Our Flattering Assault on Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Moreover, Mr. Ahmadinejad lacks a popular mandate. As I saw on my most recent trip to Tehran, he is in similar shape domestically to Mr. Bush, with low poll ratings and general dissatisfaction with his administration. His management of the economy, the No. 1 issue for Iranians and one area he is ostensibly responsible for, has been a dismal failure by many accounts and has led to unusually public rebukes in the Iranian media, and his support for hard-line crackdowns on everything from protesting labor leaders to public immorality have made headlines throughout the world and made him unpopular with more moderate Iranians (who outnumber hard-line conservatives, as they’ve shown in every national election of the past 10 years with the singular exception of the presidential election of 2005, when Ahmadinejad ran more as a populist than a hard-liner).

Those pressing issues may lead to his losing the next election in 2009, assuming he doesn’t turn the economy around—or the U.S. doesn’t carpet-bomb his country—but they won’t change the fundamental dynamics of Iranian politics. Mr. Khamenei and his closest advisers and aides will continue to set Iran’s policy as it relates to the U.S., Israel, Lebanon, Iraq and the nuclear issue, and all those policies, the ones we care about most, are open to negotiation if we have the will to sit down with the right messengers.

The president of Iran, whoever he is, will continue to come to New York yearly to address the U.N. General Assembly, and his visits will include headline-grabbing meetings, interviews and conferences as they have all this week. (His most important duty in New York, delivering Iran’s address to the U.N., which sets out its position on international affairs, is often largely overlooked because his speech usually is, unlike his other statements, rather uninflammatory, and reflects the true intentions and policies of the Islamic Republic.)

But in elevating Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to a position of power he simply doesn’t possess, the U.S. flatters him, and makes a mistake that can benefit only those who wish to see us continue on a confrontational path that could lead to war.

Hooman Majd is an Iranian-American writer who has interpreted for two presidents of Iran during their visits to the United States.