First, a few words about Ahmadinejad: His claims that the Holocaust was a myth are wrong and disgusting. His rhetorical threats to Israel are irresponsible and detestable. I wish he lost his 2005 election campaign against his reformist opponent and I cheered his party's losses in last year's elections.
But Ahmadinejad is Iran's elected head of state and by snubbing him, we snub the Iranian government and its people. Right now, such a snub is not only wrong-headed, it's dangerous.
Sadly, most politicians find it much easier to fall back on tough talk, phony moralism and warmongering rather than try to explain the complex reality of international relations. Bush, Bloomberg, Lieberman, and most of my fellow Democratic presidential candidates want you to think the world is divided between good and evil and they are on 'the side of angels.'
This political tactic was always disingenuous, but regarding Iran, it's now downright dangerous.
Despite what the Bush administration claims, Iran was a great enemy of the perpetrators of 9/11 long before 2001. In the 1990s Iran waged a covert war against the Taliban and Wahabi-Sunni terrorist networks like Al-Qaeda. While Bush gave economic aid to the repressive Taliban in early 2001, Iran was funding the Taliban's bitter enemies, the Northern Alliance. Immediately after 9/11, Iran provided us with key intelligence about Afghanistan and helped us establish ties with the Northern Alliance, which drove the Taliban from Kabul two months later. The Iranians were willing to help us further in the winter of 2001, but Bush and the neocons ignored the advice of the State Dept. and the CIA and spurned further Iranian assistance. Once Bush dropped his infamous 'Axis of Evil' line in January 2002, there was no turning back. We missed a great opportunity to learn from the Iranians and build ties between our intelligence communities that might have helped us find Bin Laden.
Today Iran is Afghanistan's principle trade partner and according to Afghan president Hamid Karzai, Iran "has been a helper and a solution" in his fight against the Taliban. I trust Karzai's assessment of his relationship with Iran much more than I do George Bush's claims that Iran is a destabilizing force in Afghanistan.
Do we have grievances against the Iranian state? Of course, the 1979-80 hostage crisis was a gross violation of international law. Right now anti-American elements in Iran are supporting the Iraqi insurgency that kills our service people. But remember, our record with Iran is far from clean. Our government overthrew Iran's democratically elected, secular government under Mosaddeq in 1953. Over the subsequent decades we supported the oppressive Shah and trained his brutal secret police, the SAVAK. Right now we are once again orchestrating covert operations to undermine the Iranian government. Both our countries have legitimate grievances against each other. But we can either dwell on our past or work to avoid future bloodshed.
I commend Barack Obama for saying he wants to talk to Ahmadinejad. Only through recognizing the legitimacy of Iran's democratically elected president and negotiating with him can we possibly begin stabilizing Iraq and securing a peaceful resolution to our nuclear standoff.
So why not let Ahmadinejad pay his respects at Ground Zero? Why not let him send a message to the Muslim world that 9/11 was an atrocity that everyone, including fundamentalist Muslims, should mourn?
Dr. Trita Parsi, head of the National Iranian American Council, makes a convincing argument in national magazine that our leaders' moralistic belligerence toward Iran and their refusal to support robust diplomacy have put us on the path toward war, regardless of who wins in 2008.
Let's be clear -- a war with Iran will further isolate the United States in the world. It will unify the entire Middle East against U.S. forces that are stationed there. And worst of all, it will precipitate attacks on America that will far surpass the horror of 9/11. It's time to step away from the brink and begin finding common ground. Let Ahmadinejad go to Ground Zero and honor our dead. And together, let's all acknowledge that neither war nor terrorism will solve our problems.