What Does Ahmadinejad Know That We Don't?

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I was really struck by the lede to this Anthony Shadid article:

BAGHDAD -- There was an exchange some months ago about the notion of time that said a little bit about Iran, something about Iraq, but probably most about the United States.

At the sidelines of a United Nations meeting, Hoshyar Zebari, Iraq's foreign minister, chatted with Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The American military had left Iraqi cities -- thankfully, in the eyes of many here. By Aug. 31, it was supposed to bring its numbers down to 50,000. The dates had less to do with the prowess of the Iraqi police in Sadr City and more with priorities elsewhere: shifting resources to Afghanistan, weariness with a costly war never quite understood at home, and the unpredictability of midterm elections in, say, southwestern Pennsylvania.

The Americans planted a tree in Iraq, Mr. Zebari recalled Mr. Ahmadinejad telling him, with the stilted sympathy of sarcasm. They watered that tree, pruned it and cared for it. "Ask your American friends," he said, shaking his head, "why they're leaving now before the tree bears fruit."

We're leaving because we're not imperialists, of course, but nevertheless we're leaving Iraq before we should. And of course, we're planting ourselves in another country, Afghanistan, for no good reason at all, and with chance of making it a better place, or a safer one. On the one hand, Ahmadinejad seems like a complete nutbag -- for proof, read Jon Lee Anderson's excellent report from Iran in The New Yorker. But on the other hand, he seems to understand America's weaknesses fairly well.

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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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