Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the well-armed fruitcake who is more or less in charge of the government in Iran, knows how to pull the chains of certain wimps in the West.
The Iranian president will arrive in New York City on Sunday for a two-day visit to the United Nations, where he will deliver one of his entertaining rants against the United States, Israel and the West. He’s entitled, since we’re the hosts of the United Nations (and more’s the pity).
But seeing Manhattan’s rich array of temptations not available in the eighth-century world whence he springs, is not enough. He wants to visit the famous hole in the ground in Lower Manhattan, put there when radical Muslims blew up the World Trade Center as a demonstration of the radical Islamic version of what President Bush calls “the religion of peace.”
The Iranian mission to the U.N. says President Ahmadinejad, who regularly promises to kill everybody here, wants to lay a wreath at the site to pay his “respects.” Just looking at where the Twin Towers once stood might yield clues to how it can be done. Laying a bouquet of evening nightshade would be appropriate.
The New York Police Department offered a bureaucratic reason for saying he couldn’t go. “The site is closed to visitors because of construction there,” said the deputy police commissioner. But his boss, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, said Mayor Michael Bloomberg himself, ever the nebbish, invited Mr. Ahmadinejad to visit ground zero. He envisioned himself in a nifty photo-op, escorting a celebrity to inspect the grim handiwork of 9/11.
Once revealed, the mayor tried unsuccessfully to distance himself from himself. He sent out a mouthpiece to decline to confirm or deny the police commissioner’s revelation. “There is nothing to discuss,” he said, several times. “The police are not permitting him to go to ground zero.” Sometimes a waspish denial is merely an eloquent confirmation.
‘Tis a pity that such a worm, glamorous as he may be in certain Upper East Side salons, is denied a welcome by mere bureaucratic circumlocutions. When a visiting Saudi prince came to New York in the wake of 9/11 with a gift of $10 million and a sneer at America’s friendship with Israel, Rudy Giuliani, then the mayor of Gotham, told him where to stuff it.
The White House said the properly correct thing in the language the White House must use in speaking of heads of state. “It’s a matter for the city of New York,” George W.’s spokesman said, “but it seems odd that the president of a country that is a leading state sponsor of terror would visit ground zero.” Odd indeed, and it would be nice if the White House would instruct the Secret Service to tell the Iranian mission at the U.N. that Mr. Ahmadinejad will not be allowed to visit ground zero, no matter how much he wants to pay his “respects” at ground zero, and make it clear that the refusal has more to do with decency and honor than with considerations of the Iranian president’s personal security.
Rudy Giuliani, who made his reputation at ground zero, was particularly outraged and the outrage looked authentic (not always easy for a pol). “This is a man who has made threats against America and Israel, is harboring Osama bin Laden’s son and other al Qaeda leaders, is shipping arms to Iraqi insurgents and is pursuing the development of nuclear weapons. Assisting Ahmadinejad in touring ground zero, hallowed ground for all Americans, is outrageous.”
Mitt Romney, eager to one-up his rival, was “shocked” by the audacity of it all, and said the Iranian president “should be handed an indictment under the Genocide Convention” when he arrives. Even Hillary Clinton got into the spirit of the moment. It’s “unacceptable” for the Iranian president to visit “the site of the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil.”
But there’s good news for aficionados of anti-American venom. Columbia University, though far uptown from ground zero, invited Mr. Ahmadinejad to take his message of hatred of the West to what are likely to be the friendly precincts of Morningside Heights. You never know where you’ll find an appetite for fruitcake.
Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Times.