Commentary: World leaders should avoid Ahmadinejad's game

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will be at the U.N. for the opening of the General Assembly.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will be at the U.N. for the opening of the General Assembly. Farzaneh Khademian/Abaca Press/MCT


Just seeing that four-letter word (the modern name of an ancient country rooted in one of the world's oldest civilizations), what does it do to you?

For many Americans it conjures up disdain to the point of revulsion.


What does that name say to you — enemy, terrorist, anti-Semite, little man/big ego?

Now add Holocaust to the equation of Iran plus Ahmadinejad and it equals total insanity, right?

We're not finished here.

Throw in the words nuclear and bomb and we suddenly have the leadership of the entire western world posturing, pontificating and attempting to pacify their constituencies with tough talk and threats aimed at the Islamic Republic of Iran.

That country's continued defiance of international treaties, its mysterious and stubborn cleric leaders and especially its unpredictable and often irrational president are reasons that much of the world considers it a menace that has to be kept in check.

The recent disclosure that Iran is building an underground nuclear site in the mountains near Qom caused an uproar as world leaders gathered last week at the United Nations. That revelation has been followed by the country's testing of more long-range missiles.

Beginning with President Barack Obama, western heads of state denounced Iran’s latest provocation, insisting that the country’s nuclear ambition is designed for weapons rather than peaceful means, otherwise why the secrecy and the heavy fortification?

There is a cry for more economic sanctions by the U.N. as well as individual governments. U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth, issued a statement this week expressing "horror" over Iran's "confrontational acts," and she called on her colleagues in the House "to move legislation that will impose economic pressure on Iran until they comply with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and IAEA demands. We can achieve this through divestment and gasoline quarantine proposals that have been introduced in the House."

Denunciation is fine and sanctions indeed may be in order. But the key in dealing with Iran in all of these delicate situations is not to overreact — not to become an alarmist over every action or word uttered by Ahmadinejad.

I'm not suggesting that leaders should not show a sense of urgency, but that expediency can be expressed calmly and deliberately without exhibiting signs of undue agitation.

American leaders don’t have to respond to every crazy thing Ahmadinejad says, especially when he professes that the Holocaust is myth.

The Iranian president is no fool even though he acts like it sometimes. He is not stupid, and I don't for one minute think he believes that nonsense.

His anti-Jewish and anti-American rhetoric is designed to do just what a lot of American politicians' irrational statements are meant to do: appeal to those ideologues who compose that narrow base that keeps them in power.

There are more than 70 million people in Iran and, as evidenced by the recent election and subsequent mass demonstrations there, not all of them agree with their president.

As we devise a strategy in confronting its leaders, we must think of its people who still yearn for a truly democratic society.

Despite the confrontational nature of our past and current relationship with Iran, this is an opportune time for the United States and other countries to negotiate in earnest with the understanding that Iran is hurting economically and its government is strained at best.

Of course our standard rhetoric of "all options are on the table" (hint: military option) will continue to be thrown out, but it might be wise to tone down that kind of talk. And it would be good if Israel did the same.

Obama has reached out his hand to Iran, and so far he's still getting the closed fist in return. He ca'’t appear to be weak in the wake of the recent revelation, but he still can't afford to act like a bully.

Iran will long be an irritant for the United States, but the more we attempt to engage its recalcitrant leader, the more we're likely to win over the hearts of many of its citizens.

In the long run that will be to our benefit much more than any knee-jerk action of retaliation.