HOW NOT TO DEAL WITH IRAN
SAM SMITH - It is well to remember in considering President Ahmadinejad that the saga of America's longest lived foe began in part with a refusal to welcome him to New York City. The previous year, Fidel Castro had visited Harvard University, eaten at the faculty club and spoken to students. Castro, however, as the Militant reported in 1995, "did not receive a warm welcome from the U.S. government during his visit to New York City in 1960. The Cuban delegation moved to Harlem after being kicked out of the Shelburne Hotel amid a racist slander campaign in the press that included baseless charges - repeated to this day by the Associated Press - of plucking live chickens at the hotel." The man who arranged his welcome: Malcolm X.
One can reasonably speculate that our relationship with Cuba might have been much better and happier if it had not started on such a sour note. The reason one can reasonably speculate that is because we have been far more willing to welcome some antagonistic leaders than others and in most cases it has worked to our benefit. Khrushchev, for example, visited the U.S. with much favorable publicity (although he was not allowed into Disneyland) the same year that Castro could find no room in New York City. But then, Eisenhower - unlike George Bush - knew something about how to make peace.
Why were we nicer to Khrushchev than to Castro? In the end, it was a matter of power and not virtue. Khrushchev we had to respect but, by the standard of the American foreign policy myth, Castro was too small potatoes for such an honor.
Over and over, we have treated difficult heads of smaller countries this way and it has inevitably been to our loss. One reason: many of these leaders had, among other things, inferiority complexes and the American contempt for them merely added to it.
Ahmadinejad seems hungry for respect, but the rules of the American foreign policy game is that we should dis' someone like him. This is, however, a form of masochistic machismo. We are taking someone who has made a number of overtures towards a better relationship and treated him like an incurable reprobate. The resulting costs will all be ours.
[From a 60 Minutes interview]
AHMADINEJAD: I would like to think that the points of view of the American people is very close to the points of view of the Iranian people. The American people are very much against and opposed what certain American officials are saying and their points of view. And they're also, the way that the people have voted in the American elections is very telling. And we are criticizing such behavior on the part of the American government. We believe that if anyone just allows himself to accuse others, there will be no possibility for peace and friendship.
SCOTT PELLEY: What do you mean the American election is telling? What did you take from it?
AHMADINEJAD: What I'm saying is that the American people very clearly have shown that they do not endorse what certain American officials are saying and doing. I remind you of the rallies in Washington a couple of days ago. What were they saying and shouting? Perhaps 70, 80 percent of the American people are against their troops, their sons and daughters being in Iraq and war. And as I said, they're very much against war. And for that matter, the American people are peace-loving people. You shouldn't think that what the American officials are doing and their behavior reflects completely the mood of the American people.
And American officials must not make the American people a victim of their wants and wishes. And we make a distinction between the American people and American officials. And the American people are opposed to occupation, the use of force, and also terrorism, the killing of the people of other nations. And this is what we are saying. This is what we believe in. With that in mind, we feel very close to the American people. And I'm sure that this is reciprocal. A couple of days ago, an American scientist, a scholar, wrote to me saying that he has a great love for Iran. And once he passes, he wants to be buried in this country. The two nations are very close to one another. . .
PELLEY: Mr. President, you must have rejoiced more than anyone when Saddam Hussein fell. You owe President Bush. This is one of the best things that's ever happened to your country.
AHMADINEJAD: Well, I have said this in another interview. Once the dictator was toppled, many people were happy. But the American government did not appropriately use this golden opportunity. Again, this happened sometime ago and it pleased the Iraqi people. They could have used this much better. They should have left the Iraqi people to go their own way and to determine their own fate and to live like other nations in this part of the world.
Well, initially, we might have had the impression that American officials want to redeem themselves and the mistakes they have made in the past. Because for eight years they supported Saddam against my nation. Many hundreds of thousands of people were killed. Thousands of people were chemically bombarded. Many people were killed in their own houses. This very city of Tehran was the target of more than 100 missiles. Many people were killed in Tehran. But Saddam was being supported by American officials. So once American officials announced that they were going to deal with Saddam, our first impression was that they're going to make amends for their past behavior. We have every hope and we were happy.
But once Saddam went away, they didn't find any weapons, American officials later announced that we are here to stay in Iraq. So there was a question: Why do you want to be there? Why do you want to stay behind? Do you think that the Iraqi people cannot take care of themselves? They can determine their own fate. I think that their first biggest mistake was to remain in Iraq. If they had left Iraq, that would have helped with positive interaction between the American government and the peoples of the region. But once they stayed behind and they appointed an American administrator and they tried to influence the elections and also the future government in Iraq, later they tried to sow the seeds of discord and also give a free hand to terrorist groups to come inside Iraq. . .
PELLEY: Mr. President, you say you love all nations. I have to assume that includes the Nation of Israel.
AHMADINEJAD: Israel is not a nation. Well, we like the people, yes, because they are victims as well. They used to live in their own countries, in their own cities. They were given empty promises, false promises. They said that we are going to give you jobs, we are going to give you security. And they pushed the local Palestinian people out and made them refugees and also made refugees of another community. In other words, from thousands of miles away, people have been emigrating to this country and they are living in fear every day. And we feel for them.
Last year in my speech I said that the Zionist entity should open the borders and the gates. Let the people decide where they want to go and settle. They are good people as well. We have no bones to pick with them. We are against terrorism. We are against wrong policies. We are friends with all people, Jewish people, Christians, different people of different faiths. We are, well, we're in contact with them. Here in Iran there are Jewish communities; there are Christian communities; we're all friends. Also, non-Muslim countries, we help them when a natural, let's say, calamity breaks. We love all people. We are opposed to Zionism, occupation, terrorism, dropping bombs on behalf of people when they are inside their own homes, killing men, women, and children. Very openly I have said time and again that I oppose these.
PELLEY: If the Palestinians reach an agreement with Israel for a two-state solution, will you then recognize Israel as well?
AHMADINEJAD: Well, the decision rests with the Palestinian people. This is exactly what I'm saying. . .
PELLEY: What trait do you admire in President Bush?
AHMADINEJAD: Again, I have a very frank tone. I think that President Bush needs to correct his ways.
PELLEY: What do you admire about him?
AHMADEINEJAD: He should respect the American people.
PELLEY: Is there anything? Any trait?
AHMADINEJAD: As an American citizen, tell me what trait do you admire?
PELLEY: Well, Mr. Bush is, without question, a very religious man, for example, as you are. I wonder if there's anything that you've seen in President Bush that you admire.
AHMADEINEJAD: Well, is Mr. Bush a religious man?
PELLEY: Very much so. As you are.
AHMADEINEJAD: What religion, please tell me, tells you as a follower of that religion to occupy another country and kill its people? Please tell me. Does Christianity tell its followers to do that? Judaism, for that matter? Islam, for that matter? What prophet tells you to send 160,000 troops to another country, kill men, women, and children? You just can't wear your religion on your sleeve or just go to church. . .
PELLEY: I take it you can't think of anything you like about President Bush.
AHMADEINEJAD: Well, I'm not familiar with the gentleman's private life. Maybe in his private life he is very kind or a determined man. I'm not aware of that. I base my judgment on what I see in his public life. Having said that, I think that President Bush can behave much better. There were golden opportunities for President Bush. He should have used them better. . .