer have the excuse that some meaning must have gotten lost in distance or translation.

With the instant communication of modern technology, Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was an unfiltered presence in the U.S. last week. It’s tempting to dismiss him as a crackpot, but his comments are coolly consistent and planned, not uncontrolled rants.

He used his prepared speech at the United Nations General Assembly to claim that most people believe the U.S. government committed the 9/11 attacks. Diplomats from more than 30 countries walked out, but he achieved his greatest mockery yet, leaving even longtime Ahmadinejad watchers impressed he had outdone himself.

He told Larry King on CNN, “In Iran, nobody is in prison because of participating in protests. Nobody went to prison because of participating in protests. Protests are free.”

He told a group of journalists over breakfast that no one had better try to stop him from building the nuclear bomb he’s not building: “The U.S. has never entered a real war, not in Vietnam, nor in Afghanistan, nor even World War II.” He flatly denied to Christiane Amanpour on ABC the well-documented sentencing of Iranian woman Sakineh Ashtiani to death by stoning for adultery.

Ahmadinejad relishes his role as provocateur. This plays well with the ayatollahs who helped him steal the election in June 2009. But in an era when we expect transparency from political leaders, we seem unsure how to handle one who simply lies about his abuses at home and intentions abroad.

A leader who mocks all questions is thumbing his nose at core beliefs of our era, including that information wants to flow freely and that no one is above this law of increasing openness. What to do with an information pariah?

The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran published a 36-page guide for reporters in the U.S. outlining how Ahmadinejad snookers reporters from Katie Couric to Charlie Rose. The guide includes detailed questions that should be asked, chiefly about human rights in Iran. These include why some 6,000 people have been arrested since 2009 for peacefully demonstrating; why hundreds of named lawyers, journalists and human-rights advocates are detained and tortured; why he gave a hero’s welcome to the murderer of a pre-revolutionary prime minister; and why Iranians are jailed for “insulting the president.”

Dissidents in Iran have been assassinated, beaten and jailed. Diplomats and other elites are seeking asylum. Instead of the political reform movement that looked promising just a year ago, the government and its hard-line clerics pursue a policy of abuses and threats.

This matters to the outside world because Ahmadinejad has been as adept in stonewalling inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency as he has been in confounding journalists. Last month the agency issued a report saying that its inspectors had been banned and could no longer claim to know Iran’s progress toward a nuclear bomb. Experts now debate whether Iran will have one bomb or two, within one year or two.

Sometimes the reasonable response to threats is to take them seriously. In his history of World War II, Winston Churchill identified the theme of the first volume (“The Gathering Storm”) as “how the English-speaking peoples through their unwisdom, carelessness and good nature allowed the wicked to return.” Churchill had spent the 1930s in the political wilderness, warning that Hitler meant what he said. He described “Mein Kampf” as “turgid, verbose, shapeless, but pregnant with its message.” He later wrote that German “opportunities for concealment, camouflage, and treaty evasion are numerous and varied.”

Churchill blamed his countrymen for adopting policies based on the hope that Hitler was not for real. “All these constituted a picture of British fatuity and fecklessness, which, though devoid of guile, was not devoid of guilt,” he wrote, about a time when British politicians at least could claim that perhaps Hitler, far-off and unfamiliar, meant something other than what he said.

For an information pariah who transparently persecutes his own people and threatens others, the presumption must be that his rhetoric, no matter how extreme, reflects his policy.

In today’s world, a leader who consistently mocks, lies and threatens deserves to be set apart. We no longer have the excuse of misunderstanding. We will have ourselves to blame if Ahmadinejad achieves his ambition of a bomb to back up his bombast.

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