The voice of evil is coming to Columbia.
That’s what you’ve heard if you read a newspaper or turned on the television in the last five days. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a fanatic whose extreme beliefs and quest for a nuclear arsenal are the main threat to world peace today. His very presence, some say, constitutes hate speech. Politicians from both parties have lined up to condemn the event.
On the surface, the demonization of Ahmadinejad may seem like a natural reaction to his political statements and repressive policies. But the media campaign should be taken with a grain of salt. The U.S. needs a new bogeyman. The war in Iraq is a dismal failure for Washington, and now Iran is now an even bigger obstacle to American domination of the Middle East. The U.S. is laying the groundwork for a possible attack on Iran which would be even worse than the nightmare that they have inflicted on Iraq. In this context, Americans are not helping the people of the Middle East by protesting Ahmadinejad.
Why has the president of Iran become a cartoon villain in American politics? He’s a repressive ruler who holds reactionary views, but the same is true of many dictators and monarchs that the United States has supported, such as the Taliban, Saddam Hussein, and the House of Saud. The U.S. is not a principled opponent of repressive governments. The real origins of the recent saber-rattling lie in Iraq.
The U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003 expecting to take over quickly, without complications. The new Iraq would serve as a loyal client state, a massive source of oil, and a permanent base for controlling the rest of the Middle East. Four years later, the American military is still struggling to secure anything outside of its Blackwater-fortified Green Zone. The number of attacks against U.S. soldiers keeps rising. Iraqis widely support the resistance. The Americans can’t even control their puppets. The situation looks so bad for the U.S. that they rely on ethnic militias whose loyalty is tentative at best.
This failure has magnified the threat that Iran poses to American interests in the Middle East. The Islamic Republic is the only major oil-producing country in the area not under U.S. control, and it has benefited from the quagmire next door. The U.S. could never have formed a government in Shiite-majority Iraq without Iran-friendly parties like SCIRI and the Islamic Dawa Party.
The U.S. undeniably has an interest in regime change in Iran. It’s become fashionable among presidential candidates — Republicans and Democrats — to say that "no option is off the table," but in reality the costs of an invasion are extraordinarily high and there is still no consensus in Washington about how to deal with Ahmadinejad’s regime. On the other hand, it’s never too early to start spreading lies and misinformation. In late August, Bush accused Iran of trying to destabilize Iraq and of posing a threat to the entire region. This takes a lot of nerve coming from the man who invaded the country and overthrew its government. The glaring reality is that the largest group of foreign fighters in Iraq is the 130,000 American troops.
Bush goes on to claim that Iran is the main threat to peace in the Middle East. The main thing destabilizing the Middle East is the U.S. interference. They have created a refugee crisis of Iraqis on par with the 1948 expulsion of Palestinians from their land. Millions of people have been driven from Iraq and now struggle to survive in neighboring countries such as Syria, Jordan, and Iran. In addition, the U.S. gives 6 billion dollars a year to Israel, a country which has regularly and recently attacked its neighbors.
The claims against Iran echo the lies that Bush used to justify the invasion of Iraq. In the lead-up to the war, we were told that the Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, he threatened his neighbors, and had links to terrorists. Today we are hearing that Ahmadinejad has weapons of mass destruction, he threatens his neighbors, and has links to terrorists.
We are constantly reminded that Iran’s president is a fundamentalist tyrant. He is a right-wing politician with backward ideas, but the portrayal of Ahmadinejad as a lunatic terrorist falls back on racist stereotypes of Muslims. This clash of civilizations argument serves as a justification for endless war on the world and fuels attacks on Arabs and Muslims at home.
As long as the U.S. is in the Middle East, Ahmadinejad’s hand is strengthened against his political opponents within Iran. An invasion would be even worse, causing repercussions that could make the Iraq war look like a minor skirmish in comparison. Protesting Ahmadinejad in New York during his visit to the U.N. will only push us closer to such an outcome. If you care about human rights in the Middle East, your main enemy is at home.
Monique Dols is a student in the School of General Studies and employee at Columbia University and Dylan Stillwood is an Alumnus of Columbia College, 2002. They can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org