Personally, I thought Fred Thompson hit just precisely the right note on Columbia University’s decision to give a platform to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad:
I find it ironic that Iran’s president accepted an invitation to speak at Columbia University, since students who dissent on Iranian campuses are not met with debate, they are met by a gun and imprisonment. A few months ago, eight college students were imprisoned in Iran’s notorious Evin Prison for publishing articles and cartoons critical of Iran’s government in a student-run newspaper. The Evin facility has been described as Iran’s ‘most feared prison’ and is known to stone women to death. We need to do our best to empower freedom-loving people throughout Iran.
This, by the way, is the side of Fred that we need to see more consistently. While there are many different problems with giving Ahmadinejad a platform, I loved the way he pointedly ties this to the oppression of campus free speech in Iran (the same line he drew in his response to Michael Moore), which just pierces the hypocrisy of people who pretend like giving this man a platform is somehow advancing the cause of free speech and free inquiry on campus.
Given that we host the U.N., it wasn’t really feasible to deny Ahmadinejad a visa, but the man should not be extended a welcome anywhere. First of all, it should be remembered that the original reason why we don’t have diplomatic relations with his regime is that that regime – including Ahmadinejad personally, as one of the young hostage-takers – violated every norm of basic diplomacy and the most ancient and fundamental precepts of international relations and international law by seizing diplomats and holding them hostage for over a year. Add to that Iran’s longstanding sponsorship of terrorism against the United States and its allies, most vividly in the case of the 236 U.S. Marines killed by Iranian-backed Hezbollah in 1983, as well as Ahmadinejad’s (and the regime’s) longstanding threats against the existence of Israel, Holocaust-denial and plots to build nuclear weapons – none of which the regime has ever shown any remorse for – and you have a man whose appearance here has nothing to do with free speech and everything to do with the raw assertion of power by an aggressive, terror-sponsoring tyranny.
For contrast, check out Tom Maguire’s lengthy demolition of two pitiable Josh Marshall screeds taking Ahmadinejad’s side in this controversy. Maguire notes that Marshall’s position puts him even to the left of his own party’s presidential candidates. Note that while Marshall concedes that “we officially don’t like him. And we classify the country he runs as a state sponsor of terrorism,” he is unable to force himself to admit that Iran actually is a sponsor of terrorism, since that would pretty well disintegrate his entire argument.
As Maguire notes, while Iran is not an Al Qaeda sponsor (with Hezbollah on the payroll, that would be redundant) it’s an overstatement to parrot the talking point about how the Iranians have no responsibility at all for September 11:
[W]hen Dr. Marshall says that “[Ahmadinejad] has absolutely nothing to do with 9/11” he is being disingenuous. From the 9-11 Commission we learned that 10 of the hijackers traveled through Iran en route to the US while Iranian border officials waved them through without leaving any eyebrow-raising passport stamps. Now, Ahmadinejad was not in power in 2000/2001, but as the current leader of the Iranian state he certainly bears symbolic responsibility.
Now, this puts Iran more on a par with the Saudis than, say, the Taliban; the conditions that led to September 11, after all, were the result of an entire region’s combination of fanaticism and terror-sponsoring tryannies (which had every incentive to look the other way at each other’s mischief). But it’s certainly further reason not to welcome the Iranian head of state to Ground Zero.