Why Rejecting Ahmadinejad's Visit Was a Big Mistake

President Ahmadinejad of Iran recently expressed interest in visiting the site of the World Trade Center to "pay tribute" to those who lost their lives on September 11. However, the State Department immediately issued a statement saying that in no way will he be permitted to make such a visit and rebranded him as a state sponsor of terror. Giuliani also issued his own statement -- as he often does about everything under the sun these days -- expressing his vigorous opposition to such a visit, and out of complete and utter ignorance, unfoundedly accused Shiite Ahmadinejad of supporting Sunni Al Qaeda, a claim so preposterous that even the Bush administration has not made. The main lesson to take from the whole story is not just that Giuliani needs to start reading the foreign policy books that Ron Paul recently recommended to him, but also that after the dust and smoke settle, opposition to visit by Ahmadinejad will prove to be a major foreign policy faux pas.

Let's put it in perspective. Iran has one of the worst human rights records in the world. Nonetheless, the United States has stunningly kept silent about those violations even as it is so desperately trying to line up excuses to justify a possible military strike against Tehran. By continuing to alienate and vilify Ahmadinejad without the willingness to face him, they are giving him ammunition to get on IRIB (Iranian state-run television) and claim victory, saying that the American government is too afraid to let him visit because some Americans may begin to sympathize with this move. After all, it is very difficult to prove you are not a "state-sponsor of terror" when you are not allowed to be anything else, or that you are condemned regardless of what you do.

This is not the first time Ahmadinejad has scored such a moral victory. Just a few months ago, he demanded that President Bush debate him on Iran's nuclear program, and Bush refused. He used Bush's refusal to claim the moral high ground without getting challenged on his brutal human rights record and other social oppressions within Iran. He has found a way to play the most powerful country in the world to score political points and false legitimacy at home, and he is exploiting it to its full capacity. Oppressors aren't supposed to have it this easy.

Now imagine a different scenario where the United States would allow him to visit Ground Zero. But once he is in New York giving a press conference, tens of Persian intellectuals and political dissidents flood the conference and ask pointed questions about the theocratic state's violations of human rights, women's freedoms, economy and joblessness, massive censorship of channels of information -- including the recent blocking of the Google Website and Gmail service to be accessed from within Iran -- and every other travesty he has brought upon his country. Then let him stumble over those questions and allow Iranians to watch his humiliation on their banned TV satellites and Voice Of America news network. As there is no First Amendment or freedom of speech for such a news conference to ever take place within Iran, such an event would not only be an incredible breakthrough in forcing the dictator (as he is now widely called in Tehran) to answer questions, but it will strengthen America's position on the diplomatic stage and defense for human rights, isolate Ahmadinejad and deter him from ever daring to claim the moral high ground, energize the pro-western reformists in Iran and significantly help America's popularity among Iranians.

But the reason that the current administration and many other status quo politicians wouldn't want you to directly listen to Ahmadinejad, Bin Laden, Kim Jung Ill or other adversaries is simple. In order for the ruling class in this country to divert the attention of people from the growing gap between the rich and the poor as well as America's hypocritical foreign policies (such as allowing Israel to terrorize Palestinians, possess nuclear weapons and do all of that without joining the NPT), they must frame the debate as a tale of good versus evil. In this tale, we are to fill the role of the good with a messianic mission of spreading the good word and annihilate the evil. It is based on such observation that Noam Chomsky so astutely observes in his latest book, Failed States, that over the years, American political leaders have developed a series of concepts to justify the use of force in international affairs, beginning with the battle against the communist menace, gradually replaced with "terrorist states" and "war on terrorism" as communism wore thin in the eighties, followed by "rogue states," and eventually "failed states." One may add to that list the newly created term "Islamo-fascism." These terms have gradually been modified to represent narrower definitions as the definitions of preceding terms repeatedly proved to be too broad to include the targeted states and exclude the United States and its hypocritical policies abroad. Allowing Americans to listen to Ahmadinejad or other "rogue" leaders without the filter of the media or U.S. government spin, our political leaders are afraid that some Americans may draw conclusions that are incompatible with the tale that the ruling class in this country have told to generation after generation. This is one of the most naked examples of how U.S. politicians go out of their way to prevent people from drawing their own judgment.

If the United States is sincere in its democratic claims, it needs to not just support democracy and other countries' sovereignty when it serves U.S. interests, but to take actions that are designed to promote democratic principles at home and abroad and level the playing field for civil discourse. By isolating itself and preventing Ahmadinejad from visiting Ground Zero, America not only lost a great opportunity to score a major victory on the world stage, but it further gave Ahmadinejad undeserved legitimacy to continue to arrest, torture and kill Persians with an iron fist.