The Formidable Ahmadinejad


Watching the CNN interview with Mahmoud Ahamedinejad and reading about his meeting at the Council on Foreign Relations reinforces my sense of foreboding about Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. There's no point in denying that his trip to the U.S. has been a big media and p.r. coup for him. And there is a chilling slickness to him that is as disturbing as it is obviously formidable. The way he deflected questions always back toward the U.S., the way he skilfully used every awkward moment to pivot to the themes his domestic and international audience want to hear, the very image of the informal, mild-mannered, quiet-spoken, constantly smiling serenity: all these represent a very, very capable politician. There is a complete self-assurance to him that suggests he can neither be trusted as a diplomatic partner nor under-estimated as a global foe.

The serenity may also come from his own fundamentalist psyche. There's a reason fundamentalism is popular. Unlike other forms of faith, it relieves the believer of almost all responsibility for any of his doubts, it surrenders everything in a person's psyche to God's will, it appeases all anxiety and reassures away every question. And so, in many cases, it can be a source of great goodness, unleashing compassion and service and amazing resilience. Look at how fundamentalism created, say, the Salvation Army. But in others, it can become the constant absolution and rationalization of almost any action. It can justify torture. It can legitimize all sorts of ugly means because the motive is deemed pure. In a religion like Islam, where reason has been eclipsed for a very long time, the absence of oxygen for the doubt that makes faith both real and reasonable is acute. The combination of that psyche with naked political cunning is one of the most dangerous combinations there is. We are looking at a man who absolutely believes he is right; and that he has a large majority of the cards. Alas, thanks to this administration, he has many more cards now than he did when he took office.

(Photo: Georges Gobet/Getty.)