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A controversial figure since taking office in 2005, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad instigates outrage through speech and actions. The president’s rhetoric targets the United States for meddling and “bullying,” but he ignores international spotlight on Iran’s domestic issues and the country’s interference in others’ affairs. While some call him a madman, it is arguable that Ahmadinejad is nothing more than a crafty politician who effectively uses and manipulates media attention. Analyzing and comparing the Iranian to American politicians raises an interesting perspective on the “crazy versus crafty” conundrum.
In his 2011 address to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), Ahmadinejad questioned the intentions of and affects of Western powers’ actions. He said:
It is as lucid as daylight that the same slave masters and colonial powers that once instigated the two world wars have caused widespread misery and disorder with far-reaching effects across the globe since then. Do these arrogant powers really have the competence and ability to run or govern the world?
Despite some incomplete facts about the world wars, Ahmadinejad raises a valid concern about the effects of Western interference in world affairs. Recent engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan, meant to eradicate terrorism, are examples of well-intentioned attempts marred by death and destruction. Terrorism is an undeniable world threat, but Western powers’ methods to defeat the covert enemy have not succeeded. While discussion and negotiation can overcome differences, ingrained hatred toward the West, combined with many countries’ policies of non-negotiation with terrorists, makes it impossible for a round-table discussion. Ahmadinejad’s contempt for Western powers is as undeniable as the powers’ need to reevaluate methods of resolving international issues.
Vociferous about the devastation inflicted by others, Ahmadinejad avoids and denies Iran’s human rights abuses. According to Human Rights Watch, the number of state executions and imprisonments in Iran has exponentially increased since 2010. The United Nations Human Rights Council reported 670 executions in 2011. Drug crimes and offenses to Islam were among the reported crimes. Harnessing technology against its people is another suppression technique employed by the Iranian government. Human Rights Watch reports that the Iranian government blocks citizens’ access to websites, slows Internet speed, and jams foreign satellite broadcasts.
In his March 2012 Nowruz address, President Obama capitalized on the opportunity to attack the Iranian government’s censorship. He said:
Increasingly, the Iranian people are denied the basic freedom to access the information that they want. Instead the Iranian government jams satellite signals to shut down radio and television broadcasts and censor the Internet to control what the Iranian people can see and say. The regime monitors computers and cell phones for the sole purpose of protecting its own power… Technologies that should empower citizens are being used to oppress them.
While the accusations may be true, Obama’s holiday message, which should have fostered good feelings, was overrun with stabs at the Iranian regime.
In a March 2012 interview, President Obama further addressed Iran as a hindrance to its peoples’ freedom, stating:
Impulses towards freedom and self-determination and free speech and freedom of assembly have been constantly violated by Iran. [The Iranian leadership is] no friend of that movement toward human rights and political freedom.
Continuing with a human rights and freedom theme, in a September 2012 interview with Piers Morgan, Ahmadinejad shared his views with the world. When asked about his views on peoples’ right to protest, Ahmadinejad said, “People must be allowed to express their own opinions freely. Freedom is part of the essential rights of all nations. No one has the right to take that away.” While superficially supporting peoples’ right to protest and express their views and opinions, Ahmadinejad overlooks several incidents when his government’s actions contradicted this idea, which he eloquently claims to favor. Topping this list is the Iranian government’s suppression of and military action against protestors after the disputed 2009 Iranian presidential election.
On the surface, Ahmadinejad’s sentiments seem hollow. However, is his lacking commitment to expressed ideals much different from the commitment Americans receive from their elected officials?
During his 2008 campaign, President Obama instilled hope in the American people through promises to revive the country’s economy. Four years later, Obama is campaigning for a second term as commander in chief, and despite a slight decrease in national unemployment, the majority of Americans have not seen the promised revival. Undoubtedly, President Obama inherited many issues from his predecessor and was arguably overly optimistic about his abilities to repair the damage. Four years later, Obama stands before crowds and talks about how the road to recovery will be long, but his administration is making positive strides. Ultimately, Obama’s failure to make good on all his campaign promises (as all presidents have found difficult, if not impossible to do), does not mean he has abandoned his lofty ideals. As this president has learned, there are roadblocks to the implementation of great ideas.
Although a difficult comparison, it is loosely arguable that despite his position, Ahmadinejad, like President Obama, does not have complete control over turning all good plans into successful policy. Sometimes Americans forget that there are three branches of government in the United States and that President Obama does not run the whole show. Similarly, despite his presidential title, Ahmadinejad plays second fiddle to the Supreme Leader of Iran Ali Khamenei. Khamenei holds Iran’s highest ranking political and religious position. Although Ahmadinejad publicly champions free expression and assembly, these may be issues for which he does not have complete control.
Criticism may be directed at the Iranian president’s mistreatment of his constituents just as easily as toward American politicians’ actions. The presidential candidates’ “war chests” are nearing $1 billion each at a time when many are struggling to provide for themselves and their families. Whereas Ahmadinejad’s maltreatment of Iranians is tallied in human rights reports and featured on the evening news, the American presidential candidates’ neglect for their constituents should not be overlooked. The candidates seem more concerned with getting elected than they do providing for the people whose votes they are courting through expensive media campaigns. $2 billion has the potential to fund numerous projects to aid in America’s economic recovery. Similar to Ahmadinejad’s actions, the American candidates’ neglect can be filed under “poor choices.”
While the sun may be setting on what Henry Luce called the “American century,” and the world is shifting toward a much needed multipolar system, Ahmadinejad continues to highlight others’ actions while ignoring his own, a not-so novel concept to the American public who experiences daily campaign opponent bashing (overlooking personal shortcomings) through over-saturated media. Just like Iran, the United States has its share of issues and shortcomings.
The aforementioned comparison and analysis does not provide a complete look at Ahmadinejad’s rhetoric and actions (specifically, the nuclear issue and Israel) and is in no way meant to vindicate the Iranian president or demonize the American government and its current presidential candidates. However, before labeling Ahmadinejad a villain, we may want to look at him at face value: as a politician.