Ezra Klein, saying it nicely:
I genuinely don’t understand the quaking fear over Ahmadinejad’s interview at Columbia. When did America become so weak, so insecure, that we mistrust our capacity to converse with potentially hostile world leaders? Do we really believe the president of Columbia is so doltish as to be outsmarted by a former traffic engineer from Tehran? Do we really see no utility in publicly grilling prominent liars in such a way that their denials lose credibility? What do we have to lose from a foreign leader, even a hostile one, somberly laying a wreath at the site of a tragedy? When did we become so afraid?
Others on the left are not so nice in making the same point; that the right are a bunch of bedwetters and cowards, quaking in fear at Ahmadinejad which is why we want to go to war with Iran.
Of course, this “bedwetter” meme is brought out many times. We see it when the right sees fit to report on the latest foiled terrorist attack, or when authorities smash a terrorist cell, or any other time that the left feels that the right is taking the issue of terrorism too seriously.
Daniel Larson has a few thoughts on this phenomena:
Thereâ€™s a curious idea, one popularised earlier this year by Obama, that a refusal to negotiate or to dialogue with this or that dreadful government and/or individual is an expression of fear. This follows the usual drill: everyone else embraces the politics of fear, but Obama and those like him embrace the politics of hope, blah, blah, blah.
Evidently, it takes courage to stand up and, just like everyone else, denounce the president of another country under the guise of â€œconversationâ€ and â€œdebate.â€ After all, what is the point of letting Ahmadinejad onto your stage so that you can tell him that heâ€™s a â€œcruel dictatorâ€? Are we trying to hurt his feelings? Obviously persuasion isnâ€™t the goal, since calling someone a dictator in front of an audience of students is not going to make him break down and have a conversion experience: â€œThank you for showing me the light, Mr. Bollinger! I will do better!â€
Similarly, thereâ€™s no point in holding talks simply for the symbolism of holding talks and showing that We Are Not Afraid To Talk. How impressive. All of this attempted appropriation of the rhetoric of toughness and fearlessness is an attempt to steal a page from the (stupid) foreign policy book of militarists. Instead of â€œshowing resolveâ€ by not talking to someone, we show resolve by talking to someone.
I must confess to being puzzled by this line of attack from the left. If I didn’t know any better, I would believe that the left was projecting their own fears about terrorism, about Ahmadinejad by referring to “bedwetters” on the right. But of course, that’s not true, is it? It’s just that the left wants to discuss terrorism and these other issues on their own terms – root causes, sins of America, post colonial insecurities, resource raiding, etc. – and find it inconvenient that someone wants to get up and shout “They’re trying to kill us, you ninny!”
I don’t feel any fear whatsoever when talking about Ahmadinejad and the threat Iran poses to American interests and ultimately, America herself. It is a completely rational, objective response to a nation that seeks the ability to enrich uranium beyond the level needed to fuel power plants. This is the basis for the concern expressed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) – that some of Iran’s program is of a “dual use” nature; that it can be used to both build fuel rods for power plants and enrich uranium to the 85% level necessary to build a bomb. When nations as diverse as France, Belgium, and Russia have expressed their firm opposition to Iran becoming a nuclear power, surely opposition to their plans cannot be construed as “fear” but rather common sense.
The visit of Ahmadinejad has illuminated a great difference between right and left. Kevin Drum senses it:
Still, I guess I’m curious about something. Am I the only liberal who believes all that stuff but is still pretty queasy about letting this lunatic engage in some wreath-laying crocodile tears at Ground Zero? There’s a difference between being unafraid to let someone speak and being unwilling to let him use the most venerated site in the country for a crass PR stunt, isn’t there? Hell, a lot of us complain when Rudy Giuliani does this, let alone a guy who denies the Holocaust and has made a career out of chanting “Death to America.” Am I off base here?
Kevin is getting skewered in the comments for saying what some on the right have been angry (not scared) about Ahmadinejad’s visit here. This is a man who leads “Death to America” chants after Friday prayers. And we already know that his public utterances about peace, love, and harmony, fly in the face of his nation’s actions in Lebanon, Israel, Iraq, and other places Iranian money and supplies funds the enemies of the west.
I happened to agree that he should be allowed to speak at Columbia for the simple reason I was sure he would convict himself out of his own mouth. While this is exactly what happened, I didn’t count on the use Iran would make of his visit as a vehicle for international propaganda:
On second day of his entry in New York, and amid standing ovation of the audience that had attended the hall where the Iranian President was to give his lecture as of early hours of the day, Ahmadinejad said that Iran is not going to attack any country in the world.
Before President Ahamadinejad’s address, Colombia University Chancellor in a brief address told the audience that they would have the chance to hear Iran’s stands as the Iranian President would put them forth.
He said that the Iranians are a peace loving nation, they hate war, and all types of aggression.
Referring to the technological achievements of the Iranian nation in the course of recent years, the president considered them as a sign for the Iranians’ resolute will for achieving sustainable development and rapid advancement.
This is how the event was reported in Iran. Not a word about Bollinger’s hectoring opening remarks – something that many on the left criticized heatedly and caused many in the audience at Columbia to applaud vigorously when Ahmadinejad complained about the “insults.” It would seem then that being “brave” enough to give the tyrant a public forum at a prestigious educational institution didn’t do anything except make liberals feel good about themselves. It sure didn’t minimize Ahmadinejad’s stature anywhere in the world.
It would seem then that bedwetting is not the problem but rather fear on the left that their own prescriptions for dealing with terrorism might not be the best way to deal with the problem.
Of course, the advantage they have is if they are wrong, we probably won’t realize it until it’s too late.