- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 26, 2007

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

If anything has become clear during Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s U.S., it’s that his statements are alienating people who can usually be counted upon to give the benefit of the doubt to anyone opposed to President Bush: the liberal journalistic and academic elites. Not that at least some of the elites didn’t try to help him out.

When Mr. Ahmadinejad addressed the National Press Club on Monday, the moderator introduced him as one of the most “noteworthy heads of state in the world” — this about a man who humanizes the “Axis of Evil.” The moderator, Jeremy Zremski of the Buffalo News, chose a written question submitted from the audience about whether the Iranian leader planned on running for re-election. Mr. Ahmadinejad spent 20 minutes or so reading from the Koran and rambling on about things like “the sublime value of humanity,” while prominent journalists seated at the main table like Eleanor Clift and Clarence Page looked on in bewilderment, which soon gave way to frustration. Mr. Zremski also asked Mr. Ahmadinejad about reports from organizations like Amnesty International and another about the Iranian government’s closing down opposition newspapers, imprisoning journalists and sentencing them to death for the crime of “enmity toward God,” and beating and torturing women’s rights activists. Mr. Ahmadinejad denied the charges, saying they were all false. Likewise, when asked about Iranian weapons being smuggled into Iraq, Mr. Ahmadinejad issued a blanket denial.

The press club appearance was a high point when compared with his reception at Columbia University, where President Lee Bollinger castigated the Iranian leader and denounced his statements suggesting that the Holocaust had never happened. For his part, Mr. Ahmadinejad appeared to concede that the Holocaust may have occurred, but said he has a duty to defend Holocaust deniers’ right to be heard. He denied persecuting homosexuals, telling a questioner that “we don’t have homosexuals like in your country.” Mr. Ahmadinejad appeared to suggest that we have yet to learn who was “really” behind the September 11 attacks. And with regard to Mr. Bollinger’s specific charges, Mr. Ahmadinejad avoided directly responding. Instead, he quoted the Koran, questioned the use of the atomic bomb in World War II and criticized the Bush administration’s efforts to wiretap suspected terrorists.

Most foreign leaders have been keeping their distance from Mr. Ahmadinejad, aside from Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez (and we all know what birds of a feather do). The Iranian leader’s major achievement thus far? Alienating Bush-bashers who ordinarily can be expected to rally to the cause of the anti-American leader of the day.

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